Previous Section Index Home Page

26 May 2010 : Column 185

Mr Hague: My right hon. and learned Friend is completely right. That was why I referred a moment ago to the barring of Israeli politicians among others. That is absolutely the correct point. We will set out the way forward quite soon; it is important to get it right and to ensure that we deal with an unsatisfactory situation without weakening our commitment to holding accountable those guilty of war crimes. That bears at least a little examination by an incoming Government before we make our statement about the way forward.

I hope that there will also be wide agreement in the House on the need to support the democratic process in Iraq and I look forward to the early formation of a representative and inclusive Government.

We will renew our efforts to foster stability in Lebanon and maintain constructive dialogue with Damascus on the need for a positive Syrian role in the region, without being starry-eyed about the obstacles and real concerns about some of Syria's actions. We will continue to support regional efforts to promote reform and long-term stability in Yemen, as well as co-operating closely with the US and other partners on countering the terrorist threat from the region.

The middle east is a region of great opportunity and promise where we have many friends and potential allies. It should not be viewed through the prism of threats and security challenges alone. We have long called for the elevation of British links with many of the countries of the middle east, north Africa and the Gulf, not only diplomatically but in matters of culture, education, commerce and security, for the reasons I set out earlier. We will now take forward the work of developing that long-term initiative, which I hope will have cross-party support, through the Foreign Office and National Security Council and we will keep the House informed of progress.

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend. On this day, when direct talks have resumed between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders, will he reaffirm the Conservative manifesto commitment to support a just, balanced and lasting settlement to reunite Cyprus at long last?

Mr Hague: That is a manifesto commitment I can easily reiterate, and my hon. Friend has just done it for me.

David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment. Will he say a word on his approach to piracy off the coast of Somalia and whether he thinks enough is being done to combat it?

Mr Hague: It is very important to increase the international efforts to deal with that. There are a number of complex issues to deal with, such as what happens to pirates once they are captured. Of course, we will be looking at how we, with our allies, can carry out that work. My hon. Friend can be assured that we will be discussing that in the House over the coming weeks and months, too.

To complete the point that I was making, the need to renew British engagement with the world does not apply solely to the middle east. The deepening of our alliances beyond Europe and north America is a strategic
26 May 2010 : Column 186
necessity if we are to engage and influence the emerging powers, gain access to new markets, secure inward investment and maintain an open global economy. We will therefore seek to strengthen the UK's relations with countries in the fastest-growing regions of the world economy, such as Brazil and Japan, enhance our partnership with India and carry forward the strategic dialogue with China while continuing to urge all our partners to observe high standards of human rights.

Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab) rose-

Mr MacShane rose-

Mr Hague: I know that time is passing because I am being asked so many questions, so I shall give way just one more time. I shall have to disappoint the right hon. Member for Rotherham in his hope of another intervention.

Robert Flello: I am grateful to the Secretary of State and I add my congratulations to him. He mentioned India, and it would be remiss of me to miss the opportunity to ask whether in the list of engagements and discussions that he will be having will be a discussion about Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

Mr Hague: The last thing a new British Foreign Secretary should do is lecture other people about Kashmir. The British position is long standing and well known, and it has not changed with the arrival of a new Government-[Hon. Members: "What is it?"] It is well known by Opposition Members, too.

Human rights are not the only consideration in forming a nation's foreign policy.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr Hague: I shall have to try to get to the end of my speech at some point.

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr Hague: As a major concession, I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and then to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash). I shall then try to conclude.

Tony Baldry: I want to give my right hon. Friend the opportunity to amplify what he just said about India and China. The coalition agreement, published last week, highlighted strengthening and deepening relations with India and China as an important part of coalition foreign policy. My right hon. Friend has mentioned it, but will he amplify how he sees the Government doing that in practical terms?

Mr Hague: They are different from each other, of course. I am glad to say that when the right hon. Member for South Shields visited China before the general election, he concluded agreement on a strategic dialogue with China, which is something that we have wanted across the parties. The immediate priority is to take that forward. I shall seek an early opportunity to visit China in order to do exactly that. We have some very important British work in the commercial sense going on, particularly at the Shanghai Expo where there is a tremendous British pavilion. Every opportunity
26 May 2010 : Column 187
should be taken to pursue our commercial links. With India, there are of course also considerations of expanding commercial links but there is an even greater opportunity to expand our cultural, educational and scientific contact. There is more catching up to do in our relationship with India, which has been uneven at times. We will commit ourselves to doing that.

Mr Cash: I am extremely grateful to the Foreign Secretary for giving way, and I would not want to disappoint him. As he appears to be reaching the end of his remarks, I should like to ask him a simple question. In the context of our relationship with the European Union, which is familiar territory in debates of this kind, but to which he has not really referred in any detail, will he be good enough to confirm that the proposals that would help us to underpin negotiations with the European Union will necessarily include a gold-standard sovereignty Act, which would enable us to ensure that we negotiate for a position of strength and that we reaffirm the right of the House to determine how we are governed in this country?

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend will be delighted to know that I am coming to Europe. I am trying to get to that part of my speech so that I can conclude. We have said in the coalition agreement that we will examine the case for that Act. Let me be explicit. The Conservative party was committed to it in its manifesto, but this is a coalition Government: we have to look at the issue with our partners in the coalition, and the agreement says that we will do so. I will state our European approach in a moment, but I am conscious that other people wish to speak.

We remain acutely concerned about the human rights situation in Zimbabwe, Sudan and the horn of Africa. The Government are fully committed to achieving, from 2013, the UN target of spending 0.7% of our gross national income on overseas aid. We will enshrine that commitment in law, as we believe that locking in our commitment is both morally right and in our national interest. That will place Britain in a position of clear international leadership and will encourage other countries to live up to their commitments. Value for money will be central to everything we do. So, the Department for International Development will be completely transparent about the cost and performance of British aid programmes, using independent evaluation and a focus on results to drive a step change in the effectiveness of Britain's aid efforts.

The European Union is the last major subject that I want to tackle. The Government will be an active and activist player in the European Union. We will be very vigorous and positive in the promotion of this country's national interests in the EU while working to make the European Union as a whole a success. All the countries of the EU face profound challenges that will require us to work together using the means and institutions of the European Union. Our efforts will be concentrated on Europe's global competitiveness, on tacking climate change and on global poverty. The current economic difficulties pose questions for each nation, varying with the state of their public finances, but collectively we need to encourage growth and job creation, so we will press strongly for the expansion of the single market and the removal of obstacles to business. It is also in our interests and in the EU's general interest for the
26 May 2010 : Column 188
nations of the EU to make greater use of their collective weight in the world. We share many interests and values, and taking common action to advance them is, where appropriate, greatly to our general benefit-Iran's nuclear programme is an important instance of that.

The EU's standing in this country has fallen in recent years.

Mr MacShane: Thanks to you!

Mr Hague: Or perhaps it was the responsibility of some of those who have been the Minister for Europe. The right hon. Gentleman might reflect on that.

The British public have felt that they have had too little democratic control over developments in the EU. To remedy that and to provide what we regard as necessary protections for our democracy, the Government will bring forward a Bill amending the European Communities Act 1972. The Bill will require that any proposed future EU treaty that transfers areas of power or competence from Britain to the EU will be subject to a referendum. The British people will then have a referendum lock to which only they hold the key. The measure will cover any proposal to join the euro.

We also need greater democratic scrutiny and accountability over provisions in treaties that allow the rules of the EU to be modified or that provide options for existing EU powers to expand without the need for a new treaty. The use of any ratchet clause or passerelle will require an Act of Parliament to be passed, and the use of any major ratchet clause, such as the abolition of national vetoes over foreign policy, will require a referendum for its authorisation.

Mr Cash rose-

Mr Hague: I cannot take any more interventions, but, on my hon. Friend's point, in this context, we are considering and discussing the case for a United Kingdom sovereignty Bill. In addition to the Bill, the Government have agreed and determined that there will be no further transfer of sovereignty or powers from the United Kingdom to the European Union in this Parliament. We will also examine the current balance of competences between this country and the European Union.

As set out in the coalition agreement, we will push for the EU to demonstrate leadership in tackling international climate change, including by supporting an increase in the EU emission reduction target to 30% and by working towards an ambitious global climate deal that will limit emissions and explore the creation of new international sources of funding for climate change adaptation and mitigation. At the Cancun conference in November we will have the opportunity to establish a strong framework for global climate action.

I know that I have spoken for too long, Mr Speaker, but every time I mention a country, someone asks me a question about it. I want briefly to mention two areas of Europe of particular importance to our foreign policy-Russia and the Balkans. We make no criticism of the previous Government, who faced significant difficulties in relation to Russia and always had our full support, but it is not in the interests of Britain or Russia to be in a state of permanent confrontation. A sustained improvement in our relations will require a major effort on both sides. On Britain's part, the door is open to an
26 May 2010 : Column 189
improved relationship and we hope that invitation is taken up. We attach great importance to progress in the western Balkans. A prosperous and stable western Balkans will aid the general prosperity, stability and security of Europe. I intend to attend, next week, the meeting in Sarajevo to consider these issues.

Many of the issues I have touched on are immensely challenging and will require years of international co-operation to be overcome. But despite the sometimes seemingly bleak horizon in foreign affairs, the themes of opportunity, optimism and faith in human nature should run throughout our foreign policy. As the Gracious Speech confirmed, this year holds many opportunities for the United Kingdom to seek the strengthening of international institutions and effective multilateral co-operation. We look forward to the G8 summit in Canada and the G20 summits in Toronto and South Korea. Her Majesty the Queen will pay a royal visit to Canada in June and to the United Nations in July. It is remarkable to reflect that Her Majesty, who last addressed the General Assembly in 1957, will do so again not only as Queen of the United Kingdom and of 15 other UN member states but also as Head of the Commonwealth, which is itself a network of 54 states. We should be alive to the extraordinary diversity and youthfulness of an organisation such as the Commonwealth, which is very important in a networked world.

We look forward to the papal visit in September.

Mark Lancaster (Milton Keynes North) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr Hague: I am sorry, but I must conclude.

The papal visit will be an event of great significance and meaning to British Catholics.

As we survey the world's changing landscape and consider the UK's place within it, there is every reason for optimism and hope. As a country, we possess great assets and advantages. The foundations are there for us to build our influence and engagement in the world if we choose to take the opportunity, and this Government have every intention of doing so.

1.17 pm

David Miliband (South Shields) (Lab): Let me start by warmly congratulating the Foreign Secretary on his new responsibilities. He established himself in the last Parliament as the pre-eminent parliamentary debater of his generation, taking on those of us who were in government with determination, panache and, often, a great sense of humour. I assure him that he will need those skills again in this Parliament to take on all those in the Cabinet and on the Government Benches who hold diametrically opposed views to his on foreign policy issues. He has also performed the invaluable service of showing that a stint as Leader of the Opposition is merely a stepping stone to greater things, so I am grateful to him for that as well.

We wish the Foreign Secretary well. He starts with one great advantage: his trusty sidekick the Vice-Chamberlain of Her Majesty's Household, the hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), who spent three years training to be Minister for Europe,
26 May 2010 : Column 190
has been sent to the correctional facility otherwise known as the Government Whips Office. The hon. Gentleman told the Essex Echo that he was pleased to have been sent back to where his career started. I am tempted to say, "Not half as pleased as Ministries all around Europe," but we wish him well in his mercifully silent post.

There are now six Ministers in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, compared with four in the last Parliament. It turns out that we were right all along to say that it takes a Lib Dem and two Tories to do the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). We certainly will not take any lectures from the Government on lean government given the number of Ministers they have now appointed. We will want to know what smoke and mirrors the Foreign Secretary is going to use, given his complaints about swingeing cuts in the Foreign Office, regarding Monday's announcement of £55 million-worth of cuts in the Foreign Office budget. We look forward to getting further details about how that will be organised.

There are six Ministers in King Charles street, but I am sad to see no room for the hon. Member for Broadland (Mr Simpson), who worked tirelessly in opposition to lift the historical tone of our debates. He prepared for every Question Time. He honed his one-liners. He was always unfailingly nice about the civil service. He did all the right things in preparation for the call from No. 10, but I am afraid that, although he is a loyal party man, the reasoning behind his demotion must be a source of some concern. In explanation, one of his colleagues told The Times last week:

The tragedy for the hon. Gentleman is that he went to Thorpe grammar school, and he had to be replaced by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham). So much for the classless society in the new Conservative party.

The Opposition will support the Government fully, comprehensively and with absolute good faith where it is appropriate to do so. Nowhere is that more necessary than on Afghanistan. All three parties went into the general election supporting our troops. All supported a political settlement as the way to end the military conflict. All put great premium on the importance of delivering real improvements in the lives of the Afghan people. All also supported regional engagement of Afghanistan's neighbours-all the neighbours. We will continue to do so. Our troops deserve united support from the House and that is what they will get. The Foreign Secretary did not play politics on Afghanistan when he was in opposition, and we will follow exactly that path. War is more important than politics.

Next Section Index Home Page