What do we have to put against that? What will happen when we move with our team from the second division into the premier league? Are we up to the job? The answer is that, in many ways we are not. We are in a bad situation. Due to duty of care regulations, our

28 Nov 2011 : Column 735

diplomats have become increasingly isolated and imprisoned in embassy compounds. It is increasingly difficult for a British diplomat in a country such as Afghanistan to spend a night in an Afghan village house and even to travel outside the embassy walls without booking a security team in advance. When we attempt to compensate for that, as we did in Iraq by relying on Iraqi local translators or employing Iraqi staff to perform the jobs that our diplomats were not permitted to do, we find ourselves the subject of a class action suit from a British law firm, arguing that we owe exactly the same duty of care to our Iraqi locally engaged staff that we owe to our British staff, thereby tying us up absolutely.

Laura Sandys: Let us think about what we used to do under the colonial service, although that has lots of negative connotations: people lived in those countries for years—perhaps 10 years—and spent time travelling the country, getting to know all the different levers, whether they were economic, political or otherwise. Does my hon. Friend think that the structure in our FCO, which involves postings of two to three years, is fit for purpose when we consider the more complex and dynamic environments in which we and those diplomats must operate?

Rory Stewart: That is a very good point. The analogy with the colonial period is a very dangerous one and we do not want to recreate some form of colonial service. The structures of imperial control are no longer relevant, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right about the complexity and unpredictability of the modern global world. My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) misleads himself, perhaps, in that he imagines the modern global world as some uniform space in which the fundamental language is English and the fundamental symbol is the mathematics of the banker. In fact, the modern globalised world is defined by complexity and by specificity. The very failed states that we consider tend to be among the most isolated and most alien societies with which we have to engage. That brings us to the problem of the Michael Jay reforms.

Those reforms are the second problem that our Foreign Office has inherited. Since 2001, a consecutive series of permanent under-secretaries have shifted the balance at the Foreign Office from languages and area expertise towards management jargon and an increasing insistence on the “best practices” of the corporate world. All that has meant that because of the very precise details of the “core competences” required for promotion to the senior grades and the appointment procedures, the Foreign Office, instead of giving linguistic and political experts that sense of status and pride, is rewarding people for their ability to deal not with people outside the embassy walls but those within the embassy itself.

That all takes place within a broad context. As the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) suggested, we operate in a multilateral world in which we are very dependent on other partners. Those partners, too, are being hollowed out. We hope that we can depend, as our political service collapses, on journalists, but the newspapers are collapsing and their foreign correspondents are being drawn back to their capitals. There is less and less capacity on the ground.

28 Nov 2011 : Column 736

Kwasi Kwarteng: My hon. Friend knows, probably better than anyone in this House, the extent to which modern media and modern technology have completely revolutionised the way in which we gather information and deploy our authority. I have listened to the debate for a number of hours now and I was intrigued to discover that people were harking back to colonial times, the empire and that sort of thing. They had nothing like the technology we have today and although I completely agree with my hon. Friend about the need for languages and cultural expertise in the Foreign Office, it is not remotely apparent to me that we should have exactly the same infrastructure today as we had in 1930 or 1880. That model is completely false in today’s environment.

Rory Stewart: This is a very tantalising and attractive argument and I can see exactly why it is made. Of course, we should not have the same structure as we had in 1880 or 1930—and nor do we—but the notion that technology and the related aspects of the 21st century have somehow transformed our relationship with a country such as Afghanistan is fundamentally misguided. In the recent Helmand police intake, eight out of 100 people could write their name or recognise numbers up to 10. There is no electricity between Herat and Kandahar. The notion of a Facebook revolution in Afghanistan, Somalia or South Sudan is a distant fantasy. The fact that in the British embassy in Kabul two years ago, there were exactly two people who had passed a Dari exam at an operational level and that there was not a single Pashto speaker is testimony to the fact that we believe we live in a globalised world in which it is unnecessary for us to study other people’s languages or understand their culture.

Kwasi Kwarteng: With respect to my hon. Friend and the House, I have always said in relation to these issues that linguistic competence is absolutely vital, and it is a scandal that the Foreign Office should have turned its back on that. He must acknowledge, as I think he is doing, that the technological environment in which we operate allows us to have certain levers and information that we did not have 15 or 20 years ago.

Rory Stewart: I could not agree more—it certainly allows us to have a great deal of information. However, at the fundamental core of the Foreign Office’s work, which concerns politics and power, there appears to be a problem. The same problem was apparent when nobody challenged the Government’s policy on Iraq, which is the single most humiliating mess into which the British Government have got themselves since Suez. Not a single senior British diplomat publicly or even privately challenged the Prime Minister on that issue. Why? Because at the same time as we imagine that everything is manipulable through technocratic processes and technology, the knowledge and the confidence that came from country immersion and language is lacking, as is the confidence that would allow one to challenge power.

Laura Sandys: I thank my hon. Friend for being so generous with his time. Let us look at what the Pentagon did about four or five years ago. It put a huge amount of investment into technology and the technological retrieval of data, and then it decided that many of its decisions, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq or internationally,

28 Nov 2011 : Column 737

had failed because the system did not have enough human intelligence. Technology can deliver a certain level of intelligence, but ultimately we need people who really understand the area to interpret that information and to add that human dimension.

Rory Stewart: I could not agree more. This is not an either/or situation. I am deliberately being somewhat, or even intensely, polemical, so let me try to be more reasonable. Technology is not irrelevant and nor is it the case that the world has not changed since the 19th century, but it is important to recognise that the countries that pose the most trouble for us are often those we find the most difficult to understand. It is in precisely those contexts that deep knowledge of those countries and their power structures and relationships is required, and I think the same would almost certainly be true if one was trying to run a business selling into those markets. That applies not only to our diplomats’ relationships with politicians and a Cabinet but to their relationships with rural populations and opposition groups. All of that would put Britain into the state of grace and provide the insurance policy on which this country depends.

Moving towards a solution and a conclusion, the solution must lie in pushing ahead with the very reforms that the Minister and the Foreign Secretary have undertaken, but to push them harder and faster. The diplomatic excellence initiative that the Foreign Secretary has launched is a very good beginning. Even today, however, one still meets political officers in embassies who say that they cannot see how that will help them with promotion. They say, “Focusing on policy work is not going to get me promoted because you haven’t changed the core competences. It’s management of two people and the DTI staff that will get me my next job.” Those are the things we need to address.

Mr Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): In Afghanistan and, indeed, Iraq, I felt very sorry for the previous Government because one often had the feeling that they were not being told the truth at every opportunity. On a Defence Select Committee trip to Afghanistan, I remember being briefed by a guy in the Foreign Office who gave us the normal line that everything was going terribly well but that there were challenges. Six weeks later, he sidled up to me in a restaurant and said, “Adam, I’m really sorry about that briefing I gave you, but the problem is that no one gets promoted for telling it how it is.”

Rory Stewart: This is fundamental because we live in a world in which there is not enough challenge in the system. There are not enough checks or balances. I have mentioned that our newspapers have fewer and fewer foreign correspondents. The quality of foreign reporting in Britain is not as good today as it was 20 years ago because we simply are not investing as much in foreign reporting. At the same time, the military is increasingly preponderant in the United States, and brings with it the inherent optimism and determination to say, “We’ve inherited a dismal situation but we have the resources and the mission to deliver a decisive year,” pushing aside the civilian advice. We are flattered by English-speaking, upper-class Afghans, Iraqis and Libyans who feed our fantasies and tell us what we want to hear.

In that context, and in the context of the temptation across Europe and the United States to have more and more centralised power, we need our Foreign Office to

28 Nov 2011 : Column 738

act as a check and balance. We need it to challenge policy and to speak truth to power. Above all, we need it to say not just what the UK interest is, what our ethical limits are or what we are not prepared to do morally, but, most fundamentally of all, what we cannot do. When somebody comes forward and says, in country X, “In this failed state, we will create governance, the rule of law and civil society,” it should be the job of our Foreign Office to ask “How?”, “With whom?” and “With what money?” It should ask, “What possible reason have you to believe that you can achieve this grandiloquent objective you have established?”

We also need to explain matters to the public, because this entire rhetoric is the rhetoric of a poker game. It is the rhetoric, perpetually, of “raise” or “fold”, and of driving people to ask, “Have you met your $3 billion objective on trade this year?” or “Have you or have you not set up the rule of law and civil society?” and if not, “Why have we got an embassy in Mongolia? Why have we got to bother having any representation in Peru? Why don’t we drag it all back to London and do it down the internet?” The way to cease that is to be honest—not just internally but with the British public as well.

Kwasi Kwarteng: My hon. Friend raises a particularly pertinent point about the operations of the Foreign Office. He will remember that in times gone by, that was the Foreign Office’s job and it consistently said no. If we are to believe the memoirs of politicians, it consistently set itself as a roadblock to ministerial action and said, “No you can’t do that,” to Ministers who wanted to intervene or act purposively. He will also remember that a former Conservative Prime Minister once commented that she understood that the Agriculture Department looked after farmers, that the Labour Department looked after workers and that the Foreign Office looked after foreigners. It is well known that the Foreign Office has been the check that my hon. Friend describes.

Rory Stewart: The Foreign Office has a very distinguished tradition of doing that. With many of the things it challenged, it did so correctly. It challenged Lord Salisbury’s insane idea of launching an invasion into Afghanistan in 1879, it challenged Lord Grey’s absurd ideas about secret treaties with France in 1912 and 1913, and it challenged the absurdity of Suez. In all those ways it acted responsibly, but increasingly it is no longer performing that role.

Of course the politicians can, when they want, overwhelm the Foreign Office, push it aside and push ahead, and that is fine, but—on this, I think, we should conclude—we are now in a very strange position in this country. We are hollowed out. We are facing an enormous crisis. Europe is teetering on the edge. The German Chancellor is invoking ghosts of European destruction. The middle east and north Africa have seen more tottering regimes and dynasties than in any period since the end of the first world war. At this time we need to remember that that very modest investment in the Foreign Office—only £1 billion a year on its core costs, if we exclude the British Council and the World Service—is an extremely wise insurance and investment.

We need to remember at times like this how vital is the ability to set out our limits, to set out a strategy and vision, to explain exactly, as this Government are doing, and to continue to explain more clearly to the public,

28 Nov 2011 : Column 739

exactly what Britain believes and what our strategy is—that peculiar mixture of pragmatism and belief in rights, a belief not just in ideals but in common sense, expressed in a world that understands that today of all times a residence can be much more powerful than a regiment, a Tuareg specialist than a Tornado, an Arabist than an aircraft carrier, and that the Foreign Office is our strength, our nation, and our defence.

7.41 pm

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) but I shall not go into Tuaregs and Tornados. I shall immediately go into the election that is taking place today in Egypt.

It seems that there is a large turnout for the election, with queues at polling stations. For most Egyptians it must have a similar impact to that of the first democratic elections that took place in South Africa after the end of apartheid—another large African country undergoing a process of transformation—but there are, of course, significant differences. The election in Egypt today is about establishing a constituent assembly, from which 100 people will be chosen to draft a constitution. That will be followed by a presidential election, the date of which has just, reluctantly, under pressure from the streets, been announced by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces—12 March next year.

We will not know the outcome of the elections until they are verified and adjudicated by lawyers, and the result will not be known until January. That is worrying. We saw from what happened in Afghanistan a year ago how legal challenges to elections and disputes about the validity of the vote and about candidatures can lead to great complications when a body is established. We have also seen in other countries disputed elections leading to severe delays. I am worried about that and other difficult processes that Egypt has to go through.

As has already been said, Egypt has a very large young population, high levels of youth unemployment and an economy that is in decline and could go into an even more serious decline because so much of the revenue is built upon tourism and foreign investment that may not come about because of the uncertainty and instability that are developing. At the same time, there are worrying developments in the nature of the political process that has been established.

There was a democratic election in Tunisia under a formula whereby 50% of the candidates had to be women. That led to an elected Parliament in Tunisia which reflects the fact that in Tunisian society under the previous regime women played an important role. There is much greater equality overtly between men and women in that country. Even though the Islamist party Ennahda has come out as the largest political grouping, there are some positive signs about the continuation of women’s role within the political process in Tunisia.

The same cannot be said of the situation that has developed in Egypt. A helpful research paper produced by the Library points out that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in Egypt is distinctly conservative in its approach to women’s representation. Under the old electoral system in Egypt 64 parliamentary seats were reserved for women. That law was abolished by the

28 Nov 2011 : Column 740

military regime. In its place is a provision that every party list must include at least one woman. That is an extremely worrying development.

It has also been decided that there will be no requirement for any women’s representation on the committee that will be established to draft the constitution, and there is only one woman in the present Egyptian Cabinet of 28. That raises serious concerns about where Egypt will go after today’s elections and the constituent assembly that is established in future, and what kind of society there will be in the post-Mubarak era.

Further concerns have been expressed by many of the demonstrators in Tahrir square about religious tolerance and what might develop in the future in a country where a significant proportion of the population—more than 10%—are Coptic Christians. There has been a series of attacks on Christian places of worship and on Christian ceremonies. Other worrying developments include statements from some of the more extreme Islamist groups about the kind of society and kind of laws that will emerge and whether minorities will continue to be tolerated in Egyptian society.

The international community must be resolute. We should send clear messages to the newly elected Egyptian political establishment when it is announced and also to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that there are international standards that we expect a democratic Egypt to uphold, and that the international community’s response to the changes in Egypt will be shaped by the treatment of minorities and women in Egyptian society.

Mr Leigh: The plight of Christians in the middle east is desperate and many of our actions have made that plight far worse, particularly in Iran. What is happening to the Coptic Christians is very worrying. Does the hon. Gentleman think there is more that we in the west can do? Can a Christian west take more responsibility for the plight of Coptic Christians? What does he think we can realistically do and what pressure can we impose on an Egyptian Government? What is going on there is terrible.

Mike Gapes: At this moment we need to give the Egyptians the benefit of the doubt because the process is still developing. We should try to get groups from the United Kingdom and other Western European Union countries reflecting faith forums and diverse groups, including leading British Muslims, to go to Egypt, taking with them Jews and Christians to show diversity and tolerance and how we work together. We also need to talk to countries such as Turkey, where an Islamist-influenced political party, the AK party, is in power in a secular state and where religious minorities are treated with tolerance in Turkish society. I think that we should try to use our influence.

When the Turkish Prime Minister, Mr Erdogan, went to Cairo to give advice, he seems to have been very strongly welcomed. Interestingly, there were large demonstrations in the streets when he arrived, but when he left, having made it clear that he wanted Egypt to remain a secular state rather than adopt an Islamist constitution, even though he was an Islamist, the demonstrations were much more muted. The message he sent the Muslim Brotherhood was not the message it wanted to hear. He said that he wanted a Prime Minister from an Islamist political party, but in a secular state.

28 Nov 2011 : Column 741

That was very important, and he should be praised for trying to show that the Turkish model is not just one in which Islamist parties can come to power and that democracy means leaders, after coming to power, having respect for women and minorities rather than imposing an intolerant form of society that does not respect diversity.

I would like to consider the revolutions that have been called the Arab spring. Had they taken place in summer, I suspect that we would refer to the Arab summer, but I am not sure that we would talk of the Arab winter. Nevertheless, the issues are now much more complicated than they appeared to be at the start of the year. We are in a situation in which we can be guided by history, which the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border mentioned in his contribution. Those of us who have studied the history of the 19th century will know that the revolutionary processes that took place in that century and at the end of the 18th century were not easy, were in some cases bloody and often led to years or even decades of turmoil. I suspect that what we are seeing in north Africa and the middle east and what we will see in the Gulf states could be such a period.

It is only 20 years since the transformation of central and eastern Europe after communism was lifted. The political formations that have taken power in some of those countries have at times been difficult to cope with and some very unpleasant organisations have since come out from under the stone. We have seen political parties that are overtly homophobic, racist and authoritarian, and some that are associated with admiration for the Waffen SS have been elected to Parliaments in countries such as Latvia, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland, yet all those countries have come through the process. They still face difficulties, but because of the European Union they have been able to become democratic, pluralistic countries in which there have been changes of power. Parties that were in power have lost it and oppositions have won power and then lost elections. That is what democracy means. Just because elections are beginning in Egypt does not mean that that country is already a democracy.

Similarly, although there has been an election in Tunisia, it is not yet a democracy. Democracy will be entrenched only when parties that win elections are thrown out of office and when there is respect for diversity, the rule of law and minorities. Some of these countries will have to learn that respect. We have seen the great difficulties in Iraq when the parties that fought the last election came to a standstill and there was no possibility of Mr Maliki and Mr Allawi agreeing on who should be Prime Minister. It took the Iraqis almost as long as the Belgians to form a Government because there was no tradition or understanding of how Government and opposition work within a pluralistic political culture. Ba’athism had destroyed that political culture.

If the revolution comes to Syria and the Ba’athist regime there is forced to leave or is overthrown, there will be an almighty, complicated mess to deal with. It will be extremely hard to achieve stability and a pluralistic society, given the diversity in Syria that has been mentioned, and we will need to be patient. We should not expect these countries rapidly to become models of democracy of the sort we have in this country and elsewhere in the EU.

28 Nov 2011 : Column 742

Laura Sandys: I started working with the Iraqi opposition in 1993, and it was 10 years before Saddam Hussein was overthrown. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, in many ways there is a more complicated patchwork of different communities in Syria, and I very much welcome the Government’s support for the Syrian opposition. Does he agree that that will require sensitive handling as we move forward so that we do not end up in a worse situation?

Mike Gapes: I agree. I think that we should be guided by some of Syria’s neighbours. The Arab League has made an unprecedented move towards imposing sanctions on the country. We should also listen to what the Turkish Government are saying. I had a meeting last week with the Turkish Foreign Minister while he was here and also heard the remarks of President Gul when he spoke to Members of both Houses in the Royal Robing Room. The situation in Syria is causing extreme alarm within Turkey and the Turkish Government have basically had enough of the way the Assad regime has lied to and misled them—my words, not Turkey’s—about the promises of reform that were not kept. Instead of reform, there has been brutality and repression. Turkey has now come to the same view that Britain, France, the United States and many other countries have come to: the Assad regime is no longer capable of being the agent of reform and it must go.

How the regime goes, in what circumstances and when are very difficult questions. We need to be sensitive to the fact that Iran is playing a destructive role in the region. As I mentioned in my earlier intervention on the Foreign Secretary, the Iranians have a significant relationship, through Hezbollah, with the Lebanese Government. They also have significant influence in the Iraqi political system through some of the Shi’a political parties in Iraq. It is significant that the two Arab League countries that have said that they will not impose sanctions on the Syrian regime are Lebanon and Iraq.

Iran will potentially play another destructive role. We have seen our country denounced in the Iranian Majlis and its vote calling for the expulsion of Dominic Chilcott, our excellent ambassador. We have been there before: a former nominated British ambassador to Iran, David Reddaway, was prevented from taking up his post many years ago; and a few years ago the royal garden party in Tehran was attacked from outside by people throwing rocks over the wall at the time when Geoffrey Adams was ambassador. A few years ago the Iranian revolutionary guards detained British naval personnel in the waters just off the coast of Iraq.

It is quite possible that the Iranian regime will now engage in a series of provocations and incidents in order to up the ante and gain for itself a diversion from its main problem, which is that it has been found out: Iran has been developing for many years a nuclear weapons programme, and the International Atomic Energy Agency, in its latest report, has confirmed that some nuclear enrichment and other nuclear activities have continued over recent years. But we should not therefore move easily into the dangerous area of saying, “Because the sanctions we have imposed so far have not worked, and because, despite those sanctions, the Iranian regime has continued to build up its nuclear programme potential, Iran is about to gain nuclear weapons and there are grounds for a pre-emptive military strike.”

28 Nov 2011 : Column 743

I was encouraged by the remarks of the United States Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta, whom The Guardian reported on 11 November as saying that military action against Iran could have “unintended consequences”, and agreeing that such an attack would only delay its nuclear programme, rather than prevent it from obtaining a nuclear bomb. In these circumstances, talk of pre-emptive military action can do no more than strengthen the Iranian regime internally and weaken the democratic voice of the country’s young, dynamic population who do not like the theocratic cap that the regime has put on them.

Similar comments were made on 4 November in an interesting article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which noted that the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defence Minister Barak favour military action against Iran in circumstances where Iran is about to obtain a nuclear bomb, but that three former chiefs of the defence staff in Israel do not, and that the former head of Mossad who retired earlier this year, Meir Dagan, has said that Israel would be “stupid” to launch an air attack on Iran.

That does not mean we should accept as “a good thing” Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon—absolutely not. Given the arms race that would be unleashed in the middle east, and given how countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Gulf states would secure the potential, through Pakistan, to obtain a nuclear weapon, it would be a very worrying development: a Sunni nuclear bomb to offset a Shi’a nuclear bomb. There are other ways of dealing with the situation.

I refer to an interesting article by Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council, published a few days ago, stating how strengthening the IAEA inspection regime, and not imposing more and more sanctions that do not work but adopting a policy of more transparency, may be a more effective way of dealing with the immediate problem. The key to that is the IAEA’s additional protocol, which Iran has not yet signed, but which the international community, through UN Security Council resolutions, has called for.

We face a difficult period in Europe, but we are sometimes obsessed with our own problems. Compared with the difficulties of many hundreds of millions of people in the Arab world, our difficulties are insignificant. The people in north Africa and the middle east face a difficult transition on an uncharted course from authoritarian regimes to new democracies. They will need our help and solidarity. The European Union should do more through its neighbourhood programme and by other means, but our country does not have an insignificant role in the world. It has an important role, working with its partners and neighbours to ensure that the international community makes the right decisions and supports the right side in this democratic transition.

8.5 pm

Laura Sandys (South Thanet) (Con): It is a great honour to follow not only the poetry of my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), but the practical and pragmatic approach of the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes). The hon. Gentleman’s last point was about how our problems in Europe are a great challenge but events in the Arab world are of a different scale, but I would refine it and

28 Nov 2011 : Column 744

say that the problems in north Africa and in the Arab world are our problems, too. I commend the Government for what they have done over the past year and a half, and for how they have been able to change the relationship between north Africa and this country.

Many people were worried about our involvement in Libya, and although I was supportive I was concerned. I would have voted against the Iraq invasion if I had been a Member back then, but the decision on Libya was clear for me, and it was clear on a humanitarian basis. We not only assisted the Libyans in ridding themselves of their dictator; we started to develop a different relationship with parts of north Africa, one I hope very much we will continue. We did so with sophisticated diplomacy, and we should be extremely proud of the outcomes in Libya.

Mr Holloway: Just after the fall of Tripoli, I, with the director of the Conservative Middle East Council, went out there and, in the chaos of the week after, met an Islamist who, having fought against us in Iraq and Afghanistan, made the most extraordinary comment, saying: “This is the first time that the west has stood with ordinary people in the region. We shall not forget it.”

Laura Sandys: I very much welcome that intervention. That is the absolute core of the issue.

We need not only to build on the momentum that we have started, but to change and recalibrate how we engage with north Africa, an area that was in many ways caught in aspic by the cold war. Every dictator who has been deposed over the past year was a product of that rather binary environment, “Are you against us or for us?”, and we have rid ourselves of that through the people.

We have to be careful about engaging directly and passionately with the new Governments who arise. As the hon. Member for Ilford South said, there will be lots of iterations of democracy, and they are not going to emerge as some sort of Westminster parliamentary structure for perhaps 10, 20 or 30 years, so we have to maintain that relationship with the people. Obviously we need to work with Governments, but the credibility and legitimacy of the people are what matters. Toppling regimes is not easy, but the transition process is even more difficult, and that is where we need to ensure that the Foreign Office is absolutely at the top of its game, as I am sure it is.

We have heard a lot today about the politics, about building institutions, and about threats, but not many Members have talked about the economics. Can emerging democracies survive when they have insecure economic environments and are finding it difficult to keep a hold on inflation? My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr Holloway) talked about the people of the region. Those people were not necessarily just looking for the vote, although some of the countries had elections, if perhaps false elections; they were looking for democracy as a representation of opportunity for all, with no corruption, and the ability to get on in life without being part of the in-crowd or the out-crowd and to ensure that they could deliver a secure future for their families. Too often, in the Foreign Office and in our debates, we talk about institution-building and the governmental dimension, but we need to talk about north Africa’s economies.

28 Nov 2011 : Column 745

In starting to develop a lot further how we could build greater economic stability in north Africa, we should act on the basis not only of those countries’ national interests and democracy-building but of our own national interest. The French are rather good at economic diplomacy. Is that such a dreadful term to use? They have completely understood where their national interest lies. Their ambassadors are an integral part of the French business community and spend a lot of time ensuring that the French economy and French businesses are integrated into the countries in which they operate. We have been rather weak at this in the past.

What north Africa really needs is expertise and commercial acumen, with partnerships to develop and exploit industries and technologies, management skills, and operational capabilities. I do not know whether those things are on the Foreign Office checklist and are being considered for north Africa, but it is absolutely essential that we start to make a move on this as quickly as possible, before economic instability undermines the democracy that has been created. In addition to sending three-day trade delegations out to these countries, we should be thinking in a much more considered way about what support each country needs and where, to be self-interested, the UK can benefit.

Just outside Tripoli, Libya has a large oil and gas institute, but it has not been updated for years. Why are we not taking on the responsibility for giving the Libyans a state-of-the-art institute that looks at operations, exploration and building skills, and links with the people, not necessarily with transient Governments? Tunisia needs tourism to get its economy off the floor. Its tourism industry employs 400,000 people, yet the number of visitors has dropped by 45%. We should be revitalising the country’s visitor economy, establishing courses and training for young people entering the sector and supporting the small businesses that make up the majority of it. We should set up a small business institute to ensure that we are bringing expertise and allowing the people to exercise their democratic right through economic security.

Egypt is facing a great challenge in food and cotton production. Why are we not asking Hadlow college to set up an operation in the Nile delta, bringing students from all over Egypt to think about how to increase yields and improve standards and water management? That would get to the heart of what these Governments need to deliver to their publics to maintain some stability while democracy is gaining a foothold. If we are not in these countries delivering value-added assistance and practical input, then others will be, and yet again we will look back nostalgically in 10 years and say, “Why did China, Turkey, Russia and France steal a march on us when we were so involved in those early years?”

I propose that we look at the Economic Community of West African States as a model for promoting greater economic prosperity within the north African region. While ECOWAS has its limitations, it is developing stronger links with its neighbours. Joint economic activity is building greater political interdependency. In north Africa, greater economic interdependency will be one of the biggest deterrents to any political friction between states that could emerge over the next decade.

My final suggestion is that we start to take forward a stronger interrelated economic model as between the countries of the north and south Mediterranean. The hon. Member for Ilford South mentioned that. Some important organisations already exist, but they have

28 Nov 2011 : Column 746

mainly regarded north Africa as the liability and southern Europe as the superior model. This needs to be recalibrated, and we need to turn a talking shop into an active economic forum.

We are facing a new world. The previous century was one of global politics; this century is one of global economics. Every country will need to deliver economic security for its domestic audience and will play out its international politics on that basis. If we can work closely with these countries on what really matters to them—their economic survival, jobs for their young, and a greater relationship with the international community —we will be doing them, and this country, a great service.

8.16 pm

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Earlier this year, I was in Tunisia, where, in addition to having talks with members of the temporary Government who were in office before the country’s election, I spoke to business men and visited tourist sites. I was very troubled by the fact that those tourist sites were empty. It was understandable that after the upheaval in Tunisia people might have been wary about going there and doubtful about their own safety. On the other hand, if there was a velvet revolution anywhere in the Arab spring, it was in Tunisia, with one poor man dying because he had been insulted and then no more deaths. It is important for us to make it clear to the people of this country, a considerable number of whom have habitually visited Tunisia and seen its beautiful sights—not only the holiday areas but places such as Carthage—that it is safe to go there, good to go there, and good for democracy in north Africa to be there.

The hon. Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) referred to Libya. Of course, she is right to say that it is not for us to impose our concept of democracy on Libya. It is a fact, however, that there would not have been a change of Government in Libya without the action of NATO. That being so, we have a right to communicate our views—the views of that community—to the people who will be governing Libya. I hope that the Government will make it clear to those who are in office in Libya at this time that, while it is right and proper that Saif Gaddafi should be tried, it would go against everything that we have been supporting in Libya if he were executed.

One of the great failings of the Labour Government was that they did not make their voice heard when the Iraqis moved to execute Saddam Hussein. He was an evil dictator, and the Gaddafi family were a family of evil dictators, but the whole point about liberating people from dictators is that one does not behave in the way the dictators behaved towards their enemies. I know that this Government have a strong policy of opposing capital punishment wherever it is carried out or planned. I hope that they will make it clear to those in authority that turning a new page for Libya means getting rid of primitive and savage punishment in Libya.

In talking about what NATO has done to the benefit of the people of Libya, it is important to draw to the attention of the House where NATO has gone wrong and where it has run amok. What has been taking place in Pakistan over the past few days is an abomination. Pakistan is an independent country and an ally. A great many people of Pakistani origin live in this country and take part in our democracy. Its independence was violated

28 Nov 2011 : Column 747

by NATO going in and killing 24 people and injuring a great many more. That was a violation of Pakistani independence and sovereignty.

That was not the first time that such a thing had happened. It happened when the Americans sent their navy SEAL mission to kill bin Laden. Again, he was an evil man who had done dreadful things. However, the whole point of our being what we are is that we do not do what vile terrorists do. An article in The New Yorker not long ago told, move by move, how the SEALs went in. They did not have a fight with bin Laden, but simply went in to kill him, with the President of the United States and the American Secretary of State watching it all on television. That struck me as one of the most odious manifestations of the kind of Administration that the United States now has.

When George W. Bush was President of the United States, I expected it to behave in a way that was odious. We were dragged by Bush not only into the Iraqi war, but into the unplanned, chaotic aftermath of that war. The sanctimony of Barak Obama led us to believe that he would not get involved in the same kind of thing. However, Guantanamo Bay remains open three years after the man was elected President. We must have a British and European foreign policy, and not simply be dragged behind the American Administration, whatever it is that they do, as unfortunately the Labour Government were from time to time. We have just had another example of that with the attempt by the United States Administration to water down international regulations on the use of cluster bombs, which are used by the Israelis in their attacks on the Palestinians and which were used in Gaza in Operation Cast Lead.

I do not know whether Obama believes that he can get re-elected by behaving like the Tea party, but we must not behave like the Tea party. We must behave like a British democracy. I find many aspects of this Government’s foreign policy attractive and it is possible to support them. In listening to the Foreign Secretary and hearing about the kind of things that have been taking place, I hope that we will not permit this extremism from across the Atlantic to motivate and dominate our policies.

Another example, which has been referred to by many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), is the situation with regard to Iran. Iran has an odious regime internally, which stones what it calls adulterous women to death, which stones homosexuals to death, and which tortures and imprisons. It is one of the most unpleasant regimes not simply in the region, but on the planet. On the other hand, although it would of course be a matter of profound concern if Iran acquired a nuclear weapons capability, as many hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, and although Iran undermines many regimes, as we have heard this evening, it has never carried out an outright attack on another country. Indeed, it was the victim of an attack by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

In the region, there is a country with a large nuclear stockpile: Israel. It has not only a huge nuclear capability, but nuclear missiles, which were based originally in Dimona in the Negev. Israel has a record of invading other countries. It invaded Lebanon several times. We do nothing whatever about that.

28 Nov 2011 : Column 748

I agree with hon. Members about how important it is to take action and to deter Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. However, if military action were taken against Iran, the consequences would be incalculable. One of the great rules of action, whether in internal or overseas policy, is that we should not do something the consequences of which we cannot calculate before we do it. It is impossible to know how dreadful the consequence might be of military action against Iran. The Americans will not do it because Obama does not want another war in the less than a year before he faces the electorate again, but he might well want others to do it. Netanyahu, Lieberman and Barak have their own objectives based on the precarious nature of their Government in Israel. It is important for us to make it clear to the Israelis how strongly we would be opposed to their taking any military action against Iran.

The situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians gets worse day by day. I have spoken with some commendation of Foreign Office policy, but I was very sorry that the Government veered away from voting for Palestinian membership of UNESCO, and I am concerned that they intend to abstain when, eventually, the Security Council votes on the Palestinian application for UN membership. By abstaining, we will get no thanks from Obama and the United States, who want us to vote against, and at the same time it will give us no leverage whatever with the Israelis.

Today the Foreign Secretary, as he does whenever he talks about these things, advocated peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and set out yet again the parameters for the outcome of those negotiations. However, the prospect of such negotiations is nil, because the Palestinians will not sit down with an Israeli Government who are constantly expanding settlements, and I do not blame them for that. There are thousands and thousands of settlements. Other hon. Members, like me, have been there and seen not only the expansion of the settlements but the way in which settlers move into a Palestinian’s house in a Palestinian area of Jerusalem, live there and force people out of the house, with the support of the Israeli police. Can one be surprised that Palestinians do not want to sit down with people who do that to them and get away with it both internally and internationally?

The checkpoints continue to impede movement, and as I have seen and other hon. Members will no doubt have seen, the illegal wall—as illegal as the settlements are—keeps olive cultivators away from their groves. A grove that is five minutes away by foot is hours away, if it can be got to at all, because of the wall. Does one really expect the Palestinians to accept that and sit down with the people who are doing that to them?

Now, the latest development, the Israeli punishment of the Palestinians for having applied for membership of the UN and achieved membership of UNESCO, is that the Israeli Government are illegally withholding £63 million of tax revenues from the Palestinians. That will affect tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of jobs of Palestinians working in the public sector, but what happens? Hillary Clinton gets on the phone to Netanyahu, and Netanyahu basically tells her to get lost. The Americans could have their will with the Israelis whenever they wanted to, as George Bush senior did when the Israeli Government refused to go to Madrid for talks, but they do not. They whimper.

28 Nov 2011 : Column 749

Tony Blair has complained about the tax revenues being stolen by the Israelis from the Palestinians, but nothing happens.

What is more, the Israelis have refused to stop planting land mines, which the House united in opposing. They are now saying that they will do something even nastier to the Palestinians if the talks between Fatah and Hamas provide a unity Government. Hamas is a dreadful organisation, yes, but it is there, and it won an election democratically. There was international invigilation showing that it was a democratic election. It had a more valid election result than George W. Bush’s first one.

If there is to be a united Palestine, it is absolutely essential that those parties get together. Otherwise, there will be at best an independent west bank with Gaza separate from it, and nobody else will take in Gaza. When I had a talk with Mubarak about Gaza and asked him whether, because of its physical separation from the west bank, it would make more sense for Egypt to incorporate Gaza, he said, “I wouldn’t have Gaza in my territory for $5 million.” The only way in which the Gaza problem can be solved is a Palestinian unity Government, and we should want to foster the unity of Fatah and Hamas, not oppose it.

I was interviewed by a bizarre Israeli television interviewer last week, who said to me, “At least you’ve got to agree that Israel is a democracy.” But that democracy is being impaired the whole time. The Knesset has passed legislation limiting freedom of speech, and it has just passed legislation that forbids overseas Governments from providing finance to the NGOs, many of which would not be able to function without that finance. I pay tribute to the Department for International Development for what it does with the NGOs. If there is a shining example of what this Government are achieving, it is the work of that Department, but its efforts are being hampered by the way in which the Israelis are conducting themselves—against international law.

I would love to go along with what the Foreign Secretary said—which the Minister will no doubt repeat—about how hard we are working to get talks going, because in the end, talks are the only way in which this will be solved. But there will be no peace in the region—in all that turbulent region—until the justified aspirations of the Palestinians are fulfilled.

8.36 pm

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) and I do not always agree on everything, but it is a pleasure to follow that speech. I did not agree with all of it, but much of what he said is deserving of approbation from both sides of the House. I am conscious, as I always am in these debates, of the considerable knowledge that he and others bring to this issue. It is far greater than mine, although my hon. Friend the Minister will recall that it was in a debate such as this that I had the temerity to make my maiden speech. On that occasion, at least, I had the considerable privilege of not being interrupted. It is an example that I encourage the House to follow this evening—

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): Will my hon. Friend give way?

28 Nov 2011 : Column 750

Stephen Phillips: I will happily give way to my hon. Friend, but I think that attempt was a little tongue in cheek.

On the last occasion that the House debated these issues at length, I spoke on the subject of Egypt, an issue—and indeed a country—close to my heart, not least because of the legacy that this country left for the Egyptians and the responsibility that we bear for the situation in which we left our former mandates with regard to democracy. In the case of Egypt at least, the good beginnings that we perhaps left behind were thrown away.

I shall begin with Egypt, not least because it is in that country that today—at least according to The New York Times and the Financial Times as I have read them online during the day—we have seen those queues, which are so familiar in countries that have not enjoyed democracy, snaking around the block from the polling stations, as those who have not experienced the benefits, even the joys, of electing those who represent them queue to vote for the first time in many cases. That has certainly been the case in Egypt today for many people. With the possible exception of an 18-month period in the 1980s, there have been no real democratic elections in the last 30 years in one of the largest and most populous Arab states.

The right hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander) observed in his remarks that Egypt is a particularly important country in the context of the Arab spring. That is something with which I agree and with which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary agrees. The simple fact is not merely that Egypt is the largest of the Arab countries by population and geographical size but that it carries considerable influence. It is the seat, for example, of the rejuvenated Arab League. As someone said to me earlier, it is the future Brussels of the middle east. It was with horror, therefore, that I saw my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) in the debate earlier. I feared that he would remain for the entirety of the debate and that on making that remark, he would intervene on me and tell me the inadequacies of the euro and of everything else to do with the European Union. I am glad to see, at least on this occasion, that he is not in his place and that I can make the remark without fear of intervention.

Jeremy Corbyn: He is watching somewhere.

Stephen Phillips: I have no doubt that whenever I speak in the Chamber, my hon. Friend the Member for Stone is watching.

Egypt has also been the most stalwart of the allies that this country and the entirety of the west have had in the middle east for a number of years. It is a country that has a refined economy that is capable of providing the economic motor for north Africa and the Arab states. It is of course the bread basket of that region and is capable of providing a great deal of food, which is necessary in so many of these impoverished countries and regions. For that reason it is extremely important that the revolution that began earlier this year in Egypt is sustained and that the democracy that we have seen growing is fostered not only by this country but by our allies in the western world and the European Union. There is this fear, certainly in my mind, that were the revolution in Egypt to fail, the rest of the Arab world might run the risk of sinking back into some form of authoritarianism, even were it not the authoritarianism that we witnessed under the Mubarak regime.

28 Nov 2011 : Column 751

When the revolution took place, there was of course great hope. I spoke about it earlier in the year. A number of Members on both sides of the House have said quite rightly that it is not for us to impose our model of democracy on either Egypt or any of the other countries passing through the Arab spring. When the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces took power and the Prime Minister travelled to Cairo after Mubarak’s fall, there was great hope that the sweeping reforms that were promised would be delivered in short order and that there would be a swift return to stability within the country and a prompt transition to elected civilian rule. It is a matter of regret, I think, on both sides of the House, that that has not happened as quickly as we would have liked. There has been an absence of a clear political plan and of the bold reforms that are necessary to deliver democracy in Egypt—as they are necessary to deliver democracy in the rest of the region.

Most worryingly of all, the economy has faltered, which appears to have led to the current ream of protests that have again resurrected themselves in Egypt. The Supreme Council and the generals are obstructing the necessary economic reforms, which my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) mentioned earlier. That has deterred international investment in Egypt and, most worryingly, it has let the country slide further into debt—the sort of debt that we in the west know all too much about.

The timetable for democracy has been unnecessarily stretched out, from months to years. The generals have hinted that they expect to retain a dominant role, entirely failing to understand or reflect the spirit of change that led to those momentous events in Tahrir square earlier in the year.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was overhasty and undemocratic in bringing forward the amendments to the constitution proposed in the al-Selmy proposals. Trying to slip in additional pre-emptive clauses to protect the privileges and powers of the armed forces and trying to keep the defence budget a secret is simply not acceptable in a modern, democratic society. The discipline that the army reimposed on protesters—for example, using military tribunals and the emergency laws first passed in the 1950s and first used in the 1960s—has naturally led those who wanted democracy in Egypt to return to the streets to protest against the lack of progress towards the reforms necessary to secure the sort of democracy that we have in this country.

Those protests have recently resulted in appalling loss of life. Thousands have returned to the streets again not least, as I have mentioned, because of the state of the economy in Egypt, but the response from those who seem to be isolated from their people has been too little, too late: the offers to hold presidential elections by the end of June, to free political prisoners and to allow impartial investigation of the obvious abuses by the security forces that have been documented in the media have been wholly inadequate. It remains to be seen whether the democratic exercise to which the Egyptian people have for the first time been given the right today will calm matters and return peace to the streets of Egypt. That is to be hoped for, given not only the recent unrest but the loss of life last week.

28 Nov 2011 : Column 752

The path to democracy is never easy, however, and we should commend Field Marshall Tantawi and those responsible for ruling Egypt since the revolution on their reiteration of the army’s determination to leave power eventually. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary indicated, however, we should encourage them to do so as quickly as possible.

The recent moves have gone some way to meeting the popular demands of the Egyptian people. No doubt that is why the Muslim Brotherhood expressed cautious support for some of the recent announcements by Field Marshall Tantawi and SCAF. As several speakers have said, we should not tell those whom we are encouraging to exercise their democratic rights what sort of Government they need to elect. If we are honest about democracy, we must live with whatever Government are elected, whether in Egypt or anywhere else. If there is fear in the House about the Muslim Brotherhood taking power in Egypt, as I suspect that it will—no doubt in coalition, which is something of which I am not a great fan, but there we are—that is not something of which the House, the Government or the British people should be afraid.

Other speakers have pointed out that the exercise of power by Islamists who take power through the ballot box deprives al-Qaeda of the oxygen that it has always had, which is its argument that there is no route to Islamist control of middle east countries and Arab states without violent revolution. That is why we do not need to be afraid of these events—indeed, they indicate that we should support those Governments who will take power in due course whether in Egypt or anywhere else.

Whether in Egypt, Syria or elsewhere, the army and those institutions that have hitherto assumed that it is their automatic right to govern should retreat from politics and leave it to politicians elected by the people. Furthermore, military tribunals and emergency laws must be abolished, the legacy in the middle east of failed democracy—so much the fault of the west—must, perhaps for the first time, be cast aside and those who inhabit the Arab states must for the first time have the opportunity to exercise the rights that we take for granted.

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): My hon. and learned Friend makes some important points. Countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh—Islamist-led countries, yet stable democracies—give a positive sense of where things can go. It behoves us and this Government to do everything we can to support those emerging democracies and give them the direction that we can, in the way that he is indicating.

Stephen Phillips: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes an extremely valid point. Democracy may not be the best system by which mankind can be governed, but it is certainly the least bad system that we have yet hit upon. As I said to the House previously—I think in March this year—we are not in possession of the one, unique form of democracy in this country, nor are any of the other western democracies. It must be for those countries concerned to determine what form of democratic systems they must put in place—consistent, it must be said, with human rights, which are inviolable, accountability, including democratic accountability of politicians, and any number of other things. However, once those core

28 Nov 2011 : Column 753

things are in place, precisely what form of democracy a particular country follows must be up to that country. It is for that reason that one can support and see the validity of establishing the principle that certain proportions of Members of Parliament in some of those countries must be women or must be under the age of 30—as I think is the case in Tunisia—and so on. That is a matter for those countries. It is not for us to decree precisely how they should run their countries.

There is considerable optimism as a result of today’s elections in Egypt. They may be too late and they may be being conducted under an extremely complex system, which seems designed in part to generate confusion and perhaps to entrench some of the interests that the Egyptian people would rather see lose out—that is, the interests of the elite that has governed them tyrannically for so long—but there is genuine hope in Egypt, as in other countries. It is for that reason that I sincerely hope that today’s elections will result not only in a reduction in violence, but in a democratic Government being installed in Egypt, for the first time in the living memory of many.

The motion on the Order Paper is wide-reaching. There is much that I would wish to say about a number of other countries; however, I will say something about just a few. The first is Syria. There is universal condemnation, on both sides of the House, of the existing regime in Syria. Its time has come, a fact that is clear from the action taken by the Arab League and from the reaction to the regime’s repression of its own citizens. It is also clear in the sense that there is now no international support for the regime at all—no votes, for example, in favour of retaining Syria in the Arab League. I was pleased, therefore, to hear my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary tell us of the pressure that the Government are bringing to bear on the regime, and also of the pressure being brought to bear on those who, it would seem, do not wish to impose further sanctions or encourage the regime to follow the route that is so obvious to all of us in this House. The regime must eventually stand aside, and there must eventually be democratic elections in Syria too.

Perhaps most notable has been the recent reaction of the Kingdom of Jordan, hitherto standing aloof perhaps—or certainly standing neutral—which one can understand, but now utterly condemning what has been going on in Syria. If Syria, the Syrian regime and President Bashar al-Assad think that they have any friends left—whether in the west or the Arab world, or whether China or Russia—I rather suspect that that misconception will be quickly eradicated in the next few months.

So, Syria, one hopes, will be a country where the west will keep up its pressure over the next few years and over the next few weeks and months. Our allies will do the same and every member of the United Nations will do the same in utterly condemning the violence and requiring those who have hitherto ruled Syria to stand aside and to allow the people of that nation the democratic freedoms that so many others in so many other Arab nations are now experiencing as a result of the Arab spring.

Let me touch briefly on Bahrain. There have been wide-scale human rights abuses in that country, and it is perhaps a matter of encouragement that the King established the independent human rights commission

28 Nov 2011 : Column 754

to examine the protests. The commission was led by Cherif Bassiouni, a former war crimes lawyer for the United Nations. Members of all parties will have read the report that ensued and will have congratulated the Bahraini Government. It is important that the pressure continues to mount on Bahrain to bring to justice those responsible for these appalling human rights abuses. It is also important to recognise, however, that no other Arab ruler has voluntarily invited such scrutiny of an Arab Government. For that reason, the Government are taking, in my judgment, precisely the right actions on Bahrain. I think there has been general agreement that this applies pretty much across the middle east.

The great benefit to this country of the Arab spring is perhaps that it not only presents us with the opportunity to ensure that many citizens across the Arab world who even a few years ago could not have expected to live in democratic societies have that opportunity for the future, but affords us the opportunity for the first time, given our history and our responsibility for the region, to do what is right, to encourage the democracy that we value so much and to ensure that everybody across the Arab world enjoys the rights that we take for granted.

8.57 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I am pleased that we are having this debate. I shall endeavour not to take too long so that time is available for everyone to speak.

We are dealing with an amazing atmosphere, which is of historic proportions, across north Africa and the middle east. It is interesting to reflect that over the past 60 years, the countries of this region have seen the end of the second world war, an independence process being established, an initial Arab spring in the 1950s, the degeneration of many of those then revolutionary Governments into autocratic and authoritarian Governments who relied heavily on secret police and prisons, leading up to the uprisings that have broken out right across the region this year.

I think we should bear it in mind that every single one of the countries across north Africa and the middle east has at least half of its population under the age of 25, with many even younger. There are a great deal of very young, very angry people who have been through school and college, in some cases to university, yet they cannot find jobs. There is a big economic aspect and economic demands underpinning the whole process, which then relates to the political sphere of the unaccountability of government and the power of police forces and the secret police to imprison and control people.

In their search for an accountable Government and for some degree of opportunities in people’s lives, we need to be aware that people do not necessarily view western Europe or north America as a good example. They do not necessarily want to create the kind of societies that we have; they are looking for something that is identifiably theirs and of their region, not aping the previous imperial masters that controlled so much of that region for so long. We need to be a bit more cautious and respectful of the historical process that is going on.

I shall touch briefly on a number of issues. First, the Foreign Secretary mentioned the meetings he had had in Mauritania and Morocco. I intervened on him—and I was grateful to him for giving way—on the question of

28 Nov 2011 : Column 755

Western Sahara. Many people have been in refugee camps in Algeria since 1975, when, following the Spanish withdrawal from Western Sahara, Morocco marched in and established a military presence, driving them out of the area.

Under decolonisation statutes, as former Spanish colonial subjects those people have the right of self-determination. They are entitled to decide whether they want to live in an autonomous region or an independent country, for instance. However, they have never been allowed to make that choice. More than 80 countries recognise the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. This country does not recognise it—indeed, no European country does—but all of Africa except Morocco does, as do many other countries, particularly in Latin and central America.

We should spare a thought for the difficulties of a Government who, based in refugee camps and in exile, must lead their people while the majority of them also live in refugee camps, and must explain to them that they do not want to go back to war or launch a terrorist attack. In fact, they want a peaceful resolution and look to the United Nations to provide it, and I hope that this country will do what it can to support their aim. I had a useful meeting with the Minister to discuss the issue, and he showed considerable understanding of the situation. Let me compliment him on the fact that Britain has not supported the renewal of the EU-Moroccan fish agreement on the basis that it has been of no benefit to the people in the occupied territories—although, of course, it should have been—because it is taking resources, fish in this instance, from the waters alongside the western Sahara. I hope that he is aware of the strength of feeling that exists. As chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Western Sahara, I can assure him that we will continue to pursue the issue.

According to a parliamentary answer given to me last week, the war in Libya has cost £1.8 billion, rather more than the £200 million that we were told it would cost at the start of the conflict. I am not very surprised, because wars cost an awful lot of money. I am not here to defend human rights abuses by anyone. I am here to support the idea of accountable government, an independent form of justice, and adherence to UN basic law on human rights—all the fundamental elements of the UN charter.

I did not support the intervention in Libya for a number of reasons which I gave at the time, and I remain very concerned about the human rights situation in Libya. I am concerned about, for example, the number of African migrant workers who were living and working in Libya and who have been abused or murdered, or whose lives and homes have been destroyed, and the number of others who have faced summary justice in Libya since the transitional national council took over.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) mentioned Saif, Gaddafi’s son, who has been arrested. It is still not clear whether he is in the custody of the transitional national council or in the custody of some other group in the town where he was captured, but I think that he should be put on trial. He probably has a great many interesting things to say about Libya’s economic relationship with this country, France, Italy and many other nations less than a year ago; about the amount of money that Libya spent in

28 Nov 2011 : Column 756

this country, France and Italy less than a year ago; and about the arms supplied by all those countries. He deserves to be put on trial, not just because of the abuses of human rights carried out by his father’s regime and the killing of prisoners some time ago, but so that we can understand what those relationships lead to at the end of the day. A lot of truth needs to come out.

I would prefer Saif to be tried by the International Criminal Court, but within the terms of the Rome statute, he does not have to be tried there. The national jurisdiction can put him on trial, although it must follow international standards and allow international observers and international representation.

Bob Stewart: I was always under the impression that the basic rule is that if the national jurisdiction decides to try someone, that takes precedence over any International Criminal Court proceedings. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?

Jeremy Corbyn: Yes, that is my understanding. That is why I said that Saif does not have to be extradited to The Hague. I would prefer it if he was, but that has to be decided. However, we do have to be confident that there will be an independent judicial system. The murder of his father by a mob is not a very good precedent. We must also look at some of the other abuses of human rights that are now taking place in Libya, and have some very serious concerns.

We should not say, “Ra, ra, we’ve won,” too often, because there is too much pain and too much suffering, and too many people have already died. I read an interesting article by Franklin Lamb from Sirte in Libya called “Bad moon rising over great Sirte bay.” He supported the TNC and the overthrow of Gaddafi, but he describes what he sees as problems for the future. One of them is relations with Algeria, and he also quotes someone saying about NATO:

“‘They destroyed our country and now they want us to pay them to rebuild it. I wish we could rebuild without one NATO country profiting. It’s like that crazy American woman running for President of your country who wants Iraq to pay for the death of US occupation soldiers who were killed.’”

The article goes on to describe the cynicism with which a great deal of the western involvement in Libya is viewed. I therefore think we should be a bit more cautious and circumspect about this matter.

Egyptians are voting in their elections today. We all hope those elections will be properly run and will turn out an accountable Parliament and Government, but above all we must hope that they bring the military under democratic control. There has never been a time in Egyptian history when the primary power of the state, the armed forces, have been under any kind of democratic control. They might have been very popular at various times, and they might have been very unpopular at certain times, but they have never been subject to the kind of parliamentary control that we, along with most other countries in the world, would see as the norm in respect of our armed forces. If that is not achieved, a constitution might be developed in which the Parliament and Government exist, but only as a kind of parallel power structure—as in Chile under Pinochet, in Indonesia and, to some extent, in Turkey before the more recent reforms—with the army being effectively independent

28 Nov 2011 : Column 757

of the democratic process, raising its own funds, existing in any way it wants and able to take control of things in the future.

The people who were in Tahrir square over the weekend, and those who were killed last week by the army and police forces, were demanding accountable Government and democracy. The west should be a little cautious in thinking it can do deals with the military to bring about some kind of solution in Egypt.

Egypt has always been the headquarters of the Arab League. Under Nasser it was also very much the centre of the whole Arab uprising and that period of Arab nationalism. There is a competitor on the horizon, however: the Gulf Co-operation Council, which is beginning to assert itself. The GCC started out as a fairly mild union of Gulf states, but it has now, in some respects, become a kind of rival to the Arab League. Strangely, Morocco has now joined the kingdoms of the Gulf region. The last time I looked at the map, Morocco did not appear to be a Gulf country, but perhaps something has changed. The GCC includes US bases in Bahrain, and it has allowed or encouraged or facilitated—we may choose whichever word we want—Saudi Arabia to occupy Bahrain in order to support the kingdom and condone the many human rights abuses that have gone on in Bahrain not only over the last few weeks but the last few years.

Behind that, we must ask some questions about what is happening in Saudi Arabia at the present time. I was given a note about last week’s

“death of four Shia protestors in Qatif…after clashes with security forces. The government accused outside agents as usual but the crisis is more profound. The Shia have been protesting since March over the detention of political prisoners without trial and asking for an end to discrimination and exclusion.”

It goes on to cite:

“The trial of 17 reformers described by Amnesty International as peaceful activists in Jeddah. They were sentenced to 5-30 years in prison. The case demonstrated how the justice system is under the control of the Ministry of Interior.”

Many issues of human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia have to be examined but, again, Britain’s overwhelming commercial relationship with that country, through arms sales and oil imports, seems to dominate what ought to be genuine concerns about human rights there, about the inability of ordinary people there to express themselves and about the denial to women of any basic or fundamental rights that any other country in the world ought to be able to subscribe and aspire to.

What my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) said about what is happening in Bahrain is absolutely true. I first met human rights activists from Bahrain at a UN conference in Copenhagen in 1986, when they came to see me to talk about the suspension of the constitution, the weakness of the Parliament, the power of the King, and the degree of discrimination and abuses of human rights. Last week, a very lengthy report was published by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, and I shall quote from a small passage about the establishment of the commission by decree in June 2011:

“The commission found that arbitrary arrests—in many cases pre-dawn raids conducted by armed and masked security…forces—showed the ‘existence of an operational plan’ to terrorize protestors and opposition members. It concluded that the arrests and detentions ‘could not have happened without the knowledge of higher echelons

28 Nov 2011 : Column 758

of the command structure’ of the security forces, and that failure to investigate rights abuses could implicate not only low-level personnel, but also higher level officials.”

This country has close relations with Bahrain, we have had close military co-operation with Bahrain and we have sold a great deal of equipment to Bahrain, including surveillance equipment that has been used against highly democratic human rights protestors, so we need to be cautious about our double standards.

The last two points that I wish to make concern ever-present, huge threats that exist in the region. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) made a brilliant speech about the situation facing Palestinian people. It was the most moving speech that I have heard for a very long time on that issue, and it was made on the basis of a very recent visit. He and I have been to the west bank and Gaza together on a number of occasions, and I hope that we will be able to go there again.

Bob Russell: As we approach the anniversary of the birth of Christ, does the hon. Gentleman agree that today Joseph and Mary would not be able to get to Bethlehem because of the walls, the shepherds would be ethnically cleansed and the three kings would not be allowed into Palestine?

Jeremy Corbyn: I have been through the miserable experience of what ought to be a pleasant, if short, journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. One goes through many checkpoints and then sees the obscenity of the wall around Bethlehem and how it goes through streets and fields and takes people’s land away. Some people cope with it in a witty way. I went to a nice, ordinary Palestinian café in Bethlehem that I had been to before the wall was constructed 3 or 4 metres in front of it. The people there had renamed it “The Wall Café” and painted the menu on the wall. One sat in the café and read the menu off the wall, and everything on it was to do with the wall. One could have wall falafel, wall burgers, wall chips or wall coffee—it was “wall” everything. What a way to have to live! People see their whole communities and societies destroyed by the construction of the wall and the construction of settlements.

Palestinians living in their village on their farm, with their olive groves, oranges or whatever else they grow suddenly find that a wall comes and they have lost access to their land, or a settlement comes and all their water is taken away, or a road is built that they are not allowed to use. There are settler roads and settlements supported by the Israeli army and police forces, who are condoning absolutely the theft of land and the occupation of the best land with the best water supplies. Then they say, “Come on—let’s make peace.” I am sorry, but if they are going to make peace they must start by ending the settlement policy and withdrawing the settlements from the west bank. But we are quite a long way away from that.

Palestine applied for UN membership, and that is to be decided. I hope, although it is probably a very faint hope, that the British Government will vote in support of it. I understand we are going to take the incredibly brave position of abstaining—a really tough decision to make. And what happened when the UNESCO membership went through? Israel withdrew the tax money that should be paid to the Palestinian Authority, which means the authority is rapidly running out of

28 Nov 2011 : Column 759

money, and the United States withdrew funding from UNESCO, which means that UNESCO will have a financial problem. Sorry, but for what? Because the Palestinians had the temerity to want to be a member of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. That is a truly ridiculous situation.

If we want peace in the middle east, we must recognise the Palestinian people and negotiate with their representatives, whether we like them or not. There are lots of representatives of the Palestinian people: Hamas, Fatah, independents, people who undertake civil disobedience and pacifists. There are people of all descriptions and views, but they are all Palestinians and they all recognise the right to exist as Palestine within that region. Israel seems incapable of deciding what its borders are, yet insists that Palestinians should continue to give up land. I strongly support the right of the Palestinian people to exist and to have their own identity, and putting false barriers in the way will not bring about peace.

Israel, however, is a very powerful country. It is the world’s fourth largest arms exporter and a possessor of nuclear weapons. It has not signed a nuclear non-proliferation treaty, but it has signed up to the Mediterranean weapons of mass destruction-free zone. As a nuclear power, Israel must recognise that if we are to bring about peace in the region, it needs to be involved. Last year’s NPT review conference called for a nuclear-free middle east, so Iran as a member of the NPT organisation must obviously be part of that just as Israel, I suspect, should also be part of that process. I do not want anyone having nuclear weapons in the middle east, and I think that the best way to deal with Iran is by consultation and by having as many dealings with it as possible. It is not to condone the human rights abuses or everything that goes on, including the imprisonment of trade unionists and all the other denials of human rights, but to recognise the lessons we have learned from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Are we seriously going to go down the road of having a war in Syria or Iran? I sincerely hope not. I want there to be peace and justice, but I am not convinced that the process of wars and British involvement in those wars have done anything but cost us a great deal of money and brutalised our own country. Nor have they improved our standing around the world. The Department for International Development does a great job in many ways and many places, including Palestine. We seem to be obsessed in this country with the idea that a nation of 65-odd million people on the north-west coast of Europe has the funding, resources and power to have global reach. I am not sure we do. We need to think about these things and start being much more supportive of international institutions, international law, human rights and all the other issues that go with them, rather than turning a blind eye to human rights abuses because it suits our commercial interests at certain times to sell arms, buy oil or whatever else.

Let me conclude with a final thought. I have met a number of former soldiers who have been in Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed, some of them can be found in the occupations around London. Tragically, an awful lot of former soldiers can be found as homeless people and others going through a very bad time in their lives. Almost a century ago, Siegfried Sassoon wrote that the

28 Nov 2011 : Column 760

“the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it”.

A statement has been issued by 15 British soldiers and two Royal Marines, supported by four Americans. The first signatory is Joe Glenton, who refused to go to Iraq and has since left the Army. I shall not read it all out because it is quite long, but I shall quote part of it:

“We are veterans, from the British and American Armed Forces, acting on behalf of soldiers and citizens at home. We know that these wars have nothing to do with democracy, security, women’s rights, peace or stability, they are fought for money and power, nothing else. Our comrades’ blood has lubricated the ambitions of a few. The goals could only have been achieved by negotiation and this remains the case.

We have seen and endured the suffering of the soldiers affected by these wars and, unlike those who send them to fight, we know these people at a human level. We have seen and regret the suffering of the innocent people in the countries involved. We are protesting against the conduct of the war and the reasons it was started by the United States and the United Kingdom. We object to the insincerity and imperialistic objectives, for which people continue to be sacrificed, displaced, tortured, imprisoned and wounded.”

It goes on to say that they think 10 years is enough for these wars.

I know that is not a majority view in the House and might not even be a majority view across the whole country. However, people are increasingly questioning our foreign policy and the amount of resources we spend on weapons of mass destruction and our own nuclear weapons while claiming that nobody else should have them. I think we need a bit of a rethink on our foreign policy. We should admire and support those who stand up for democracy, but let us not start another war with Syria or Iran. That is not the right way to go.

9.20 pm

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I respect and rather like the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), but of course I cannot agree with the last sentiments in his speech. I shall make a short speech as I believe there are two Opposition Members yet to speak. I shall bear that in mind.

I have lived or worked in Egypt, Jordan, Cyprus, Yemen and Bahrain. The United Kingdom has a traditional and present-day interest in what happens throughout the middle east and north Africa, but that does not give us the right to direct exactly what should happen politically in those countries. Like many hon. Members who have spoken, however, I very much hope that we can influence the direction of their politics in future. I shall confine my remarks to countries in which I have lived or of which I have some experience, starting with Egypt, where I lived for a while in 2005.

The current situation in Egypt is totally unacceptable. The idea that protestors have had to go back to Tahrir square is a dire warning to Field Marshal Tantawi, and the fact that 35 people were killed recently is utterly abhorrent and very worrying. The military will have to stand away from politics but I fear they will find that very difficult to do. Today’s parliamentary elections in Egypt might help. Tantawi has promised to hand over power to civilians, so we will see what happens in that regard. We now have a timeline for that, and a president should be elected by June 2012. Personally, I doubt whether the military will be able to give up their stranglehold on power and privilege as easily as people might think.

28 Nov 2011 : Column 761

I lived in Bahrain as a young man in 1969.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): A young man?

Bob Stewart: I was indeed young once—it is almost the start of a song. When I lived in Bahrain it was a very different time to now. I desperately want to see human rights in Bahrain and I am very unhappy about what has happened there recently, particularly about the Saudis coming in with their armed forces. I very much hope that things will get much better.

The final country that I want to talk about is Yemen, where I lived when I was an even younger man between 1954 and 1958. I have always taken a close interest in what has happened to the Aden protectorate. Yemen is a strategic location right at the bottom of the Saudi peninsula and has always been important. It was important to us as a place where our steamers were coaled up for going to India. It was also the home of Osama bin Laden. Let me say how pleased I am with the UK Government’s launch of the Friends of Yemen group.

I will conclude, as I want to keep my comments as short as possible for obvious reasons. Huge changes are taking place in the middle east and north Africa. It is clearly a time of great opportunity for the peoples of the region. I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) and my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys), who made points about our business links to the region being part of our foreign policy. That is an extremely good idea and I know that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is doing his very best to combine diplomacy and business.

I am very hopeful that the Arab spring will liberate large numbers of people and change their way of life in the middle east and north Africa, but the danger is that in times of turmoil things can go either way. That is the problem that we face. We must use our limited power—I stress limited power—to influence what happens throughout the region for the better. I very much hope that, this time next year, we will see the peoples of the middle east and north Africa in a much happier place than they are at present. I keep my fingers crossed and I believe the bottle may well be half filled, rather than half empty.

9.26 pm

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). I congratulate him on his speech and his generosity in leaving time for others to speak.

I follow the sentiments of the hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips), my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander) in saying how fitting it is that, on this day, when the people of Egypt start to go to the polls in their parliamentary general election, we are holding this debate on the future of the middle east and north Africa.

I shall restrict my remarks to the situation in Syria and Bahrain. I hope it is helpful to the House for me to take us back to the origin of the protest on 18 March, when Syrian Government forces detained 15 children for spraying anti-regime graffiti on a wall. When civilians took to the street to protest against that heavy-handed

28 Nov 2011 : Column 762

crackdown, the same security forces brought the uprising to a brief and brutal conclusion by killing four protestors. The next day, thousands more people took to the streets.

To date, Syria continues its ruthless practice of violently extinguishing protests, no matter how peaceful, as a precondition to any engagement with the opposition parties. The UN estimates that 3,500 protestors have been killed since the protests began. The non-governmental organisation Freedom House estimated that in 2010 between 2,000 and 2,500 political prisoners in Syria were held. It described Assad’s regime as an “ossified dictatorship”.

Until the early part of this year, Syria had perhaps somewhat successfully portrayed an image of stability to the media in the west. In an interview in The Wall Street Journal on 31 January, President Assad asserted with some confidence that Syria would not fall victim to the same fate as the regimes in Egypt and Tunisia. He said:

“Where there is divergence between your policy and the people’s beliefs and interests, you will have this vacuum that creates disturbance. So people do not only live on interests; they also live on beliefs”.

The ideology of the Syrian people to which Assad referred in that quote was the opposition to Israel. Syria and Israel have clashed militarily on a number of occasions. However, he failed to recognise that the people’s beliefs transcend religion and that Syrians believe in genuine economic and social reform and in democracy and equality.

At an Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Indonesia last week, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that the situation in Syria could soon result in civil war. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has taken the view

“that it already looks like one.”

It is difficult to refute that argument when recounting the unfathomable cruelty that Assad has waged against his own people. However, unlike the Libyan opposition, whose strategy appeared haphazard but who were coherent and single-minded, the Syrian opposition are unfortunately splintered. There have been some interesting diplomatic developments. The Turkish Prime Minister recently said:

“It is not heroism to fight against your own people.”

His criticism is particularly significant, as he previously referred to his Syrian counterparts as “his brothers”. The Turkish President, Abdullah Gul, last week noted that Syria had reached

“the point of no return.”

Where to now for Syria? Michael Broning, director of the east Jerusalem office of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, a German political foundation, has noted:

“Syria has recently experienced annual economic growth rates of around 5 percent, but the country is still plagued by staggering unemployment, increasing costs of living, stagnating wages, and widespread poverty.”

The UN estimates that in eastern Syria alone 800,000 people live in extreme poverty, owing to a sustained period of low rainfall. When he succeeded his father Hafez in 2000, Assad moved towards economic liberalisation with the creation of a stock market and the opening of the banking sector to private banks, yet Syria is rated 144th out of 183 countries in the World Bank’s latest report on the ease of doing business. Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at Oklahoma university, considers the prospects for economic development to be bleak, noting recently:

“Eventually things will fall apart.”

28 Nov 2011 : Column 763

Unlike with events in Libya, the Arab League has been reticent in its approach to the uprising in Syria. Although the causes of the Arab uprisings in recent months are deeply complex and entrenched, in some cases, they stem from a culmination of decades of repression and underdevelopment. Although the eventual catalysts differ from state to state, the long-term causes appear to be consistent: high inflation, rising food prices, mass unemployment, absence of social mobility and human rights abuses. Economic and social reform in the middle east is arguably as important as political reform in the shape of overthrowing autocrats.

Like Syria, Bahrain is an example of an unrepresentative regime—a 70% Shi’ite majority is governed by a Sunni, pro-US regime. Indeed, some commentators have argued that the US has been reticent in its stance on Bahrain, relative to its sharp condemnation of other Arab autocrats, but the US Secretary of State said recently that the tumult in Bahrain serves Iran’s interests. She said:

“Meaningful reform and equal treatment for all Bahrainis are in Bahrain’s interests, in the region’s interest, and in ours—while endless unrest benefits Iran and extremists.”

Last week the Bahrain independent commission of inquiry cleared Iran of being the hidden hand behind the Shi’a protests, which in itself is encouraging, but under no circumstances should we see the heat taken off the Bahrain Government. Last week’s report also surprised many middle east commentators for its candour and acceptance of the Bahrain Government’s accountability. The report contains a number of damning indictments of the security forces’ conduct, including: the admission of deaths of 35 protesters; the admission of lethal force being used against protesters, leading to civilian deaths; the admission that torture was pervasive among those detained and led to five deaths; the admission that female prisoners were threatened with rape; and, most importantly, the admission that the reforms must now be rapidly implemented to inhibit the litany of human rights abuses that mark the spring uprising in Bahrain. But that acceptance of culpability has also to be followed by purposeful reforms to ensure that the victims of human rights abuses receive justice, and that safeguards are established in law to prevent any repeat. The BICI report details evidence that imprisoned protestors were beaten, whipped, hooded and subjected to electric shock treatment, and those findings must lead to real change.

Dramatic changes are also needed to the economy in Bahrain. Unemployment stands at 15% and youth unemployment is at 20%—and that, too, is reflective of other states in the Arab region. In Libya, unemployment is at 30%, and in Yemen, where President Ali Abdullah Saleh last week signed the deal to transfer power, it stands at 35%.

We have a new generation of young people who are unwilling to accept the inequality experienced by past generations, and it falls to the international community to ensure that the brave efforts of protestors in Manama and elsewhere throughout the middle east have not been in vain, and that the promise of the Arab spring is not squandered this winter.

9.36 pm

Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): It has certainly been a wide-ranging and interesting debate. We had the Foreign Secretary and the hon. Member for Shrewsbury

28 Nov 2011 : Column 764

and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) competing as to who had visited the most distant locations, and the hon. Gentleman also expressed his concern that the Conservative party was dominated by


-reading, Radio 4-listening liberal lefties, which I am sure was a revelation to the Foreign Secretary. My right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander) welcomed the debate, which is timely and a welcome opportunity to discuss the momentous events taking place throughout the region.

I do not want to appear churlish, but briefly I shall express a slight concern, because in Afghanistan we in the UK have a direct influence on events and a vital interest, with several thousand of our service personnel there, and this weekend the Bonn conference on the future of Afghanistan will take place, with more than 1,000 delegates attending. That would have been a significant moment even before the events of last weekend, so we should also recognise the considerable parliamentary concern about how the substantial gains made by the women of that country can be preserved.

In a speech last week, the Foreign Secretary pointed out:

“In 2002 only 9% of Afghans had access to health facilities in their local area, today this proportion has risen to 85%. One in three of the six million children in school in Afghanistan is a girl. Just last year 50,000 new teachers were trained, over 30% of them women,”


“Sixty nine female MPs were elected in 2010.”

That is why last week more than 100 Members of this House attended a photoshoot to show their support for the gains made by Afghan women, so I am slightly surprised that the Government did not this week schedule a debate in which they could have outlined their aspirations for the conference, but at the very least I hope that we will have more information in Foreign Office questions tomorrow and a report back next week.

The other inevitable problem with a debate of this breadth is the difficulty of focusing clearly on particular areas and of developing clear themes. During the Foreign Secretary’s speech I was not clear whether there was an overarching strategic approach. The issue of national strategy has concerned the Public Administration Committee, and I would have hoped to have seen more of the strategic thread, but perhaps that will emerge in the Minister’s response. So I shall inevitably have to deal with matters country by country, and I apologise for those that I do not cover in the time available, but the Minister needs a reasonable amount of time to cover the wide range of issues that have been addressed.

I shall begin with Somalia. There are massive governance issues that clearly have a huge effect on the local population, impacting on the safety of neighbouring countries such as Kenya in particular, and on world shipping, with continuing depredations from piracy, to which I shall return. The Minister will know only too well that I have been raising this with his Department for over a year. My persistent complaint has been that the Government have the right intentions but are slow in taking action and encouraging a collective international response. I welcome the statement that has been put out today indicating that discussions will be taking place at the European Council, but those discussions have to be translated into action.

28 Nov 2011 : Column 765

At the end of last month, the Prime Minister made a welcome announcement about the placing of private armed guards aboard vessels. Straight away, I wrote to the Home Secretary, who had been designated as the lead Minister on this, to pose a number of entirely proper questions. I asked what would be the procedures for command and control; what would be the rules of engagement; whether there would be arrangements with ship owners to recruit only reputable firms and individuals; whether there would be a register and, if so, who would maintain it; what sanction there would be against companies that were not in compliance; whether this would apply only off the Somali coast and into the Indian ocean or elsewhere; and what discussions there had been with other countries in the relevant region, where guards would embark and disembark. Those are absolutely core parts of a policy for dealing with piracy by the use of guards. There was no sound from the Home Office until today, when it faxed my office to say that it had transferred the matter to the Department for Transport. That does not show the sort of urgency that is needed, and unfortunately it has been only too typical of responses in this area, where the general direction has often been right but the implementation has been sorely lacking.

October is when the piracy season starts in Somalia, because the monsoons go down and piracy therefore becomes easier. As was rightly pointed out in the debate, that is absolutely crucial, because it means that if the warlords and pirate organisers are the main source of funding for governance in Somalia, its governance will be enormously destabilised.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Another reason for urgency is that, unfortunately, despite the efforts by the international community, and by the British Government in particular, there is every indication and every reason to fear that there may well a recurrence of the famine next year. We therefore need action on an international level as soon as possible.

Mr Spellar: I fully agree with my hon. Friend. That is why we particularly welcome the support for the beleaguered population of Somalia, especially food aid, and the substantial involvement of the Department for International Development, working directly and through non-governmental organisations. We also welcome the initiative of the conference on 21 February that was announced by the Secretary of State.

As with the involvement of the Arab League in the middle east, I hope that we will ensure that there is significant involvement in Somalia on the part of the neighbouring African countries and, indeed, the wider African continent. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) properly referred to the considerable role that the forces of the African Union are playing there. Equally, the role of the naval patrols should be not only to stop the pirates coming off the coast of Somalia but to stop the illegal fishing and dumping of toxic waste that has created some of the preconditions for piracy in that unfortunate area.

We fully accept that we cannot intervene everywhere within the scope of the debate—that part of the discussion is where I might differ slightly from the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart)—but we

28 Nov 2011 : Column 766

have to decide where, in particular, we are going to put our weight. Like all countries, we have limited resources. Even the United States has to make a decision about where it is going to put its main focus. I was therefore slightly surprised that the Foreign Secretary’s statement earlier this month had only about four lines on Tunisia—the country where the Arab spring started. Indeed, the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) referred to it as the first country of the revolution. Tunisia is therefore symbolic, but it also, in many ways, fits the criteria for a country that can succeed. It has a sizeable educated population and a long secular tradition in many parts of the community, and it gave women access to the political system well in advance of other countries in the region. It had an election which, as my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State indicated, had about a 90% turnout for the Constituent Assembly, and that Assembly has already met. That is the ideal country on which to focus our efforts, partly for development and partly to build capacity in the political parties.

As I said on 16 May, there is a danger that some parties are well organised because of the underground structure that they have had in opposition to previous regimes and that other parties, which represent a wide body of opinion, are less well structured. It is important that those parties are given capacity, not by banning other parties, but by ensuring that there is a level playing field between the various tendencies. That applies across the region, but Tunisia might well commend itself as significant in that respect.

In the time available to me before I give the Minister time to reply, I will make a couple of points. There has been a lot of discussion about Iran, particularly with regard to its nuclear capacity. There was an exchange between the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) about Russia’s attitude on this matter. I think that it is true that Russia would be concerned about proliferation. However, there is a danger that it is complacent about proliferation, particularly because of its involvement in the civil nuclear programme. It might believe that it has that under control, which may or may not be true. The situation inside Iran is uncertain. There are reports tonight of another explosion at the Isfahan facility, with no indication as to the cause. There is a degree of complacency.

Finally, with regard to Libya, I take the point of the hon. Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) about the difficulties in transitional periods. That will be true in all of these countries, not least in Libya. I hope that the Minister will give us an update on the concerns that we have expressed before about where the surface-to-air missiles have gone. We know that there are a considerable number and that they are being looked for. This is a matter of considerable concern.

In conclusion, this is an historic period. Much progress has been made, but it will not all happen at the same speed and it will not go uninterrupted in a single direction. There will be difficulties in transition. It is clear from the debate that there is a common sentiment on both sides of the House that not only do we welcome progress, but we want to work to ensure that it is achieved. We look forward to the Minister answering many of the points that have been made in the debate and saying how he will achieve progress in real time.

28 Nov 2011 : Column 767

9.47 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): May I pay tribute to the House for yet another interesting debate on this important subject, which will have a significant bearing on world history and our national security?

In responding to the Arab spring, neither the Government nor the House has forgotten about areas of less conspicuous but equally important instability. Members have not said a great deal about the Sahel or the horn of Africa, but I know that they have been much on colleagues’ minds at other times. We are alive to the dangers to the region and to our own national security. We are working proactively with regional actors to protect against terrorism and piracy, to increase development and humanitarian assistance, and to strengthen governance. The balance of the debate has been towards Arab spring issues. The right hon. Member for Warley (Mr Spellar) pressed me for some themes. In the time available, one can either talk about countries sequentially or about themes. It is difficult to talk about both, but in my 12 minutes I will do my level best to do so.

The events of the past year have illustrated a profound change in the dynamic between Government and the governed, with a decline in the power of forceful coercion and a rise in the power of the voice and the vote. People united by a wish to exercise their rights cannot be subjugated by military force. Values have proven themselves to be the most important tool in rule by Government—the very values that we champion: transparency, accountability and respect for human rights. Those values, not ideologies or external influences, have been the most often heard cries from the street to accompany a desire for change.

We have learned that maintaining a stable and secure world order is not achieved by propping up friendly but repressive regimes. Our influence in the Arab spring has been exercised by holding true to our values, denouncing tyranny, calling for democratic transition and demanding respect for human rights. We have also learned that influence is best exercised with legitimacy, and in the company of regional actors. Our approach to the Arab spring, intervention in Libya and stabilisation in the Sahel and the horn of Africa has been collaborative. We have worked with close allies, and with the support of other states in the region.

One theme that has emerged during the conversation that we have had for the past few hours has been the renewed success of regional organisations, such as the Arab League and the Gulf Co-operation Council. We can pay tribute to their respective executive secretaries, who have done so much to contribute to the success of their organisations. We can pay tribute to the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the United Nations for the pressure put on Iran and Syria and the African Union for its help on piracy issues. Perhaps this is a renewed period in which those organisations have come into their own. We have all appreciated what they have been able to do.

I wish to pick out some themes in the contributions of individual colleagues. I will do my best to touch on each contribution, but I apologise if I cannot. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) spoke about the difference between republics and monarchies in the recent process. Yes, that has been noticeable, but the situation has also taught us that the concept of governance is different

28 Nov 2011 : Column 768

across the piece. I suspect that we will end up with different types of governance across north Africa and the Gulf, but both systems can have the feel of consent about them. How that evolves will be fascinating.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), in an excellent speech, covered a number of matters, some of which I will mention later. He and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington mentioned moderate Islam and the defeat that it represents for al-Qaeda. It has indeed been a defeat for al-Qaeda, whose ideology has not worked. People have been crying out for different values.

That leaves the question of how we would support Islamist Governments who might arise from democratic elections. I wish to put it on record that we recognise that reform may lead to Governments less well disposed towards the United Kingdom, but failure to support reform will only exacerbate existing and future problems including unemployment and terrorism. The crucial requirement of all parties taking part in elections is that they respect the inherent commitment to human rights, individual freedom, the rule of law and non-violence that is at the heart of democracy. Let us not be afraid of labels; let us look at what people actually stand for.

My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) took up the theme of the structure of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and its ability to react to events. He gave us much food for thought, but I am pleased that he recognised the reforms to diplomatic excellence that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is introducing, with their emphasis on the need to truly understand the countries where our diplomats work and on the importance, now more than ever, of language and in-depth knowledge of areas. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has picked up on those matters and is working them through the Department.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) mentioned the importance of economies and economics in this whole business, as did a number of colleagues. She was absolutely right that if there is to be a firm underpinning of what has been achieved, the role of economies and their ability to expand beyond the public sector, encouraging entrepreneurs and private businesses to pick up employment, will be very important. I was pleased to be in Jordan just a few weeks ago to see the work of one of the projects that we are supporting, Oasis 500, which is also supported by His Majesty King Abdullah. It is an entrepreneurial incubator of new online companies, which is absolutely in the spirit of what we are looking for. My hon. Friend was also right about how important it will be to help stabilise Libya as it moves forward.

A number of colleagues mentioned Egypt, notably my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips). He reminded us of his original contribution to the House, in which I believe he spoke about the importance of relieving pressures in Gaza. Today, he, the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) and the right hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander) raised questions about Egypt. I cannot deal with them all in the time that I have, but I was asked whether we were satisfied and assured about the progress of the transfer to civilian rule. Yes, we are assured that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces wants to ensure

28 Nov 2011 : Column 769

that, but it has to prove that it has the ability to live up to its words. That is what is proving so difficult at the moment. The progress of the elections today and the way in which they have been welcomed by the population is very good news. The fact is that those who wanted a boycott have realised that actually the best antidote to worries about elections is to take part and ensure that your voice is heard, and that is equally important.

The right hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South raised the importance of the economy in what we are doing in Egypt. The offer is there of support through the Deauville partnership and our own Arab Partnership. We are seeking to encourage Egypt to accept loans from the IMF and other international financial institutions as soon as the political situation allows. It is very important that they recognise the offers that have been made and we should encourage them to do so.

In looking at north Africa, we should not neglect the success of Tunisia. It is remarkable that, after all the events that it began, it now constitutes a small part of our conversations because we believe and trust that it is on its way.

Several colleagues mentioned Bahrain, including the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) and my hon. Friends the Members for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) and for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood). The right hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham looked at Bahrain from different aspects—the glass half full and the glass half empty. The right hon. Lady concentrated on the problems brought out by the commission, but my hon. Friend said how remarkable it was in the region that the commission should have reported at all, and that it should have done so with such remarkable honesty. I take my hon. Friend’s point. It is very important that the issues raised by the right hon. Lady are addressed, but the manner in which the commissioners worked has been impressive. Now what has to be impressive is the response by Bahrain to the issues raised. It is essential that the recommendations are delivered. The United Kingdom will review the commission’s findings in detail and we will identify specific areas in the recommendations it made where we can be of most assistance. The point is that if we have encouraged Bahrain to deal with these problems in this way, we should also play what part we can in trying to assist its progress. We will also call on the opposition in Bahrain to take part in a co-operative manner, because they have as much responsibility as the Government in moving forward.

Several colleagues raised the issue of Syria, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary laid out our situation clearly. The hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) made the point about the economy and how important it is. It is important that the merchant classes of Aleppo and Damascus recognise the alternative being offered by the Syrian opposition and we will work with them on their needs. Again, the way in which the international community has responded with sanctions has had a profound effect. The right hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South asked me about what will happen next. A 10th round of sanctions will be agreed on 1 December at the Foreign Affairs Committee, which will affect finance, banking and the oil sector, and—again—the individuals responsible for repression. Once again the pressure will be kept up, and I have tonight issued a statement about the interim report of

28 Nov 2011 : Column 770

the commission of inquiry investigating human rights abuses. The House will not be disappointed by what I have had to say.

Several colleagues mentioned the middle east peace process. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield made another powerful statement about what he has seen and experienced, which illustrated the value of Members travelling and seeing things. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) put the other side of the case, which showed that the House is capable of putting both arguments very well. The truth is that we all know very well how to say no to making progress in the middle east peace process. The cry is out for someone to know how to say yes. Everything that is raised as a stumbling block is also an opportunity to do something positive, and whether it is on settlements, borders or anything else, we must do so. The Government are determined that we should press for further negotiations to make progress.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield raised a specific issue of child prisoners. I raised issues with the Minister responsible in Israel on my last visit. We are pleased that the age of responsibility has been raised. My note says that we have not previously said publicly that shackling children is wrong. It is time I did so. Shackling children is wrong, and I am happy to say so.

Alas, there is no time to deal with a couple of other issues. I pay tribute to the continued attention that the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) pays to Western Sahara, and to those who raised the issue of Somalia.

This debate constitutes neither the beginning nor the end of our conversation on the Arab spring. It is a way station—an opportunity for the House to comment on events that mark, in terms of the Arab world, a complex mix of evolution and revolution, and changes whose consequences for the 21st century will be profound. It will be with humility that we note that we have not always made the right judgments in respect of our own relationships, so this new wave justifies an examination of ourselves as well as those areas in which the events are taking place. It is a fresh chance for all of us to consider this country’s best interests in looking forward—

10 pm

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3))

Business without Debate


Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Legal Services

That the draft Legal Services Act 2007 (Appeals from Licensing Authority Decisions) (No. 2) Order 2011, which was laid before this House on 15 September, be approved.—(Mr Dunne.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Rehabilitation of Offenders

That the draft Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) (Amendment) (England and Wales) (No. 2) Order 2011, which was laid before this House on 17 October, be approved.— (Mr Dunne.)

Question agreed to.

28 Nov 2011 : Column 771

Business of the House

Ordered ,

That, at the sitting on Wednesday 30 November, paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments) shall apply to the Motions in the name of Edward Miliband as if the day were an Opposition Day—(Mr Heath . )


Mr Speaker: With the leave of the House, we will take motions 6, 7 and 8 together.


European Scrutiny

That Tony Lloyd be discharged from the European Scrutiny Committee and Sandra Osborne be added.

Northern Ireland Affairs

That Mel Stride and Gavin Williamson be discharged from the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and Kris Hopkins and Nigel Mills be added.

Welsh Affairs

That Owen Smith be discharged from the Welsh Affairs Committee and Nia Griffith be added.—( M r Francois, on behalf of the Committee of Selection . )

28 Nov 2011 : Column 772

Vascular Services (Warrington)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Dunne.)

10.1 pm

Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): I am very grateful to have the opportunity to discuss vascular services in Warrington, and in particular the decision not to locate a vascular centre there. The review of vascular services conducted by the NHS in Cheshire and Merseyside was fatally flawed. It has no proper evidence base. It failed to engage clinicians in Warrington and Halton and it demonstrated a singular lack of transparency. It failed to adopt the open and transparent procedures used elsewhere and instead held only two meetings—one for staff and one for the public—to cover the two counties. The survey it carried out was on the internet, thus excluding many of the people in the centre of Warrington and in Halton who do not have internet access. The conclusions it drew from that survey were rather bizarre. Although people said that they valued safety first, it does not mean that the position adopted by Cheshire and Merseyside NHS makes things safer. Anyone who follows that flawed logic should not be conducting a review of services in the first place.

We have been left with a decision that will damage service at Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and dismantle the partnership working that has been built up with St Helen’s and Knowsley NHS Trust over the years. It has left unanswered some serious questions about co-dependent services and about possible increased risk and mortality elsewhere. This is a shabby little stitch-up that cannot go unchallenged. If the Minister wants to champion local decision making, it is his duty to ensure that those decisions are properly based on evidence and are reached through due process. That has not been the case here.

This review started by looking at “evac” procedure. It then mutated into a review of vascular services as a whole. It is never a good sign when that sort of slippage occurs. The review then decided that any centre must carry out a minimum of 50 open aortic aneurysm repairs and 100 carotid endarterectomies. Where is the evidence for these figures? The Royal College of Surgeons has never recommended them and many other centres operate using different minima. The suspicion is that the figures were chosen to bolster the case for two centres rather than three, yet Great Manchester will have three, as will Cumbria and Lancaster. Unless the Minister is prepared to argue that centres operating on different minima are unsafe—I do not believe that he is prepared to argue that—there is no evidence base for these figures.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate and on making an excellent speech. She said that the Minister will probably argue that this is a matter for local decision making but she has shown that there is no clear evidence base, so one would hope that the Minister would ensure that the matter is reconsidered.

Helen Jones: My hon. Friend is right. I want to come to some of the other evidence and how the review was carried out. The decision was eventually taken that one centre would be located in Liverpool and one at the

28 Nov 2011 : Column 773

Countess of Chester hospital. Originally, the review panel allowed both Liverpool and Chester to take away their submissions and rewrite them from June until October, but it did not allow the same leeway to Warrington and Halton NHS trust. After protests from overview and scrutiny committees, it allowed them only seven days. That is not a fair process.

It is also clear that the review panel originally had reservations about locating a centre at Chester in partnership with Wirral university hospital. It said that

“there were a number of outstanding questions about how the proposed arterial centre would work clinically”.

However, when we asked how those clinical problems have been resolved, answer comes there none.

There were other questions about the skills base, co-dependent services and possible increased mortality rates elsewhere, which it is clear from the impact assessment carried out for Warrington have not been resolved. We were left with the decision to base a centre at Chester—a decision that, I understand, was queried even by its partner at Wirral university hospital NHS trust—that has been designated the south Mersey centre. I have to tell the Minister that I was born and bred in Chester, and it is not on the Mersey but on the Dee, and it is difficult to get to it from elsewhere in the region.

The result of this decision is that centres are concentrated in a relatively small area—one in Liverpool, one in Chester and a satellite one in the centre of the Wirral. There is nothing in the review for those who live in north or east Cheshire, and as a result emergency patients from the Warrington area will now have to travel 30 miles by emergency ambulance instead of the maximum eight miles as before. Those who wish to travel by public transport will, because of the different combinations of buses and trains, be facing a journey of three to four hours. That is important because car ownership in Halton and the centre of Warrington is lower than the national average—people are reliant on public transport.

The questions about access, which were deemed to be important, have not been resolved but there are other troubling issues. It seems that the review—based, after all, on flawed evidence—will form the basis for decisions on other specialties. For example, the review stated that it was highly desirable, if not essential, that hyper-acute stroke units be located with vascular centres. That indicates that Warrington’s chances of getting these services in the future are limited. However, the review also undermines existing stroke services in Warrington—services that are highly rated and delivered in partnership with St Helens and Knowsley trust. If a vascular surgeon is not to be on site, those stroke services will be undermined.

The same is true of trauma care. The review thought it desirable that in the future trauma centres be co-located with arterial centres. That would seem to be pre-judging where those services will be located in future.

As things stand, Warrington often deals with serious cases because it is at the centre of a motorway network. Many will need a vascular surgeon, as well as other specialties. The response from the review was that patients could be stabilised by a general surgeon and that a vascular surgeon would be on site within 30 minutes. Frankly, anyone who knows Warrington’s traffic will know that that is absolute nonsense. The North West Ambulance Service gave evidence to the impact assessment panel about gridlock in Warrington. If the service cannot

28 Nov 2011 : Column 774

guarantee that it can get an emergency ambulance through, there is little chance of getting a surgeon through. Indeed, I have done the journey from Chester to Warrington many times, because I still have relatives there. It is not possible to do it in 30 minutes at peak time—one has to get through the traffic in Chester, go along a congested motorway and then get through the traffic in Warrington. Where on earth have those figures come from and how have they been validated?

The suspicion is that the review has been carried out in a cavalier manner in order to fit a predetermined outcome. Indeed, there are also concerns arising from the impact assessment, because the points put by clinicians in Warrington appear to have been accepted, yet nothing has been done about them. For instance, the review panel received evidence that the vascular services in Warrington were well developed and had worked over 10 years in partnership with St Helens and Knowsley trust. The panel accepted that it was desirable to maintain that partnership and that disrupting it was contrary to practice elsewhere in the NHS. The panel said that it hoped that the partnership would be maintained. However, the clinicians in the St Helens and Knowsley trust had already given the panel evidence showing that it could not be maintained if the recommendations of the review were accepted, because transfer times and transport difficulties would mean having to partner with Liverpool.

Similarly, the North West Ambulance Service gave evidence showing that it could not guarantee ambulance response times in Warrington if it had to transfer patients from Warrington to Chester. The service’s figures were accepted by the impact assessment panel, which then said that it was drawing the matter to the attention of commissioners as a cost not yet planned for. Where will the extra money come from to fund extra ambulance services in Warrington, given that the NHS is already expected to take cuts of £20 billion? If the Minister wants to get up and promise us extra money for Warrington ambulance services, we would be very pleased to hear from him, but I do not think he can.

Similarly, the ambulance service drew attention to the fact that Warrington is uniquely prone to gridlock, because if an accident happens on the motorway system, it can gridlock the whole town. The response from the panel was that gridlock was “challenging”. Not being able to get an emergency ambulance through is not challenging; it is life-threatening. Indeed, it is really quite arrogant to dismiss the concerns of those responsible for transferring patients in that way.

However, worse was to come. The clinicians from Warrington and Halton—who, at this stage in the process, were now being consulted for the first time—gave evidence about the impact of removing vascular services on other specialities. In particular, they were concerned about the problems of ensuring support for vascular injury in other surgical procedures and invasive specialities. The panel then said that the volume of patients needing to be transferred could become “unmanageable”. It also said that the number of patients whose services would be disrupted might be greater than the small number who would see an improvement. All that was asked of the review panel was that it should publish its evidence at the same time as its implementation plan. Frankly, that is the wrong way round: if the evidence is not there, there should not be an implementation plan to start with.

28 Nov 2011 : Column 775

Derek Twigg: My hon. Friend is most generous in giving way again. I am sure that she will discuss this further, but the areas covered by the two hospitals—Whiston, Warrington and Halton; and Knowsley, St Helens and the centre of Warrington—are some of the most deprived boroughs in the country, and yet the services are being transferred to one of the most affluent parts of the north-west. Does she not think that an odd way to deal with populations that suffer the most ill health?

Helen Jones: I agree. One thing that the review appears not to have looked at properly is the incidence of these sorts of vascular illnesses and where the centres should be located to deal with them.

Another interesting issue is that clinicians told the panel that more and more patients would need to be transferred over time as a result of not having vascular services on site. In fact, one clinician on the panel expressed the view that the

“lives at risk in these situations, equalled, or outweighed those saved by the anticipated improvements.”

I have to ask what sort of service improvement it is that can put more lives at risk. Evidence was also given about the difficulty of maintaining cancer services without support from vascular surgeons—Warrington is a centre for renal cancer—about the difficulty of maintaining limbs compromised by diabetes without having those surgeons on site and about the waste of resources, with Warrington having invested in new facilities. It has the most modern vascular lab in the region and the only fully compliant one. That will go to waste if vascular services are transferred, and we will spend millions elsewhere in providing new services on another site.

In short, what we have is a proposal that breaks an existing working partnership—one that has provided highly rated services—that could harm co-dependent services, that could impact on ambulance transfer times in a way that puts other patients in Warrington at risk and that wastes services. In the end, it will seriously damage services at Warrington hospital. In fact, I am told that a consultant interventional radiologist who had already been appointed has now declined to come because of this decision. Yet an implementation plan is going ahead even before we have begun the consultation. That is no consultation at all.

I ask the Minister to look at this seriously. I will support changes in services where they can be shown to improve patient care. I cannot support them where there is no evidence that they will improve patient care and there is a lot of evidence that they will damage patient care in other specialties. The ultimate responsibility, I say to the Minister, is his. I have agreed with Mrs Thatcher on only one thing—when she said:

“Advisers advise, and Ministers decide.”

He has to look very seriously at what has been going on here and he needs to act before other services in Warrington are damaged.

10.17 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr Simon Burns): I congratulate the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) on securing this debate, and I totally agree that it is important for patients to have access to high-quality vascular services. I know that she is an active campaigner locally on health issues and a strong supporter of local health services.