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Thursday, 20 January, 2000, 21:33 GMT
The week in politics with ...




Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokeswoman Jenny Tonge tells BBC News Online about the last seven days at Westminister.

Highlight of the week

"I am always very involved in foreign affairs and in international development and so this week the revelations about where arms are going to and the questions about whether the government still has an ethical foreign policy have been very important for me.

"And I've just succeeded in raising the issue in the House during business questions.

"I've asked for Commons time for a debate on foreign policy and the arms trade.

"And now its Thursday I've finally succeeded in raising the issue - I've been trying all week to get my oar in on that.



"I think the government's ethical foreign policy is now completely in tatters. I don't see how they can possibly claim to have one."


"The Scott report said that the DTI shouldn't dictate where arms go. They've supposed to have set up a committee to scrutinise things between the Foreign Office and the Department of International Development and the DTI and now we hear on this new issue of arms to Zimbabwe the prime minister has just overruled everybody and said you've got to sell arms.

"It really is absolutely outrageous, Zimbabwe is involved in a civil war all over the Congo and southern Africa.

"I think the prime minister's motivation in doing this is the economy and jobs.

"But I think this has to be questioned. Most of these arms sales to places like Indonesia and Zimbabwe are supported by export credit guarantees. They are paid for by the tax payer. They fuel wars which they tax payer then has to help fund. The tax payer is then called on to help pay for the humanitarian and development aid needed after the war has finished.

"So where does the economy benefit in the long run?

"And if you say it gives us jobs, surely it would be cheaper to pay for people to knit socks for soldiers.

"They cannot claim to have an ethical foreign policy when they are sending arms to these countries."

Low point the week

"The NHS debate in the Commons, I'm afraid, was my lowpoint this week.

"I was a doctor before I became an MP and I spent 32 years working in the health service.

"And I was hoping that with the huge crisis there is in the health service at the moment - and that with everyone realising at long last that the health service cannot go on as it is that we would have had a sensible debate examining all the issues that need to be tackled.

"Instead we had a Punch and Judy show - a slanging match.

"Mostly between Liam Fox and Alan Milburn and some Labour MPs who had been primed to give good news and some Tory MPs who'd been primed to give bad news and it was just disastrous.



"The government has a large majority, but most of its MPs are programmed to say what they have to say and on the Tory side there is complete disarray."


"So the Liberal Democrats are trying to provide an opposition - but it is quite hard for us as we don't get as much opportunity in the Commons as the Conservatives.

Winner of the week

"Strangely the winner of the week came out of the NHS debate. Sir Norman Fowler, not a particular favourite of mine, gave a magnificent speech about the health service.

"My ex-colleagues in the health service say he was the only person who addressed the real issues throughout that debate.

"That was a little ray of sunshine that came through in what was otherwise a really awful debate."

Loser of the week

"Tony Blair, Tony Blair, Tony Blair. He's had a terrible time. I'm wondering when the men in white coats are going to have to come and take him away.

"He's had all this trouble on the health service and he's been saying contradictory thinks everyday about the health service - he's got himself into a terrible muddle.

"He has seen his home secretary, allow in Mike Tyson, who shouldn't have been allowed in and let go General Pinochet who should stay.



"I can't imagine what it is like in 11 Downing Street at night, I imagine it's a pretty fraught place."


"They've got the trouble in the Lords trying to abolish the right to trial by jury which is an absolute scandal - an outrage - getting rid of something which historically England has been very proud of.

"And Mr Blair's got himself into trouble on the arms trade and on top of that his wife Cherie Blair, the lawyer, is now going to concentrate on human rights, and take the government to court.

"You almost feel sorry for him, almost."

Quote of the week

"Tony Blair said he was going to bring health service expenditure up to European levels, but then he retracted it and said he didn't quite mean that.

"The prime minister getting himself into a muddle."

Issue of the week

"The Wakeham report is going to be the issue for the next few days at least.

"It's very sad really as the government looks like it will plumb for a largely appointed House of Lords rather than a an elected body.

"Or alternatively they may not act on the issue at all which would be even worse and would leave us with this interim house - which has not a singled elected member.

"The very reason we wanted reform of the Lords in the first place, is that we wanted to throw out all those who were in the House due to their hereditary position.

"I don't think it is any better having a house full of people appointed by the prime minister now than having people there who were appointed by king in the past."

In the postbag

"I had a rather weird letter that came in, with somebody complaining that it hadn't really been Christmas in Richmond - because they felt there had not been enough Christmas decorations up.

"And Father Christmas did not appear in the town centre he felt the whole thing had been extremely low key.

"I thought this letter was quite fun actually as it made a change from all the letters complaining about schools or rubbish or the usual kind of things - this one was complaining about the lack of tacky Christmas decorations."

On the horizon

"In the next couple of months I really want to pursue how development in the Third World is being hampered by civil wars - these wars are being encouraged by the arms trade and arms brokers.

"It is something I think we have to get really serious about in this country as it is costing us so much money to help put right the damage done.

"We also need to get a proper debate going on the health service in the coming months. I hope the debate won't die down in the media because I think the British people care about the health service more than any other issue."

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