Foreign Affairs and Defence

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 3:37 pm on 12th November 2007.

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Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary 3:37 pm, 12th November 2007

I consider it an enormous privilege to open today's debate as Foreign Secretary. My purpose is to set out how the Government will engage abroad to help to build security and prosperity at home.

Today, I laid a wreath and led a service of remembrance in the Foreign Office to remember those members of our staff who have been killed in the line of duty, including two in the past year. It is therefore appropriate that I use this debate to recognise the dedication, bravery and skill of Britain's diplomats, armed forces and aid workers around the world, and I am sure that the whole House will join me in doing so.

Members in all parts of the House agreed last Wednesday that Pakistan must be close to the centre of our foreign policy concerns. I am sure that the House will therefore understand if I start with the crisis in that country. I will not rehearse the proximate causes of the crisis nor our short-term aims and objectives—clarity about free and fair elections, General Musharraf's resignation as head of the army, restoration of media freedoms, and release of political prisoners—but I spoke yesterday and this morning to our high commissioner in Islamabad, and this is the current position.

The commitment of General Musharraf to elections by 9 January is welcome. Less welcome, however, is the lack of clarity on when the state of emergency will end. Current conditions stand in the way of free and fair elections, and there are mixed signals about the amendment to the Army Act, which allows civilians to be court-martialled, primarily for terrorist charges. This lack of progress on the position of political prisoners, which I discussed with leading human rights campaigner Hina Jalani in London last week, is a major concern for all friends of Pakistan. I am sure the whole House will also deplore the deportation of three British journalists and continuing restrictions on media freedom.

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