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Topical Questions

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 25th March 2008.

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Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Central 2:30 pm, 25th March 2008

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

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Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

EU Foreign Ministers will meet informally in Slovenia on 28 and 29 March to discuss, among other topics, the middle east and Russia. We will also meet the Foreign Ministers of the western Balkans countries to discuss their European perspective, and the Foreign Ministers of the accession countries. The member states have important common interests at stake in all those issues, and the UK's impact is enhanced by working with our European partners.

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Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Central

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani on his election as Prime Minister of Pakistan, and Dr. Fahmida Mirza on becoming Speaker, making her the first woman Speaker in the Muslim world? Does my right hon. Friend agree that Pakistan faces many challenges, and that last month's parliamentary elections show that it is moving towards real democracy? Can he assure the House that the British Government will give their full support in helping to build and strengthen democracy in Pakistan, which is the only guarantor for its, and our, future?

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Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

I am delighted to agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. The scenes on election day, and on the subsequent election of the Speaker and Prime Minister, give strength to those of us who argued that democracy was in the best interests of stability in Pakistan. Our responsibility will be to engage fully with the new Pakistani Government to ensure that the Commonwealth monitoring action group, which looks at Pakistan's role in the Commonwealth, reconvenes soon, and to ensure that our aid programmes fully support the people of Pakistan, who depend not just on elections but on the economic and social progress that many millions of people in Britain, around the world, and in Pakistan itself want to see.

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Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Conservative, Kensington and Chelsea

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that Chinese antagonism to the Dalai Lama is making him into an Asian Nelson Mandela? Is he as disturbed as I am that the Chinese are refusing to enter into dialogue with the Dalai Lama, despite the assurances that the Prime Minister said that he received from the Chinese Prime Minister? Will the British Government do what they can to persuade the Chinese to consider the fact that if they were able to provide genuine autonomy within China for Hong Kong and Macao, and if they are offering a similar proposal to Taiwan, it would be in their interests, as well as, obviously, those of the people of Tibet, if genuine autonomy could be offered there as well?

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What a surprise! I repeatedly find Malcolm Rifkind speaking about foreign affairs, foreign issues and foreign policy and consequently totally ignoring and neglecting his local constituents with their plain old local problems in Kensington & Chelsea. But this time, what I find even more surprising is that Rifkind doesn't even have the Foreign Affairs mandate from the Conservative Party and must therefore be a Tory loose cannon...

Submitted by Adrian Thurston Continue reading

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

The right hon. and learned Gentleman was here 10 minutes or so ago when we addressed precisely that issue. The need for political dialogue is stark, not least because of the situation on the ground, and not least because of the danger that people will turn away from the political process if they do not see dialogue delivering a way forward. I heard the right hon. and learned Gentleman talk on the radio about having an Asian Nelson Mandela, and he repeated the phrase in the International Herald Tribune yesterday. I am happy to agree with him that dialogue with the Dalai Lama is the right way forward, and it remains the position of the British Government to support that. It is important to capitalise on the Dalai Lama's commitment to autonomy for Tibet, not independence, and to non-violent action and dialogue as the way forward.

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Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

May I draw the Foreign Secretary's attention to last week's Environmental Justice Foundation report on Uzbekistan, entitled, "White Gold: the True Cost of Cotton"? The report points out that the cotton industry is an export industry worth $1 billion to Uzbekistan. What can he do? Will he take steps to ensure that we do not import cotton into this country or the EU that is sourced from Uzbekistan, where child labour, including children as young as six, is routinely used in cotton production?

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Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Minister of State (Europe)

The Foreign Office noted with interest the report to which the hon. Gentleman refers. We take great care on the matter, and we will continue to monitor the specific concerns that he fairly and reasonably raises today.

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Photo of Colin Burgon Colin Burgon Labour, Elmet

Ministers will be aware that, later this year, the EU reviews the common position on Cuba. May I have an assurance that British Ministers will resist the Bush Administration's drive to create semi-conditions for benign interventionism and that we will ally ourselves with the Spanish and the Italians, who seek constructive engagement with Cuba?

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Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's interest in Cuba, which I know goes back some time. The UK and the US both want Cuba to be free and democratic, but we disagree about the best way to encourage that. We continue to support the current EU common position, which will next be reviewed, as he said, in June. That is obviously a few months away, and we will consider what happens in Cuba before that. We remain concerned about the lack of human rights, especially for political prisoners, and we want greater movement on that, with the political prisoners freed, before changing the EU common position.

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Photo of William Hague William Hague Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

May I return the Foreign Secretary once again to the Iranian nuclear issue? In a written answer to me last week, he said:

"Work...is now under way"—[ Hansard, 18 March 2008, Vol. 473, c. 1032W]

—to develop new proposals for incentives for Iran, building on the package presented in June 2006. He will recall that Iran rejected that incentives package out of hand at the time. Does he therefore agree that incentives must be combined with a credible set of tougher sanctions and that, so far, despite his best efforts, which we fully support, we and our European allies have failed to muster that credible threat?

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Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

I fully agree with the right hon. Gentleman on the need for a twin-track approach to Iran. It is the Government's policy that we must ensure that the sanctions are clear and strong, and that incentives for Iranian co-operation are clear. I am sorry that he has dismissed what the European Union is doing. I think that he agrees that Europe has outperformed the requirements of the existing UN sanctions regime. The EU has gone beyond the requirements of the UN position on nuclear and missile technology, dual use items, travel restrictions, the assets freeze and a study ban. It is important—I would have thought that we could agree on this—that we continue to make it clear, by both reiterating the June 2006 offer and pointing to the flexibility that we showed in the May 2007 offer of a suspension for a suspension, that there is a real chance for Iran to rejoin the community of nations on the issue.

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Photo of William Hague William Hague Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

We do very much agree about all that. I do not dismiss what has been done in going beyond the UN sanctions. However, the Foreign Secretary will not be surprised if we try to hold the Government to their statements about the subject a few months ago; I am sure that he will not object to that. The Prime Minister said last November that he would seek European sanctions on Iranian oil and gas investment and on its financial sector. The Foreign Secretary said to me a few days later that Britain would push for those sanctions to be agreed before the end of the year. Does he share our disappointment that those sanctions have not been agreed? Is he still confident that those sanctions, which he and the Prime Minister rightly supported, will be agreed at any time in the coming weeks and months?

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Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

The right hon. Gentleman knows that the European action was designed to follow the third UN resolution, which has now been agreed; it was agreed later than he and I wanted, but it was none the less passed nearly unanimously, by 14 to zero. It is right for him and me to continue to press all our European partners to ensure that we examine precisely the issues that the Prime Minister and I raised. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we will continue to do that. I do not want to put a date on when we will achieve that, and I do not want to say that I am confident, because we have 27 nations to line up behind the action. However, I assure him that our Government will make full efforts to ensure that the sanctions part of the package is as strong as the offer. At each stage, we need to make it clear to the Iranian people that we do not have a quarrel with them. We want to ensure a change of behaviour on the part of the regime. It is up to the people to choose their Government, but their Government must conform to the rules of the international community.

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Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham PPS (Mr Mike O'Brien, Minister of State), Department for Work and Pensions

Has my right hon. Friend read the reports in today's press regarding aid promised to Afghanistan that has not materialised?

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Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

I have read of those reports. There are two aspects to the issue. One aspect is to do with the amount of aid going through the Afghan Government. I am pleased to say that 80 per cent. of British Government aid goes through the Afghan Government, rather than alongside them. That is something that should be matched by other donors. The second aspect is about whether the pledges that were given at the London and other conferences are being matched. I will write to my hon. Friend with the full details about that, because I would not want to put a figure on it at this stage, without being absolutely sure whether two thirds or 75 per cent. of what was pledged has been delivered.

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Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

Given that the Prime Minister said in his national security strategy statement last week that accelerating global nuclear disarmament was a key objective, can the Foreign Secretary explain how that fits with the Government's agreement that RAF Menwith Hill could be used for the US ballistic missile system, particularly when President Bush rebuffed President Putin's offer to work together on the issue? If the Government really think that a one-sided ballistic missile defence system is such a good way of promoting nuclear disarmament, will the Foreign Secretary accept the recommendation made by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and let the whole House have a proper debate on Britain's involvement with the "Son of Star Wars" project?

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Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Minister of State (Europe)

The fact is that the United Kingdom welcomes the US expansion of the ballistic missile defence into Europe. We think that the sitings in the Czech Republic and Poland are an important protection against a potential attack by a rogue state. It is clear that the system offers no challenge whatever to Russia's strategic missiles, in terms of either its location or its capacity. That is generally accepted. The fact is that the US has offered to share the information, importantly, with Russia and with NATO allies. We welcome that very much indeed. We should not be criticising the US for seeking to deal with the threat; instead, we should be showing a united effort in trying to deal with those rogue states that the missile defence system is designed to protect us from.

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Photo of Sandra Osborne Sandra Osborne Labour, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

Extra-judicial executions continue in Colombia, with many trade unionists killed and others living under constant threat. What are the Government doing to call the Colombian Government to account within the international community, and will they consider a review of military aid to Colombia?

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Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Both my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have met the Colombian Government on numerous occasions and have stressed always that they should do their utmost to protect all those who campaign for human rights, especially trade unionists, who after all are an important part of civil society and help to bring a sense of security to Colombia. We will continue to do that. I am sure that my hon. Friend will continue to support our efforts to undermine the murderous influence of paramilitary groups, on the right and the left in Colombia, that seek to undermine the authority of a democratically elected Government.

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Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence)

Following his abduction from Zimbabwe to Equatorial Guinea, my constituent Simon Mann has, as we all know, been paraded in front of media cameras, presumably so that he can say whatever it is that the regime wants him to say. His wife now tells me that our officials were denied consular access to him as recently as last week. Is that correct? If so, what are the Government doing about it, and is it not a sinister development when the media are allowed access, but our consular officials are denied it?

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Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The Government have made it clear that we expect Simon Mann to be treated in line with internationally recognised standards, which includes in relation to the media. It is correct that our consular officials were refused access last week. We have made clear our concern to the Equatorial Guinean authorities and are urgently seeking access again.

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Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster Shadow Minister (International Development)

The elections in Nepal, scheduled for early next month, have already been postponed twice. In the light of the ongoing violence in the country, what assessment has the Minister made of the likelihood of their being postponed again? If that were to happen, what would be the long-term consequences for the country?

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Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman that we must do everything that we can to hold the Nepalese authorities and the Maoists to the earliest possible date for an election. The delays have gone on for long enough. We hope very much that the United Nations will continue to play an influential role, and that India, the key player in this area, will use its good offices to ensure that the elections take place and that a proper democratic Government will start to bring peace to that country.

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Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Shadow Minister (Justice)

Will the Foreign Secretary join me in welcoming the agreement made on Friday between President Christofias and Mr. Talat to resume talks on reunifying Cyprus? Given Britain's role as guarantor, and the substantial number of Cypriots in our community—predominantly in my constituency—will the Foreign Secretary make it a priority to solve the Cyprus problem?

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Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

I am very glad that the hon. Gentleman has been able to raise this important issue. The Prime Minister had the chance to meet the new President of Cyprus at the European Council last week, and I have been able to have a meeting with the new Cypriot Foreign Minister. The consistent message that we have given to both of them is that we want to do everything possible to support the determination of the new Government in Cyprus to exploit the opening that now exists for a bi-zonal, bi-communal solution in that area. My right hon. Friend Joan Ryan is playing an important role as the Prime Minister's special representative on the issue. We are as determined as the whole House is to ensure that there is a restart of these processes. The mission of the UN, which is due in Cyprus very soon, represents an important contribution towards that aim.

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