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Mr. Cook: I am glad that my hon. Friend has had the opportunity to pay tribute to James Tobin, whose work has provided an important contribution to the debate on international financial movements. I am sure that James Tobin would have been gratified to see the support that my hon. Friend and his colleagues have secured for their early-day motion.
Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the widespread disquiet in the House and outside about President Bush's remarks about an axis of evil, which suggest that we want to go to war on many fronts? There is also disquiet at the Government's rather quiescent attitude to those remarks. I was going to ask my right hon. Friend whether he would bring the Foreign Secretary to the House to make a statement on the matter, but I see that he is here already. Perhaps the Leader of the House would give him a nudge and ask him to disavow George Bush's remarks.
The action that we took in Afghanistan was absolutely correct and plainly in defence of our national interest. It was not in the service of United States interests alone. We, too, lost citizens in the attack on the twin towers and are exposed to the complex, sophisticated and expensive terrorism mounted by al-Qaeda. It is important that we act whenever necessary to ensure that our people can live and travel the world in safety. We must continue to consider carefully the British national interest and act on it.
Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton): The Leader of the House may be aware that the TV Licensing recently changed its procedures. People who do not have a television set and give the authority that information are being visited by officials, who request admission to their home. That is causing enormous stress to several of my elderly constituents who have no television and feel harassed. Following the first visit, they are liable to receive more visits every couple of years thereafter. That is a gross intrusion into the privacy of people who do not receive BBC services. The change of policy is a result not of a debate in the House but Executive action. Might we have a debate, followed by a vote, to assess hon. Members' views?
Mr. Cook: I shall happily look into whether there has been a change of policy, but in my long constituency experience it has been the practice of inspectors to call on people who do not have a licence to investigate whether they have a television. There is nothing new in that: it is, after all, the role for which they have been appointed. If the hon. Gentleman wants to challenge that role, it is open to him to draft a Bill or table a motion in the House, but we need a system to ensure that people who have a
Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire): I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) about the Enterprise Bill. I raise the matter as a House point, not a party political one. The timetable that the Leader of the House announced is indecent, unjust and unreasonable, and I hope that he will reflect on his answer. I understand that if the Opposition want to table a reasoned amendment to the Second Reading of the Bill, they will need to do so by next Tuesday. That means that we shall have only a few hours in which to draft and table such an amendment.
The Leader of the House often claims to be a champion of proper parliamentary scrutiny of legislation. The timetable that he announced today makes those words ring rather hollow. If he is not prepared to announce a change of business, in future we shall have to judge him on his actions, not his words. I hope that he will be prepared to think again.
Mr. Cook: I am suitably intimidated by the right hon. Gentleman's closing remarks. I shall reflect on his comments and consider whether an adjustment would be appropriate. On preparation for the debate, it is not unreasonable to announce a debate that is a clear two and a half weeks away and will still be two weeks away when the Bill is published. That seems an entirely reasonable time for those taking part in the debate
Mr. Cook: I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not want to suggest that hon. Members do not work when the House is not sitting. Whenever there is a recess, someone, somewhere, is preparing for the first debate to be held on the day that we return. I do not take seriously the idea that Opposition Members are unwilling to work at any time during the fortnight's recess.
As the House will be aware, a Commonwealth troika consisting of Presidents Mbeki of South Africa and Obasanjo of Nigeria and Prime Minister John Howard of Australia was authorised by the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting to review the outcome of the Zimbabwe elections in the light of the Commonwealth observers' report, and to decide on any action.
The troika met in London on Tuesday. It had before it the final report of the Commonwealth observers group. That confirmed the findings of the preliminary report that I put before the House in my statement last Thursday. The group concluded that
Three months ago, on 20 December, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, of which I was a member, concluded that Zimbabwe was in "serious and persistent violation" of the Harare principles. It was my view at that stage that Zimbabwe should then and there be suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth: I made that case again at CMAG at the end of January, as did my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in early March. As the situation in Zimbabwe has deteriorated day by day since December, it follows that we believe that suspension now is fully justified.
The Commonwealth depends above all on its moral authority and the force of the principles that it codified in Harare in 1991. That is why the decision was so important for the Commonwealth as a whole, as well asof coursefor Zimbabwe. That moral authority is what gives this decision its force. I am in no doubt, from the way in which the Government of Zimbabwe sought actively to divide the Commonwealth and to prevent it from taking decisions about suspension, that they were and are profoundly concerned about the international isolation that suspension signals.
Tuesday's decision was significant in many respects and above all for the fact that leaders of two key African nations have taken a clear and definitive stand in defence of the Commonwealth's fundamental principles. They have also underlined Africa's commitment to the universal and indivisible principles of democracy and human rights.
What has happened in Zimbabwe is a tragedy, imposed on that once prosperous land by Robert Mugabe. Our commitment and that of the Commonwealth to the people of Zimbabwe remains as strong as ever. We have made it clear since 1997 that the case for land reform in Zimbabwe is very strong and that we were willing to provide considerable financial support for a land reform process that would be transparent and lawful and that would give priority to the needs of Zimbabweans in overcrowded communal lands. That position was supported by the international community as a whole, but rejected by the Mugabe regime.
At Abuja in early September last year we agreed a pathway for Zimbabwe that would have allowed for a resumption of international aid, including from the UK, for a programme of sustainable land reform implemented in accordance with the rule of law.
Respect for the rule of law and a return to democratic principles and sensible economic policies are the only way back for Zimbabwe. We remain ready to do all that we can to achieve that. We will continue our programme of assistance for humanitarian and HIV/AIDS projects.
In the short term, the prospects in Zimbabwe look bleak, which is underlined by the murders since the election of Movement for Democratic Change activists and a commercial farmer and the fact that the Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has formally been charged with treason. Today, it is all the more urgent that the Government of Zimbabwe commit themselves to healing the divisions in the country and taking the path of genuine reform and national reconciliation, as the leaders of the Commonwealth have called for. In that context, we shall do everything that we can to support Presidents Mbeki and Obasanjo and other African partners in their efforts to bring stability back to Zimbabwe.