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Turks and Caicos Islands

4. Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) (Lab): What steps his Department is taking to improve the governance of the Turks and Caicos Islands. [325352]

The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant): The finances and governance of the Turks and Caicos Islands were in a sorry state when we were forced to suspend constitutional Government. We are now working through the Governor on stabilising the public finances, on immigration issues and on issues relating to Crown land. The special investigation and prosecution team is in place and working.

Mr. Illsley: The Foreign Affairs Committee has recently been made aware of serious concerns about the special investigation team's current investigation in the Turks and Caicos Islands, namely about the lack of adequate resources to fund the investigation and about the timetable that will lead to the ending of direct rule from the UK as early as 2011, which might not allow for a complete investigation. Will he address those issues?

Chris Bryant: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to make sure that a full investigation is conducted. That is why I am working very closely with colleagues in the Department for International Development to see whether there is a means of ensuring that the investigation team has the moneys to find out the truth, which is sorely needed in TCI. In that case, the moneys would be returned once assets were sequestered as a result of criminal investigations. We need to return as fast as possible to elections in TCI, because otherwise people will think that this is a return to colonial rule.

Afghanistan

5. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the coalition in achieving the UK's foreign policy objectives in Afghanistan. [325353]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): We regularly assess the progress that we are making in Afghanistan to secure our goal of an Afghanistan that can no longer be a haven for
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international terrorism. Key indicators include the development of the Afghan national security forces, the delivery of public services and the development of the economy. The London conference reiterated the unity and coherence in the international effort, aligning this behind a clear Afghan plan.

Linda Gilroy: I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. Pakistan is very important to the effectiveness of the coalition in these matters. Will he tell the House what ongoing discussions there are with the Pakistan Government to encourage them in what they have been doing to bring security to the border with Afghanistan, so that there is no hiding place for terrorists and insurgents there?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. For the first time, we have complementary pressure on both sides of the Durand line. It is also significant that, for the first time since 1947, there are more Pakistani troops on the Afghan border than on the Indian border. That is a very significant development: Pakistan has taken severe losses, but it has moved its deployments. The meetings held the week before last between the Pakistani Foreign Minister and the leaders of the armed services in Washington were absolutely critical, as they renewed and reformed the US-Pakistan relationship, which is critical to Pakistan's role in helping to achieve stability in Afghanistan.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): I associate the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru with comments already made in support of service personnel on operations. The Pentagon's top commander, Admiral Mike Mullen, has said that corruption in the Karzai Government could ruin the coalition strategy in Afghanistan, so does the Secretary of State understand why a growing number of people in the UK are asking why our young men and women are dying every day in support of a Government largely built on graft, cronyism and electoral fraud?

David Miliband: I am glad of the hon. Gentleman's commitment to support the troops who are there, which I know is genuine and real. However, by saying what he has, he is recognising that they are there to ensure our own security. The Afghan Government are a partner in achieving that.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that corruption is a cancer at the heart of any society. A society trying to fight a counter-insurgency is doubly cancerous: that is why the London conference placed such emphasis on it, and why we must hold President Karzai to his commitment in his inaugural speech to clamp down on what he called the "culture of impunity" in respect of corruption.

Zimbabwe

6. Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of progress towards political reform by the Government of Zimbabwe. [325354]

9. Mr. Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of progress towards political reform by the Government of Zimbabwe. [325357]


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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Ivan Lewis): Hardliners in Zimbabwe continue to obstruct political reform. Effective implementation of the media, electoral and human rights commissions agreed by the parties to the global political agreement in December is absolutely essential.

Mr. Taylor: Has the Minister noticed the case of Owen Maseko, the artist who has been imprisoned and harassed because of his depiction of the terrible carnage that went on in the 1980s under President Mugabe? Is this a sign that the problems in Zimbabwe are continuing, and that a political settlement is still very far from certain?

Mr. Lewis: I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House want to pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his many years of outstanding service to this House on a variety of very important issues. On the substantive issue that he has raised, the continued flagrant abuse of human rights in Zimbabwe of course remains a concern, as does the lack of political progress on reform. We very much welcome President Zuma's renewed leadership on behalf of the Southern African Development Community, which we think is very important. We hope to have a report back from the recent visit to Zimbabwe within days, so that we can be clear about the implementation of reforms going forward.

Mr. Holloway: The Minister has spoken about President Zuma's package of measures to facilitate some sort of agreement. What chance does he give those measures?

Mr. Lewis: I am not a betting man, other than on the outcome of the forthcoming election. The serious point is that hon. Members in all parts of the House have called for South Africa to play a responsible leadership role for a long time. We all know that it is in the best place to influence real change in Zimbabwe. We believe that President Zuma's efforts are new and potentially radical, so this is a source of optimism and hope, to use a current phrase.

Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab): Will the Minister bring me up to speed on the extent to which the Financial Services Authority or his own Department have managed to determine the location of Mr. Mugabe's laundered money?

Mr. Lewis: The EU agreed in February to extend its targeted measures, which include an arms embargo, asset freezing and travel bans. Those measures are now affecting 31 companies and 198 people. On the specific point that my hon. Friend raises, I shall get back to him in due course.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): At the founding of Zimbabwe, the UK put significant resource into helping the development of infrastructure-education systems and the training of people-through a wide range of organisations, including the TUC. A lot of the beneficiaries of those programmes have, of course, become the targets of Mugabe. Will the Minister work with his friends in South Africa to help to restore some of those links and get education programmes in which we can play a role back on the table?


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Mr. Lewis: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that co-operation and collaboration, which achieved so many positive results. The UK is currently the second-largest bilateral donor to Zimbabwe, providing £60 million in aid, which is spent primarily on health but also on education. We remain deeply concerned by the intimidation, arbitrary violence, repressive legislation and curbs on press freedom that violate the rights of the Zimbabwean people. That is why political reform is so important.

Iraq

8. Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): What assessment he has made of the implications of the outcome of the recent elections in Iraq for UK policy in the region. [325356]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): The 7 March election was evidence of Iraq's progress towards full democracy, a particularly important development in the middle east. It is important that the result is respected by Iraq's political leaders.

It is also the case that Iraq's neighbours have a key role in supporting Iraq's democratic future. A democratic Iraq can play an increasing part in maintaining a stable and secure middle east.

Meg Munn: I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer and welcome the progress being made. In terms of further progress for Iraq, does he agree that contact with businesses is enormously important? Will he continue to do all that he can to improve the situation, particularly in relation to visas-the current arrangements mean that Iraqi business people are more likely to go to Europe than the UK?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend speaks with a good deal of expertise in these matters. She is absolutely right: as we have drawn down our military contribution in Iraq, there is growing importance for our economic, political, cultural and educational engagement with Iraq. That was the purpose of the Iraq investment conference in April 2009, and we are absolutely determined to make sure that British companies get the full benefit of a growing and more stable Iraq.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): In the parliamentary elections five years ago, the then Prime Minister sent people out from the policy unit here to assist then Prime Minister Allawi with his election campaign, which actually looked like fairly discreditable interference in the affairs of Iraq. Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that Mr. Allawi succeeded this time without the assistance of anyone from the United Kingdom?

David Miliband: Certainly, I have no information to suggest that there was any support from the United Kingdom in that respect. Of course, as the hon. Gentleman knows, on that occasion the result did not work out in favour of the Government in the Iraqi election.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): I hope we continue to assist Iraq by all means possible, particularly in rebuilding the rule of law. I want to place on record an e-mail that I received a few days ago from the very brave judge who sentenced Saddam Hussein to death:


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which means this country's help-

David Miliband: Although my right hon. Friend is not retiring, I think the whole House owes her a huge debt of gratitude for the way in which she has conducted her work as the Prime Minister's special representative on human rights in Iraq. She has stood up for the rights of people in Iraq in a remarkable way, and although there was deep division in the House on the Iraq war, I hope that there is unity around the commitments that she has reported and made in respect of human rights, an independent press and a free and independent judiciary.

Argentina

10. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the state of relations between the UK and Argentina. [325358]

11. James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the state of relations between the UK and Argentina. [325359]

The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant): We have a very close and productive relationship with Argentina on a range of issues, including in the G20, on climate change, sustainable development and counter-proliferation. We have absolutely no doubts whatever about our sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, nor over the islanders' right to develop a hydrocarbon industry within Falkland waters.

Dr. Lewis: Is the Minister satisfied that there remains enough defence capability in the Royal Navy to deter Argentina from any mistaken reversal of position, going back to military adventurism, given that we now have almost as few destroyers in the Royal Navy as there are Liberal Democrat Members attending this session of Foreign Affairs questions?

Chris Bryant: I am not in charge of Liberal Democrat attendance, although it is sometimes better to have fewer rather than more.

We are confident that we have what we need to be able to maintain the security of the islands, but it is important to bear in mind that the Argentines have made it very clear, even in some of the noises off that they have been making, that they are not talking about blockading the Falklands, and they are not talking about returning to the 1980s. That should be a reassurance to us all, although of course we should never be complacent.

James Brokenshire: The Minister will be aware that the Argentine Government have introduced new permit rules for ships travelling to and from the Falkland Islands. What impact is that having on the islands, and what steps is he taking to have those permit rules lifted?

Chris Bryant: Obviously, it is for the Argentines to make whatever declarations they want to make, but they have not made it clear what will follow on from the laws that they passed a few weeks ago. So far, as I was telling the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), there has been no blockade of the islands; there has been no impact on the islands, and I very much hope
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that that remains the same. Frankly, no matter how much argy-bargy there is, we will always return to the principle of self-determination for the Falkland Islanders.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): It is all right for the Minister to say that it is not having an impact, but there is an impact: there are threats against companies that do business in the Falklands and that want to do business there in the future. Has not the time come for the Minister or the Secretary of State to visit the Falkland Islands to show their solidarity to the people who live there?

Chris Bryant: I am grateful to my hon. Friend; I think that he is now the second person who has offered to send me off to the Falkland Islands during the general election campaign, but I am not sure whether he is recommending that that should happen before I submit my nomination papers.

The serious point is that I had conversations with the Argentine Foreign Secretary during the inauguration of the new President of Chile in Santiago a couple of weeks ago, and it is very clear from those conversations that the Argentines have no intention of blockading the Falklands. They do not want to talk about war. They do not want-and it would be inappropriate for any of us-to raise the temperature of the conversation that we are having. In my conversations with people from the Falklands, I have made it clear that, if they want a Minister, they can have one as soon as they want them to visit.

Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Will the Minister be very clear in saying that he will vigorously defend the rights of the Falkland Islanders to remain within the United Kingdom family and that they will not be used as a trade-off for oil exploration?

Chris Bryant: I do not know whether I can make it any clearer than I already have: we are absolutely certain about our sovereignty. We rest our case firmly on the United Nations principles, which state that the self-determination of the people on the islands is vital. We believe that we have stronger cards now, because the European treaties also happen to make it clear that the Falklands remain an overseas territory, as part of the United Kingdom. We are not complacent about this, but we are very determined.

Burma

12. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): What his most recent assessment is of progress towards democratic reform in Burma. [325360]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Ivan Lewis): Forthcoming elections in Burma will be neither free nor fair. Election laws published in March are restrictive and unfair.

Mr. Cunningham: What discussions has my hon. Friend had with our international partners regarding the release of political prisoners in Burma? In particular, what role has China been playing?


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