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Tony Cunningham: I have a fairly simple question. The amendment talks about gross violations of human rights. Many peoplealthough not everyonewould say that carrying out the death penalty, certainly for the individual, is a gross violation of human rights. Are you saying, by supporting your new clause, that any country that has the death penalty would therefore automatically be excluded from development aid and receive humanitarian aid only?
Mrs. Spelman: I am sure that Madam Deputy Speaker would immediately spring to her own defence to say that the new clause is not hers; it is that of my hon. Friends the Members for Castle Point (Bob Spink) and for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), and I am speaking in support of the thrust of their new clause. Obviously, it would be for the Government of the day to decide what constituted a gross violation of human rights, but if the hon. Gentleman will be patient with me, I shall talk about a country that does use the death penalty in a way that I personally think constitutes a violation of human rights.
Mrs. Spelman: I hope that the hon. Gentleman would accept that the new clause would provide legislative underpinning to support Government action, whereas it is now less obvious to the public that we as a country are making such distinctions about what we condone and what we find offensive. What I mean will become clearer when I give some practical examples.
The rather opaque jargon for that practice is "critical engagement"not a phrase of which the man on the street or even I would immediately understand the interpretation. I believe that the correct interpretation is that that phrase allows the Government to raise human rights issues while continuing to maintain political and commercial relations.
I should like to place on record the fact that we share Amnesty International's concern that that policy of critical engagement may be a fig leaf for business as usual. New clause 1 would require clear evidence of an improvement in a country's human rights record before it could be removed from a list of countries that the Secretary of State considered to be engaged in or to be tolerating human rights abuses. Being placed on the list would cut off the offending country's Government from assistance, with the exceptionI cannot emphasise this point enough because it has been missing from some of our exchangesof humanitarian assistance. It would certainly also not preclude providing assistance through non-governmental bodies. In the eyes of the public, it is very easy to understand that distinction, and there is no question of precluding such development assistance.
The hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) gave the hypothetical example of not allowing water to be piped in and having to bring it in by donkey, but, for example, in a country such as the Congo which needs humanitarian assistancewater and sanitation work needs to take placeobviously, the most intelligent solution is to provide water in the most efficient way possible, which, I should imagine, is not bringing it in by donkey.
Hugh Bayley: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way again. It was not a hypothetical question; it was a practical, real-life example of a decision that a British NGO working in the Sudan had to make because of the Conservative Government's decision that they would support, through NGOs, humanitarian assistance such as providing water to people who were very thirsty in a displaced people's camp in the desert, but that they would not support development assistance such as building the infrastructure, a water pipe, needed to carry that water. That decision was forced on the NGO by the Government's policya policy that was sensible at the time. It is right that the Government should have the discretion to decide when to refuse to provide aid, but they should not be required by law always to take that decision.
Resistance to taking a stance against countries that have a poor human rights record has always centred on trying to avoid making the lives of innocent people more difficult, and I hope that the Opposition have made it perfectly clear that that is absolutely not our intention. Under the new clause, there would be no prohibition on the provision of medicine, medical equipment, food supplies and other humanitarian assistance. I hope that I have made it perfectly clear that the term "humanitarian assistance" would extend to the kind of infrastructure that is necessary to ensure that humanitarian assistance is effective and gets through.
Whether Amnesty International's concerns are justified can be assessed only by looking at case studies of countries that fall into that category. One of our most notable human rights dialoguesif that is a fair description of what it isis with China, but respect for human rights is deteriorating even as the dialogue continues. According to the Foreign Office, China aspires to end the death penalty, yet capital punishmentto which the hon. Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham) referred earlierremains widespread and its use has expanded. Almost 3,000 people were sentenced to death between April and June last year. Almost 2,000 of those sentences were carried out during that period, and the crimes included bribery, fraud and theft. That is very difficult to comprehend, certainly for me as a British citizen.
The selection of China to host the Olympic games is seen by optimists as an opportunity to persuade that nation to show greater respect for human rights, but pessimists have the countervailing view that the honour of being chosen to host such a prestigious international sporting event shows an abusive country that it may continue as it pleases and still receive its reward. That sends a very mixed signal.
Another topical example is the Government's stance towards development assistance to Zimbabwe. There are plenty of examples of human rights abuses, but one of the most flagrant was President Mugabe's announcement in November that the Government would not allow aid agencies to distribute emergency food supplies to Zimbabweans affected by famine. The Information Minister, Jonathan Moyo, claimed that aid agencies would use the opportunity to smuggle in election monitors and campaign for the opposition partythe Movement for Democratic Change.
On numerous occasions, we have urged the Government to demonstrate to the Government of Zimbabwe that we do not accept a business-as-usual approach to those flagrant human rights abuses. Most recently, today, came the second of the debates in Westminster Hall that the Conservative party has requested on Zimbabwe. As the Hansard report of today's debates is not yet available, it is worth emphasising for the benefit of hon. Members some of the points that were made in that debate. Zimbabwe is a very good test case of what I am talking about. Because of the day-to-day
Dr. Tonge: The hon. Lady must realise that Zimbabwe is a difficult example to use to illustrate her point. The problem with the Zimbabwean Government is that they see us as the wicked colonial country. Therefore, any action that we take will reinforce their view. That is why the Movement for Democratic Change is calling for Governmentsnot just Britainto take action. The action should come from the Commonwealth and from the European Union, but not unilaterally from Britain.