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Sierra Leone

8. Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): When he expects to receive Sir Thomas Legg's report on arms sales to Sierra Leone; and if he will make a statement. [44521]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tony Lloyd): Sir Thomas Legg has said that he will complete his investigation and report as soon as possible. He is currently interviewing witnesses and examining evidence.

Mr. Skinner: Does the Minister agree that, in many ways, the matter is really a story about the British intelligence services--which believe that they are answerable to no one when they are meddling abroad--and high-flying civil servants straight off the cast of "Yes, Minister", at least one of whom says that he cannot read his own memory? Is it not also about a shadow Foreign Secretary who believes that he has discovered some great defining issue in the lifetime of a Labour Government whereas, in reality, he is like a dog in the gutter that keeps returning to its vomit?

Mr. Lloyd: I was tempted to agree with my hon. Friend, at least on the shadow Foreign Secretary, but he invited me to go a little too far. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend has touched on the remarkable contrast between the shadow Foreign Secretary's view that he has chanced upon his Scott report and reality--

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): Nothing like.

Mr. Lloyd: Nothing like, as the hon. Gentleman says. Scott, of course, was a deliberate cover-up by Ministers. That Government deliberately chose to supply arms to Iraq, a regime that went to war with Britain in due course. It was a deliberate attempt to mislead Parliament. The contrast is remarkable. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has not been able to demonstrate, because he cannot, that Ministers colluded, that Ministers sought to provide arms or that Ministers sought to break the United Nations embargo--or that Ministers even sought to mislead either the House of Commons or the House of Lords. That is the difference. I shall be interested to see whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman welcomes the fact that, when he comes shortly to read the conclusions of the Legg report, he will not be locked in a room for a few minutes to review that investigation, but will have the chance to read it properly and to come before the House to say that he is sorry.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): Will the Minister give us an assurance that Sir Thomas Legg will examine the relationship between all officials in the Foreign Office and Customs and Excise while he is conducting his inquiry?

Mr. Lloyd: Yes, of course. Sir Thomas Legg's remit is already public. Sir Thomas has already begun his

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investigations. He has access to all officials, to all the papers that he chooses to review and, very important, to all Ministers. I and my colleagues are looking forward to the opportunity to give evidence to Sir Thomas.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Did my hon. Friend notice the warm and enthusiastic welcome that the British high commissioner to Sierra Leone received on his return because the people there identify him with the return of democracy and hold us in the highest regard? Is not it nonsense to say that when the arms embargo was agreed by the United Nations it was on the basis that there would be no difference between the dictatorship that had taken over and the democratic forces? Surely there is all the difference in the world, as there was when there was an arms embargo against apartheid in South Africa--which hardly involved those who were fighting the regime.

Mr. Lloyd: Let me make it absolutely clear that the return of the high commissioner to Sierra Leone was recognised by the people of Sierra Leone as significant because his role and, indeed, that of the British Government was critical in the return of the democratically elected President to that country. That is something that the people of Sierra Leone do not want to forget, although Opposition parties try on occasion to deflect the issue.

It is important to place one point on the record. Much has been made of what I previously told the House. I said on 12 March:

It was absolutely right to say that then. It was wrong to suggest that we had conspired with hired killers, and it is wrong. We do not conspire and we do not work with mercenaries.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): The Minister and the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) appear to have forgotten that we are discussing matters that the Foreign Secretary described as "grave" and "serious". Baroness Symons told the other place yesterday that before she answered questions on 10 March she was briefed about allegations of illegal arms shipments being referred to the appropriate authorities. Does the Minister still maintain that he had no such briefing although he actually visited Sierra Leone at the end of that month? If he did not, has he established why?

Mr. Lloyd: I am really astonished by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's line of questioning. I recently told the House:

If that form of words is not comprehensive, I invite the right hon. and learned Gentleman for goodness' sake to come and tell me what more he wants. It is absolutely clear. It is before the House of Commons and before Sir Thomas Legg. When I appear before Sir Thomas Legg, I will repeat that form of words and he will be able to establish the truth. That will come back to the House.

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At that point, I trust that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will have the good grace to withdraw his outrageous remarks.

Mr. Howard: Has the Minister established the reason for that astonishing failure to brief him?

Mr. Lloyd rose--

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham): He has already had two questions.

Madam Speaker: Order. The Opposition Front Bench is perfectly entitled to another question, otherwise I would not have called the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). I determine the allocations allowed for those on the Front Bench.

Mr. Lloyd: I do not want to fail to answer the right hon. and learned Gentleman's question. Unfortunately, I did not hear it because of the noise.

Mr. Howard: Has the Minister established the reason for the astonishing failure to brief him on something that was clearly relevant to his visit to Sierra Leone?

Mr. Lloyd: I realise that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is in full flight in pursuit of what he feels is his political moment. Unfortunately, he is chasing the wrong target. His question will be comprehensively answered when Sir Thomas Legg publishes his report. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will then realise that his Scott report is simply a chimera, as is his political future.


10. Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush): What recent contacts he has had with the Myanmar Government concerning the restoration of democracy and the rule of law. [44523]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Derek Fatchett): We regularly raise our concerns with the Burmese Government. Our ambassador in Rangoon had discussions with the Burmese Foreign Minister most recently on 4 May. He also remains in regular contact with opposition leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi. We have used our European Union presidency to renew EU measures against the regime and drafted this year's United Nations Commission on Human Rights resolution on Burma.

Mr. Soley: I am pleased to hear that reply and am anxious that the name of Aung San Suu Kyi should not fall out of the news again. Have we been able to use our influence with the Association of South-East Asian Nations, which could apply pressure to ensure change in the regime?

Mr. Fatchett: In all our contacts with ASEAN countries we impress on them our view that there is a need for democratic change in Burma--the need to recognise the role of the opposition parties and the important contribution to the future of Burma that could be made by Aung San Suu Kyi. We want the ASEAN

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nations to resolve the matter internally. The United Kingdom Government and the European Union have taken their position. We consider Burma's violation of human rights wholly unacceptable and we shall continue to put that message across to all those in ASEAN and elsewhere who will listen.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Will the Minister pay tribute to the vernacular language transmissions of the BBC World Service to Burma? Has he been able to assess their effectiveness in at least influencing some people in Burma to look for a restoration of democracy?

Mr. Fatchett: I am always glad to pay tribute to the work of the BBC World Service, which makes an important contribution not just in communicating British values and democratic values, but in ensuring that many people in many parts of the world hear an objective news service that would otherwise be denied them. That is true in Burma, as in many other countries. I hope that it has had some impression on those who have power in Burma. I am afraid that I cannot be over-optimistic about that, but we shall continue to work towards the same objective.

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