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House of Commons

Tuesday 2 November 1999

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker in the Chair]


City of London (Ward Elections) Bill (By Order)

Order for further consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered on Tuesday 9 November.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked--


1. Mr. Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw): If he will make a statement about his Department's actions this year to combat the drugs trade. [95030]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. John Battle): This year, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has continued to co-ordinate the international elements of the United Kingdom's national drugs strategy. With other Departments, our efforts are primarily targeted at reducing the production and trafficking of class A drugs to the UK, and at increasing the effectiveness of other countries' anti-drugs efforts.

Mr. Roy: I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for that reply, and welcome him to his position; I wish him well with his new portfolio.

I note my hon. Friend's comments on the production and trafficking of drugs. There is a perception that bravado and glamour are associated with foreign drug barons. Can my hon. Friend assure me that everything will be done by the Foreign Office to deal with those drug barons? The perception of glamour and bravado associated with them manifests itself in the form of murder, beatings, violence, intimidation, fear and real terrorism on the streets of my constituency--indeed, throughout Scotland and the United Kingdom.

Mr. Battle: I thank my hon. Friend for the way in which he has raised this matter. It is now one that none of us, as constituency Members of Parliament, can ignore. In the Foreign Office, for our part, we have already contributed about £5.9 million this year to anti-drugs measures that support practical international projects to tackle the problem in the transit countries and to break off the supply lines of heroin and cocaine. Yes it is important,

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as my hon. Friend suggests, that we tackle the source and supply of drugs, but we must also address the money laundering that rides on the back of that.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford): Is the Minister aware of the astonishing growth in the drugs trans-shipment trade through the Caribbean? It was recently estimated that the amount of drugs being trafficked through the West Indian islands and Guyana is equivalent to the gross domestic product of all the English-speaking territories in the Caribbean--the implication being that that hugely undermines good governance in those countries. Will the Minister tell us why he is withdrawing British technical officials from the police forces and Customs services of the dependent territories, thus not supporting the islands sufficiently to enable them to retain their alternative employment based on bananas?

Mr. Battle: I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a great interest in development matters and is holding conversations about the budget of the Department for International Development, to which the special projects refer. I can only say that, as far as I am aware, within the budget of the Foreign Office there are collaborative, co-operative projects--especially in the transit countries and in countries such as Colombia--to tackle the problems and to work with the local authorities and security services to do what we can.

The hon. Gentleman might be encouraged and interested to learn that the seizure figures in Britain are increasing massively. In 1996, 740 kg of heroin were seized; in 1998, the amount was 990 kg. In 1996, 1,150 kg of cocaine were seized; in 1998, 2,800 kg. I shall hold further conversations with my colleagues in the Department for International Development about the points raised by the hon. Gentleman, but I emphasise the fact that the Government take the matter extremely seriously. We shall work to break off the supplies and, where practical, we shall look into alternative production.

Mr. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East): My hon. Friend will be aware that, last week, one of my constituents was released from prison in Goa on a drugs charge of which he was not guilty. I thank the Foreign Office for the support that was given. However, although we are rightly keeping up a drive against the supply of drugs, can we continue to give support to our citizens abroad when they are wrongly charged in such incidents?

Mr. Battle: Again, basic justice is precisely the point for the staff of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office abroad; they offer support and consider the justice of particular cases. There will be occasions when people are wrongly charged.

I am also encouraged by a case that is before the court in my own constituency of Leeds. Drugs--120 kg of cocaine--were allegedly brought out of Colombia. They were picked up in a Land Rover; people were charged and are currently on trial. That results from the kind of international co-operation that we want in the future.

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2. Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): If he will make a statement on British relations with Pakistan. [95031]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): Britain is a friend of Pakistan, with which we have many historic, family and commercial ties. We have followed with concern events in Pakistan over the past year, and are dismayed by last month's military coup. We will work closely with our colleagues in the Commonwealth to press for an early and credible timetable for the restoration of democracy to the people of Pakistan. It is important also to many of our other friends around the world that the international community does not provide any signal that it is willing to condone the military overthrow of a constitutional Government.

Mr. Wilkinson: Is it not true that the right hon. Gentleman's claim to be a friend of Pakistan will ring hollow because he has rushed to judgment without a full appreciation of the circumstances? Will he please bear in mind the interests of the people of Pakistan? Is it not a fact that the impoverishment of Pakistan has been at the heart of that country's political problems? Will not Pakistan be further impoverished by the arbitrary cut-off of British development aid? If Pakistan were suspended from the Commonwealth, as Her Majesty' Government seem to want, how would that improve relations with India? How will it affect the situation of Pakistanis in this country, who owe their ability to vote in elections and to join the civil service, the armed forces or the police to their Commonwealth nationality?

Mr. Cook: The decision that has been taken is not to suspend Pakistan's membership of the Commonwealth, but to suspend it from the councils of the Commonwealth. The hon. Gentleman should reflect on the final point I made. Far from our being alone on the issue, the attitude of most other Commonwealth countries was far more vigorous than ours precisely because they do not want to give the signal--which the hon. Gentleman is in danger of providing--that military coups are acceptable in certain circumstances.

On Saturday, I saw Mr. Axworthy, the leader of the Commonwealth mission to Pakistan, who had returned with a recommendation that Pakistan should be monitored closely by the Commonwealth to determine whether there has been a return to democracy; further decisions will flow from that. In the meantime, we shall maintain dialogue with Pakistan and maintain pressure on the Government of Pakistan to restore the democracy that they have taken away. However, we cannot continue business as usual as though nothing in Pakistan had changed.

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Govan): Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is considerable support among Pakistanis for the change in Pakistan and that that feeling is the result of the failure of Pakistan's elected Governments to provide transparent and good governance? Does he also agree that the imposition of sanctions, the withdrawal of aid and the isolation of

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Pakistan will not help to restore democracy in Pakistan, but will ensure that people who already face misery will have to endure greater hardship?

Mr. Cook: Of course it is the case that politicians in Pakistan have badly let down the people who elected them. [Interruption.] I am glad that I have the support of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow).

It is true that many members of the Pakistani community have welcomed the disappearance of the Sharif regime. We are calling not for the restoration of the Sharif regime but for the restoration of democracy so that the people of Pakistan, not Pakistan's military, decide who is to rule them. Although it might be true that some of the elected politicians of Pakistan have not provided the democracy, prosperity and accountability that was wanted, the record of military regimes in Pakistan is, on the whole, even worse.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): The Foreign Secretary will be aware that the Sharif Government removed the President of Pakistan, deposed the chief justice and kicked out the army chief; and Sharif then appointed cronies to be judges and provincial governors and to other positions of power--he even had his thugs storm the Supreme Court to prevent it from hearing corruption charges against him. Why did the Foreign Secretary take an immediate decision to remove from the Musharraf regime support that he had provided to Prime Minister Sharif's corrupt and dishonest regime?

Mr. Cook: The principle at stake is that it is for the people of Pakistan to make up their own mind, and the place to do that is at the ballot box. There will be many friends of Britain throughout Africa and Asia who are dismayed to learn that the modern Tory party endorses a military coup.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): Does my right hon. Friend accept that, although none of us condones or approves of the way in which the government of Pakistan was changed, it is essential that we help the people of Pakistan to achieve a democratic Government, free from the corruption and intolerance that characterised their previous Government? We must not penalise the people of Pakistan, but positively support their efforts to achieve the democracy that I know my right hon. Friend wants.

Mr. Cook: I assure my hon. Friend that we are maintaining humanitarian aid, which can be channelled through non-governmental organisations, and that much of our aid to Pakistan falls into that category. We cannot do business as normal with a military regime, but we are certainly willing to work with its leaders to restore democracy. The Commonwealth mission made it clear that help would be available, and the regime's leaders will be judged on whether they take advantage of the assistance, guidance and funding that will be provided to help to restore democracy.

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