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6. Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): What plans he has to meet the President of Zimbabwe; and if he will make a statement. [129545]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): Meetings with President Mugabe are always memorable, but at present I have no immediate plans for another such meeting. The recent elections in Zimbabwe were a triumph of the democratic spirit over attempts to suppress it. Despite two months of intimidation and gerrymandering, almost as many citizens of Zimbabwe voted for the Opposition as for the Government. I have urged President Mugabe to respond positively to the Opposition offer to work together and to accept the mood for change demonstrated by the people of Zimbabwe.

Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for that reply. Given the appalling violence in the recent Zimbabwean elections, the call by Morgan Tsvangirai for the impeachment of President Mugabe, and the Prime Minister's acknowledgement that the Government are seen to be "insufficiently assertive" on this issue, why does the right hon. Gentleman not make President Mugabe a pariah by pressing internationally for the freezing of his assets and the immediate imposition of a ban on his foreign travel?

Mr. Cook: I have the advantage over the hon. Gentleman, in that I spoke to Morgan Tsvangirai earlier today. He made it clear that the Opposition would be seeking ways of working together--[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman quoted Morgan Tsvangirai; he should allow me the courtesy of sharing with the House what Morgan Tsvangirai shared with me this morning. He made it clear that, as the Opposition were seeking to work with the Government in the Parliament, which sits for the first time on Thursday, and as he had invited the Government to respond to that call for national reconciliation, he did not believe that penal sanctions would be helpful. The matter of impeachment is in the hands of the Parliament of Zimbabwe, not this Parliament.

President Mugabe faces inflation of 60 per cent. and has just announced a budget deficit of 15 per cent. He faces food shortages, power cuts and business failures. No measure that we could take would impose more hardship on the people of Zimbabwe than what President Mugabe is already doing.

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): Would my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary be astonished to hear that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) was once the secretary of the immigration and repatriation committee of the Monday club? Does not that show the nature of the remarks that we are hearing

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from the Opposition Benches? Is not the mask being peeled away, to show the racism and xenophobia that have always been endemic in the Conservative party?

Mr. Cook: I was unaware of that episode in the career of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow). I have obviously failed to follow it with the attention that it deserves.

Both sides of the House have praised the courage of Morgan Tsvangirai and the Opposition and their determination to put their case with dignity and without violence at the election. If we respect their courage and determination, we should respect also their advice when they ask us not to take sanctions against Zimbabwe.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): The Foreign Secretary has been remarkably slow to condemn what has happened in Zimbabwe in the past. Given the universal condemnation of the elections as a travesty of democracy and the remarkable success of an extremely brave Opposition, operating with all the odds stacked against them; and given the fact that the Mugabe regime seems to have changed its behaviour not one iota since the elections, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is time now for Britain to use its position at the centre of the Commonwealth to mobilise some serious international action? Such action would show Mr. Mugabe that he is being watched, that he and his thuggish cronies will not be permitted the type of conduct that they have engaged in to date, and that it belongs firmly in the past? If he fails to do so, will he not be receiving another memo from the Prime Minister demanding to know why, on issues like Zimbabwe, the Government are seen to be "insufficiently assertive"?

Mr. Cook: Far from our being slow on the question of Zimbabwe, there were 400 election observers towards the close of the election campaign, solely because Britain mobilised the international community and obtained observers from both the Commonwealth and the European Union--action which was warmly welcomed by the Opposition and the Opposition candidates. I have already discussed the report of the Commonwealth observers with the chair of the Commonwealth ministerial action group. We are inviting the comments of President Mugabe and the Government of Zimbabwe in response to it. We shall be ascertaining what steps we can take to ensure that when the people of Zimbabwe next have the opportunity of an election to fill the presidential post in two years' time, they can take it without fear of violence, intimidation and gerrymandering.


7. Mr. Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Canning Town): If the Burmese regime has responded to the recommendations made by the International Labour Organisation following its recent mission to the country. [129546]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. John Battle): We are deeply concerned about the brutality of the military in Burma, the use of forced labour and the displacement of ethnic minorities.

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Sadly, the Burmese regime has done nothing to implement ILO recommendations dating from 1998 that relate to forced labour, including women, children and the elderly, despite the recent ILO mission to Rangoon in May.

Mr. Fitzpatrick: Will my hon. Friend continue to make it clear to investors in Burma that the military regime is in breach of ILO and other international conventions and that they should not be helping this outlawed country by doing business with its rulers?

Mr. Battle: Yes. We announced on 17 June 1997 that we do not encourage trade with or investment in Burma. We have suspended financial support for trade missions and trade promotions. In March, I told Premier Oil, the largest UK investor in Burma, that we would welcome its moving out. Any British companies that inquire about trade with Burma are informed of the dire political situation and its appalling human rights record.

We discourage tourism as well. It is not possible to ban people going to Burma, particularly from other countries, but every British tourist who goes to Burma should realise that he or she must exchange about US $300 on arrival, and every one of those dollars will be propping up that murderous regime.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): Given the abuses that the Minister has already described, will he continue to stress that message to British companies, including Premier Oil? Will he seek also to persuade the Governments of eastern Asia, especially the Japanese, that the policy of constructive engagement with Burma is not working and that stronger measures are now needed?

Mr. Battle: The answer is yes, we are doing that, and we will continue to do so. We have put pressure on the ILO, and, I think for the first time in its history, it has adopted exceptional measures which, if there is no change, will come into force in November. We have made representations, and we have proposed measures to strengthen the EU position. We have co-sponsored UN resolutions, and, with countries in the Association of South-East Asian Nations, we have also made the point forcefully that we will keep up pressure on Burma until it respects the democratic rights of all its people.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): Why does the ethical foreign policy apply to Burma but not to China?

Mr. Battle: It does apply to China. The small difference is that Burma does not accept that there is even a question of its denying human rights, despite the fact that it is estimated that between 500,000 and 2 million people are refugees within that country. Burma will not enter into a dialogue at all. At least China is prepared to discuss the question of human rights. With Burma it is a shut door.

World Service

8. Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): What assessment he has made of the BBC World Service's role in conflict prevention in third-world countries; and if he will make a statement. [129547]

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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Hain): The objectivity that is the hallmark of BBC World Service broadcasts plays a crucial role in areas of tension and conflict. The BBC World Service also plays an important role in carrying out media training predominantly funded by the Government, where local media bias may be a contributing factor to conflict.

Mr. Keetch: Does the Minister agree that the BBC remains the premier and most impartial international news organisation? Will he pay tribute to the World Service, not just at Bush house and elsewhere in Britain, but to its training programmes in places such as the Balkans, Indonesia, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan? Will he assure the House that, in the Chancellor's announcement which is to follow this Question Time, the World Service will be given the additional resources that it needs to upgrade its transmitters and relay stations and keep pace with modern technology?

Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman will not expect me to respond to his request to anticipate the Chancellor. The Government are strongly committed to the BBC World Service, which is booming. Since last year, the number of its listeners has risen by 8 million to a record 151 million, and we have put in an additional £44 million during the current three-year period. That is a sign of our commitment. We want to see the BBC World Service and BBC world television extend their coverage throughout the world.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): Does my hon. Friend accept that many of us welcome the positive comments that he has just made about BBC radio and television internationally? Will he take this opportunity to congratulate it on its balanced coverage in a difficult situation during the recent elections in Peru?

Mr. Hain: I agree with my hon. Friend that the coverage was very good, as it almost always--if not always--is throughout the world. Travelling throughout the world as my colleagues and I do, we continually hear praise heaped upon the BBC World Service, as one of the few objective sources of information in far too many countries.

Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton): Does the Minister share my view that the BBC World Service in radio and television is Britain's greatest diplomatic asset?

Mr. Hain: Yes, probably, apart from the present team of Foreign Office Ministers.

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