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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Hain): We back positive change in Africa by supporting those Governments who promote democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law. We are helping Africa in the fight against poverty, AIDS, corruption and conflict. I am focusing on activities that fuel conflict and break sanctions, especially the illegal diamond trade. Yesterday, I spoke at an international diamond trader conference in Antwerp to press for action to block diamonds that fund wars in Angola, Sierra Leone and the Congo.
Mr. Green: I am grateful to the Minister for his words, but when he contemplated the sight of child soldiers in Sierra Leone carrying British weapons, did he consider the devastating candour of his own analysis in the New Statesman that the phrase "ethical dimension" in relation to Britain's foreign policy was just
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): My hon. Friend has made a significant personal contribution to human rights, especially in southern Africa. Does he agree that when apartheid reigned in South Africa, when the Group Areas and Registrations Act was on the statute book and when Nelson Mandela was in prison, there was no ethical foreign policy from the then British Government? One of the most significant things that we can do now to promote an ethical foreign policy is to help the South African Government with good governance and to relate to them in every way so that they can be a beacon in the region.
Mr. Hain: Absolutely. As my hon. Friend points out, it was Conservative Members and their former leader who condemned Nelson Mandela as a terrorist. It was some of them and their supporters who went round universities in Britain with badges saying "Hang Nelson Mandela." Where was the ethics and the commitment to human rights in that? Our commitment on those issues was strong in opposition and continues to be driven forward in government.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): Has the Minister had the opportunity to see yesterday's report that five people collecting relief items were killed in an ambush by Sudanese Government forces in the Nuba mountains? Is he aware that in recent months the Sudanese Government have bombed schools and medical centres in their country? Given that the United Nations Security Council and the United States have both condemned strongly the atrocities committed by the Sudanese Government, will not many people be appalled and dismayed by the tactless move of this Government in granting a visa to and laying out the red carpet for the Sudanese Foreign Minister today? When it comes to foreign policy, can the Minister tell us where hypocrisy ends and ethics begin?
Mr. Hain: I shall take no lessons in hypocrisy from the hon. Lady, or from Conservatives generally. Is she saying that the Foreign Minister of the Sudan, who met me this morning to discuss the peace process and how to take that
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Keith Vaz): Bilateral contacts with Estonia are in excellent shape. In July 1999, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary visited Tallinn on the occasion of the formal opening of the new British embassy building and held talks with senior members of the Estonian Government. President Meri called on my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary during his visit to the UK in March this year. I plan to visit Estonia in the autumn.
Dr. Whitehead: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he accept that the passing of language laws in Estonia on 14 June was a genuine step forward in the protection of minorities there? Will he assure me that as enlargement takes place in the EU, applicant states will be closely monitored on their dealings with minorities and on good governance?
Mr. Vaz: I agree that the passing of that law was extremely important. I assure my hon. Friend that, working through the High Commissioner for Ethnic Minorities at the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, we are doing our best to monitor the situation. Estonia is doing extremely well in its application to join the European Union and has opened 29 of the 31 chapters of the acquis, having closed 13 of them. Relations with our country are excellent and I believe that there is even an Estonian football player who plays for Derby County.
Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): I am sure that the Minister will acknowledge that Estonia is close to being ready for accession, as are a number of states. Can he tell the House when he expects accession to take place, as all the applicant countries keep telling us that they are getting extremely frustrated at the way in which Europe is holding them back?
Mr. Vaz: As I told the House earlier, it is not for the European Union to set admission dates for applicant countries. It is for us to get our house in order, which the Foreign Secretary says we will have done with the conclusion of the IGC by the end of this year. We obviously want Estonia to join as quickly as possible, but it must set its own timetables and will only join once we have completed institutional reform. It will set its own timetables, and we want to see it in as quickly as possible.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Keith Vaz): We have very good relations with the Holy See. During my visit to Rome in January this year, I had a meeting at the Vatican with Monsignor Migliore, and also met Cardinal Etchegaray, Archbishop Van Thaun and Bishops Martin and Fitzgerald. Her Majesty the Queen will meet Pope John Paul II when she visits Rome between 16 and 19 October.
Mr. Mackinlay: Does the Minister recall that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, along with the American Department of State, considered it appropriate to give unsolicited advice to the Vatican on what it deemed to be the imprudence of the Holy Father making a visit to Iraq. Bearing in mind the fact that the Pope's travel arrangements are deemed to be appropriate business for the FCO, as well as our residual duties and obligations to promote human rights and religious liberties in Hong Kong, can the Minister tell us what representations have been, or will be, made to the Chinese authorities in the light of the fact that they refused the Pope permission to visit the 250,000 Catholics in Hong Kong on a pastoral visit?
Mr. Vaz: If our embassy in the Holy See is consulted on these matters, we will be part of the discussions. There is no question of our telling the Pope or the Vatican where they should go or whom they should visit. However, if those matters are raised as part of the bilateral discussions and negotiations, the UK Government will put their views forward.
Mr. O'Hara: On behalf of the British Government, will my hon. Friend condemn the recent advance of the Turkish army across 200 m of neutral ground at Strovilia, which is not only an act of aggression but an insult to the UN and, indeed, calculated not to facilitate the success of the negotiations? Further, will he confirm that the recognition of a Turkish republic of northern Cyprus as a legal entity can be neither the starting point nor the end point of negotiations, as that would legalise the armed occupation of a sovereign state?
Mr. Vaz: My hon. Friend is clearly a friend of Cyprus and has raised these issues on a number of occasions. The Government do not want anything to interfere with the success of the proximity talks, which as he knows will begin on Monday. I shall certainly take on board the points that he has made and pass them to Sir David Hannay. [Interruption.]
Mr. Cox: Although I note my hon. Friend's reply, is he aware of the crucial importance of the present round of talks? Over the 26 years since the brutal invasion of the Republic of Cyprus, which I remind my hon. Friend is a Commonwealth country, we have seen countless similar talks, only for them to fail. I hope that my hon. Friend will propose that the United Nations resolutions on Cyprus form the basis of the talks and that Mr. Denktash and his advisers will at long last be asked to enter meaningful discussion and not engage in the spoiling tactics that have been used repeatedly over the years since the invasion of the Republic of Cyprus.
Mr. Vaz: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's work on the Cyprus issue. He will recall the Prime Minister's statement on 23 December 1998 and the progress that we have made in the past two years. He will know of the importance of the proximity talks, and that they resume on 24 July--next Monday. We will do everything that we can to ensure a just and lasting settlement to this sorry issue.