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Sierra Leone

9. Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives): If he will make a statement on the funding of the peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone. [99952]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): The United Nations peacekeeping operation in Sierra Leone will be funded by the assessed contributions of member states. The United Kingdom is also providing 15 military observers and eight specialist military personnel.

The United Kingdom has already provided £27 million for humanitarian needs and the disarmament process and we are also contributing £10 million to support the troops of ECOMOG and for the training of an army for the Government of Sierra Leone. No other nation from outside the region has contributed as much as the UK to the reconstruction of Sierra Leone and to enabling its people, once again, to live under a freely elected Government.

Mr. George: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that reply. I know that he accepts that the situation in Sierra Leone is dire. Innocent civilians there simply want security, and that has not been achieved. What international efforts are the Government making with the countries of the European Union, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the United Nations to ensure that there is adequate funding for the

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DDR--disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration--programme and rapid deployment of the necessary peacekeeping forces, which are now so urgently required?

Mr. Cook: I discussed those questions with President Kabbah and President Obasanjo in Durban last month, and I wholeheartedly echo the hon. Gentleman's point. To speak to anybody who has seen the problems at first hand, such as the children who have had their arms lopped off by the rebels, is to understand the degree of human suffering that will be visited on Sierra Leone for decades to come, as a result of the brutality of the past two years.

Sierra Leone, rightly and justifiably, looks to Britain to be its voice in many of those international forums. Britain took the lead in achieving the resolution on Sierra Leone in the Security Council, and we are now working hard to make sure that the troops required for that mission to succeed are provided. In particular, we shall be in contact with other donor countries to make sure that they match our contributions to the process of disarmament, so that we can take advantage of those people who are coming out of the bush, seeking to disarm and to be retrained.


10. Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): If he will make a statement on the recent visit to India by the Minister of State. [99953]

17. Mr. Michael J. Foster (Worcester): If he will make a statement on the United Kingdom's relations with India. [99961]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Hain): At the request of the Prime Minister, I visited India last month to open a new chapter in our relations with India, and I had excellent discussions with Indian leaders, including Prime Minister Vajpayee. We agreed on a new partnership of equals between our countries, including an alliance between our information technology sectors.

Dr. Iddon: India is often criticised for not allowing foreign politicians, non-governmental organisations--especially Amnesty International--and the wider media free access to Jammu and Kashmir. Certainly during a visit to Islamabad and Azad Kashmir this summer, a group of Labour Members of Parliament felt that criticism strongly, but when we put that to the Foreign and Home Secretaries in New Delhi, we got the opposite point of view. Did my hon. Friend have similar discussions during his recent visit to India, and if so, what were his impressions?

Mr. Hain: I did, indeed, have such discussions, and I specifically raised with leading members of the Indian Government the desire of NGOs and British Members of Parliament to visit Kashmir. They are now much more sympathetic to that idea, and we want to explore that with them. It is in India's interests to make sure that human rights are respected in Kashmir, and for that reason I raised with them the imprisonment of virtually the entire Kashmiri leadership, which is not a good advertisement for India's policy on Kashmir.

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I must, however, point out that India is on the receiving end of cross-border terrorism, which we strongly condemn, and we want to work with the Indian Government to prevent that. They have shown great restraint over Pakistani attacks, especially at Kargil earlier this year.

Mr. Foster: I recently held a meeting with Worcester's ethnic minority consultative forum, at which its members related to me their fears about the situation in Kashmir. Next time that my hon. Friend meets representatives of the Indian Government, will he impress on them the strength of feelings expressed at that forum, which seeks a peaceful, lasting solution to the problem in Kashmir which is acceptable to the people of Kashmir?

Mr. Hain: I am aware of the excellent work that my hon. Friend does in his constituency with that forum, and the way in which he allows it to express its views, which we all value. We will indeed continue to press for the case for resuming close negotiations between Delhi and Islamabad, as soon as that is possible following the Pakistani coup. I understand the difficulties of proceeding to that point overnight, but it is absolutely imperative that India and Pakistan together negotiate an equitable and lasting solution to the Kashmiri crisis, which otherwise will continue to be a very dangerous flash-point in the region.


11. Mrs. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton): If he will make a statement on relations with Poland. [99954]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Keith Vaz): Our relations with Poland are excellent. Poland is the largest of the EU accession states, and our most important trading partner in central and eastern Europe. We warmly welcomed Poland's membership of NATO in March 1999, and strongly support Poland's application to join the EU.

Mrs. Gilroy: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I think that it will be warmly welcomed by the thousands of Polish people who have made their homes in and around Plymouth because of the close association between the city and the second world war. Underpinning that is a strong twinning arrangement with the naval port of Gdynia and some extremely interesting exchanges recently dealing with football hooliganism, community safety and tackling drug abuse. Does my hon. Friend share my hope that such exchanges will go from strength to strength as Poland approaches membership of the EU? Will he say something about the importance that he attaches to ministerial exchanges at national level to facilitate that?

Mr. Vaz: I fully support my hon. Friend's comments. The United Kingdom wants Poland to be part of the EU. It is a country of 40 million people and, as my hon. Friend has correctly said, there are strong historical ties between our country and Poland. Five days after I was appointed Minister with responsibilities for Europe, I went to Poland. I visited Warsaw and I launched a bilateral action plan. I was pleased to learn that more than £100 million-worth of know-how fund assistance has been given to Poland. Another six of my ministerial

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colleagues have visited Poland recently, including my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister. We want to ensure that we keep these contacts going until Poland joins the EU, and we hope that that will be as soon as possible.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Will the Minister take this opportunity to praise the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), who always argued for the broadening of Europe as opposed to the deepening of the European Union? Does he agree with me that if Poland is to accede to the EU--I believe that the whole House wishes that it does so--we shall first have to ensure that the common agricultural policy is revised considerably?

Mr. Vaz: I certainly support the view that Europe should be as wide as possible, and that is why the United Kingdom has been in the lead on enlargement, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said earlier this afternoon. Obviously, Poland will have to negotiate to join the EU. I am pleased to say that 23 of the 31 chapters of the acquis have been opened. Agriculture is a matter that will be considered. I am certain that the negotiations will be fair and will give the best possible deal for Poland and the EU.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Will the Minister remind the House, in view of earlier questions, that the omission of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic from the European Union is a moral issue and, but for Yalta, they would not only be members of the EU but would have been in at its formation?

In view of my hon. Friend's comments about the importance to the United Kingdom of trade, is he aware that, in relation to Poland, we are far behind some of our principal European competitors? Will he have a private word with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and remind him that my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), when she was Secretary of State, went to the important market of Australasia, and that when my right hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) was Secretary of State, he went to the important marketplace of south America? Neither of them went to Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia or Slovakia, which are the principal front-rank applicants for membership of the EU, and nor has the present Secretary of State.

Although United Kingdom commerce and trade and industry are making big inroads in Poland, we are not doing sufficient, particularly in the banking and finance sectors, where we have particular skills. Will my hon. Friend ask my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to go to Poland, bearing in mind that other Heads of Government have been there, not just once, but twice or three times?

Mr. Vaz: I realise that my hon. Friend was in Poland over the weekend. A visit from him is worth a visit from three Cabinet Ministers. I can assure him that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was disappointed to have to postpone his visit last year at very short notice, which my hon. Friend knows was due to Northern Ireland business. I know that my right hon. Friend hopes to be there at some time in the near future.

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My right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade was in Poland in September to launch the Opportunity Poland campaign. Bilateral trade in 1998 was worth £1.9 billion. As my hon. Friend knows, almost £2 billion of British investment goes into Poland. I can assure him that all his points have been well taken. I am glad that so many of my ministerial colleagues have visited Poland. I will pass the message on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Who knows, even my hon. Friend may decide to visit again in the near future.

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