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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Brian Wilson): Relations between the UK and the people of Pakistan are warm and close. However, the people of Pakistan deserve better governance, and a democracy that can deliver stability, human development and international credibility. We continue to urge General Musharraf to produce a credible timetable for national and provincial elections by autumn 2002, in accordance with the ruling of Pakistan's supreme court.
Sir Teddy Taylor: Will the Minister at least assure us that the Government will give their support and encouragement to the Government of Pakistan in coping with the enormous problem of refugees from Afghanistan? That problem has existed for years. Will the Minister also give some indication of roughly how many refugees there are in Pakistan at present, and whether the numbers are increasing or decreasing? Do the Government think that there might be a case for some kind of international effort to find a solution to one of the world's biggest refugee problems?
Mr. Wilson: The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. Pakistan has a good record of taking refugees from the war in Afghanistan. We believe that about 1.2 million refugees have entered Pakistan from Afghanistan. The issue has been discussed by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and support is available to help to cope with the influx of refugees. Of course, the best solution to all those problems would be an end to the fighting in Afghanistan, and that, above all, is what we would urge.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): What action has the Minister taken to build on the opportunity created by India's ceasefire and Pakistan's policy of maximum restraint to make progress towards a just and peaceful future for Kashmir, based on respect for human rights and the will of the people of that region?
Mr. Wilson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We very much welcome the reduction in conflict in Kashmir and we are using that opportunity both bilaterally and through the European Union and other international bodies to urge India and Pakistan to continue dialogue and to find a solution. A solution will be found only through such dialogue. We are also urging our Indian counterparts to allow greater access to Kashmir, including for Amnesty International and the UN special rapporteurs, and I reiterate that it is important that human rights violations are investigated and that action is taken against the perpetrators. We welcome the two reports on incidents last year as a step towards such transparency. On all those fronts, we are urging dialogue and we are making it absolutely clear that nobody but India and Pakistan, through dialogue, can achieve a resolution to those problems.
Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury): Of course, the Minister will know that every friend of Pakistan in the House wants democratic elections to take place as speedily as possible, but one question bemuses most of us. Why is Pakistan suspended from the Commonwealth and not allowed to
Mr. Wilson: If I may make a fairly obvious point to the hon. Gentleman, he may have missed the fact that there was a military coup in Pakistan. Thereafter, the decision was taken by all the members of the Commonwealth.
Conservative Members seem to be under the misapprehension that Britain has some unilateral power to speak for the Commonwealth, but what is needed is consensus within the Commonwealth. These are two separate cases and Pakistan was suspended from the Commonwealth because of the military coup. We want not bogus analogies such as that drawn by the hon. Gentleman, but progress towards democratic elections in Pakistan, which would pave the way for a return to democratic government.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. John Battle): The Government are at the forefront of international efforts to combat the illegal drugs trade. Our aim, as stated in the 10-year drugs strategy, is to halve the availability of those class A drugs that cause the greatest harm, particularly heroin and cocaine.
Mr. Bailey: Will my hon. Friend confirm that 80 per cent. of the heroin sold in this country comes from Afghanistan? Furthermore, will he continue to work with states in the region to put pressure on the Taliban to eradicate heroin trafficking? In particular, will he continue the policy of positive engagement with Iran?
Mr. Battle: I thank my hon. Friend, who takes a serious interest in this crucial matter. I emphasise the fact that heroin and cocaine on the streets in Britain, be it in West Bromwich, West or in Leeds, West, usually come from either Colombia or Afghanistan. Our programme of counter-drugs assistance overseas is aimed at those key producer and transit countries. Through the multilateral agencies and the UN, we funded a drug crop survey in Afghanistan, and the results for 2001 suggest that opium poppy cultivation in the region is significantly lower than in 2000. That is encouraging. There is evidence that an edict by Mullah Omar in July 2000 banning cultivation is being enforced by the Taliban, but we are still worried that stockpiling and trafficking in opiates continue. We will maintain our high-level contacts to combat that activity until we tackle the problem of production.
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent): The Minister will be well aware that in many places that produce those drugs there is no alternative crop. For example, damage was done in Nepal by closing down drug cultivation without any alternative being provided, which enormously aided the arrival of the Maoist rebels.
Mr. Battle: The hon. Gentleman pinpoints an important problem: if local campesinos--peasants--produce drugs, they get greater value for such a crop. Replacing it with alternatives is always difficult. However, I do not want the hon. Gentleman to leave the House with the impression that nothing can be done, because an alternative crop strategy has worked to a large extent in Bolivia. We are working closely with the Colombian authorities to develop an alternative cultivation strategy in the Magdalena Medio region to ensure that campesinos do not depend on growing drugs for their livelihoods. We will work with the Department for International Development to ensure that those programmes are successful. Alternative economic development is the genuine answer.
Mr. Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw): My hon. Friend may be aware that on Sunday thousands of people will take to the streets of Glasgow to join the Daily Record's march against drugs. Will my hon. Friend congratulate the Daily Record on its initiative, and tell those who will take part in the demonstration that the war against drugs will be waged not only in Glasgow and every other city in the United Kingdom, but against the international sources of drug supply?
Mr. Battle: We welcome the demonstration and wish it every success. Sometimes, the impression is created that there are producer countries and consumer countries and that the problem is the latter, not the former. There is more than enough evidence to suggest that production and consumption occur in both. Even in Britain, forms of drugs that are almost artificial are being produced. We must tackle the problem internationally. That is the purpose of our programmes and why we join the UN, the EU and the G8 and take an active part in the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. We must knit together our response and fight the problem from every angle.
Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): Bearing in mind the limited success of alternative crop strategies, does the Minister know that heroin and cocaine are cheaper on the streets of the United Kingdom now than in 1995? In his discussions with the Governments of drug-producing countries, will he ask them to redouble their efforts? Will he commend the National Criminal Intelligence Service, which does so much good work in the United Kingdom and overseas in disseminating information and intelligence? That is the key to the problem.
We know that the price of heroin and cocaine is falling in our neighbourhoods. That is part of a global drugs economy, which is linked to huge business. It is said that the drugs trade is now worth the value of the oil and gas industry, the car industry and the steel industry combined.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced at the Okinawa summit last July that we would convene a conference on the global drugs economy to tackle the underpinning market factor in the illegal drugs racket.