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Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. I take this opportunity to welcome back to the House my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), who has just returned from five months' military service in Iraq. We are delighted to have him back safe and sound.

I join the Prime Minister in the tribute that he paid to Her Majesty's dedication and commitment to the Commonwealth. The Harare declaration of 1991 reaffirmed the Commonwealth's values—the protection of human rights; equal opportunities for all regardless of race, colour, creed or political belief; equality for women; democracy; the rule of law; and the independence of the judiciary. Those values are of supreme importance.

Clearly, however, one country has flagrantly and blatantly breached those values. I congratulate the Prime Minister on the strong stand that he took in

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Abuja to resist the efforts of those who wanted to lift Zimbabwe's suspension from the Councils of the Commonwealth.

Of course, the Government did not always take that view. After the rigged parliamentary elections in 2000, the Opposition called for action, but as late as May 2001 the then Foreign Secretary was still setting out the arguments against the suspension of Zimbabwe. It is sadly true that, in the past, the Government have been behind the game on the issue; they have not led, but have followed. The people of Zimbabwe are the worse for it.

In view of President Mugabe's decision to leave the Commonwealth, will the Prime Minister say what is the current status of the committee established by the Heads of Government to examine the way forward in relation to Zimbabwe? Does President Obasanjo's mandate to encourage and facilitate continued progress and Zimbabwe's return to the Commonwealth still stand? Is it still President Obasanjo's intention to visit Zimbabwe at the earliest opportunity? There appears to be a good deal of confusion about the committee's future status. Will the Prime Minister clarify the situation for the House?

Then there is the position of the European Union. Does the Prime Minister understand that EU sanctions are still not tough enough? Why do they not include the business men who still bankroll Mugabe? Will the Prime Minister press for their inclusion at the EU summit in Rome this weekend?

When will a resolution be tabled in the United Nations? The Commonwealth's leverage is diminished following Mugabe's decision to withdraw: is there not now a powerful case for the UN to become more actively involved?

The summit raised many other fundamental issues. Will the Prime Minister clarify the position on Pakistan? Is there a consensus on the time frame for Pakistan's return to the Councils of the Commonwealth?

Undoubtedly, HIV/AIDS is one of the greatest challenges facing the Commonwealth, and the world as a whole. The Commonwealth recognises the need for greater international co-operation in combating the disease. What, in practical terms, is that likely to mean for the work of its member states?

At a time when terrorism is of such concern across the world, what are likely to be the practical results of the Commonwealth's renewed commitment to action against terrorism?

Corruption is a cancer in developed and developing countries alike. What is the proposed timetable for Commonwealth countries signing and ratifying the UN convention against corruption?

In addition, I join the Prime Minister in emphasising the primary role of business, trade and economic development in the relief of poverty. The whole House will be pleased to see the commitment to trade liberalisation. As the fourth largest economy in the world, Britain should be using its position to bring about the lowering of EU tariffs, which is crucial to opening our markets to primary producers. When a cow in the EU gets more support than a starving child in Africa, surely we can all agree that something is fundamentally wrong.

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Cancun was a missed opportunity. What practical plans does the Commonwealth have to help to drive through the Doha development agenda? Agreement on the need to relaunch it is a welcome step and is all very well, but should not an attempt be made within the Commonwealth to seek agreement on some of the issues that remain outstanding, and thus send a powerful signal to the rest of the world and the other countries involved in the process?

While recognising the assistance that is already provided to developing countries in trade negotiations, may I ask the Prime Minister also to consider my proposal for an advocacy fund, financed by developed countries, to help developing countries obtain access to high-quality economic and legal advice on trade issues?

The Commonwealth is a microcosm of the world. It embraces north and south, Muslim and Christian, rich and poor. It has the potential to play a much more prominent role in tackling the key challenges facing the world today—terrorism, free trade, the promotion of democracy and the protection of human rights and the environment. I welcome the fact that the Commonwealth consultative group on the environment, which I inaugurated in 1992 with the Environment Minister of India, continues to meet. The work on sustainable development, the work of the Commonwealth ministerial action group and the co-operation between Commonwealth Education and Health Ministers, among others, also bear testimony to the Commonwealth's potential. Does the Prime Minister not agree that there is a good deal more scope for such co-operation between Commonwealth Governments working together to show the way forward to the rest of the world?

The Prime Minister: I add my thanks to the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) for his service in Iraq, which is greatly appreciated.

I thank the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) for his congratulations on the result that we achieved in relation to Zimbabwe. It is important to approach this issue with two things in mind. We are guided to a large extent—I think rightly—by what the MDC and other opposition groups in Zimbabwe say. We try therefore to keep whatever measures we are taking in line with the measures that they are asking us to take. They are on the ground and they know best what helps, and the situation in Zimbabwe is such that, in the end, it is from within that the main change will come.

It is for that reason that on sanctions, for example, we have tried to proceed in a way that such groups support. They do not support general sanctions against the population; they support targeted sanctions, and that is what we have been trying to ensure are put into effect and that is what we managed to get the EU to agree to. We keep under review the number of people to whom we can extend the sanctions and it is certainly worth considering business people and others if we can identify measures that will be effective.

We have put this issue before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on many occasions, but the problem with a Security Council resolution is that—again, to be blunt about it—the difference of view applies between most members of the Commonwealth

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and some of the states in the region. Unless the states in the region are prepared to say that they believe that a UN resolution would be advantageous, it is quite difficult to get one through the UN.

We try in every way that we can, including through the statements that were forthcoming from Kofi Annan recently, to put the maximum pressure on Zimbabwe. In the end, there is only one thing that will work—the pressure that we can put on. We can do that by sending signals, and that is why it is important that the Commonwealth sends such a signal. However, we must do that by being honest with people about the fact that there is a limit to what can be done from the outside. It is very important that we give every support to democratic groups in Zimbabwe and, in addition, that we work even harder on persuading the other countries in the region that it is in their interests not to support Mugabe and the Zimbabwean regime, but to facilitate national reconciliation in the interests of changing the regime.

In respect of Pakistan, the time frame is governed by its progress towards meeting the democratic criteria that have been set out. We hope that can happen as soon as possible. No specific time frame is set down; it is a time frame determined by the meeting of the criteria.

In relation to HIV/AIDS, the practical effect will be seen in the programmes for which we use the money. The programmes must be dedicated to two things: first, achieving a sufficient capacity in the Governments of the countries with major HIV/AIDS problems so that they can deal with HIV/AIDS; and, secondly, putting the infrastructure in place in local communities where they can gain access to treatment and to preventive information. That is what we are doing.

The other aspect, of course, is the work that we are doing with drug companies so that we reduce significantly the cost of drugs available to treat people who have HIV/AIDS, but it is a shocking fact that life expectancy in many of those African countries is dropping as a result of HIV/AIDS. That has a hugely important and adverse knock-on effect on development.

In respect of terrorism, truthfully, the most that the Commonwealth is able to do is make a firm declaration of principles. It is for each state to take its own individual measures, but I was gratified to note that no one sought to temporise in any way at all over the threat terrorism poses.

In respect of corruption, the most important thing is to take the work forward on the New Partnership for Africa's Development proposals that we have been working on for two or three years—that is, increasingly, to link aid and development assistance with proper governance. That is crucial, because all those countries that need large sums of aid will not be able either to get them or to use them properly without proper systems of governance being in place.

Corruption is extremely corrosive. Once it grips a country, it is very difficult to weed out, but the best way to do that is by tying the aid and development assistance given through the NEPAD process to proper systems of government being put in place. That includes, incidentally, proper commercial and legal systems.

In respect of trade liberalisation, it is extremely important that we dismantle the EU tariffs over time, as we suggested. That means common agricultural policy reform. I would point out two things to the right hon.

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and learned Gentleman. The first is that we are better able to get that result if we are participating properly, strongly and positively in Europe. The second is that, of course, the only way that we will ever get CAP reform is through qualified majority voting.

In respect of the World Trade Organisation, we will negotiate, obviously not through the Commonwealth, but through the various blocs, but, again, what is interesting is that there was a consensus that we need to make that Doha process work. We have looked at the ideas for an advocacy fund. We help countries with their capacity building for conducting those trade negotiations and we have found that most of them prefer to have the money in that way.

Finally, it is possible to sneer at what the Commonwealth can achieve, but the Commonwealth achieves a significant amount. The fact that there is a forum in which very diverse countries come together and, even on difficult issues, find a consensus, is a great mark in its favour. From my experience of the Commonwealth meetings that I have attended, I have no doubt that although they can be difficult—indeed, at times tortuous—this is an alliance that Britain should be proud to be a member of and one that does enormous good in the world.

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