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Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): In his statement the Foreign Secretary gave us the welcome news that the Libyan Government are to reimburse the Export Credits Guarantee Department to the tune of £20 million that was presumably paid out to British exporters on whose payments the Libyans defaulted. Can he tell us whether there have been significant discussions of the new business climate with Libya? Is not British business eager to seize any opportunities that may exist in the new atmosphere in Libya? For example, will the Libyans allow the repatriation of profits and capital of British businesses that may ultimately invest in Libya? Is not business the best way to cement a nascent relationship?

Mr. Straw: There has not been detailed discussion of business relations in the context of these discussions. That would not have been appropriate. However, the shift by Libya towards meeting its obligations to the Export Credits Guarantee Department on 30 December is, I think, an indication that Libya wants not only to normalise business relations with the United Kingdom but to see them flourish—as we do—in the new climate.

David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I welcome the decision made by Libya; undoubtedly, Iraq has concentrated quite a few minds. Can my right hon. Friend tell us whether there is any intention to press the Libyan Government on improvements in the human rights situation in that country? The country remains a dictatorship and a state where any criticism of the colonel means persecution and worse. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, before there is any question of

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the colonel being invited to this country, as has been suggested by the Opposition—I hope that does not occur—there will have to be real and substantial improvements in human rights?

Mr. Straw: Plainly, human rights will be one of the many issues that I shall seek to discuss with Foreign Minister Shalgam when he visits the United Kingdom—I hope, in the next three or four weeks. That is the case in respect of any country with which we have productive bilateral relationships.

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): I welcome the move towards decommissioning but as I am mindful of the litany of broken promises from Colonel Gadafi over the years, will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the opening of the door to increased relations with Libya, whether in business or otherwise, will be commensurate with the rate at which the Libyans decommission?

Mr. Straw: It will not be arithmetically commensurate but we shall of course be taking account of progress and continuing good faith on the Libyan side, just as they will be taking account of progress and good faith on the United States, United Kingdom and international organisation side.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that this agreement between the west and a formerly hostile Muslim country helps to undermine the terror network of Osama bin Laden? Does he further agree that it indicates that those who felt that the liberation of Iraq would make the world more dangerous have been proved wrong? May I warn him, however, not to expect to be showered with compliments from the usual suspects, none of whom, of course, are in the Chamber today?

Mr. Straw: May I say to my right hon. Friend that one compliment from him is worth a thousand from the usual suspects?

There is no direct, obvious link between what has happened in respect of Libya's weapons programmes and active terrorism, but what we have been doing in Libya, separately in respect of Iran and Iraq and, for example, with the very good progress that, thank God, is now being made in India and Pakistan is to help to create an environment in which terrorists will find it much more difficult to operate. That will not produce immediate dividends, but it will over time, for sure, help to stabilise those countries and those environments, and therefore reduce the scope for international terrorism.

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con): In addition to the Lockerbie bombing and the murder of WPC Fletcher, the Libyan Government were known to be a substantial supplier of arms to the IRA throughout the 1980s. Given that the type and quantity of those arms is still unknown and that they remain a considerable obstacle to the Northern Ireland peace

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process, have the Libyan Government indicated to the British Government that they will give them a full and frank inventory of all those arms supplied?

Mr. Straw: There are and have been discussions on that matter, but I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for not going into too much detail about it.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Foreign Secretary think that one of the factors leading to the Libyan decision could have been the fact that Libya itself has experienced some terrorism from organisations linked to bin Laden? In that context, does he think that the alleged bin Laden statement is partly directed at Libya, as well as at the other Arab regimes that have taken a more responsible position over recent years?

Mr. Straw: I am in no doubt at all that there is an increasing realisation across the Arab and Islamic world that the greatest victims of so-called Islamic terrorism perpetrated by al-Qaeda and its associates are members of the Islamic faith and that if people are not for such vicious perverted people whose creed has nothing whatever to do with Islam, they are against them and they are more likely to be a victim of their terrorism than those of us in the west.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): I, too, pay tribute to the British diplomats and also the unsung heroes of the Secret Intelligence Service who have played a very important role in reaching this agreement, but may I ask the Foreign Secretary whether, as a result of the rapprochement with the United Kingdom and the United States, Colonel Gadafi, who remains a dictator and tyrant at home, is more or less secure in that position?

Mr. Straw: Frankly, that is for Colonel Gadafi to judge, but it is hard to take such decisions in terms of a country's external relations without those decisions also having a beneficial and positive impact on relations within a country and in respect of how his government—with a small "g"—operates.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Do we know whether Libya intends to continue its work on the nuclear cycle for peaceful purposes?

Mr. Straw: That is a matter for Libya to disclose, but my understanding is that it does not intend to do so.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary remember that some hon. Members argued that action against Iraq would encourage proliferation, as rogue states sought a nuclear guarantee against American and British intervention? Has not Libya's action and indeed the willingness of Iran and North Korea to engage in dialogue demolished yet another anti-war argument?

Mr. Straw: Yes.

Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): What encouragement does my right hon. Friend think that these welcome developments will have on disarmament

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and peace-building elsewhere in Africa? Of course, those important objectives of the New Partnership for Africa's Development are essential if the continent is to develop economically.

Mr. Straw: I do not know whether there will be direct effects on peace processes in sub-Saharan Africa, not least because the economies of countries there are in a very different state of development, and there is no suggestion that any country in sub-Saharan Africa has developed a nuclear or chemical weapons programme.

Mr. George Osborne: South Africa.

Mr. Straw: Apart, of course, from South Africa, which, as I was about to say, is the one country in the world that voluntarily gave up its nuclear weapons programme without any external pressure and has been the subject of full verification by the IAEA. That said, important peace processes are taking place in respect of the Great Lakes region and in Burundi, Sudan, Somalia and west Africa, and I am clear that the example of negotiated solutions to problems faced by states on the continent of Africa as a whole will be a good one.

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Point of Order

4.15 pm

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have seen on the front page of The Times today an authoritative report that the Deputy Prime Minister has decided to take planning powers away from local authorities in making decisions about planning in rural areas. Have you had any request from the Deputy Prime Minister to make this statement to the House rather than leaking it to the press?

Mr. Speaker: The Deputy Prime Minister has not been in touch with me [Hon. Members: " Oh!"] I see no reason why the Deputy Prime Minister should be in touch. It is up to him whether he wishes to make a statement on these matters.

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