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Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in expressing my condolences and those of all Conservative Members to the families of the two British contractors who were killed in Iraq this morning.

I welcome wholeheartedly the unanimous vote of the Security Council on UN resolution 1546. The challenge now is to translate that into tangible results on the ground, so may I ask the Prime Minister about the resolution's likely practical effects? Last month, he said that, while operational control of our troops in Iraq after 30 June must remain with British commanders, final political control over their deployment will be a matter for the Iraqi Government. Does that remain the position? Is it the position for United States forces, too? What are the implications for the new international consensus on security in Iraq? Are there any prospects of other UN members, including Arab states, agreeing to provide troops? What is the latest position in respect of NATO, especially its role in training troops?

The G8 leaders pledged to "work together" on the cancellation of Iraqi debt. How is that to be taken forward in the light of the reported differences between the US and France on the matter? What is the British Government's position?
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The G8 also focused on wider middle east questions. I welcome its recognition of the importance of Israeli-Palestinian issues, especially its endorsement of the role of the Quartet. The G8 also agreed what is now called the "Partnership with the Broader Middle East" initiative but neither Egypt nor Saudi Arabia chose to attend the discussion. What progress has been made on encouraging regional leaders to take part in that initiative?

We welcome the new action agreed against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The G8 said that it deplored Iran's behaviour over nuclear weapons and urged it to comply with its commitments. The UK has laid great emphasis on the closeness of its links with the Government of Iran. What are the Government doing, in conjunction with their European allies, to persuade the Government of Iran to do what is required of nuclear powers: co-operate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency?

We also welcome the strengthening of co-operation on global counter-terrorism, with the specific focus on the security of international travel. Significant progress has been made on that since September 11 but is it not extraordinary that, eight years after I, as Home Secretary, attended a major G8 conference in Paris on terrorism, not all the items agreed then have yet been implemented?

We welcome the acceleration of efforts to develop a vaccine for the scourge of HIV, with more than 40 million people suffering from HIV/AIDS. More than half are in sub-Saharan Africa.

We welcome the formal extension, however limited, of the HIPC debt relief initiative, but does the Prime Minister agree that current procedures on debt relief remain bureaucratic and slow and fail the countries and the people they were designed to help? Do we not need to target aid to reduce poverty and achieve maximum value for every pound that we spend? Is it not the case that British aid is far superior in that respect—and in almost every respect—to European Union aid? Is there not an overwhelming case—[Interruption.] It is rather important for the people who benefit from the aid. Is there not an overwhelming case for giving much more of our aid bilaterally rather than through the EU?

Is it not the case, as the G8 said, that

What help are the British Government giving to ensure that the Doha round gets back on track in the way that the G8 envisaged?

I wish finally to ask two specific questions about regions in Africa. First, I share the horror that is felt in all parts of the House about the recent developments in Darfur and welcome the extra £15 million in UK assistance that was announced last week. If Government bombing occurs in Darfur, should not the Security Council authorise a no-fly zone to protect the civilian population and consult those states with the capacity to enforce such a restriction to urge them to do so?

Secondly, what discussions on Zimbabwe took place at the G8? Will the Prime Minister explain why the limited sanctions that are in place do not prevent the pro-Mugabe fund-raising visit to Britain of the governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe? Does that
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not illustrate the need for an urgent tightening of targeted EU sanctions to include, in the words of the Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe,

Is that not an excellent illustration of the need for Britain to demonstrate clear and firm leadership, in the G8 and elsewhere, in working with the international community to help to achieve the objectives of peace and stability to which we are all committed?

The Prime Minister: On the latter two points, we work closely with the MDC on the measures that we should take in respect of Zimbabwe, although I am afraid that these measures and sanctions, although we have them in place, are of limited effect on the Mugabe regime. We must be realistic about that. It is still important that we give every chance to, and make every effort to try to help, those in south Africa—the southern part of Africa—to put pressure for change on the Mugabe regime, because there is no salvation for the people of Zimbabwe until that regime is changed.

In respect of Darfur, I shall look into the issue of the no-fly zone that the right hon. and learned Gentleman raised. I cannot give him an answer on it now. UK assistance has been increased substantially, and we are also taking a leading role in political efforts to try to ensure that the nascent peace deal that has been worked out at the moment, with the agreement to suspend all hostilities, is actually carried through. It is going to be extremely important for us to keep up every pressure on the various parties to make sure that that happens. We are co-ordinating our approach very closely with the United States and the European Union.

Let me deal one by one with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's earlier points. On the UN Security Council resolution, it is quite clear that political control and sovereign decision making are with the Iraqi Government. That is our position, it is the position of the United States and it was repeated by everyone at the G8. I think that that is necessary, quite apart from anything else, to ensure that the Iraqi people understand that they now have both the power and the responsibility to take those decisions, and that we are there in support. That will help, and indeed is helping, to settle the situation in Iraq—not in the sense that we will not then have these bombings and killings, because these people will carry on, as the Prime Minister of Iraq said today. What is obvious, however, is that people inside Iraq are increasingly seeing those people not as people who are fighting coalition forces but as people who are the enemies of Iraq and its progress.

I do not believe that we will see further troops come through NATO, but I hope that if the new Iraqi Government wish it, we will see assistance with training provided for the Iraqi security forces, including the army.

We should take the issue of Iraqi debt forward through the Paris Club. The difference between us, America and some other countries on the one hand, and France and others on the other, is to do with the percentage of debt that is to be written off. Discussion on that is still going on. We want a high proportion of
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the debt written off, and at the moment negotiation is taking place under the umbrella that there should be a substantial reduction in debt. How substantial that will be is still a matter of discussion. However, I have no doubt that there will be significant moves forward in that direction.

In respect of the greater middle east initiative, I hope that people do not take it from the absence of Saudi Arabia and Egypt that they are against the initiative. They are not, and that was made clear by both their Governments. It is important to emphasise, however, that this initiative—the desire to bring a greater degree of democracy, human rights and political freedom to people in the middle east—arises from the discussions that those countries themselves are having. We are not seeking to impose a solution from the outside, but seeking to work with reform-minded people in the region. The idea is to get to the point where three things are happening in the middle east: where there is a stable, democratic Iraq, which will obviously be a huge force for good in that region and in the wider world; where there is momentum back in the middle east peace process; and where Governments in the middle east as a whole are moving towards political reforms that will bring about greater participation by people and a greater degree of democracy.

On Iran, we are working with our EU allies to make sure that Iran fully complies with the IAEA recommendations, and we shall continue to do so. I accept that there is more to do on proliferation, but we have come a long way in that regard.

Obviously the British Government have given a considerable lead on HIPC and debt relief over the past few years, I am pleased to say. There are always issues to do with bureaucracy, but we are trying to iron them out. We have now agreed to extend the decision point, which means that by the end of this some $100 billion of debt will have been wiped out. That is having a huge impact in Africa. Let me give just one or two examples. Tanzania has now attained gender parity in primary schools, and has increased the number of children in primary schools by more than 50 per cent. It has built more than 1,000 new schools and more than 31,000 new classrooms. If progress continues on target, it will meet the universal basic education millennium development goal by 2006, nine years early. Uganda has managed to increase its social expenditure by over 40 per cent. as a direct result of the debt relief measures that we have been leading.

I agree that our bilateral aid is very effective. That is why this Government have dramatically increased bilateral aid for the poorest countries in the world. I might point out that after years of aid falling as a proportion of GDP, it has risen under this Government. We will obviously work constructively with our European partners—as I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman wishes to do—to improve the workings of the European programme.

The Doha round is one of the most important issues that will face us over the next six months. It is imperative that we secure the round that we started. The G8 had a full discussion on this, and I think there is an acceptance of the huge importance of agricultural reform in the developed world if progress is to be made.
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