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House of Commons

Tuesday 9 November 2004

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—


1. Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): If he will make a statement on human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. [196780]

6. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): If he will make a statement on the human rights situation in Zimbabwe. [196785]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Chris Mullin): Serious violations of human rights take place in Zimbabwe on a daily basis. We, together with our international partners, will continue to press the Government of Zimbabwe to end those and to restore democracy and the rule of law.

Mr. Jack: In thanking the Minister for his answer, may I say that many fine words have been expended, but such an answer indicates that their effect has been limited? As a democrat, may I ask him what steps he, his fellow Ministers and other members of the international community will take to ensure that the intimidation and fear that has been so typical of electioneering in Zimbabwe in the past will not affect the election scheduled for March next year? The best antidote to human rights abuses in that country is a proper, freely elected Parliament. What steps will he take to ensure that that happens next year?

Mr. Mullin: Ultimately, of course, whether there is a free election in Zimbabwe will be a matter for the authorities there. We have been doing all that we can to put pressure on all interested parties to enable free elections to take place. We have been talking to the Southern African Development Community, and, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, there are EU sanctions. We have also done what the Opposition have been pressing us to do for a long time: an EU resolution is to be proposed at the United Nations, which will be debated later this month.
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Sir Nicholas Winterton: While we are grateful to the Minister for that reply, will he not admit to the House that the human rights situation is deteriorating? We have seen the 15-month imprisonment with hard labour of Roy Bennett, the expulsion of the Congress of South African Trade Unions from Zimbabwe, and the law that prevents people from getting aid and food to those who are starving—and if they are found to do it without going through an official Government source, they can be heavily punished. Cannot the Government come forward with some new initiatives to bring about an end to the most tyrannical of regimes in Africa?

Mr. Mullin: Certainly, I am prepared to admit that the situation in Zimbabwe is getting worse. What I am not prepared to do is pretend that there is some magic solution that no one else has thought of, which will somehow make everything right. What is going on in Zimbabwe is primarily the responsibility of the Government of Zimbabwe. Over a long period, we have been at the forefront, with our allies in Europe and elsewhere and at the United Nations, of putting what pressure we can on the Government of Zimbabwe to behave decently, but I regret to say that I see no sign so far that their behaviour is about to change.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): The Minister may say that there is no magic solution, which of course is true, but will he give us his views on the expulsion of the COSATU delegation and particularly the reaction of President Mbeki, who seemed to be angry with the COSATU delegation for even visiting? Now that COSATU and the Communist party, which are allies of the South African Government, have said that Mbeki's quiet diplomacy is not working, is not this the time for this Government to put pressure on President Mbeki and say that he is not carrying out his side of the bargain on the New Partnership for Africa's Development agreement?

Mr. Mullin: We have been discussing the situation in Zimbabwe with the South Africans for a long time, and President Mbeki is as aware as any of the rest of us about what is going on there. No doubt the expulsion of the trade union delegation will have been a timely reminder to him. What I will not do is engage in megaphone discussion with the South Africans or anyone else on the subject.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): May I bring to my hon. Friend's attention the fact that the Inter-Parliamentary Union human rights commission has just published its report after a visit to Zimbabwe? It stated that it was

That involved at least 28 Members of Parliament. I agree with the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) that the case of Roy Bennett in particular needs strong representations from our Government.

Mr. Mullin: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the way in which members of opposition parties have been treated over a long period. The statistics, which we have discussed in the House previously, are shocking:
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97 per cent. of opposition MPs have been subject to intimidation and violence; 24 per cent. of opposition MPs have survived assassination attempts; 16 per cent. say that they have been tortured; and three have died following assaults. That says it all about the state of life and the state of democracy in Mr. Mugabe's Zimbabwe. As far as Roy Bennett is concerned, we do not condone what he did, but the sentence is wholly disproportionate to the offence, and he was severely provoked.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Does the Minister accept that it is all very well for him to stand at the Dispatch Box wringing his hands, but—while no one doubts his sincerity—we expect this matter to be higher on the Prime Minister's and the Foreign Secretary's agenda? Can he not take an initiative, and can the Foreign Secretary not go to South Africa specifically to see President Mbeki and try to persuade him to take a proper statesmanlike line?

Mr. Mullin: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has discussed the issue regularly with President Mbeki and indeed with many other leaders, most recently in New York at the end of September.

No one is standing here wringing their hands. We all agree that the situation in Zimbabwe is totally unacceptable. What we are interested in is constructive discussion. We have had one or two such discussions, and have tended to follow them up. As I have said, what we are not prepared to do is stand around pretending that there is some solution that no one else has thought of. If there were such a solution, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would have put it to me just now.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab): My hon. Friend the Minister rightly said that the problem of Zimbabwe was in Zimbabwe's own hands, and that it needed to elect a new Government to end the Mugabe regime. Does he accept, however, that intimidation was worse before the last election than during it? South Africa is the other country with influence in Zimbabwe, and through its relationships with other African countries in the region. There is an urgent need for us to talk to the South African Government in order to ensure that the election in March next year is as free and fair as possible.

Mr. Mullin: My hon. Friend is right. What will matter is not whether there is relative freedom during the two or three weeks of the election period—which will probably not be the case—but what goes on in the run-up to the election.

Yes, we will pursue the matter with the South Africans, and with our other African friends and allies.

International Atomic Energy Agency

2. Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): What recent discussions he has had with the International Atomic Energy Agency. [196781]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): The United Kingdom is actively involved in the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency. I meet its director, Dr. el-Baradei, from time to time. Currently, the agency's main
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focus is Iran. Over the weekend, senior officials from the United Kingdom, France, Germany and the European Union met Iranian officials in Paris. They negotiated a draft text designed to give us confidence that Iran is not developing its most sensitive nuclear technologies while we seek to agree long-term arrangements for Iran's nuclear power programmes.

I very much hope that the Government of Iran accept the draft, including the need for a full suspension of uranium enrichment and reprocessing and all related activities.

Mr. Heath: I welcome the terms of the Paris agreement. What is the status of the agreement, and does the Foreign Secretary expect all parties to accept it at Head of Government level before the 25 November meeting of the IAEA? Will the message that the Prime Minister will take to President Bush be that of Li Zhaoxing, the Chinese Foreign Minister—namely that reference of Iran to the United Nations at this stage would only complicate matters? Most important, will the Foreign Secretary confirm his statement that he could foresee no circumstances in which the United Kingdom could support military action against Iran by the United States?

Mr. Straw: I am happy to confirm what I said. I preceded it with the statement that I knew of no suggestions emanating from the United States of any idea of military action, but I then made it absolutely clear that I could envisage no circumstances in which military action would be justified, and that it formed no part of the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

The text of the agreement is a draft text ad referendum to capitals. The three Governments—France, Germany and the United Kingdom—have agreed the text, and we now look to the Government of Iran to agree it as well. It provides a way through for all sides.

On the issue of reference to the UN Security Council, in October 2003 an agreement was reached in Tehran whereby we provided a process for Iran to rectify its previous failure to comply with its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty. In return, we agreed not to refer the matter to the Security Council—provided that Iran suspended all uranium enrichment, reprocessing and related activities. We have repeatedly made it clear to the Iranian Government that the E3—the three European Governments—and the European Union reserve the right to refer the matter to the Security Council if that requirement is not met.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): In the context of the discussions with the IAEA, will my right hon. Friend say a little more about press reports suggesting that the UK is to support the construction of a light water reactor in Iran in return for their abandoning their weapons programme? Is that part of a programme to create a nuclear-free zone in the middle east? If that is to be the way forward, how will he go about giving the Israelis an incentive to come on board?

Mr. Straw: All non-nuclear weapons states that are signatories to the non-proliferation treaty have a right under article IV of the NPT to develop, research
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and produce nuclear power. A light water reactor is obviously one important way of doing that, and there have indeed been informal discussions with the Iranians about the provision of technology in that regard. One reason why we believe it very important that this agreement be reached is so that there can be complete confidence that the Iranians' nuclear research and technology programme is directed only to the peaceful production of nuclear energy, and that any possibility that they are using it to develop a nuclear weapons programme is eliminated.

On Israel, yes, it is our policy for there to be a nuclear weapons-free middle east, and we look to Israel—as we look to India and Pakistan—to sign up to the non-proliferation treaty.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): The Ayatollah Khamenei in particular made great play of the fact that Iran is an emerging democracy with presumably peaceful intent, but those assurances are not worth much until the Iranians give full account of their nuclear invoices to the IAEA. Surely they cannot have it both ways.

Mr. Straw: We made it clear to Iran that the whole international community, who have agreed successive resolutions by consensus through the IAEA board of governors, expects it to enable them to have full confidence about the nature of its intentions. The Iranians say that they have no intentions or programme leading to the development and use of nuclear weapons; what we have to have is proof.

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): While I accept that Israel is not a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty, and taking into account what the Secretary of State has just said, does he believe that it would be good if IAEA inspectors visited Israel to examine, and report back on, the full extent and truth of its nuclear programme?

Mr. Straw: Israel, like India and Pakistan, is not a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty, but as I have already made clear to the House, we believe that it should be, and that it should then be subject to the normal safeguards and agreements laid down by the NPT itself.

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