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House of Commons

Tuesday 14 December 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. Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): What recent bilateral meetings the Government have had with other G8 countries about Africa.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Chris Mullin): Africa is regularly discussed with other G8 Governments, and the Prime Minister recently discussed Africa with President Bush and President Chirac. There have been a range of other contacts at ministerial and official level. We expect these to intensify next year, when Africa will be a priority for our G8 presidency.

Hugh Bayley: If the Commission for Africa is going to trigger a substantial policy change towards Africa from a number of G8 countries, it would be wrong to wait until the G8 summit occurs to seek commitments. During the period between the publication of the commission's report and the G8 summit, we want a series of commitments to be made by our G8 partners to intensify the aid to, and other political links with, Africa. Will that be happening and what are the Government doing to ensure that we get the response we want from our G8 partners?

Mr. Mullin: An extensive consultation programme is going on at the moment, with precisely that in mind. We expect the Commission for Africa to produce clear recommendations on how the international community can strengthen support for Africa's development. We are encouraging our G8 partners to contribute their views to the consultation. Our aim, of course, is to move Africa up the agenda during our presidencies of the European Union and the G8.

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh) (LD): Given American policy not to support the New Partnership for Africa's Development, can the Minister tell us what compromises have been necessary to get the United States to support the Prime Minister's Commission for Africa?
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Mr. Mullin: The Americans are very supportive of the Commission for Africa. I should say as well that they have, in recent years during George Bush's presidency, greatly increased their commitment to aid for Africa and also to the battle against AIDS. Their aid has been targeted specifically at 15 countries, where the most progress is being made and where the largest problem exists, 12 of which are in sub-Saharan Africa.

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East) (Lab): Will the Minister, during his deliberations on Africa, reflect on the African success story that is last week's presidential and parliamentary elections in Ghana, where there was an undisputed winner and no real concerns about the conduct of the election? Will he highlight that in future discussions?

Mr. Mullin: Yes; my hon. Friend, who I think has just come back from monitoring the election in Ghana, is quite right to draw attention to what was a very successful election last week. Improving governance in Africa is one of the key objectives of all those who wish Africa well. The improvements in the democratic process that have taken place in Ghana are an example to all other African states, and I commend them.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): That is very well, and we agree with the Minister on it, but what hope can he offer the people of Zimbabwe?

Mr. Mullin: The people of Zimbabwe are, regrettably, at the mercy of a very rotten Government, as the hon. Gentleman knows. We have played a leading part in the EU and the United Nations in bringing international pressure such as can be brought on that Government, but it is true that, for the immediate future, the prospects in Zimbabwe are not good. We have hopes, however, that in the longer term there will be a return to democratic rule and the rule of law in Zimbabwe. We will continue to do everything in our power to achieve that.


2. Jim Sheridan (West Renfrewshire) (Lab): What representations he has made to the US Administration on the future of Cuba.

The Minister for Trade and Investment (Mr. Douglas Alexander): Policy towards Cuba is regularly discussed with the US Administration. The US and the UK share the same goal—peaceful transition towards a pluralist democracy that respects human rights—but we differ in approach. Our position, as set out in the 1996 EU common position, which is well understood by the US, is that constructive engagement and dialogue, rather than isolation, are the best means of realising a better future for the people of Cuba.

Jim Sheridan: I thank my hon. Friend for that positive response. Does he agree that many of my constituents now see Cuba as an ideal holiday resort and that, when visiting there, they will see the consequences of the US embargo on that country? Will he use his good offices to encourage the US Administration to stretch out the
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hand of peace and reconciliation to the good people of Cuba and offer them some hope and support for the future?

Mr. Alexander: Not least because my hon. Friend and I have adjacent constituencies, I fully appreciate the difference in climates between West Renfrewshire and the Caribbean, particularly at this time of year. I therefore take his point. We do not believe that sanctions offer the most effective means of promoting the transition to a pluralist democracy in Cuba, and I assure him that we make known our objections against the United States embargo every year at the United Nations. Indeed, on 28 October 2004, we again voted to adopt the resolution on the necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States against Cuba.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): At least we know where the Minister will now be spending Christmas. But have the Government pointed out gently to our American friends that it is hardly an incentive to Cuba to improve its human rights record for the United States to continue to incarcerate, without access to due process of law, hundreds of detainees right on its doorstep in Guantanamo Bay? Is not it time that the US Administration set a better example in their own backyard?

Mr. Alexander: The Government's position in relation to Guantanamo Bay is well established. We are continuing our dialogue and discussion with the United States. No Government have done more to secure the release of their own citizens as detainees from Guantanamo Bay than the British Government, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that the matter is the subject of continued discussions with the American Administration.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab/Co-op): What are the Spanish and French up to in relation to Cuba? They appear to be flouting the EU common position. Surely that cannot be the case. Can the Minister assure me that the French and Spanish are adhering to the EU common position, and that that common position will be reviewed as quickly as possible?

Mr. Alexander: When my right hon. Friend asked what the Spanish and the French were up to, I thought that it was a general question; I am relieved that it was focused specifically on Cuba. A general evaluation of policy on Cuba is under way in order to re-evaluate the EU common position, and I assure him that the United Kingdom is fully engaged in those discussions, but no decision has yet been made. He may be thinking of the fact that the Cuban authorities have unfrozen the diplomatic representation of the Spanish in Havana, but that was a decision taken by the Cuban authorities rather than by the European Union.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (LD): Will the Minister assure the House again that the Government will continue to make sure that the American Administration understand that the world will not be satisfied until there is an independently
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acceptable system of criminal justice for those in Guantanamo Bay, and that the Cuban Government understand that their criminal justice system, too, must comply with the same internationally acceptable standards?

Mr. Alexander: I know of the hon. Gentleman's long-standing interest and concern in relation to these human rights matters. In relation to Guantanamo Bay, I assure him that that thinking underlay the British Government's approach and the discussions that have taken place at the highest level between the British Government and the American Administration. Also in relation to human rights, a number of key treaties and undertakings have not been accepted by the Cuban Government. The Cuban Government clearly understand our position: along with our European Union partners, we want to see real and significant progress in relation to human rights.

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