The Minister for Trade and Investment (Mr. Douglas Alexander): I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's long-standing interest in Indian affairs. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary last discussed the issue with his Indian counterpart, Mr. Natwar Singh, during his visit to India on 18 February. The Foreign Secretary made clear the Government's long-standing position, which commands consensus across the House, of support for India's candidacy for permanent membership of the Security Council without the power of veto.
Mr. Luff: I am very grateful to the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that India, as the largest democracy in the world, one of the fastest developing economies in the world and with a long-standing reputation as a champion of the wider developing world, has a right to expect that Security Council seat at the earliest possible date?
Mr. Alexander: It is obviously the case that it is appropriate that India's significance strategically, both in the regional grouping and around the world, is reflected in the support that Britain has offered. It is also the case that the Secretary-General, in his most recent report, indicated his personal desire that the matter be moved forward rapidly, which is obviously a subject of discussion in the United Nations at present.
Mr. Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill)
(Lab): The people of Kashmir have yearned for justice and the quiet
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miracle of a normal life for more than 57 years. My hon. Friend must recognise that there are grave reservations in many quarters of this country and beyond about admitting any nation to the United Nations Security Council while it is in breach of UNSC resolutions. Will he press the Indian Government in any future negotiations about the UNSC on the need for movement in implementing Security Council resolutions, and in particular on the need to admit independent human rights observers to all parts of Kashmir? Will he go further and tell political parties in this country that it is high time that one and all published their position on the region?
Mr. Alexander: I acknowledge my hon. Friend's considerable interest in Kashmir. The United Nations charter does not link Security Council membership with full implementation of all UN resolutions, but the important point to recognise is that there is a moment of opportunity in relations between India and Pakistan. I know that the subject has been of some interest to my hon. Friend for some time. We are greatly encouraged by the work on the consolidated process to date, so we encourage all parties to the conflict in Kashmirthe Indians, the Pakistanis and the people of Kashmirto continue to engage in that constructive process.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Will the Minister reiterate to the House and to his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Byrne) that the issue of Kashmir will not be allowed to act as a veto on the important case for India's membership of the Security Council, support for which is shared across the House, even if not entirely unanimously on the Labour Benches? Can the Minister give the House his best estimate of when we can expect the whole business of the new Security Council membership to be resolved? How long does he think the process will take?
Mr. Alexander: The recent report by the Secretary-General, "In Larger Freedom", indicates his desire to see the matter moved forward expeditiously before the UN millennium development goals review summit in September. Whether that is feasible, time will tell, but the subject is clearly receiving much greater attention than it has previously and I am assured that much work is being taken forward by India and other nations concerned about and interested in those matters to try to find a way forward in the months ahead.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Although admitting that India has a good case to argue for a place on the Security Council, does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to build confidence between Pakistan and India over the talks on Kashmir? If we allowed non-governmental organisations, such as Amnesty, and UN observers to monitor human rights in Indian-controlled Kashmir that would help to bring the two sides together.
We all have an interest in ensuring that breaches of human rights in that part of the world, or anywhere, are ended, so I endorse my hon. Friend's sentiments. However, it is also important to acknowledge the pace of the progress that has already been achieved by India and Pakistan. Recently, I had
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the opportunity to discuss that with the Pakistani high commissioner in London and I celebrated the fact that a new bus service is being established between Pakistan and India, which is just the latest confidence-building measure in a process that we are keen should be continued and taken forward constructively.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has been in contact several times with Foreign Minister Downer to discuss the situation in Iraq and in particular the deployment of additional Australian forces. We certainly welcome the Australian decision to deploy 450 troops to al-Muthanna, one of the four provinces in southern Iraq in the UK's area of responsibility.
Mr. Barnes: Is my hon. Friend aware that on four recent occasions in Question Time in the Australian Parliament the Australian Foreign Secretary has used my involvement with the organisation Labour Friends of Iraq in an attempt to undermine the stance adopted by the Australian Labour party? However, that has led only to establishing better links between Labour Friends of Iraq and the Australian Labour party. As in Britain, people, whether for or against the invasion, can unite in helping the emerging Iraqi trade union and labour movement to play an active role in the development of civil society and democracy in that country.
Mr. Rammell: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He will forgive me if I do not delve into Australian electoral politics, given that we have got a bit of that going on in this country at the moment, but I genuinely congratulate him not only on forming Labour Friends of Iraq, but on the significant contribution that he has made to the House over the past 18 years. I disagree with him over the decision to go to war with Iraq, but I respect his view, and I think that he respects mine. However, as he has demonstrated by his actions, whatever view we took on the war, it is crucial that we now work together to unite to help the Iraqis to build a free and peaceful Iraq, and I believe that his efforts in that regard represent a positive step forward.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
(PC): On Iraq's future, I spent some time out there about three weeks ago, and I was reminded by many people of the need for the infrastructure to be rebuilt as soon as possible. I realise that, in the less secure areas, such as Baghdad, that is impossible at this stage, although there is a huge task ahead: it is estimated that $55 billion needs to be spent between now and 2007, but only $2.5 billion has been spent hitherto. May I urge on the Minister the need to consider the possibility of putting in new infrastructure as soon as possible in the more secure areas, such as the south, Basra and so on? That is
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fundamentally important to keep everyone on board. By the way, the importance of this issue was confirmed by the head of the UN mission out there.
Mr. Rammell: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. It is critically important that we redouble our efforts to improve the infrastructure in Iraq. Things are improving, and the Department for International Development is committing £40 million to a project to improve water supplies, sanitation and other aspects of the infrastructure. That project, which will start in April, is just one part of our overall commitment to rebuilding Iraq.
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