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The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw):
Conflict between Christians and Muslims in northern Nigeria and elsewhere in the country is serious. We take every opportunity to raise concerns about those religious conflicts and human rights generally with the Government of Nigeria and senior leaders from all faiths in that country. We recently backed a successful visit by a British Muslim
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delegation to northern Nigeria to engage with northern religious leaders. We are also supporting projects in northern Nigeria that are aimed at increasing respect for human rights, including funding a project to train police and magistrates in the humane and correct application of sharia law.
Mr. Drew: I thank my right hon. Friend for that. I had the opportunity to visit Nigeria, especially northern Nigeria, with Christian Solidarity Worldwide just before Easter. A Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation also visited Nigeria at a similar time and I have talked to some of its members. We all found a rather depressing position with a great deal of religious conflict. It takes many forms, from the extremes of the cartoon riots, which were bad in Nigeria, as my right hon. Friend knows, to much discrimination in the north against Christians, land grabs and violence against individuals, especially child abduction. Given that President Obasanjo appears to be standing for re-election, is not it time my right hon. Friend put some pressure on him to do more to bring the states in the north under control? The position there is simply unacceptable.
Mr. Straw: I discussed the matter with President Obasanjo and his Government when I was in Nigeria about two months ago. President Obasanjo, who is a Christian, is well aware of the problem. However, Nigeria is a diverse, large, federal state and it is difficult for the federal President to control every aspect of what is going on.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): The visit by the United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice provided the opportunity to show Britain beyond Westminster and Whitehall as a thriving, diverse country with great strength, depth and variety in its cultural and economic life. My discussions with Secretary Rice covered all that and many international and bilateral issues of concern. The right hon. Gentleman knows that Secretary Rice visited the BAE Systems plant at Samlesbury in Lancashire and saw there the building of both the Typhoon and the joint strike fighter aircraft.
As a north-west Member, I was delighted that the American Secretary of State had a chance to see our remarkable part of the world. As an assiduous supporter of the north-western aerospace industry, however, I must tell the Foreign Secretary that barriers remain to Britain's full participation in the joint strike fighter project. Notwithstanding the excellent presentation to Washington by the noble Lord Drayson, what discussions did the Foreign Secretary have with Secretary of State Rice about removing the remaining barriers to progress, particularly the barriers on Capitol hill and any others that remain within the American Administration? What assurances did he receive that action would be taken to enable us fully to participate in this vital project?
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Mr. Straw: May I return the compliment? The right hon. Gentleman is a strong supporter of the north-west aerospace industry and of our fine region. One of the reasons why I was pleased that Secretary Rice agreed to go to the BAE Systems plant at Samlesbury was that she would be able to see not only the brilliant technology and skills on display there, as they are at its sister plant in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency, but the building of the Typhoon, a European project, and the joint strike fighter, which is a US-UK project. The Secretary of State received a presentation from Mr. Mike Turner, the chief executive officer of BAE Systems. Those who know him will know that he is no wilting violet, and he was able to put his position politely but firmly. The Secretary of State and I also discussed it. I do not think that there is a problem inside the Administration, but, as we all know, there is a problem of publicly gaining acceptance among some key members of Congress that the United Kingdom is a reliable partneras indeed we are, and always will be.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): As the Foreign Secretary gets on so well with Condoleezza Rice, will he inform the House whether he discussed with her the recent creation by the United States Congress of an Iraq study group under the chairmanship of James Baker, the former Secretary of State? Condoleezza Rice has welcomed this initiative, and she obviously hopes that when the group visits Iraq, it will come back with some initiatives that will help the United States to extricate itself from what has become a sad failure of its policy. As the Foreign Secretary is a very fair man, will he acknowledge that the British Government are labouring under similar difficulties? Does he intend to seek similar external advice to help him to get out of them?
Mr. Straw: I am always in the market for advice, including from former Foreign Secretaries, as well as United States Secretaries of State. We did not discuss the establishment of the study group by James Baker, but we discussed Iraq at great length before we went off to Baghdad to see the political leaders and put pressure on them to form a Government as quickly as possible. I would like to think that the joint pressure from the Secretary of State and me made some difference, and I am pleased to say that, at long last, progress has been made. We now have a presidency established and a Prime Minister designate. The right hon. and learned Gentleman might call me optimistic, but I believe that we will now be able to see the emergence of a democratic Government who are able to take proper control in Iraq.
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I was very pleased indeed that Liverpool was selected for a large part of the American Secretary of State's visit, as an example of a thriving diverse city. Will the Foreign Secretary describe the conversations that took place with the Secretary of State about standing firm against the recognition of Hamas, which is a terrorist organisation? Will he be talking further with her about today's announcement from Jordan that the Jordanians have arrested representatives of Hamas for planning the assassination of members of the Jordanian Government?
May I say how grateful I am to my hon. Friend, and to other colleagues on both sides of the
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House, for the welcome that they gave the Secretary of State? Inevitably, some of the coverage dealt with the demonstrations, which simply illustrates that this, like America, is a free country. The Secretary of State kept saying that she was fully able to take those things in her stride. She was also able to see Liverpool and the centre of the world, Blackburn[Laughter.] I take that as approbation, Mr. Speaker. She was able to see those places in all their glory. We talked about many things, including the connections between Liverpool and the southern states of the United States, from which she comes. Of course, we also talked about Hamas. A further meeting of the Quartet will take place on 9 May to discuss further the stance that we should take to get Hamas to understand that, if it accepts the democratic principle, it must abide by the responsibilities that go with it. In this case, those include the three principles of the recognition of the reality of Israel, acceptance of the international agreements entered into by the Palestinian Authority in the past and an end to all violence, which includesself-evidentlyplotting the assassinations of the Jordanian royal family.
Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): I am sure that the special relationship between our Foreign Secretary and the American Secretary of State warms the cockles of the hearts of all Members of the House. Undoubtedly, if not the Hugh Grant of the Cabinet, he is the Nicholas Parsons. In his deep conversations with the US Secretary of State, did he have a chance to talk with her about the elimination of the poppy crop in Afghanistan and stability there? That issue has been highlighted by the Foreign Office as important. Is he only too well aware that British forces deployed today in Afghanistan have sought to keep our troops away from the destruction of that crop? Obviously, the issue is important and there now appears to be some distinction between the Foreign Office's view of the mission in Afghanistan and that of the Ministry of Defence. Can he clarify the position?
Mr. Straw: He is. I fully understand the spirit in which the compliment was offered to me, and I take it in that spirit[Hon. Members: "Hesitation."] I am afraid that I have always recognised that I would be no good on "Just a Minute", because all Ministers display hesitation, deviation and repetition in large quantities. To return to the point[Interruption.] Well, the hon. Gentleman wants his question answered, which never happens on "Just a Minute".
We discussed Afghanistan in some detail, and the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the NATO Allied Rapid Reaction Corps will come under British command from the end of July. It happens that, this morning, I saw the commander of the ARRC, a British three-star general, to discuss with him in detail the arrangements for that.
Let me make it clear that there is absolutely no difference on this matter between the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence nor between my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and me.
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We have been working together extremely closely. There is a distinction in the rules of engagement between counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency, which is there for the benefit of the military. We have no plans compulsorily to eradicate crops. That has been made clear, and my hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East visited Afghanistan recently. As the House knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is currently in Afghanistan visiting not only Kabul but the south.
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