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23 May 2006 : Column 1324

Dr. Howells: The United Kingdom is the friend of both the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples and we have made it clear all along that we expect Israel to abide by the UN Security Council resolutions, in the same way that we expect the forces that have caused such chaos in Palestine to do. I have made it clear many times that I consider the building of the barrier by the Israelis so that it incorporates Palestinian territory to be wrong: it is illegal and it should not happen. It will do nothing to promote peace in the middle east and will generate only further terrorism among people in Palestine and elsewhere. I call on the Israelis to understand the significance of what they are doing in that respect. They certainly have a right to defend themselves, but they do not have the right to capture land that is not theirs.

Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con): Does the Minister agree that one of the best ways of encouraging Muslim democracies is to encourage a modern, effective secular democracy in Turkey and that one of the best ways to achieve that is to argue for Turkish membership of the European Union?

Dr. Howells: That is exactly what we have been doing. During my visits to Turkey, I have been struck by the great efforts made to make Turkey a more democratic country. There are many reasons why we need that, and we need it urgently. A great deal of Afghanistan heroin moves through Turkey into the EU and western Europe. We need to be able to co-operate with Turkey with confidence in order to disrupt those supplies before they get into the veins of children in this country.

International Arms Trade Treaty

8. Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): If she will make a statement on progress towards an international arms trade treaty. [72684]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Margaret Beckett): We are building support for a UN-based process towards an international arms trade treaty. In 2005, we secured broad support from both the EU and the Commonwealth. A further global lobbying exercise is now under way, involving all of our overseas posts. We are in contact with a wide range of partners to secure agreement for the start of a formal process at the UN General Assembly later this year.

Mr. Kidney: It is a pleasure to see my right hon. Friend in her new post and I am also pleased to hear that we are at the head of international efforts to secure control over the proliferation and misuse of conventional arms. Will she give some credit to non-governmental organisations such as Oxfam and Amnesty International for their persistence in pushing that agenda? Does she accept that a still broader coalition could be built between Governments, NGOs, trade unions and legitimate business interests to secure the treaty through the UN?

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Margaret Beckett: I thank my hon. Friend and can tell him that I am very happy to give full credit to NGOs, including Amnesty, for the way in which they have consistently pushed the agenda, even at discouraging times. He is absolutely right that, if we to be successful in promoting such a treaty, we will need an even wider and deeper international consensus. We share his view about its components and we are helping to build it.

Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): I congratulate the right hon. Lady on her appointment. Will she kindly inform the House what discussions she has had about the arms treaty with the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Trade and Industry?

Margaret Beckett: Although I have had a substantial number of discussions since my appointment, I have not, as it happens, had discussions with the Ministry of Defence. However, it is my understanding that there is full support for that move and full recognition of the important contribution that it can make.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): I, too, welcome my right hon. Friend to her new post. In terms of the arms trade, it is small weapons that are most often used to kill people, and the death toll is outrageous. The arms trade treaty is central to bearing down on that, but will she also try to develop the political will? For example, we know that states aspiring to join the EU are trading in small arms and helping to take the lives of millions of people.

Margaret Beckett: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his welcome and I accept his basic point about the dangers of small arms. He will know that some agreements—although they are not legally binding—are already under review, and we hope that we can strengthen them. When I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) that we wished to continue to work to build an international consensus, that of course includes our many partners, because we recognise the dangers to which my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) alluded.

Muslim Brotherhood

9. Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): If she will make a statement on contact between her officials and members of the Muslim Brotherhood. [72685]

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): British officials have varying degrees of contact in a range of countries with those regarded as Muslim Brotherhood. This is during the normal course of their work to encourage democratic and tolerant societies that embrace the rule of law and universal human rights principles. We will continue to promote this agenda and to challenge those views with which we disagree.

Michael Gove: I thank the Minister for his answer. He will be aware that Mr. Mockbul Ali, Islamic issues adviser at the Foreign Office, recently co-authored a presentation describing the Muslim Brotherhood as “reformist, liberal and progressive”. Given that the Muslim Brotherhood and its spiritual leader, Sheikh
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Qaradawi, support suicide bombing, the persecution of homosexuals and the establishment of sharia law across the middle east, can the Minister tell me just what aspects of the brotherhood’s agenda his officials have told him are reformist, liberal or progressive?

Dr. Howells: I certainly wish to emphasise that we do not seek to speak with those engaged in violence. Nor do we go out of our way to engage with non-violent organisations or individuals that support extremism and violence by others, but when we come across such cases, we press them to reject violence as a solution. We should be extremely careful not to paint all Islamists as violent, because they most certainly are not, and we are ready to engage with organisations and individuals who uphold the values of democracy and use peaceful means to achieve their objectives, challenging their views as necessary. Some of those have been elected, for example to the Egyptian Parliament, as independents, but are clearly associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Our diplomats have met such people on occasion. We do not go out of our way to engage in such meetings, but when they occur, we argue the case for a non-violent approach. We argue against terrorism and we seek co-operation.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Is my hon. Friend aware that Mr. Mockbul Ali advised the Foreign Office that Sheikh Qaradawi should be admitted to this country, partly on the ground that to do otherwise would fuel Muslim views that there was a Jewish conspiracy throughout the world? Does my hon. Friend think that that is good advice and is Mr. Ali a good adviser?

Dr. Howells: We get all sorts of advice from civil servants and I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that sometimes we accept that advice and sometimes we do not.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): So that the Minister does not feel left out, I congratulate him on having survived the recent purge—I mean, reshuffle—because I am glad to see him in his usual place. Following the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman), can the Minister tell the House whether the Foreign Office has any direct evidence that people in the Muslim Brotherhood to whom it has talked have been directly involved in the planning and execution of terrorist acts?

Dr. Howells: I certainly have no information on that, and I am not aware that anyone to whom we have spoken has been involved in such acts. The hon. Gentleman will recall, of course, that this Parliament has some history of engaging in secret talks with terrorist organisations, such as the IRA. Wherever possible, I shall endeavour to ensure that we do not engage with anyone who advocates terror, whether it be Islamist terrorism or some other sort, that threatens to kill innocent people.

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St. Helena

10. Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): If she will visit St. Helena to discuss ways of improving relations with the UK. [72686]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): The Government value our relationship with St. Helena. We have demonstrated our commitment by agreeing to invest in the construction of an airport on the island. In addition, other UK financial assistance for St. Helena will amount to more than £14 million this financial year.

Foreign engagements for my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and other Ministers are kept under constant review. It is not our practice to announce such visits until they are firmly established in the diary. Because of the unpredictable nature of world events, final decisions on overseas visits are often not possible until very shortly before the day of travel.

Mr. Steen: One way for the Government to improve their relations with St. Helena would be for a Foreign Office Minister to go there. None ever has, although I know that the journey takes 10 days. The Minister referred to the airport that is to be built, but the island’s 3,800 inhabitants are concerned about the health implications. They are worried that the large numbers of foreign workers needed to build the airport could bring with them diseases that are alien to the island, such as HIV/AIDS. What can the Minister do to help in that regard?

Mr. Hoon: I am genuinely sorry that it has not been possible for Foreign Office Ministers to visit St. Helena, either in recent times or at all, although I know that my Front-Bench colleagues share an ambition to do so. I recognise the substantial concern that the hon. Gentleman identifies, and I assure him that the Government are taking very seriously the need to find appropriate ways to screen workers arriving on the island.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): I welcome the Government’s commitment to helping the people of St. Helena by building the airport. That runway will bring new lifeblood to the island, as the lack of employment has caused many people to leave. I hope that my right hon. Friend will make a visit—perhaps he will take with him my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary—and that he will also call in at the Falklands and Gibraltar, to ensure that the people there get the proper representation that they deserve.

Mr. Hoon: I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that the airstrip is not planned to be finished until 2010. Given what I said about Ministers’ engagement diaries, I cannot commit my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to such a visit. However, the new airport is clearly important to the islanders, and the Government are delighted to be able to make the money available. I have visited Ascension island several times and had the opportunity then to meet a number of people from St. Helena. My hon. Friend is right that many islanders have had to leave to find employment, but we believe that the airstrip will change that and
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offer valuable economic opportunities, not least in respect of tourism, as it becomes easier for people to visit the island.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): When the Minister met those St. Helenians on Ascension island—which is a British dependent territory and an American base—did they communicate to him their enormous sense of betrayal? Five years ago, they were assured by the Governor of St. Helena and the British Government that they would have permanent residency rights. However, those rights have now been withdrawn, much as they were on Diego Garcia a generation ago.

Mr. Hoon: In fact, that issue did arise. It is something that we have taken very seriously.


11. Margaret Moran (Luton, South) (Lab): What recent discussions she has had with the Governments of India and Pakistan on the line of control in Kashmir. [72687]

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): Before I answer the question, I should like to take this opportunity to condemn yesterday’s ambush by terrorists of a bus carrying Indian tourists in Indian-administered Kashmir. I understand that the bus driver was killed, and that further casualties may be announced. That is just the latest in a succession of atrocities, including the murder by terrorists of people participating in a rally in Srinagar last Sunday. Such crimes are designed to derail the peace process, but I understand that, as of today, talks are still making incremental progress.

Margaret Moran: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and join him in condemning the bombing reported today. We all welcomed the relaxation of movement over the line of control during the earthquake period, which brought division and terrible tragedy to families. Does my hon. Friend agree that the time is right for us to encourage both countries to relax the line of control further, to enable the movement of families between the countries and particularly to invite in human rights organisations to ensure that atrocities of the sort that we see daily are at least monitored, if not prevented?

Dr. Howells: The kinds of answer suggested by my hon. Friend to this intractable problem are interesting. Ultimately, they have to be agreed and decided on by the two parties—India and Pakistan. I was glad to see a relaxation of the line of control during the earthquake. It helped rescue and rebuilding, especially in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. It is good to see the Pakistan Government closing down some of the terrorist camps and support bases for terrorists in Indian-controlled Kashmir and I very much hope that will continue. I know that all sides will look carefully at the types of suggestion made by my hon. Friend, and I shall be interested in their responses.

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Points of Order

3.31 pm

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have received five replies to questions to the Home Office dated from 15 May back to 18 April, all of which promise a proper reply either shortly or as soon as possible, yet I have received none. Nor have I received replies to questions I tabled on 29 March and 14 March. Can you advise me, Mr. Speaker, of the further steps I can take to persuade Ministers to reply to parliamentary questions?

Mr. Speaker: Even five replies is good going—the hon. Gentleman is doing well. He should persevere and keep at the Ministers concerned; he should get on the phone and ask them why his questions have not been answered.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As soon as the Deputy Prime Minister was appointed to his new responsibilities, I tabled a written question asking him what criteria he would be applying for future visits to Dorneywood, which I would have thought would not require a great deal of research. Several days ago I received a holding answer, so I put down another question asking when the right hon. Gentleman would answer, but I have had no reply to that either. Do you think that perhaps the Deputy Prime Minister is overtaxed by his new responsibilities, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Speaker: I will not get drawn into those arguments.

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3.32 pm

Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): I beg to move,

I begin by declaring my interests, both as chair of the Africa all-party parliamentary group, which received funding from KPMG and Deloitte to print and publish its recent report on corruption in Africa, and for the advice and assistance with preparing the Bill that I received from Transparency International (UK).

In 1998 I sought to introduce a Bill to criminalise transnational bribery. It was opposed by the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), who argued that it could put British business at a disadvantage in some international markets. I see that the hon. Gentleman is in the Chamber; I have discussed this Bill with him and I am grateful for his support for it. Much has changed since 1998.

Both the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the United Nations have adopted international conventions against bribery and corruption, and the limited purpose of my 1998 Bill was eventually enacted as a Government measure in 2001. There is no longer a risk of putting British companies at a disadvantage compared with their competitors, because all OECD countries, and all UN states, are now expected to legislate against corruption to similar standards.

Arguably, the United Kingdom has fallen behind, because it appears to be applying the conventions less rigorously than some other states. The OECD review of the UK’s compliance with the OECD convention noted that the United States and France, for example, had prosecuted companies registered in their countries for transnational bribery offences while the UK had not, although I know that some UK cases are under investigation.

As a member of the International Development Committee, I have seen at first hand the devastating consequences of international and domestic corruption for poor people in poor countries. Their already precarious incomes are reduced further when corrupt officials demand bribes for services that are supposed to be provided free of charge. Everybody loses out when a high official or a Minister pockets public money that should be used to buy medicine or education, or to build roads.

The Prime Minister’s Commission for Africa reported that

and that

That $400 billion is more than the total annual income of every person in Africa. It would build a lot of schools and roads, and is 140 times the amount spent by the Global Fund on treating AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in Africa in the first five years of the fund’s existence.

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