Previous Section Index Home Page

15 Jun 2006 : Column 357WH—continued


15 Jun 2006 : Column 358WH

A number of other points were raised. I said I would provide a memorandum on Africa, and I will, but there is one point I would like to make about our embassy in Harare. Our missions need to be fit for purpose. They need to have appropriate levels of security, particularly for our staff who work in the front line. We have a lot of interest in the country of Zimbabwe: a lot of our citizens are there. We must ensure that we have an effective organisation there, and we must also ensure that those who need to speak up and speak out can do so, and that they can get information out of the country. The Zimbabwean Government may not want people to be able to go to a fully effective and operational UK embassy. In that regard, I heard the political point that was made: I thought that it was a misguided and miscalculated point, and I hope that that view was shared.

The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling also referred to Mr. Mugabe. The point he raises is referred to in paragraph 90 of the response; there is a detailed note regarding it on page 22. To save time, I shall not read it out, but it gives a straight answer to the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman.

The right hon. Gentleman also raised three issues in respect of Iraq, and it is important that I deal with them if I can. He asked whether we are helping or hindering human rights, whether leaving now would help or hinder the role of the armed forces in developing human rights there, and in Afghanistan, and about related issues. I shall not give him a mantra; I shall simply give him a direct response. He was involved—with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North, I believe—in the early ’80s in campaigns in and around Iraq against the systematic torture and murder of the whole of the Iraqi trade union movement. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South was also involved. There was systematic murder and disappearances of Iraqi intellectuals on the left and in the centre, and of course the disappearance and destruction of any form of political party. We did not know at that time how many people died or were imprisoned or tortured—men, women, children and whole families. Latterly, we found some information about the gassing of families. We know of the murder of trade union leaders, and the destruction, disruption and dismantling of trade unions.

I understand that this issue is difficult for Members of the House who never agreed to enter Iraq, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North, who consistently says that he believes that it was an illegal act. Everyone has an opinion on Iraq, but let us be clear that whatever people’s opinions were about the war, it is critical to understand what is happening now: there is a battle for democracy. Millions of Iraqis—some 75 per cent. of them—turned up in the polls of their own free will. My God, I wish that we had got a 75 per cent. turnout in our general elections. Iraqis turned up in their millions under fear of murder and attacks on their families, communities and villages to express the simple message that they want to have a democracy, and to run it. Difficult as democratic institutions are, they want to do what we take for granted, and we have a responsibility to assist them with that. That would help greatly human rights and development, not hinder them.


15 Jun 2006 : Column 359WH

We now have thousands of free and independent NGOs operating in that civil society despite the serious difficulties, appalling murders and atrocities that happen there every day. I agree with the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling; we all have a heavy heart every time something terrible happens, but we need to know that despite what is happening, a brave and resourceful people are working with us individually and collectively to make a huge difference. We should leave when they ask us to do so—and they will—but hon. Members should consider what we have done with our support so far. Almost 4,000 schools have been rehabilitated, 1,200 primary health care centres are opening and functioning, and we have trained 180,000 teachers and health care workers.

I do not make those remarks as a litany to balance what the right hon. Gentleman said about what is happening. I took in all of what he said, but to balance it, I say this: it is right to stay in Iraq to support the Iraqis and help them with long-term stability. It is right to help them to establish a working, effective democracy and to include everyone in civil society, such as trade unions, community groups, women’s groups, children, adults, pensioners, academics and political parties. Difficult as it is, they will win. They will beat the terrorists. The terrorists will not beat democracy. No matter how long it takes, those brave people will see this through with our support and help and those of the international community. Difficult as the situation is, each day brings us a day nearer to their creation of a democratic society. We have a responsibility to help them to build a flourishing civil society.

I have not given the right hon. Gentleman a line, and I have not been given a note; I am simply telling him what I sincerely believe we need to achieve, working with the community and the new democratically elected Government in Iraq. Each day, men and women going about their business, such as my fellow Ministers, could be assassinated simply for doing their jobs. A worker going home tonight—a woman standing at a bus stop—could be shot. Why? Because she goes out to work. I am not talking about coalition people; I am talking about terrorists who do not want a democratic society. They are prepared to kill people on the basis of their religion or because they have an opinion, or to kill a fellow human being simply to strike fear into people’s hearts and cause communal violence and division. Goodness, if we give in to that, what kind of world can we expect to hand on to our children and grandchildren?

Sir John Stanley: Does the Minister consider that the human rights case made for staying in Iraq applies with equal force to the human rights case for our being in Afghanistan? Does he consider also that we, the Americans and others have sufficient people on the ground to protect and defend the huge human rights gains that we have made in Afghanistan and to avoid seeing them gradually wither away?

Mr. McCartney: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. There are 42 countries operating in Afghanistan, and the world community is there to help it to build its democracy. The Afghans are another
15 Jun 2006 : Column 360WH
group of resourceful people, and they are coming out of 30 years of conflict prior to, during and since the Taliban. What is the Taliban’s message now? It is simple but dangerous. To try to regain their control of that state, they will use violence against not only the international community, but, as Members have said, against schoolteachers, communities and women.

The Taliban are trying to re-impose themselves on Afghanistan by using it as a huge headquarters from which they can spread their evilness. However, with the help and support of the 42 countries, Afghanistan is succeeding and it will continue to succeed. Some 80 per cent. of Afghans are illiterate. We must seize this wonderful opportunity to open and reopen schools and sustain them. With every day that goes by, we are interacting with the community on the infrastructure projects with which we are involved in south Afghanistan. That approach is absolutely right. Our role there is to help people build and sustain a democratic society in which everybody’s human rights are not only protected but enhanced in an open civil society. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South, the Committee Chairman, asked me how many countries had ratified the Rome statute. I do not know; it is not in my brief, so I shall write to him. I apologise: I have answers to everything, but he got me middle wicket.

On Chinese policy in the horn of Africa, I am going to China soon, and if the Committee wants, I am happy to report back on my discussions. My hon. Friend can rest assured that one item on the programme will be extensive discussion with the Chinese and a dialogue on human rights. In the meantime and before my visit, I shall send the Committee a note about the issues as I understand them, what people are writing to me about and what is on file. If he thinks that anything is missing from that note about the types of discussions that I should have, he can respond in advance of my visit.

I offer my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) a meeting in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about the issues that he raised. I have an extensive brief, and we could discuss all those issues for an hour or more. All of them are important and difficult. Organ transplants are not the only such issue; there are a range of others. I am happy to have a meeting about that issue and West Papua, and about the issue of Aceh, which I think he wanted to raise, too.

I hope that by answering as I have, I have shown hon. Members that I want to have a good working relationship with the Committee and its members. I have an open-door policy as the Minister with responsibility for these matters, and I shall make time and space for any Members who want to see me individually or collectively about a particular issue. When I undertake a strategic visit to a region, I shall try as often as I can to inform the Committee in advance about my visit and to discuss the issues that its members would like me, working in partnership with them, to raise when I am in the region. I hope that that is helpful, too.


15 Jun 2006 : Column 361WH

I have tried to underscore my continued commitment to work with the Committee on human rights. The realisation of human rights throughout the world as a basis for our own security and prosperity is important, and their promotion throughout the world will remain at the heart of our foreign policy. While I am doing this job as a Minister, I shall personally put my heart and soul into that work. What an opportunity to advocate throughout the globe policies on which I campaigned when I joined the Labour party 15 years ago. As a
15 Jun 2006 : Column 362WH
Minister, I shall try to do something about them. I thank Members for listening, and I wish them good luck.

Mr. Mike Hancock (in the Chair): I thank the Minister for that contribution. He did very well; after three years away, he has not lost his touch. With that, I suggest that it is time for the sitting to adjourn.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at half-past Five o’clock.


    Index Home Page