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Zimbabwe

3. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): When she next expects to meet her EU counterparts to discuss the impact of sanctions against Zimbabwe. [87869]

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Ian McCartney): Zimbabwe is one of the greatest concerns to the European Union and it is regularly discussed with partners. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary last did so on 15 June and will be doing so on an ongoing basis. EU sanctions against the Government of Zimbabwe will be discussed when they are due for renewal in February 2007. Those sanctions keep Mugabe’s regime isolated and under pressure, and they are wholly warranted by his grotesque misgovernance. We continue to do all that we can to help the people of Zimbabwe, who have suffered so much under Mugabe’s regime.


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Mr. Bellingham: Hundreds of thousands of urban dwellers in Zimbabwe are having their homes bulldozed, the farming sector has been destroyed, people are starving, and inflation is at more than 1,000 per cent., with bank transactions measured in trillions—all because of a mad, evil dictator. What is the Minister going to do to ensure that at a time when the world’s attention is focused on the middle east, and rightly so, the plight of Zimbabweans is not forgotten?

Mr. McCartney: I assure the hon. Gentleman that not only is their plight not forgotten but as a country we are doing several things—not only in continuing with the sanctions, important as they are, but in assisting the ordinary citizens of Zimbabwe through hundreds of millions of pounds of aid to feed a country that was once southern Africa’s food basket but is now unable to feed its own nation. We are giving millions to help the quarter of the population who are suffering from HIV/AIDS.

We are working as a Government with civil society, trade unions and others who are bravely each day speaking up and speaking out about their fellow citizens in Zimbabwe, and we are making practical resources available to them. Our front-line staff are working in the country each day, in very difficult circumstances, to provide the necessary support for civil society. In addition, we are working with the front-line states, particularly those in southern Africa, to try to ensure that they do more to end this evil regime and return democracy to Zimbabwe.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): Have Her Majesty’s Government made any representations to Kofi Annan and to the African Union about the recent appointment of the former Tanzanian President, Ben Mkapa, as the so-called mediator between Zimbabwe and the UK? Is he aware that Mkapa has consistently called for the ending of European Union sanctions, and does he accept that this appointment will do nothing other than satisfy Mugabe, because he has merely been a stooge of Mugabe?

Mr. McCartney: If Mr. Mkapa can persuade Mr. Mugabe to undertake policy changes, we would support that. Mr. Mkapa has made no representations to us, nor has he sought our support. One thing that is certain is that, working with the United Nations, we will continue to pursue the issue of the lack of real progress in Zimbabwe. I hope that my answer to the previous question gives my hon. Friend certainty about how seriously we take the situation in terms of working in diplomatic and practical terms to assist individuals and Zimbabwe itself. It is important to build bridges. Zimbabwe is in this condition because of the actions of the Zimbabwean regime towards its own people, infrastructure and society. The sooner we get international action to resolve that, the better.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): The Minister rightly assured my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) that Zimbabwe is not being forgotten at a time when events in the middle east are drawing attention elsewhere. When the Foreign Secretary raised Zimbabwe on 15 June, what specific measures were proposed to the European Union to increase the pressure on that country? What is the next set of proposals for the subsequent meeting that the Minister mentioned?


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Mr. McCartney: As I said in my earlier answers, the review of the sanctions will take place in early 2007. They were renewed for the fourth time earlier this year. I have no sense that they will not be maintained or that South Africa will not work with us more positively in the intervening period to try to find additional ways in which we can not only put more pressure on Mugabe but witness his taking some action on the changes that need to take place.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the meeting in June. As I said in my first answer, the EU reviewed how the sanctions are working, whether they are effective and whether member states are co-operating with them—the answer to that is yes.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall come to the House to set out in detail the discussions that we will hold between now and February with the United Nations, the front-line states and others to try to secure a more effective way of dealing with issues internally in Zimbabwe. Hon. Members should rest assured that, whether we are considering civil society, the aid programme or the health programme, we are committed to continuing to involve ourselves effectively on a day-to-day basis with the citizens of Zimbabwe.

Falkland Islands

4. Mr. Ian Austin (Dudley, North) (Lab): What discussions her Department has had with the UN on the Argentine Foreign Minister’s recent representations to Kofi Annan on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. [87870]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): The British deputy permanent representative to the United Nations met the Secretary-General on 16 June 2006. The meeting covered several issues, including the Falkland Islands. The United Kingdom referred to the presentation by the Falkland Islands councillors at the C24 UN decolonisation committee on 14 June 2006 and made it clear that the UK’s position on sovereignty remained unchanged.

Mr. Austin: Argentina’s sabre-rattling, hostile policy on the Falklands and the decision to establish a commission to win control of the islands serves only to set back Argentinian-UK relations. Is not next year’s 25th anniversary of the heroic liberation of the islands a great opportunity to commemorate and pay tribute to the courage and bravery of the UK armed forces, who won not only the conflict but the right of the Falkland islanders to live in freedom and in a democracy? Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to remind the Argentinians again of the importance of the principle of self-determination?

Mr. Hoon: I agree that the anniversary next year will be an important opportunity to commemorate the deaths of not only British but Argentinian soldiers. Britain’s armed forces would also want to recognise the sacrifice that was made on both sides of that conflict. I was the first British Minister to lay a wreath at the memorial to Argentinian soldiers. It is important that we acknowledge the sacrifice that all our armed forces made in that conflict. However, I agree with my hon. Friend that self-determination remains absolute. The UN charter makes it clear that it is for the people of a territory to determine their future. That is why I made it clear that the UK’s position has not changed at all.


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Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Self-determination has to be the key principle on which the future of the Falklands is based, as the hon. Member for Dudley, North (Mr. Austin) and the Minister said. I ask the Minister to send the clearest message from the House that the Falklands will never be negotiated away except on the principle of self-determination.

Mr. Hoon: I am sorry if my previous remarks left any room for doubt. Self-determination is a fundamental principle of the UN charter. For the avoidance of doubt, we have made it absolutely clear that the position of the Falkland Islands will not change without the consent of the people of the Falklands Islands.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): When I was in Argentina last November, it was clear that the Argentinians would not renounce the claim on the Falklands—we take that as a given—but the Ministers to whom I spoke also made it clear that they had no intention of going to war against the UK. Given that that is the case and that we now have a democratic Government in Buenos Aires, why do we need to spend £120 million a year on maintaining a garrison in the Falklands?

Mr. Hoon: The answer is similar to the answer that I gave earlier: for the avoidance of doubt. My hon. Friend is right to say that successive democratically elected Argentine Governments have made clear their determination to resolve this matter peacefully, and we maintain a garrison in the Falkland islands to ensure that that promise is carried out.

Madagascar

5. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): What progress has been made on the accreditation of the non-resident British ambassador to, and the honorary consul in, Madagascar. [87871]

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Ian McCartney): Mr. Speaker, I must warn you that in this answer I shall have to speak French on two occasions. I have been practising.

Our requests for agrément in respect of the British high commissioner to Mauritius to be our non-resident ambassador to Madagascar, and for authority to appoint an honorary consul in Antananarivo, remain with the Malagasy authorities. We continue to push for swift accreditation. My Department has discussed the matter with the Malagasy chargé d’affaires in London twice since March, most recently on 29 June 2006. We currently have no intention of reopening our embassy in Madagascar. I think that is five out of 10.

Ben Chapman: Given that Africa has recently been our focus of attention, that the President of Madagascar is a prime example of good governance, that the 28 non-governmental organisations based there are now developing trade and investment interests and want an embassy there, and that the Malagasy have recently opened an embassy in London, would it not be best to avoid the past mistake of closing the embassy and then having to reopen it? Would it not be better to stop the accreditation of a non-resident ambassador and honorary consul and to reopen the embassy forthwith?


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Mr. McCartney: Africa is obviously a main priority for the Government, and that means that we need to modernise our network. We need to ensure that our network is placed in the most effective areas, to maximise our ability to represent the interests of this country. That has meant that posts have been closed in some areas, and enlarged in others, such as Pretoria, Kinshasa, Khartoum, Kigali and Addis Ababa. We are putting the investment in, but it must be appropriate investment in appropriate places. The appropriate investment in this case involves the appointment of the non-resident ambassador and the honorary consul, as I have explained, and I hope that we can reach an agreement on this matter pretty quickly so that we get on with the job that we want to do in that area.

Lebanon

6. Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): If she will make a statement on the situation in Lebanon. [87873]

9. Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): If she will make a statement on Israeli actions in Lebanon. [87877]

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): Like the rest of the international community, the British Government are deeply concerned about the situation in Lebanon. Intensive diplomatic efforts are under way to create a durable ceasefire. There are a number of initiatives that could help to bring an end to the suffering of the people of Lebanon and northern Israel, including—as my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have said—Hezbollah handing back the kidnapped Israeli soldiers immediately.

Mr. Mackay: I am sure that the whole House will agree that it was right for the Minister to have travelled to Lebanon last week, and we are grateful that he did so. As this dreadful human tragedy unfolds, caused primarily by Hezbollah’s terrorist activities within the state of Lebanon against the Israelis, does the Minister agree that the only long-term solution is an international peacekeeping force? I appreciate that the Foreign Secretary was cautious earlier in saying how long that might take, but may I urge her and the Minister to remember that speed is essential if we are to avoid a complete humanitarian disaster?

Dr. Howells: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks. I agree that we have to be very careful about the way in which we approach the subject of a stabilisation force, or of buffer zones. There are mixed feelings about such prospects across the middle east. He is also right to focus on the key issue of the Hezbollah militia. It was mentioned earlier that other militias have given up their arms in Lebanon. Hezbollah is the only powerful militia that has not done so. It is important to say that the people of Lebanon have suffered on many previous occasions from the likes of Syria and Iran fighting their war against Israel by proxy on the sovereign territory of Lebanon. They must stop doing that. I hope that the nations of the middle east, as well as the powerful western countries, bring all their diplomatic skills and influence to bear on Syria and Iran to ensure that they stop giving arms and sustenance to Hezbollah.


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Mr. David Jones: While acknowledging the undoubted right of Israel to defend itself against terrorist attack, does the Minister agree that the damage inflicted by Israel on the civilian population of Lebanon is wholly disproportionate to the damage that it has sustained? Will he continue forcefully to voice the concerns of many of those who have hitherto regarded themselves as friends of Israel?

Dr. Howells: The hon. Gentleman is reflecting a great deal of opinion across the world. Israel must be careful to understand, as I am sure it does, that it is fighting not just a military but a political campaign. Opinion on the Arab streets, and on Muslim streets in general, is fed by those who want to portray in the worst possible light the effects of what has been a savage and harsh military campaign by Israel on a great part of Lebanon. However, I also saw for myself the way in which a ruthless militia, Hezbollah, locates its men, missile sites and supplies right in the middle of domestic housing. It does not care about the people who are dying there. It will use them in whatever way it can as propaganda for its campaign, and ultimately for the campaign of Iran and Syria. We must try to understand that the situation is not simple—there is not the wish to destroy a nation—but the results are horrendous. People are dying in Haifa as they are in Lebanon. We must find some way of constructing a durable peace.

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Central) (Lab): The Minister will be aware that, according to the ICM poll published in The Guardian today, 63 per cent. of people in the United Kingdom believe that the Prime Minister has tied Britain too closely to the White House, and they expect the British Government to stand up to the US. Although I agree that Hezbollah has no respect for human life, whether Muslim, Jewish or any other, the Israeli response is disproportionate and has targeted the entire Lebanese population. Is not it time for the British Government to call on the United States to call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire?

Dr. Howells: I assure my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have worked closely in discussions with the United States and many of our other allies. If he is trying to ask me to denounce a nation that has fought for democracy, democratic rights and freedom for a century or more, I cannot agree with him.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): Is it not essential to remember how this conflict began, no matter how tragic its consequences? It was deliberately initiated by Hezbollah, after stockpiling missiles, apparently siting them in civilian areas, as the Minister has said, and clearly using them against civilian targets in Israel. Is it not essential, if there is to be a long-term, durable, sustainable peace, that the problem of Hezbollah be addressed, so that people on both sides of the Lebanese-Israel border can live in peace?

Dr. Howells: Yes, I agree with every word of that. The problem must be addressed, and the Lebanese Government must be helped, by any nation that can do so, to build up their capacity, through whatever means,
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to disarm Hezbollah—in the best possible way, to get Hezbollah to give up its weapons and, if necessary, to take those weapons off Hezbollah. As long as there is an alternative Government in Lebanon who decide their own foreign policy, how on earth can the democratically elected Government of Lebanon extend their remit to the frontiers of Israel? It will be impossible. That is why it is essential for us to help that Government in whatever way we can, hopefully by peaceful and diplomatic means, to ensure that Hezbollah gives up its weapons.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): Many people were genuinely grateful for my hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East’s forthright comments over the weekend, when he was in Lebanon. They introduced real balance, in the form of proper condemnation of the humanitarian abuses on both sides of the conflict.

Was not my hon. Friend absolutely right when he just told the House that, in the long run, the answer to Hezbollah is not a military victory for Israel but a strengthened Lebanese state that can control every aspect of life in Lebanon? The guarantee that we need is that we will not abandon Lebanon as the next crisis preoccupies us, and simply forget today’s crisis.

Dr. Howells: My hon. Friend’s words are wise. George Mitchell, a man with enormous experience in helping to negotiate peaceful outcomes, said on the “Today” programme this morning “Let us not come up with facile answers.” A simple ceasefire will mean that the conflict will start up again in a week, a year, or two years, and people will suffer again and again.

There has to be another way through this. We must construct a proper, sustainable peace for the region, and my hon. Friend is right to point out that one way in which we must do that is by building up the authority and capacity of the Lebanese Government.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): When the Minister was in Beirut, he expressed his views forcefully, as he has in a number of our debates in Westminster Hall. He said:

—he was referring to the Israelis—

The Minister pointed out that Hezbollah hides in urban areas, and is totally and utterly incapable of understanding the consequences for the Lebanese people. What advice does he give the Israelis now? How are they to deal with Hezbollah if they are not to engage in the kind of wider damage that is undoubtedly taking place?

Dr. Howells: I am not a military strategist, and I am not aware that the hon. Gentleman is either. [Hon. Members: “He is!”] I apologise. I thought that the hon. Gentleman was just a good bloke. I hope that he accepts my apology.


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