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Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome what my right hon. Friend has to say and the written statement in particular. Does he agree that one thing that we could bring forth at the CCW conference in a year’s time would be a clear statement that we intend to publish details of our stocks of cluster munitions in the
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hope that all other countries do so? If that could be done, we would at least know the nature of the problem with which we are dealing.

Mr. Hoon: I accept the point that my hon. Friend makes, but when trying to ensure that all countries respect international law, it is important that there is an international agreement. That is why we have taken the initiative, which I believe represents the best way forward. As other hon. and right hon. Members have said, the initiative is a route towards a comprehensive international ban.

Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): In the past couple of weeks, we have begun a useful debate on this subject in Parliament, and I pay tribute to Landmine Action and others for the work that they do in this area.

May I press the Minister on his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Willie Rennie)? The right hon. Gentleman did not tell us why, if it is a matter of principle to get rid of dumb cluster munitions, it will take until the middle of the next decade for the British to do that. More generally, does not the Government’s distinction between dumb and smart cluster munitions ignore the reality that the smart bombs can have an unacceptably high failure rate of 10 per cent? Surely the bottom line is that we should be getting rid of all cluster munitions.

Mr. Hoon: I am not going to give the hon. Gentleman and the House a lecture on the distinctions between dumb and smart weapons. One problem is that the word “smart” is generally used to refer to a guided weapon. Unfortunately, in this context, “smart” is also used to refer to the ability of this particular weapon to self-destruct if it has not exploded after a period of time.

A smart cluster bomb ought to be guided and should self-destruct after a period of time. However, I accept that the definitions are sometimes used imprecisely. I also accept that it is important that we move together with other countries to try to find a comprehensive way to resolve the problem. I do not wish to repeat all the points that I have made about the use of the weapons system, but I assure the House that the United Kingdom Government have only ever used such weapons fully in accordance with international law.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Has the Minister read research by Handicap International that demonstrates quite clearly that 98 per cent. of casualties from cluster munitions are civilians and that a third are children? Can he justify to the House how it is right that civilians should be allowed to go back to homes and fields that are clustered with explosive debris? Will he work with the International Committee of the Red Cross to try to overcome intransigence—especially on the part of the United States of America and Russia—over getting a ban on such munitions?

Mr. Hoon: I am not even going to try to justifywhat my hon. Friend describes. It is appalling that children—or anyone—are damaged by such weapons when they fail to explode, because that is an indication
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that they have been used in circumstances in whichthe United Kingdom would not use them. It is important to emphasise that great care is taken by our commanders in the field to ensure that the provisions of humanitarian law are recognised and respected. By implication, my hon. Friend made clear the importance of getting a comprehensive international agreement on these weapons, which I emphasise.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): In an effort not to be dumb, may I put one simple point to the Minister? As part of the Government’s efforts to achieve an international ban on cluster bombs, would it not assist if the UK gave them up first, thus taking the moral high ground? I remind him that while unilateral disarmament might not be the flavour of the month among those on the Treasury Bench at present, it might be a good idea during the negotiations.

Mr. Hoon: As my hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East did in yesterday’s written ministerial statement, I have made it clear that the Government’s intention is to phase out a certain kind of these systems—I say that without repeating the word used by the hon. Gentleman. I agree with him to the extent that it is important that we lead the way on that. However, equally, it is vital that we use the existing framework that is available to all countries that own and use those systems, and that there is a comprehensive agreement. Kofi Annan has made it clear that the parties should use the existing CCW framework, and that is the approach on which the United Kingdom Government have led the way.


4. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): When she next expects to meet her European Union counterparts to discuss the effectiveness of current sanctions against Zimbabwe. [107308]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary discussed Zimbabwe with her EU counterparts in October. I have also had discussions on that country, including with my Portuguese counterpart. There will be further discussion of the EU’s targeted measures against Zimbabwe early next year, before their expiry in February. We believe that the measures, which target the regime members and not ordinary Zimbabweans, are effective and should be continued.

Mr. Bellingham: The Minister will be aware ofthe total collapse of Zimbabwe’s infrastructure and the rampant hyperinflation, with the cost of water in Harare last week increasing from 8 to 130 Zimbabwean dollars per unit. Is he also aware of the horrific human rights abuses, including the recent police attacks on the trade union vice-president Lucia Matibenga, which resulted in a broken arm? Surely the time has come for our Government and Europe to tighten smart sanctions and travel bans, which do not affect Zimbabwe’s hard-pressed citizens, but are aimed at Mugabe and his evil henchmen?

Mr. Hoon: May I make it clear that the UK condemns the most recent assaults on ordinary Zimbabweans? The organisation Women of Zimbabwe
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Arise shuns any form of violent demonstration and has a history of peaceful protest; there can be no excuse for the attacks that its members have suffered. The beating of women and children only two months after the abuse of the trade union leadership is further evidence of Zimbabwe’s terrible human rights record, which Robert Mugabe tries to argue is a figment of the west’s imagination.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is vital that we continue to isolate the regime, but, as his opening observations made clear, we have no quarrel with the people of Zimbabwe and no reason to cause further harm to a population who are already suffering as a result of the appalling decisions of their leaders. That is why we draw the distinction between sanctions that are aimed at the regime and other measures that might further damage the people of Zimbabwe.

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): Although I welcome the talks on Zimbabwe with our EU partners, should not more effort be spent in talking to Zimbabwe’s neighbours, whose actions might have more effect, and to countries such as China, which continue to invest in Zimbabwe?

Mr. Hoon: I agree that all parts of the international community, and in particular Zimbabwe’s near neighbours, could do more. It is important to continue to isolate the regime, and it is vital to world opinion that the countries of southern Africa take united and effective action to isolate Zimbabwe. I strongly agree with my hon. Friend’s comments.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Is it not a fact that there are no practical consequences that the Minister can name that have affected the leaders of Zimbabwe as a result of the sanctions? To follow up the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Tamworth (Mr. Jenkins), is it not necessary to do more and not only talk to Zimbabwe’s neighbours, but pin them down to practical measures that they can impose and we cannot?

Mr. Hoon: I have made it clear that we would likethe international community, including Zimbabwe’s southern African neighbours, to do more, but I do not accept that there are no practical consequences. If that were so, the regime in Zimbabwe would not protest so loud and so long about the impact that the sanctions have. The fact is that its leaders do protest, which means that the sanctions are having some effect on them.


5. Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): If she will make a statement on the human rights situation in Burma. [107309]

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Ian McCartney): The human rights situation in Burma remains dire. Serious human rights abuses are being committed, particularly in areas of armed conflict. The Burmese people do not enjoy the most basic human rights—including the right of freedom of speech and association—democracy and good governance, and the rule of law.

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The Burmese Government have recently orderedthe International Committee of the Red Cross to close its field offices. The Under-Secretary of State for International Development and I have issued strong statements condemning that action, which I have placed in the Library of the House.

I discussed the human rights situation in Burmawith UN Under-Secretary-General Gambari on15 November. I have also invited Juan Mendez, UN special adviser for the prevention of genocide, tobrief Members of both Houses of Parliament on14 December.

Mr. Carmichael: I thank the Minister for that full answer. It has been the policy of this country for many years to discourage UK companies from investing in and trading with Burma, but despite that the human rights situation in that country has worsened, as hehas just described. What consideration have the Government given to shifting from a policy of discouragement to one of prohibition? Does he accept that if we did that, we would have a great deal more moral authority when we were trying to discourage other countries in the region from trading with and investing in Burma?

Mr. McCartney: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and for the way he worded it. It reflects the common approach across the House and shows how effective that can be. There is a common European Union position on the matter, which includes an arms embargo, a ban on defence links, a ban on high level Government visits to Burma and a ban on the supply of equipment. As a result of our discouragement, British companies have been disinvesting in Burma to the point that there is little or no UK investment in Burma or its overseas territories. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the best chance we have of imposing embargos is through the EU. If we do so unilaterally, we will open the door to some countries in Europe which may not want to join in the strength of the common position. It is critical that the 25 countries maintain the same line and ensure that commitments given are carried through.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Chinese Government have extensive economic and political relations with Burma. What representations has he made to the Chinese authorities about these matters? Is he optimistic that China will eventually move into line with the body of international opinion?

Mr. McCartney: I have not only raised the matter with my counterpart in China and with the ambassador on numerous occasions, but in recent days I have taken the opportunity to speak to my counterpart in India, and yesterday I met the representatives of countries in the Association of South East Asian Nations to talk through with them a more proactive approach by the ASEAN countries. Last evening I met the Foreign Minister of Brunei, who is chair of the ASEAN group, to discuss with him a more practical approach by ASEAN, along with India and China, to try and resolve the issues on behalf of the people of Burma.

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Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): Following the pretty bleak reply that the Minister gave on the Burmese regime, does he agree that it is one of the most evil regimes in the world in terms of its human rights record? Recent reports say that Burma has the highest recruitment of child soldiers, and routine rape and torture of women and young girls. That is unacceptable. What further action is the Minister taking within the European Union so that certain countries do not block a UN resolution? Does he agree that tougher action needs to be taken by China and Russia so that together the international community can bring forth a real and workable UN resolution to stop the regime committing such human rights abuses?

Mr. McCartney: I thank the hon. Gentleman. First, I have spoken directly with the Burmese ambassador on numerous occasions, with a range of allegations backed up by firm evidence. To date the response has been negative. No responsibility is accepted, including for rape by army officers and army personnel. Secondly, I have had personal and detailed discussions with all the countries that the hon. Gentleman mentions, except Russia. As I said to Mr. Gambari when we met recently, our commitment is to support a UN resolution. All our efforts among our European colleagues and colleagues in the ASEAN group are important to get maximum support for any further Security Council resolution. That is why I have invited a UN representative to come here on 14 December and give a report to Members of both Houses. It is important that hon. Members of both Houses have the opportunity to meet a UN representative and to discuss with him in person the role of the UN working with us as a Government. Not everyone can fly to Geneva or New York, so we are bringing Geneva and New York here. The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) are welcome to attend the meeting, which is a genuine effort by me to open up the dialogue and give others the chance to put the case for the Burmese people.


6. Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con): If she will make a statement on recent political progress in Iraq. [107310]

12. Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): What recent political progress has been made in Iraq; and if she will make a statement. [107316]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Margaret Beckett): Iraqi leaders have reaffirmed their commitment to national unity. The national reconciliation initiative is being pursued and the constitutional review committee has now been formed. On security, two provinces have already been handed over to Iraqi control and four more will follow this month. Agreement has also been reached to transfer four of the 10 Iraqi army divisions from the multinational force to Iraqi command and control this year. Political progress is, though, still being hampered by high levels of sectarian violence
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specifically aimed at undermining the Government’s efforts to improve security. We will continue to support the Iraqi Government in their work.

Mr. Johnson: What can the Foreign Secretary say to disprove the withering verdict of the US State Department official, Kendall Myers, that Washington has systematically ignored British advice over Iraq? Can she give a single concrete example of any piece of advice given by her or the Prime Minister that was accepted by Washington and without which the catastrophe in Iraq would have been even worse?

Margaret Beckett: I could certainly give the hon. Gentleman many examples of advice that we have given that has been accepted by Washington. As regards Kendall Myers, I had never heard of him before and I do not suppose that I shall ever hear of him again— [ Interruption. ] The example with America goes back as far as Winston Churchill, a point of view that the hon. Gentleman might not wholly share.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Does the Foreign Secretary agree with the view of the Secretary-General of the United Nations that Iraq is now in a state of civil war? A simple yes or no answer would be very helpful.

Margaret Beckett: No. Furthermore, I would say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who is very experienced in politics as well as in some of these issues, that it might have occurred to him, because it has certainly occurred to me, that it was not the Secretary-General who said that—not for the first time, the words were put into his mouth by a journalist.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Should there not be total condemnation from everyone in this House, whichever line they took at the time of the war, of the mass murder that is being carried out on a daily basis against completely innocent people by terrorists who have, needless to say, not the slightest interest in democracy? Since it is clear that the occupation troops can in no way stop what is happening, does my right hon. Friend accept that the continued reduction of British troops is to be welcomed? I hope that that will continue throughout next year.

Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend is entirely right that everybody must, and does, condemn the terrible levels of violence and the nature of the violence—wanton violence—in Iraq, which seems to be aimed at nothing more than destroying the hope and the prospect of peace. It is confined to fewer areas than one is sometimes given the impression is the case from coverage in this country, but it is nevertheless quite appalling.

My hon. Friend is also right to say that it is important that we continue with the process of handing over security responsibility to the Iraqi police and armed forces as they become able to take it on. Like him, I strongly hope that that process will continue.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): As it would appear that the presence of forces responsible for the invasion is merely fuelling the insurgency,what discussions have taken place with the Iraqi Government about the desirability of handing over some of the responsibility to United Nations forces?

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