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8. Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): If he will make a statement on the political situation in Zimbabwe. [165624]

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): Under the misrule of President Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s catastrophic decline continues. We have made it clear
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that no senior Minister will attend an EU-Africa summit in December if President Mugabe is there. We are supporting those working for democratic change. We are supporting African efforts, through President Mbeki, to resolve the crisis, and we are supporting, with humanitarian aid, the millions of Zimbabweans in desperate need of assistance.

Mr. Hollobone: What recent discussions has the Minister had with senior representatives in the South African Government to persuade them to fulfil their responsibilities, as the main power in the region, to apply far more pressure on the Mugabe regime to change its ways?

Dr. Howells: We have held many discussions on the matter with senior leaders in southern Africa. The hon. Gentleman is right. The thrust of his question is the key one: what are neighbours doing about putting pressure on President Mugabe? It is only the truth to say that unless they pressurise President Mugabe much, much more than they have done, he will not relinquish his position. He could even win the next election, and the misery of the Zimbabwean people could continue for a very long time.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I am encouraged by the Minister’s reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone). While it is important to bring pressure on Mr. Mugabe through African states, particularly South Africa, what new initiative might the Government seek to bring forward as a result of the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference that is taking place in a few days? Could we not use the influence of a country of growing influence—that is, India—and that of other Commonwealth countries to exert pressure to bring democracy, peace and genuine stability and improvement to Zimbabwe?

Dr. Howells: Yes, the hon. Gentleman is quite right. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is travelling to Kampala this evening, and I know that he will attempt to use every meeting that he has on the margins of that conference to raise the subject and to urge other nations to start to apply pressure on President Mugabe. The hon. Gentleman knows that as Zimbabwe is not a member of the Commonwealth at the moment, it is not on the formal agenda. I wish that it was.

US Missile Defence

9. Danny Alexander (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (LD): If he will make a statement on his Department’s policy on the UK’s involvement in the US missile defence system. [165625]

12. Paul Holmes (Chesterfield) (LD): What his policy is on the UK’s participation in the US missile defence system; and if he will make a statement. [165629]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): The UK contributes to the US missile defence system through our operation of the radar at RAF Fylingdales, the data relay station at RAF Menwith Hill and our well-established technical co-operation programmes.

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Danny Alexander: In February, the then Prime Minister promised a debate in the House on the UK’s involvement in the US missile defence system. However, the Secretary of State for Defence later turned down such a debate in a letter to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell). Does the Minister agree that a full parliamentary debate will be necessary before the United Kingdom takes any further steps in support of yet another controversial, unilateral and highly dangerous United States policy?

Mr. Murphy: There has been no official request from the USA; as the hon. Gentleman knows, such issues are for the usual channels. There is a genuine issue about how the international community, particularly Europe, deals with the potential threat to the UK and Europe from a rogue state firing a missile across Europe. That is why we have given our support to the proposals at the moment in respect of the capacity of the deployment in both Poland and the Czech Republic. That is an important part of the wider defence of both the United Kingdom and Europe and against the potential firing of a missile by a rogue state, and particularly from one in the middle east.

Paul Holmes: Is the Minister aware that the programme has already cost the US more than $100 billion, yet its technology is unproven and does not work? The programme is designed to guard against an unforeseen future threat, yet it is destabilising Europe now. Is it not the most dangerous and expensive white elephant in history? How much will it cost British taxpayers?

Mr. Murphy: With respect, I think that that is an absolutely ridiculous assessment of the situation. The fact is that there is the potential threat of a rogue state attacking Europe, in the future, by the use of such missiles. It would be irresponsible in the extreme if we were not to, yes, participate with the United States, yes, have discussions with Poland and the Czech Republic, and yes—and importantly—have them with our NATO allies and friends about how best to protect ourselves and our European neighbours from a potential attack from a rogue and dangerously evolving threat.

Topical Questions

T1.[165607]John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): I have just returned from the middle east, where I spoke to Israelis, Palestinians and Egyptians about the contribution that the UK can make to progress towards a lasting two-state solution. Tomorrow, I will join Her Majesty the Queen, the Prime Minister and other ministerial colleagues for the state visit to Uganda and the Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings, whose agenda will focus on climate change, international development, education and the situation in Pakistan.

John Mann: My right hon. Friend will be aware of the positive cross-party and Government work done on anti-Semitism in this country. He will also be aware
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that anti-Semitism is not just a British problem but one that is growing across the European Union. Will he be prepared to consider how he can best raise the matter with ministerial colleagues from other European countries?

David Miliband: I certainly will. I can also say that when I recently met representatives of American Jewish groups in New York, they said that they recognised last year’s parliamentary inquiry into anti-Semitism as an absolute landmark—not only in this country, but globally—for the sort of investigation and vigilance that are so important. I am happy to ensure that all EU colleagues know of the work done by that cross-party parliamentary group and to look at ways in which we can follow it up. I know that my hon. Friend and colleagues recently met my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe. We will certainly be happy to take the issue forward in any sensible way.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): On Wednesday, the Foreign Secretary circulated a speech in which he called for the creation of an EU military capabilities charter. On Thursday, when he delivered the speech, all references to this had been removed, apparently by the Prime Minister. Is the Foreign Secretary in favour of a military capabilities charter, or not?

David Miliband: I can only think that the right hon. Gentleman did not read the speech that I put out on Thursday. If he looks at the section on defence, he will see that it says, first, that we need to enhance the capabilities of European nations in respect of defence issues; secondly, that we need to co-ordinate them better so that when we work with NATO we do so in a sensible way; and thirdly, that we need to ensure that European forces are used in a preventive way. That seems to me to be an utterly sensible thing to do.

Mr. Hague: I think that that roughly translates as, “Not any more”, and that the Foreign Secretary was muzzled by the Prime Minister, which at least gives him something that he can recommend to his wise eminence, Lord Malloch-Brown, from time to time. Instead of unseemly accusations of disloyalty and destabilising each other being flung between No. 10 and the Foreign Office in the weekend press, is it not vital that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary make a joint effort on many of the issues facing the nation? For instance, will they, in the coming days, seek to ensure as a matter of urgency that a senior single co-ordinating figure is appointed in Afghanistan for the international aid and reconstruction effort so that tactical successes there do not turn into strategic failure?

David Miliband: As the Prime Minister said in his statement last week, we are certainly committed to improving the co-ordination of forces in Afghanistan; in fact, that idea is being developed actively at the moment and will come to fruition. However, I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that this time last week he set out in the Queen’s Speech debate the new Conservative policy on the European treaty, and within one hour his own leader had rubbished his statement. [ Interruption. ] Oh yes—I look forward to discussing it with him. On this side of the House, we agree our speeches in advance rather than having to correct them afterwards.

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T2.[165608]Mr. David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary share my concern that to date there has been no compromise leader appointed for Lebanon? What is he doing about that?

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): Last night, I was rung by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who has recently been in Lebanon. The impending crisis four days before the election of a new president is a very serious concern, not least given the dangers that it poses to the wider middle east peace process. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the issue. On Sunday night in Jerusalem, I met my colleague, the French Foreign Minister, who was going back to Beirut for the second time in a week to try to work on the issue. I assure my hon. Friend that, with our ambassador there, we are working on it too.

T3.[165609]Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Over the past few years, President Putin has made it virtually impossible for anybody to launch a new political party in Russia, and he has made it much more difficult for smaller parties to get elected to the Duma by raising the threshold from 5 per cent. to 7 per cent. He has also closed every single independent television station in Russia. Now, he has made it more difficult for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe to monitor the elections in December. It is becoming increasingly difficult not to come to the conclusion that those elections will be neither free nor fair and that Russia is, dangerously and sadly, flirting with totalitarianism again.

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is very disappointing that the OSCE observer mission has not been able to take up its opportunity to visit Russia to act as independent and impartial technical observers of the Duma elections. It is clear that the democratic space in Russia has shrunk over recent years. The space for civic society and the media to operate freely has decreased. We will continue to press for a modern Russia that conforms to modern democratic international norms, which would involve full access for the OSCE without inhibitions being put in place by the Russian authorities.

T4. [165611] Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): May I return the Foreign Secretary to the issue of Kosovo and the Balkans? In the event of Kosovo achieving independence, it would be extremely difficult to explain to those in Republika Srpska, let alone the Albanians in Macedonia or the Abkhazians, that they should not do the same. In his earlier reply, he suggested that the answer to ensuring the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina was to enhance the authority of the high representative. What other steps has he taken to produce contingency plans for the region to ensure that Bosnia and Herzegovina stays in one piece and stays at peace?

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): I am happy to address that point, but for the record, I said that we have to back up the high representative’s authority. We are not making
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proposals to enhance it, as the hon. Gentleman puts it. The best thing that we can do is undertake practical projects such as police reform. That is a major issue in Bosnia, and it is sensible to take such action before a crisis rather than afterwards.

T5. [165612] Ann McKechin (Glasgow, North) (Lab): Given that it has been reported that the Chinese authorities are to offer a $5 billion credit line to the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in return for mineral rights without any apparent conditions, will my right hon. Friend indicate our concerns to the Chinese Government about the need for proper conditions regarding governance and corporate accountability when dealing with the exploitation of minerals?

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): My hon. Friend has campaigned long and hard on that issue in general, and on the specific issue of attacks on women in that country. I can confirm that we are working with all international partners to ensure that our aid policies are targeted at the right people and that they support the right rather than the wrong actions.

T6. [165613] Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab): I am a great fan of Joseph Nye’s work on soft power. At some stage, Mugabe will fall in Zimbabwe. Can my right hon. Friend reassure me that we will have a diplomatic solution on a “soft power” basis in Zimbabwe when Mugabe does fall?

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): Perhaps my hon. Friend is referring to the need for economic reconstruction in Zimbabwe. That is impossible while President Mugabe is pursuing completely wrong-headed policies that have plunged the country into the chaos of 8,000 per cent. and now 14,000 per cent. inflation. I can confirm that as soon as there is a sensible Government in Zimbabwe, we will want to work with them not just on economic issues, but on broader social and political reconstruction.

T7. [165614] Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): On Friday, the opposition Iranian organisation the People’s Mujaheddin of Iran will learn if it is to be removed from the European Union’s list of proscribed organisations. If it is, will the Secretary of State remove it from our own list?

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): This issue is sub judice at the moment, and it is therefore very difficult to comment on it. In general, I can say that, across the House, we deplore any terrorist activities by any organisation.

T8. [165615] Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): What representations have Ministers made to other EU Governments with the aim of blocking proposals for an EU food-labelling regime that would reduce customer information, not increase it?

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): It is a silly proposal, and we will not be supporting it.

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T9. [165616] Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South -West) (Lab): The European Union is currently funding fuel supplies to Gaza. If the Israeli Government go ahead with their proposal to reduce fuel supplies by 20 per cent., in contravention of international humanitarian law, would the Foreign Secretary be satisfied that that continued EU funding was consistent with EU law?

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): I will certainly look into the legal issue that my hon. Friend raises, but the basic humanitarian issue, which is the need for the people in Gaza to be able to keep body and soul together, is essential and is at the forefront of our minds in discussions throughout the EU and in the region.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary take every opportunity that Kampala offers to talk to African Heads of Government and to persuade them of what an appalling regime Mugabe is running in Zimbabwe? It is far, far worse than anything that exists in Pakistan.

David Miliband: There is no question about that; I am happy to provide that confirmation to the hon. Gentleman. I am confident that I will go there with the unanimous view of the House that the situation in Zimbabwe is not just an appalling tragedy, but a preventable one. President Mugabe’s role in that affair needs to be at the forefront of our minds.

Mr. Don Touhig (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): Veterans of the Malaysia campaign are allowed to accept the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal, but not wear it on public occasions such as Remembrance Sunday. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has responsibility in this area, does he agree that the decision of the Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals is unjust, and will he intervene to overturn it?

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David Miliband: I am happy to take up the issue that my right hon. Friend raises. Granting the medal was an important step forward, which has been widely welcomed. However, I shall certainly look into the matter.

Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): The Foreign Secretary will be aware of my correspondence with the Department about the case of my constituent, Grace Ciliberto, whose son was abducted to Dubai, despite being the ward of an English court. Although I accept that normal consular advice was given, will the Foreign Secretary explain why no top level diplomatic contact has been made with the Dubai authorities to get Mrs. Ciliberto’s son returned to this country? Will he meet me to discuss the matter?

David Miliband: It would be wrong to discuss the details of an individual case on the Floor of the House, but I—or one of my hon. Friends—will be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to go through them.

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): What assistance is my right hon. Friend giving to Bangladesh to cope with the flooding disaster?

David Miliband: I am sure that all hon. Members viewed the situation in Bangladesh with horror. The matter obviously falls to the Department for International Development and its emergency relief contingency plans. However, I am happy to write to my hon. Friend and place in the Library clear details of the way in which the UK Government are responding. I assure him that, on a diplomatic level, we are in touch with the caretaker Government in Bangladesh to ensure that everything possible is being done to support them.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: I think that the last thing the House wants at the moment is a point of order.

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