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Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab):
Does the Minister accept that that was a deeply disappointing answer? The islanders were forcibly removed from their homeland, disgracefully and wrongfully, one of their islands has been taken over as an American base and possibly used for extraordinary rendition, and many of them have lived in poverty ever since their removal. Is it not time to give justice to the Chagos islanders? Is it
not time to pay them appropriate compensation, and allow them to return to the homes from which they were so brutally removed?
Meg Munn: I have already said that I do not excuse what happened previously: in that respect I agree with the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George). The matter is currently subject to a court process. Compensation has been paidthat has been legally agreedand British citizenship given to all Chagos islanders. We await the outcome of the court hearing.
Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford) (LD): Can the Minister tell us when the agreement with the United States on the use of its bases on Chagos expires? Can she also tell us whether the renewal of that agreement requires the approval of Her Majestys Government, or whether it can be effectively continued by the United States without such approval?
Meg Munn: The agreement with the United States is continuing. At the moment there is no end date to that. It should mean that at the end of the period, if we no longer needed the British Indian Ocean territories, we would consider the rights of Mauritius.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): Why does the Foreign Secretary not take account of the mood of the House in respect of the Chagos islanders? Overwhelmingly the House wants this wrong remedied, and remedied with some expedition and dispatch.
Meg Munn: I understand the anger that hon. Members feel about what has happened, and I share their concern. The Government looked into whether it was possible to resettle the islanders. The feasibility study commissioned in 2002 said that lasting resettlement would be precarious and, if sponsored by the Government, would entail substantial open-ended contingent liability to the British taxpayer.
Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): The Minister will be well aware that the economy of Tristan da Cunha depends on the export of crayfish. Regrettably, however, despite being a British overseas dependent territory, it is denied access to European Union markets. Can the Minister explain why that is, and tell us what steps she is taking to remedy the position?
Meg Munn: It is true that the fish industry is extremely important to that territory, but I have had no recent discussions on the matter. It was not raised at the Overseas Territories Consultative Council. However, I will look into it further for the hon. Gentleman.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband):
Zimbabwe is suffering from an economic, humanitarian and political crisis for which President Mugabe is directly responsible. Although the election has been declared for 29 March, the conditions
for it are far from free and fair. We are pressing for effective international monitoring and for states in the region to require the election to meet international standards, including those adopted by the Southern African Development Community itself.
Sir Nicholas Winterton: The Foreign Secretary will be aware that the imminent elections in Zimbabwe are critical to the welfare and well-being not only of the country as a whole, but of its people. My support for Zimbabwe and for an African democratic solution to its problems is well known to the House. What steps is the Foreign Secretary taking to ensure that the elections are, in an African context, as free and fair as is acceptable to the civilised world?
David Miliband: The hon. Gentlemans long record of standing up for democracy and the interests of the people of Zimbabwe is well known. I would point him in three directions. First, it has been important to emphasise that there is a humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe, which requires humanitarian action by the Department for International Development. Secondly, I would point at the support for the SADC movement, including in its election role. Thirdly, it is criticalnot least given that there are 4 million refugees outside the country, which already calls into question the election processes and resultthat we none the less support international demands from the European Union, the Commonwealth and elsewhere for proper observation missions that allow an on-the-ground assessment of how the election campaign and the election counting are conducted.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Having served his sentence in Zimbabwe, my constituent, Mr. Simon Mann, has been illegally handed over by Zimbabwe to a dictator in Equatorial Guinea who has promised to sodomise him, skin him alive and drag him through the streets of the capital city. What steps can the Government take against Zimbabwe for the outrageous breach of my constituents human rights when he was handed over before his appeal procedures were completed, and what assurance can there be for
David Miliband: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that our first priority is Mr. Manns immediate welfare and the legal case against him. That is why we have put such emphasis on consular access, which has now been granted, and on making representations to the Government of Equatorial Guinea in the UK. I am pleased that we have received assurances from the Equatorial Guinean authorities that Mr. Mann will be treated well in detention. Obviously, we are monitoring that through continued consular access. A number of welfare points were raised during the visit of 12 February. We are taking them up and, within the limits of what we are allowed to disclose by Mr. Manns family, I would be happy for the hon. Gentleman to see the explanations that we have received. He is right to raise both the humanitarian and the legal side of the case. Those are our current focus, and we can in due course turn to the role of the Government of Zimbabwe once Mr. Manns future has been determined.
If we intervene as voters, we get spat on...I realised how cross I felt about the inter-governmental plotthere is no other wordto deny everyone a say on the new Lisbon Treaty, the rebranded version of the failed constitution killed off by French and Dutch referendums...The underlying assumption is that were far too stupid to understand.
Mr. Murphy: Far from it. The fact is that only one country across the EU is having a referendum: our good friends in Ireland. The hon. Gentleman quotes from Saturdays Financial Times. I thought he was going to quote his colleague, MEP Caroline Jackson, in yesterdays Financial Times, who described his partys policy as a hopeless quest and said that the party was developing
a bad reputation...for crass and offensive behaviour,
and she went on to describe his partys European policy as a patch of poisonous fungus. The truth is that the Conservative party is more obsessed about, and isolated on, Europe now than at any time in modern history.
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): How many EU countries that are not having referendums are led by governing parties that promised a referendum before an election and then broke that promise after the election, or is the UK unique in that respect?
Mr. Murphy: The right hon. Gentleman knows all about them from having been deputy Chief Whip during the Maastricht debacle. The fact is that nine countriesnine separate sovereign statespromised a referendum on the old constitution. Only Ireland intends to hold a referendum, on the basis that it is in adherence with its domestic 1937 constitution, which originates from the constitution of the Irish Free State of 1922 and a High Court ruling of 1987. Opposition Members should recognise that we have an entirely different domestic constitutional arrangement from that of our good friends in the Republic of Ireland.
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): The Minister will know that I had the pleasure of visiting East Renfrewshire last week in support of the I Want a Referendum campaign, which is running a referendum in his constituency. I must tell him that a lot of his own constituents do not agree with him on this issue. He and his Government might continue to deny the British people the referendum that they were so clearly promised in Labours manifesto, but what will the Minister for Europe do if even his own constituents, who sent him to this place, vote against him on the issue?
Mr. Murphy: At the start of our debates and proceedings on the Lisbon treaty, I joked that I was looking forward to spending more time with the hon. Gentleman than with my own wife. He popped into my house last Friday to visit my wife [Laughter.] I was not at home. Inexplicably, she had sent me out for the day. The constituent who lives with me, and I, have both decided to bin the ballot, and I believe that most of my constituents and those across the other nine areas where these local referendums are being held will do so too. They will recognise this as an expensive, ineffective publicity stunt by the Conservative party.
The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): Arms smuggling into Gaza remains a great concern. The United Kingdom has not made representations to the Palestinian Authority on this subject. We understand the problems that the authority has with Hamas, which seized control of Gaza nine months ago. However, we support the work of the Quadrilateral Committee, which consists of the Palestinian Authority, Israel, Egypt and the United States, and has been working closely to address the smuggling issue.
Mrs. Ellman: The people of Sderot are under daily bombardment from Gaza, a situation made possible by smuggled arms, by explosives disguised as humanitarian aid and by terrorists coming into Gaza from Iran, Syria and Egypt. Given that reply, will the Minister assure me that he will make renewed representations to both the Palestinian Authority and Egypt? Does he accept that the current representations are inadequate to deal with the growing humanitarian problem faced by the people of Gaza?
Dr. Howells: Yes, I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. I can also tell her that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Egyptian Foreign Minister this morning and that the border was mentioned in that discussion. We know of the conditions that people are suffering from in Sderotmore than 2,000 rockets and mortar rounds have been fired at that town since Hamas took over nine months ago. She is also right to highlight the terrible humanitarian plight of so many people living in Gaza. We are seeking to ameliorate that by urging the Israeli Government to ensure that adequate supplies of fuel oil, for example, are allowed into Gaza and the west bank.
Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): Is it not true that the real losers are the people living in the Gaza strip? Given that any overall peace settlement between the west, the Israeli people and the Palestinian Authority must also include the authorities in Gaza, what is the British Governments strategy for including them in such dialogue at some stage, whether that be through the Egyptian Government or otherwise? What is our thinking about that?
Dr. Howells: Our thinking is certainly that we support President Abbas, Prime Minister Fayyad and the negotiating team that is talking to the Israelis post-Annapolis. Hamas must renounce violence, and it must recognise the validity of existing agreements and the right of Israel to exist without being bombed and rocketed. If it does that, we would have no difficulty talking to its representatives. We want everybody to play a part in rebuilding Gaza and the west bank. That will not happen at the moment. We certainly have no intention of undercutting the authority of President Abbas and his Government.
Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): The smuggling of arms is also happening in Lebanon, but little can be done about that while the crisis in that country continues. I understand that the Prime Minister of Lebanon is meeting our Prime Minister today, and that is welcome recognition, but what more will the Government do to bring that crisis to an end, so that we can have stability in that country?
Dr. Howells: I know that Lebanon is not that far from Gaza, but my hon. Friend is ingenious in raising that issue. He is right: one of the common variables is Syria, and we would like Damascus to stop supporting the rejectionists of the two-state solution. We would also like Damascus to stop supporting the smuggling of arms into Lebanon, which is in a very fragile state.
Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): Given that much of the smuggling into Gaza is done by the Bedouin tribes through deep tunnels, I am curious as to what conversations the Minister has had with his counterpart in Egypt about gaining greater control over the Bedouins and the smuggling that they are carrying out.
Dr. Howells: The area is not just open desert. There are large urban centres and the hon. Gentleman will know how difficult it was to stop smuggling in Berlin. It is not easy. The material goes down inside one house and emerges up through another house. It is very difficult to stop, and we have talked to the Egyptians about how they might control it. The best suggestion that I have heard so far is for a 20 ft deep trench on each side of the border. That would probably uncover about 50 tunnels.
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab):
Is it not a fact that what was being smuggled into the Gaza strip from Egypt, while the opportunity was there, was food and fuel to ameliorate the starvation and the terrible poverty of the people of Gaza; that President Abbass influence in Gaza is nil; and that the stranglehold of Hamas over the Gaza strip, with terrible deaths among the Gaza people and the Israelis,
will continue until a meaningful peace dialogue is started? It did not start at Annapolis and it will not start until pressure is put on both sides.
Dr. Howells: I certainly do not agree with my right hon. Friend that there is not a dialogue proceeding: I believe that there is one, and I am glad to see it happening. I agree with him that the images that we all saw on our televisions of Palestinians living in Gaza smuggling food back into the Gaza strip was a revelation that told us a lot about the situation inside Gaza and the desperate circumstances of its people. But as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) pointed out, the difficulty is that while food and other requirements are being smuggled in, so are arms. As the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) said, the people who are suffering as a consequence are the Palestinians living in Gaza, because they suffer from the blockades and the retaliation against those extremists who fire rockets and mortar rounds into Israel.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Meg Munn): The Government are aware that the Dalai Lama is planning to visit the UK in May this year. The Dalai Lamas representatives in the UK will make the arrangements for that visit.
Norman Baker: I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, as far as it goes. She will be aware of the significant concern on both sides of the House about Chinas human rights record. Although Steven Spielbergs comments about Darfur have taken the headlines, she will be aware of the gross abuse of human rights in Tibet and the fact that if Chinese migration continues, Tibet will be finished within 10 years as a possible nation state. Given that Angela Merkel, George Bush and the leaders of other countries have met the Dalai Lama, can the Minister say whether the Prime Minister intends to do so?
Meg Munn: As I have said, the visit is some way off and arrangements have not yet been made. Diaries will need to be consulted nearer the time. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we urge China to engage in serious negotiations with the Dalai Lamas representatives to build a peaceful, sustainable and legitimate solution for Tibet.
Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab):
May I urge the Minister and the Government to meet the Dalai Lama when he visits this country? I welcome the fact that the Government have turned from the Prescott philosophy, which is that we cannot tackle China on human rights, to doing so when it matters on issues such as Darfur. It matters over Tibet, too. The Governments policy is that there should be autonomy for Tibetans and the Dalai Lama is the representative of most Tibetans. I urge the Minister, in a gentle way,
to ensure that the leaders of this Government meet him when he comes to this country.
Meg Munn: We take very seriously the issue of human rights and China. The UK-China human rights dialogue took place at the end of January and included a field trip to Tibet and calls on a range of administrative bodies in the Tibet autonomous region. We are keen to ensure that work is ongoing to improve human rights and we will continue that dialogue with China.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): When the Minister next meets her Chinese counterpart, will she remind him that the people of Tibet do not want independence but autonomy and cultural protection? In that regard, does she agree with the 14th Dalai Lama that the next Dalai Lama should be chosen by the people of Tibet through a referendum, not imposed by a regime in Beijing that has no regard for religious minorities?
Meg Munn: I assure the hon. Gentleman that my noble friend Lord Malloch-Brown, who has responsibility for our relationships with China, raises issues of human rights regularly with his counterpart. We continue to regard Tibet as autonomous while recognising the special position of the Chinese authorities there, and we make those points when we meet them.
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