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Bill Rammell: I say to my hon. Friend, who takes a serious interest in these issues, that we have not talked in terms of an exclusively military strategy—a point that I have tried to make repeatedly this afternoon—but
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we need to implement the strategy that we have in place. I strongly believe that it is the right strategy. It has a military component, but it has many other elements as well. It is the right strategy, and we need to ensure that we implement it and that it works.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): Now that our ambassador in Kabul and our senior combat commander in Helmand province have both confirmed the wisdom of the advice that I have been giving to Ministers—for a period almost longer than the second world war—that the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable, will Ministers now do their best to support the internal Afghan peace settlement negotiations that are taking place at this very moment in Mecca?

Bill Rammell: We certainly want to see progress made. With regard to the ambassador’s comments, which were reported in Le Canard encha√(r)né, I did not believe what I read in that newspaper when I was an undergraduate living in Paris, and I certainly do not believe it today. It is not an accurate description of the views of our ambassador or of the British Government. We need to make progress and that is what we are determined to do.

Female Circumcision

8. Mrs. Linda Riordan (Halifax) (Lab/Co-op): What recent reports he has received on the practice of female circumcision in other countries; and if he will make a statement. [224420]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Gillian Merron): The UK Government condemn female genital mutilation as an extreme violation of women’s and girls’ human rights—a violation to which the World Health Organisation estimates up to 140 million women and girls have been subjected. We work through international organisations to eradicate the practice, which is now a criminal offence in the UK.

Mrs. Riordan: I thank the Minister for that reply. At least 2 million girls are thought to be subjected to the barbaric practice of female circumcision every year. The process is painful, dangerous and extremely frightening; the girls are often held down and forcibly circumcised. Will the Minister confirm again that she will do everything that she can, working with the World Health Organisation and the United Nations, to put an end to that inhumane practice?

Gillian Merron: I certainly can confirm that. I congratulate my hon. Friend on being a long-standing campaigner against that abuse. Last year, the UK Government gave about £64 million to support the work of the UN agencies and the World Health Organisation in their commitment to stop female genital mutilation in one generation. That will be used to fund work with civil society and traditional, religious and political leaders, to help to change the attitudes of women as well as men, because that is what needs to happen.

Topical Questions

T1. [224345] Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

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The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for International Development and I led a ministerial team for this year’s UN General Assembly ministerial week. The Prime Minister’s personal commitment contributed significantly to the success of the Secretary-General’s high-level event on the millennium development goals. I took forward our work on several of our top-priority foreign policy issues, from Pakistan to Afghanistan to Burma. The Security Council agreed a new resolution on Iran, and I had useful discussions on Somalia, Sudan, the middle east peace process, Georgia and international peacekeeping.

Mr. Martlew: During the summer I visited Romania, and was able to see the prosperity and hope that membership of the EU had brought to that country. Can my right hon. Friend tell me what progress is being made on the application from the Republic of Macedonia? It, too, could benefit from the prosperity that being a member of the EU would bring.

The Minister for Europe (Caroline Flint): As my hon. Friend knows, Macedonia is an EU candidate country and has made real progress against the benchmarks this year. However, work still needs to be done to improve on the conduct of elections and to strengthen political dialogue and legislative processes. A progress report from the European Commission is due in November, and that will provide an important assessment. I understand that the Macedonian Deputy Prime Minister in charge of European integration is coming to London next week; I hope to have the time to meet him.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): May I, as shadow Foreign Secretary, join the tributes to the Ministers who have left the Front Bench, particularly the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), who has gone, but whose disarmingly frank answers were a model to follow? We are not sure quite what the Foreign Secretary did over the recess to warrant the clear-out of his entire Commons team by the Prime Minister—but we can have a good guess.

We welcome the new Ministers to the Front Bench. We welcome, too, the written statement that the Foreign Secretary made yesterday about Georgia and Russia. In that statement he noted, of course, that the talks on a future partnership agreement between Russia and the EU are still suspended. Will he set out what he thinks the criteria are for the resumption of those talks? Should they not include not only the implementation by Russia of the six points of the 12 August ceasefire plan, but the facilitation of the return of Georgian refugees to their homes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia? Would it not be inappropriate to resume those talks if Russia were, in effect, a party to ethnic cleansing?

David Miliband: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his kind words to my hon. Friends. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) is no longer here—

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): He is a great man.

David Miliband: He is indeed a great man. I will make sure that he hears the words of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague).

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In respect of the Georgia-Russia issue, the right hon. Gentleman has raised two factors that are certainly two of the “criteria”, to use his word, that we should use in deciding whether to re-engage on the partnership and co-operation agreement. He will know that an audit is under way of all EU-Russia relations, from the cultural and diplomatic right through to those that involve research, or other political issues. When that audit is complete, we will take a view in the round about the right way forward.

Mr. Hague: Moving on from the main foreign policy crisis of the past two months to the pre-emption, I hope, of a future crisis, the Foreign Secretary gave a written answer yesterday saying that he had written to his EU colleagues to ask for greater EU focus on Bosnia-Herzegovina. Does he therefore share our alarm that after last week’s Defence Ministers meeting, some of them said that there would now be a plan for the withdrawal of the remaining international troops from Bosnia? Will he go further than writing a letter, and say that in the view of Britain—given the current precarious position in Bosnia, the calls for the destruction of that state, and the efforts by Russia, in particular, to close down prematurely the office of the high representative—the withdrawal of international troops from Bosnia would be a great mistake, which would send the worst possible signal, and that this is a time for united strength, not for any sign of weakness?

David Miliband: It was precisely in the search for united strength that the Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic and I wrote to all our EU colleagues about this issue in July, following a meeting that I had with High Representative Lajc√°k, who is doing an excellent job in Bosnia in very difficult circumstances. The issue of the office of the high representative is a critical one. However, there is an agreement that that office should be closed when the commitments that all parties have made to it have been concluded and implemented in full. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that it remains very much the policy of the British Government that the office of the high representative needs to be supported in the fulfilment of all its functions until such time as those commitments have been fulfilled.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary will be aware of the devastation caused to the Turks and Caicos Islands when hurricane Ike recently passed through the region. Is he aware that the situation continues to be grave, with electricity supplies and telecommunications disrupted and many public and private buildings in need of repair and restoration? Can he satisfy the House that everything possible has been done by the United Kingdom Government to help the Turks and Caicos Islands; and does he agree that in the circumstances it might be appropriate to suspend the current inquiry into the governance of the islands until normality is restored?

David Miliband: I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised the natural tragedy that has occurred in the Turks and Caicos Islands. He is right about the level of devastation, and he can be assured of our commitment to trying to help to remedy the situation. I am very wary of suspending the discussions on the political governance arrangements, because in the end it is precisely those arrangements that will give strength to the people of the
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Turks and Caicos islands themselves in responding to the problems that exist there. We want to support them, but we should be leery of suspending the reform of governance. Particular meetings may have to be rescheduled, but I would be sorry if the process were stopped.

T3. [224347] Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): At this time of turmoil in the financial markets, we look to the European Union to give some guidance, particularly as it is a single market. How can the Foreign Secretary encourage our European partners to put aside potentially very narrow self-interest that could have huge implications for neighbouring countries, and urge them to act in the European interest? [ Interruption . ]

David Miliband: I do not know whether it was one of the Members on the Conservative Front Bench or the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) who just shouted out, “Fat chance”—but the case for co-ordinated European action has been more than demonstrated by the events of the past few weeks, which have made it clear that the interdependence of which my colleagues and I have spoken many times is a reality, not only economically but in other spheres. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is at the ECOFIN meeting today, and that is the most obvious place to reinforce the need for the co-ordination of which the hon. Lady speaks. It is also important to say that next week’s European Council, which the Prime Minister and I will attend—[Hon. Members: “Together?”] Together. That Council, which would originally have focused on issues to do with the Lisbon treaty, will now be significantly devoted to the economic crisis and how Europe should respond to it.

T2. [224346] Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend will be aware that the conflict in northern Uganda involving the Lord’s Resistance Army has displaced more than 2 million people—not only that, but people are living in absolute fear. It has recently been suggested that aid agencies should work in the region. Are the Government taking steps to ensure that peace is finally brought to that area, and that aid gets through to those who most need it?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Gillian Merron): The UK Government remain committed to the success of the Juba peace process, which has already led to sustained peace, security and stability in northern Uganda, and a negotiated peace deal. The door remains open for the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army to sign the final peace agreement. The House will want to know that the UK has so far contributed about £750,000 to the Juba initiative fund to support the mediation process, and I can confirm that the Government have not provided aid directly to the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): May I too welcome the Foreign Secretary’s new team? On these Benches, we will particularly miss the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr. Murphy), with his qualities of soft power—he will need those north of the border, with his new ministerial responsibilities.

On this summer’s crisis in South Ossetia, does the Foreign Secretary recognise that some Members found the response of the Government—and indeed, of the Conservatives—in proposing fast-track membership of
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NATO for Georgia and Ukraine, deeply flawed and lacking any credibility? While the Government were right to criticise Russia in strong terms, does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that NATO is currently in no fit state to give out defence guarantees as if they were confetti? Is he not in danger of undermining NATO, instead of creating the wider diplomatic unity needed to stand up to Russia effectively?

David Miliband: I am sorry to hear that question from the hon. Gentleman, because the discussions and decisions about NATO membership took place in April at the Bucharest summit, rather than during the summer. As it happens, the President of Ukraine was in London yesterday to meet the Prime Minister and myself. Surely it is an important founding principle of this House that sovereign nations with democratic Governments should be able to make their own choices about which international organisations they belong to. The European Union and NATO have clear criteria for membership, and those criteria allow countries to apply. It would not be right to apply those principles with fear or favour. It must be right to respond to countries’ democratic decisions in an open and engaged way.

In respect of Georgia, the NATO-Georgia council established at the emergency NATO meeting was precisely designed to build up Georgia’s capacity for its own armed forces and to build up co-operation with NATO. That seems a sensible and reasonable thing to do in light of the decisions that leaders made in April. A final decision on NATO membership can be made in due course. That is not the issue at the moment; the issue is Russian aggression into Georgia, and whether there should be co-operation between NATO and Georgia. I think that there should be.

T4. [224348] Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the case of my constituent, Mr. Patrick Malluzzo, who is currently serving a 10-year sentence in Kota central jail in Rajasthan, India for drug-trafficking offences. Can I ask my right hon. Friend to ensure that when Mr. Malluzzo’s appeal eventually comes—he has now been waiting for more than two years—there is a British consular presence? His family and I, and Fair Trials International, have a number of concerns about the way in which his initial trial was conducted, as well as his subsequent treatment in prison. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that there is a consular presence at his appeal hearing when a time for it is finally agreed?

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Bill Rammell): I know that my hon. Friend has taken an intense interest in that issue, and has followed it and lobbied on it strongly. We are giving consular assistance to Mr. Patrick Malluzzo and his family. It is not normal practice for us to attend hearings, but we look at matters on a case-by-case basis. I will consider the case when it comes forward, and I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss his concerns.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): Coming so close to the 40th anniversary of the crushing of the Prague spring by the Soviet Union, there was a deep sense of shock throughout Europe to see what happened in Georgia—Russian tanks on the streets of another country. There have been some reports that the
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Russian authorities were rather shocked by the response of the international community. What assessment has the Foreign Secretary made of that, and is he satisfied that he has made all— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. One supplementary question.

David Miliband: The international community has made its view most clear in its failure to follow the Russian lead on recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Two countries followed the Russian lead, and—ironically, given our earlier discussion—Hamas also recognised them, but otherwise the world has been united in refusing to recognise a country created on the basis of force. A clear signal has been given that it must be the rule of law that decides the future map of Europe and its neighbourhood, not force.

T5. [224349] Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): Could my right hon. Friend say what discussion he has had with the caretaker Government of Bangladesh, in particular about the human rights abuses and about support in the run-up to the forthcoming elections?

David Miliband: Yes. The elections are scheduled for 19 December. Since my visit to Bangladesh in February, I have been engaged at both official and ministerial level in ensuring that the elections are carried out in a way that brings credit to the country. The House will be pleased to know that the identity card system that has been introduced in Bangladesh to ensure that everyone has one vote, and not more than one vote, is immensely popular there, and will give women equal rights for the first time. On the human rights situation, which my hon. Friend also raised, there are concerns there. We certainly take up individual cases, as well as making the general point about the need for a democracy to be underpinned by the rule of law and respect for human rights.

T6. [224350] Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands) (Lab): What progress is being made in the EU on a trade agreement with central America, and what can be done to help central America use trade more effectively, both to eradicate poverty and to combat the impact of rising global food prices?

Gillian Merron: The EU has just completed its fourth session negotiations with central American countries on the association agreement in July. The latest session is ongoing and good progress has been made so far. The UK is supporting the EU’s eagerness to push forward in the next session, particularly with regard to sustainable development, and environmental and political issues. On trade and aid, it is probably worth saying that trade is very much a powerful engine for growth, and for poverty reduction. Some 70 per cent. of UK Government aid for supporting trade development is delivered through various multilateral institutions, which enables poor people to trade their way out of poverty.

T7. [224351] Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): The Foreign Secretary will be aware of an article published in Time magazine over the summer in which a former CIA officer claimed that the British territory of Diego Garcia had been used by the US to hold and interrogate terror suspects. What has the Foreign Secretary done proactively to investigate this disturbing claim? Does he now recognise that it is his responsibility to investigate this matter, and will he launch a full Government inquiry—

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