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We did discuss Zimbabwe yesterday, and we welcomed the ban on 11 further members of the regime—and called for its proper enforcement by EU nations this time. We hope, as do Ministers, that more African nations will join the leaders of Kenya and Botswana in saying unequivocally that Mugabe must go. The President
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of Botswana has called—as hon. Members have said—for a fuel blockade, which is a very difficult judgment to reach. I accept the Foreign Secretary’s description of that as a matter of life or death. I suspect that were we in office we would come down on the other side of that judgment, because it is a matter of life or death either way for the people of Zimbabwe, but I understand how difficult it is to make that choice. It is also clear that if the responsibility to protect, to which UN members have signed up, means anything, the UN Security Council should authorise strong sanctions or direct intervention in Zimbabwe. The difficulty is—and this is perhaps the only respect in which I part company with my right hon. and learned Friend, who speaks with great authority and experience on these matters—that there is currently no authority from the UN or the African Union to take such action. I hope that the Government will find stronger support at the UN Security Council than they found earlier in the year, and when they again actively raise the issue of Zimbabwe, they will find that the views of some countries have changed. We continue to believe that it is vital to prepare for the day after Mugabe, with huge aid, security reform and a new and improved Administration, with an over-the-horizon force—supplied by African nations—ready to go in when that is possible and necessary. All those points remain valid, but it is the responsibility of African leaders and nations now to say that Mugabe must go. The need to take action on that is paramount.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): My right hon. Friend will know of my long-standing and deep interest in Zimbabwe. Will he accept that the UK has a special responsibility in that country, bearing in mind that we brought it to independence and presided over the election of Mr. Mugabe? Does he also accept that we may have to consider seriously intervention in Zimbabwe to save the people from starvation and hyperinflation, and now even the tragic disease of cholera? Mr. Mugabe is no longer fit to govern: what are we going to do about co-operating with Africa in seeking intervention?

Mr. Hague: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point and he does have a long-standing interest in these issues. He refers to co-operating with Africa, and that is the nub of the point. Direct intervention in Zimbabwe without the co-operation of South Africa or legal sanction from the UN would be a very difficult thing to bring about. However much we may wish for what he describes, we have to recognise that reality. That is why we must encourage African nations to shoulder their share of the responsibility. It is a crisis that now affects them directly, including people in South Africa and other surrounding nations, but if they stepped up to the plate, it would make all the difference and would allow this country, alongside many others, to bring about the change that we all want to see.

Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend share the concern I felt when I heard recently of a conference of what one might describe as the next generation of African leaders in that region who all expressed the view that Britain was complicit in part of the problem because of what happened at Lancaster house? A major job needs to be done by this and other Governments to educate people that the land issue was resolved at Lancaster house and is not part of
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the problem. The Zimbabwean Government had the option to purchase large amounts of land that they could have distributed among the population. Instead, they kept it for the coterie of thugs around Mugabe. More could be done to educate the next generation of African leaders, who have great potential to help to resolve this problem.

Mr. Hague: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. He is right, and the story to which he draws attention is part of the corruption, mismanagement and despotism with which Robert Mugabe has destroyed his country. This country can be proud of what we have tried to do in Zimbabwe in the past and in recent years, but now we need stronger co-operation from South Africa and other neighbouring states to bring what we hope for to fruition.

We must not forget that the conflict in Darfur goes on—the Foreign Secretary also referred to it. Out of 6 million Darfuris, 5 million are either in camps or relying on food aid to survive. The humanitarian operation there is becoming ever more hazardous, and access to refugees has become increasingly restricted: 11 aid workers have been killed this year. The House will recall that in July last year the Prime Minister and President Sarkozy announced that Darfur would be one of their top priorities and committed themselves to doing everything possible to bring the necessary international presence there, but, 16 months since UN Resolution 1769 was passed, the UN-AU mission has only 10,000 troops and police—less than half what was intended—and is still desperately short of the helicopters that are essential for its effective operation. I accept that the Government share our concern about this state of affairs, but it is now abundantly clear that the Sudanese Government will not act unless under pressure. I hope that Ministers will therefore consider calls for sanctions on the regime. I hope that they will also take a deeply sceptical attitude to the proposed suspension of International Criminal Court proceedings against President Bashir of Sudan in return for Khartoum’s co-operation on other issues—a suspension that risks sending the message to some of the world’s despotic leaders that they can act with impunity while the international community watches but does not act, which is another parallel with Zimbabwe.

More prominent in the headlines has been the appalling violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which was also referred to by the Foreign Secretary. We support the Government in hoping that the talks led by former Nigerian President Obasanjo will be successful. Again, we are concerned about the delay in the deployment of additional UN forces that was authorised on 20 November. The Belgian Foreign Minister has talked of a European force being sent to the DRC while reinforcements of UN peacekeepers are awaited. We would appreciate more information from Ministers, perhaps after this weekend’s summit, about whether it is proposed that that would happen.

Next in the pattern of under-resourced peacekeeping forces and intermittent international political will has been the situation in Somalia and off its coast. The African Union force in Somalia is deployed with barely a third of the troops required under its mandate. Ethiopia has announced that it will soon withdraw its troops, raising the prospect of further violence. The security vacuum is fuelling piracy in the gulf of Aden and beyond. It is almost unbelievable that large-scale piracy
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can take off to such an extent in the modern age, but the fact that it has done so requires a decisive international response.

Of course, naval forces, including our own, are now doing sterling work off the horn of Africa, but I suggest to the Government that two aspects of that work require further attention. First, three naval operations appear to be taking place in the region involving a combined international taskforce, a deployment of the standing NATO maritime group and now an EU maritime operation. Would it not be better if there was a single command for the currently separate EU and NATO missions, especially since NATO is reported to be considering a significant expansion of its operation?

In addition, the rules of engagement appear to differ for the three different missions and there have been some suggestions that the Government have discouraged the Royal Navy from detaining pirates because that might breach their human rights or tempt them to claim asylum in the United Kingdom—

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Hutton) indicated dissent.

Mr. Hague: I am asking whether that is the case, because it was reported in the newspapers. I know not to believe things that are written in the newspapers, but we have to ask Ministers whether they are true. I hope that when the Defence Secretary winds up the debate he can say what the Government are doing to cut through the legal tangle and to find some solution whereby regional states can help in prosecuting apprehended pirates or whereby a temporary international court could be set up to try those who are accused. Without a major international effort to deal with those issues, it seems unlikely that piracy can be defeated and deterred.

Patrick Mercer: Can my right hon. Friend shed any light on why the Government promised before the Queen’s Speech to give extended powers to the Royal Navy and other forces in dealing with instances such as the piracy that he has just mentioned yet seem to have dropped the idea completely from the transport security Bill?

Mr. Hague: I share my hon. Friend’s puzzlement. He is really asking a question of the Defence Secretary, who will reply to the debate, through my speech. As the Defence Secretary is scribbling furiously, I hope that he will answer that question in addition to those that I have raised about the Government’s approach.

Let me turn to the middle east. It is a matter of great relief that the situation in Iraq has continued to improve through the course of this year. In welcoming the fact that our troops should be able to withdraw from Iraq in the coming months, we must never lose sight of the fact that 177 British armed forces personnel or MOD civilians have died serving there and that our forces have now been deployed there for more than 2,000 days, a commitment that is now longer than that for the whole of the second world war.

Alongside our hopes for continued improvement in Iraq, are there not now several issues of particular concern to us in British-Iraqi relations? One of course is the legal status of our troops in Iraq after the expiry of the UN mandate at the end of this month. The Defence Secretary has said that the Government expect to conclude
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an agreement at the end of the year, but I hope that he will be able to tell us when the negotiations began, what the terms might be and what link will be established to the agreement on US forces in Iraq. Very little information has been given to Parliament and there has been no statement on this subject.

I hope that the Government will also raise energetically with the Government of Iraq the human suffering wrought by the targeting of Iraq’s minorities, including its Christian population. I hope they will also emphasise the situation of Iraq’s 4.7 million refugees and displaced people, some of whom are in an increasingly desperate position. The situation is a recipe for instability and radicalisation in the region and must surely be a high priority for this country and our allies in our discussions with Iraqi Ministers.

The Opposition continue to believe that parliamentary accountability and the scrutiny of foreign and defence policy need to be improved, with regular quarterly reports to Parliament of objectives set and goals attained when our troops are deployed overseas in action. The complexity of Iraq’s politics, its military situation and the need for strong regional support mechanisms for the Iraqi state easily merit a full day’s debate in this House, particularly given the expenditure of £6.5 billion of taxpayers’ money on our operations in Iraq.

The impending withdrawal of our forces brings us to two other issues. First, it was announced to the press overnight last night:

[ Interruption. ] I am reading from a newspaper article, but the reports appeared in several newspapers, and in the absence of Government announcements the rest of the House has to make do with what the newspapers say. The report goes on:

for the troops to pull out. Other newspapers lay out the rest of the timetable, saying that the withdrawal will begin in March and will be finished in June.

If it is true, that information should have been given to Parliament in the form of a statement to the House of Commons. If it is not true, the Foreign Secretary, who is shaking his head, can get up and say so. The reports have the appearance of an authoritative leak and since this time national security is involved, perhaps it might be appropriate for the perpetrator to be arrested.

The Government deplore leaks by day and live by them by night. Ministers either have no control over their Departments or are deliberately sanctioning such behaviour. I hope that when the Defence Secretary winds up the debate he will tell us which of those alternatives is true and whether the leak is correct. He can deny it if he wishes to do so.

We certainly hope that our troops can be withdrawn from Iraq as soon as is consistent with the security of that country, but if announcements are good enough for the newspapers, they should be good enough for the House of Commons. The other issue, which we have debated many times already in the House and which has already been brought up in questions to the Home Secretary, is the question of a full-scale inquiry into the
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origins and conduct of the war. In a speech in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago, the Foreign Secretary said that

He must surely agree that if that is the case, it is important to examine what those mistakes were and what has been done to ensure that they will not be repeated.

When we last debated the issue in the House, on 25 March, the Foreign Secretary said that

Since the Government now speak of “tasks completed” and “fundamental change” in our mission in Iraq, and are happy to see it announced in the press that the major deployment of British troops will come to an end in June, it must surely be time for them to make clear their intentions on an inquiry. Once again, I serve notice that if they fail to do that, we will return to the issue during this Session and the continued absence of an inquiry, or its setting up on an inadequate basis, will be rectified immediately on the election of a Conservative Government.

The issues of parliamentary accountability and learning from mistakes bring us to the situation in Afghanistan, which is now much more alarming than that in Iraq. Once again we have British forces performing a role that is nothing short of heroic. The problems they face hardly need restating, so I shall restate them only briefly. Support from other NATO members is either insufficient in quantity or too hedged about with caveats, the civil aid and reconstruction programme is still not sufficiently well co-ordinated, the drugs trade continues on a vast scale and partly finances the insurgency, local police forces are ineffective and mistrusted and corruption still appears to be endemic in the Afghan state. That is quite a list of problems.

It is clearly not within the gift of the British Government to solve all the problems on their own, but it may be no exaggeration to say that the fate of Afghanistan may rest on the review of strategy being conducted by General Petraeus, and on the new momentum that President-elect Obama clearly intends to bring to this area. It seems likely that the US will send a large number of additional troops to Afghanistan and that it will expect other NATO nations to do the same, alongside making a commitment to deploy some troops in the south, where British forces have borne the brunt of the fighting. That should be welcomed, but I hope that Ministers will be clear that any request for additional British forces will be considered in the context of the severe overstretch of our armed forces and their equipment, and of the disproportionate share of the burden that British troops have carried over the past three years.

Like the Government, the Opposition have not ruled out supporting some increase in the level of British forces. We have gone out of our way to support the Government over Afghanistan and we always support our troops when they are deployed in combat but, if we are to support a further increase in our troop levels in Afghanistan, we would expect from the Government a clear explanation of the military necessity and purpose of such a deployment, an increase in the number of helicopters to ensure that our troops are properly mobile,
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improvements in equipment and protection for our troops, better co-ordination of aid and les corruption and better governance by the Afghans.

Furthermore, any additional British commitment should be accompanied by greater commitment by other NATO allies and a step change in the level of their effort and readiness to engage in actual fighting. It should be part of a revised and comprehensive strategy covering all the civil, political and military aspects that I have already mentioned, and it should be followed by improved communication to Parliament of British objectives and the progress in meeting them.

It is only through tabling written questions that we have learned that the UK

and that the Government have

We were also told that the team is now “fully embedded” in the American review process, and that it consists of 17 of our officials in Washington drawn from the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development.

In another written answer—because we have had no recent parliamentary statement on the matter—we also learned on 10 November that the Government had established a “formal review mechanism” this year to produce a detailed periodic assessment of the situation in Afghanistan. Three weeks later, the Prime Minister announced it to the House as if it were a new development. We welcome the review, but it is something that should have been done on a cross-departmental basis at the beginning of the conflict, not many years into it, and it should lead to regular reports to the nation.

The situation in Afghanistan is obviously at or near the top of the foreign policy priorities of the new Administration in Washington, and so it should be. Alongside it, presumably, will be the ever more urgent need for a diplomatic solution to the impasse over Iran’s nuclear programme. The plain fact is that Iran today is on the verge of acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, with all the massive risks that that brings of nuclear proliferation in the middle east or war with Israel.

According to the latest report by the International Atomic Energy Authority, by next month—that is, January—Iran will have accumulated a stockpile of nearly 1,000 kg of low-enriched uranium, an amount considered to be enough to produce 20 kg of weapons-grade uranium, or enough for one nuclear weapon after further enrichment. What stands between Iran and that goal is not, unfortunately, a united international community, but a series of technical hurdles whose resolution is only a matter of time.

We do not know, of course, what opening will be made to Iran by the new US Administration, but we do know that time is running out if the world is not to enter a new era of nuclear insecurity. And whatever initiative the US takes, the chances of Iran responding positively to it must surely be increased if President-elect Obama is speaking from a position of strength and of strong but peaceful European pressure on Iran.

It is now more than a year since the Prime Minister announced that he was working for a ban on European investment in Iranian oil and gas fields, yet as of today there are no restrictions on European companies making
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new investments in such fields. There is still no formal Europe-wide ban on export credit guarantees that subsidise trade with Iran, and a swathe of Iranian companies are still involved in Iran’s nuclear programme, which the United States has targeted but which European nations have not.

I am sure that the Foreign Secretary agrees with me that America’s carrot will be more attractive to Iran if Europe carries a bigger stick. We recognise that it is difficult to achieve European agreement on these issues but it is galling to hear Iran’s deputy Commerce Minister boast, as he did last month, that 67 per cent. of Iran’s $140 billion foreign trade in 2007 came from Europe, and from Germany, France and Italy in particular. He also said:

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