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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Is the right hon. Lady confident that enough is being done to address the problems of the countries of eastern Europe that 20 years ago were members of the Warsaw pact, and which now see their hopes collapsing around them and their economies in shreds?

Caroline Flint: The hon. Gentleman asks an important question. We need to be clear that some, not all, countries in eastern Europe are facing difficulties at this time. I agree with the Prime Minister, who said in a speech only the other week that it is important that we ensure within the European Union family that none of the members is left behind. That is why the G20 is important, but also important is what happens afterwards to ensure that Europe comes out of this recession stronger and better able to equip itself for the future.

Burundi and the Great Lakes

9. Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the political situation in Burundi and the great lakes region. [267603]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Gillian Merron): Burundi has made some progress while recovering from the legacy of a long civil war. However, elections next year will be a real test for its fragile democracy. The recent co-operation between the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Rwanda offers the best prospects for peace in the great lakes region, which we warmly welcome.

Mary Creagh: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. On a recent visit to Burundi, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) and I heard concerns from civil society and opposition parties about the elections that are due next year. We met journalists and trade unionists who had been imprisoned for criticising the President—two of whom, happily, have now been released. Will my hon. Friend ensure that we do everything in our power as the UK Government to support those elections and, critically, what happens in the post-election period, which has traditionally been the time when violent acts take place, so that the country can continue down the path of peace that its people have chosen?

Gillian Merron: First, I thank my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) for the excellent work that they did when they went to Burundi in promoting good democratic practice by working with parliamentarians there. We were very glad to support that.

I can assure my hon. Friend that along with the Department for International Development we are working very closely with international partners to assess the potential risks in the lead-up to the elections and how we can best take action to head off those risks in advance of the elections and beyond. I would be delighted to meet both my hon. Friends in order to discuss how we might bring that forward.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I, too, was impressed by the Minister’s original answer to the question. Does she accept, however, that it is not appropriate to force western European democracy on to cultures
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that are very different from those in Europe? We need to look at the systems of democracy that we seek to help countries to develop in accordance with their needs and cultures. If we do so, we can perhaps find an acceptable arrangement that will not lead to the bloodshed that has been so typical in that part of the world.

Gillian Merron: May I first wish the hon. Gentleman a very happy birthday? [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] That clearly commands support in all parts of the House.

This is not about imposing models of democracy, but about assisting with the development of good governance. I share the hon. Gentleman’s view that good governance in Africa needs stability, growth and development. That is the purpose of the work that we do in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and in DFID. I can assure him that we will work closely not only with Governments but with non-governmental organisations, civil society and the media to give them a voice in ensuring that their countries can be stable, absent from the bloodshed that he mentions, and can move forward.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): In the next two years, there are crucial elections in three countries of the great lakes region—Burundi, Rwanda and the DRC. The evidence strongly suggests that in countries that have come out of long periods of conflict, it is always the second democratic election that can mark the turning point. Will my hon. Friend do everything possible to support the integrity and transparency of the electoral process in those three countries over the next two years?

Gillian Merron: I share that view, but I should also say that we welcome the good signs of progress that we have seen in the region, particularly the serious and constructive work that the key leaders have done together, which has meant the restoration of diplomatic links and co-operation on matters such as reintegration. That proves that the solution is never just military, but also political. We will continue to support that process.


10. Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with his Pakistani counterpart on relations between the UK and Pakistan. [267604]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): I maintain regular and frequent contact with Foreign Minister Qureshi, Prime Minister Gilani and President Zardari, as well as opposition figures in Pakistan. Our recent discussions have covered political development, stability in Pakistan’s tribal areas and in Swat and prosecuting those responsible for the attacks in Mumbai.

Mr. Crabb: I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for that reply. Even before yesterday’s brutal attack, President Zardari had appeared on UK media outlets appealing for direct and urgent UK assistance for Pakistan in tackling its Taliban problem. According to some reports, the Taliban control vast swathes of the Swat valley. Can the Foreign Secretary spell out how he intends to respond to that appeal, and what practical assistance we can give
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to Pakistan? If Pakistan continues its slide into bloodshed and violence, the consequences for the entire region will be catastrophic.

David Miliband: There are three or four ways in which we can respond to the needs of Pakistan. We are close friends of the Pakistani people, as well as of the Pakistani Government and the political parties. As well as the economic aid, which is substantial—not just the Department for International Development programmes, which amount to £500 million, but the International Monetary Fund loan, which we strongly supported and which is being well implemented—we can offer security support, which obviously we do not detail publicly. Finally, we can offer political engagement with Pakistan. It is significant that today, the United States Government have called a meeting in The Hague to discuss with the whole region the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that the US has proposed setting up a trilateral body of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US to work on economic and security issues. Those are two examples of what has come out of the Riedel review on Afghanistan and Pakistan, both of which have the strong support of the British Government. Such political engagement with the problems in Pakistan and Afghanistan is essential.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary will be aware that Her Majesty’s Government have recently taken steps to suspend the constitution of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Although the population there are grateful for the corruption probe that is taking place, is he aware that they are anxious that the Government should work with all the countries in the region to restore democracy to that country as soon as possible?

Mr. Speaker: Order. I could not hear properly because I was distracted, but I do not think that that supplementary is tied to the question before us. Perhaps the hon. Lady is thinking of topical questions. We will try Mr. MacShane—I think that he will be able to get it right.

Hon. Members: No!

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Set up again, Mr. Speaker, with your usual courtesy.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Foreign Office should never use the ugly acronym “AfPak”, which is patronising and condescending to the nation of Pakistan? Secondly, will he take the shadow Foreign Secretary behind Mr. Speaker’s Chair and agree with him that we have to talk about India if we are to get a solution on Pakistan. Finally, can we get more free trade going on Pakistan— [ Interruption. ] Well, I was invited to ask a question by the Speaker. [Hon. Members: “Not three!”] I chanced my arm. I hope that I can have an answer to all three questions.

David Miliband: I must say that I am disappointed not to have had the third part of my right hon. Friend’s question.

The situation in Pakistan deserves the full engagement of the UK. My view on its immediate responsibilities is that it must ensure that those responsible for the Mumbai attacks are prosecuted and, if found guilty, punished.
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There is no way in which the necessary dialogue between India and Pakistan can be restored until confidence is established that the Pakistani authorities will prosecute and punish, if found guilty, those responsible for the Mumbai attacks. On that basis, President Obama spelt out the regional equities very well last week.

Topical Questions

T1. [267620] Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): I visited Basra and Baghdad at the end of last month on 26 and 27 February. Today in Basra there is a ceremony marking the handover of coalition divisional command. Multi National Division (South-East), led by British troops, has done so much to stabilise southern Iraq, and the handover signals the merger of MND (South-East) with MND centre to form a new MND (South) command for all nine provinces of southern Iraq. Over the next few months, the final draw-down of British forces will take place while civilian engagement from the UK rises. As the first majority Shi’a democracy in the Arab world, Iraq’s future success matters to the whole region, and we will be working with the Iraqi Government and people for that success.

Michael Fabricant: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. He answered at great length earlier questions about Iran and its nuclear programme, but may I press him on other Iranian activities? He will be aware that The Times newspaper believes that some 40 British soldiers have been killed by Iranian roadside bombs and that Iran is funding Hezbollah, Hamas and the Taliban. Iran is fast becoming a rogue state. Is there any positive action that we can engage in to try to bring Iran back into the international fold?

David Miliband: Yes, there is positive action that we can take. First, we can ensure proper interdiction of the sort that the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Bill Rammell), referred to, so that our troops are properly defended. Secondly, we can make it absolutely clear in the diplomatic engagement not just by us but, crucially, by the United States, that if Iran seeks a normal relationship with the rest of the region, it must behave responsibly. The hon. Gentleman cites a number of areas in which Iranian behaviour needs to change. The important point that has changed, though, is that it is now clear that saying to the Iranian Government that it is behaviour change that we seek, not regime change, can be done with unity and clarity right across the west.

T2. [267621] Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that a Government who spend 25 per cent. of their gross domestic product on weapons, who regularly work in an environment in which journalists are assassinated and nobody is ever found, and who drop cluster bombs on their own people are unlikely to give way to quiet diplomacy? Does he agree that now is the time for action against the Sri Lankan Government, such as removing them from the Commonwealth, to make it absolutely clear where this country stands?

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David Miliband: The passion that my hon. Friend brings to this issue is well merited. Democratic Governments are held to higher standards than terrorist organisations, and the actions of the Sri Lankan Government in respect of the 150,000 to 200,000 people in the north-east of the country have fallen below the expectations of people all around the world. That is why we have unequivocally called for a ceasefire. The fact that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have herded people into that zone is no excuse for the actions of the Sri Lankan Government.

The rules of the Commonwealth are quite clear: it is democratic norms that are the foundation of membership. An important part of the power of our argument and our international action—including by the special envoy, who was discussed earlier—comes from making it clear to the Sri Lankan Government that if they isolate themselves from international norms, they will cause grave damage to all the people of Sri Lanka.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): I know from what the Foreign Secretary has already said that he will agree that the United States White Paper on Afghanistan and Pakistan, published at the end of last week, is very much to be welcomed. In December, the Prime Minister announced that he would be leading the UK review of policy on Afghanistan. Now that the United States has published its review, will the Foreign Secretary undertake that the British Government will complete and publish the review led by the Prime Minister? In particular, will he ensure that it is published and put before Parliament before any final decisions are made about the commitment of additional British forces to Afghanistan?

David Miliband: I think that the right hon. Gentleman asked about this in the House at the end of last year. I said that initial results from our review had been fed into the American review, which is right. I, too, am pleased by a significant number of the aspects of the Riedel review, the so-called “review of reviews” by the President’s appointee. The Prime Minister will discuss Afghanistan and Pakistan with the President tomorrow, and there will be EU-US discussion later.

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, troop numbers are decided on the basis of the situation on the ground, and they will always be reported to this House at the appropriate time.

Mr. Hague: The Prime Minister referred in December to a UK review. There would be great disappointment in the House if the British Government did not produce a review—a basis—for decisions that are to be made. General Sir Richard Dannatt seems to have gone ahead of Ministers by giving journalists the impression that 2,000 additional troops will be deployed. Is that an accurate number in the minds of Ministers? Will the Foreign Secretary assure the House that, if the Government are to authorise additional troops, they will entirely satisfy themselves that those troops will be accompanied by the right equipment, including the right number of helicopters, the right civilian back-up of every kind, and some reasonable prospect of a well-thought-out political process running alongside their difficult military mission?

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David Miliband: I can certainly confirm that no decision has been made to send 2,000 troops or any other number to Afghanistan. Indeed, the UK has not been asked by the United States for any more troops, although we always keep the number under review for obvious reasons. The right hon. Gentleman knows that there has been some increase in the number of troops precisely to ensure better protection of the troops who are already there. The defence and protection of our troops is prominent in the minds of military commanders, as well as those of Ministers.

As the right hon. Gentleman knows from the debate about Afghanistan that we held earlier this year, it is vital that the Afghan Government lead the drive for a political solution under the tag of reconciliation. It is also right that the Afghan Government must be clear that the contract of which President Obama spoke last week includes a crackdown on corruption, which does so much to sap the confidence of the Afghan people, never mind the international community, in progress in that country.

T4. [267623] Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): On Afghanistan, is my right hon. Friend confident that the sort of security in Iraq that he mentioned in his opening remarks in topical questions will be sufficient to hold presidential elections this year?

David Miliband: We have always taken the view that elections need to be credible. Not only presidential but parliamentary elections are due next year—the latter are rarely discussed. Sustainable security improvements are vital for presidential and parliamentary elections. It is dangerous to profess confidence, but I am confident that a significant number of measures, including deploying extra troops from the US and the Afghan national army, are designed to ensure security for people seeking to exercise their democratic right on 20 August.

T3. [267622] Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): I know that the Foreign Secretary was as saddened as I was by the death of two young soldiers and a policeman in Ulster recently. I wonder whether he is therefore as disappointed as me by the indecent haste with which the security apparatus in the north seems to have been dismantled. Will he assure me that initiatives are in place to drive forward intelligence sharing with the Eire Government, so that we end the recent bloodshed as quickly as possible?

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman speaks with great experience and he well knows that we are careful about discussing the details—or any sort of substance—of intelligence-sharing arrangements. The House shares a determination to ensure that those who perpetrated the terrible crimes, which claimed the lives of the soldiers, are brought to justice, and that everything is done to ensure the safety of soldiers—those who are stationed in Northern Ireland and also those, as in this terrible case, who are on their way to Afghanistan. They must be properly protected.

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