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8. Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): What role his Department will have in monitoring the conduct of the forthcoming presidential elections in Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement. [276072]

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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Bill Rammell): The United Kingdom is committed to supporting a credible, Afghan-led electoral process, and that includes supporting international election observation. We are working with EU partners to encourage and support an EU elections observation mission. United Kingdom officials in Afghanistan will be involved in in-country observation efforts undertaken by diplomatic missions and provincial reconstruction teams.

Mr. Burns: Given the levels of violence in Afghanistan, does the Minister think there are sufficient troops to perform the difficult task of supporting and monitoring the forthcoming elections?

Bill Rammell: Yes, I do. The key, overriding responsibility rests with the Afghan-led security forces themselves. The whole strategy has been based on capacity building so that they can take on that task. The recent commitment to a significant expansion in those forces is welcome, but of course they will be backed up by the international security assistance force.

Des Browne (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab): I think my hon. Friend will agree that the success of our strategy for Afghanistan is dependent on a credible election—credible to the people of Afghanistan, that is. Does he also agree that one simple thing we can do to ensure that they receive the message that we support credible elections in Afghanistan is repeatedly to say—and encourage the American Administration to say—that our support for democracy constitutes support for the institutions of democracy in Afghanistan and not for any individual candidates?

Bill Rammell: That is emphatically the case. It is important and, with the will of the international community, the Afghan Administration and the independent electoral commission, we need to ensure that, as was the case in 2004-05, these election results represent the will of the Afghan people, regardless of which candidates eventually succeed.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): Many outside observers—and, indeed, people inside Afghanistan—have been very concerned not only about the level of violence, but about the level of corruption. Has the Foreign Office laid down its own set of criteria by which the election outcome can be judged? This matter is very important, because if there are any questions in people’s minds that the new President has been elected, or re-elected, largely on a corrupt agenda, that will undermine all the efforts we and our allies are putting in.

Bill Rammell: It was the case that the 2004-05 election results were credible and that they represented the will of the Afghan people. I think that, with the support of the international community, that can be the case again, but it is clearly incumbent on all the candidates to focus in their election platforms on ensuring governance, security and development; they need to be at the forefront of their efforts as they move towards an election.

Topical Questions

T1. [276089] Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (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): The results of the Indian elections represent a resounding reaffirmation of the health of the world’s largest democracy. The Congress party and its allies now have a strong mandate and India has the prospect of another five years of stable, progressive government. This is a particular tribute to the work of Prime Minister Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. We look forward to continuing to work closely with the new Indian Government to address the many urgent global and regional challenges we face.

Rob Marris: Speaking of regional challenges, I recognise the great efforts of the United Kingdom Government in Sri Lanka in past months. It has been very difficult. What prospects are there of a process of reconciliation in Sri Lanka now?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend raises a particularly important point. Obviously, we are very focused, as is the whole international community, on the humanitarian situation, but equally important now that the fighting and territorial conflict seem to be over is having a genuine political process towards an inclusive political settlement for all the Sri Lankan people. President Rajapaksa’s speech today to the Sri Lankan Parliament is very important. It sets out some commitments in respect of the equal rights of all Sri Lankans. It is vital that the international community works with the Sri Lankan Government to ensure that that is finally fulfilled.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Further to the earlier question of the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne) about Colombia, will the Foreign Secretary or the Under-Secretary of State say a little more about the particular categories of civilians being singled out for abduction, torture and slaughter? Reference was made by a number of hon. Members to trade unions, but am I not right in thinking that also very prominent on the list, as one would expect from an odious regime, are journalists?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Gillian Merron): The hon. Gentleman is quite right to raise that issue. This is why one of the projects we are undertaking and funding is to do with establishing a free media. It is also true that it is not only journalists—and trade unionists—who have difficulty in speaking out; so, too, do other members of civil society and, indeed, indigenous people. The truth is that for as long as any one of those groups is unable to speak out without fear, there will always be difficulty, and that is not in the interests of a free and fair Colombia.

Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): Further to the Secretary of State’s response to the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), may I tell the Secretary of State that my constituent Dr. Omar Mangoush and three medical colleagues have been detained since last Friday at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Palestine? Will he accept a representation from me to see what we can do to persuade the Egyptian Government to release this group of people bent on a humanitarian mission?

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David Miliband: Certainly, and I am pleased to report to my hon. Friend that the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Bill Rammell), will be travelling to Egypt today and will be able to take with him—

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): You ask a question and you get your trip!

David Miliband: No, the trip was organised before the question, but I am pleased that the Minister of State will be able to take the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) directly to the people who matter, and we will certainly get the details from him before the Minister departs.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): The Foreign Secretary spoke rightly a few moments ago about the importance of reconciliation and reconstruction in Sri Lanka—a process that must be as big a test for its Government as the military conflict that is coming to an end. In that regard, will he consider the proposal put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), the shadow Defence Secretary, when he was in Sri Lanka two months ago, for an internationally managed development fund to channel relief aid to the north of the country? Would that not be a mechanism that the international Tamil diaspora could constructively support and that would be seen as independent and impartial? Will the Government join us in putting forward such a proposal—or will they put forward their own equivalent—as well as saying to the Sri Lankan Government that it is time to engage all ethnic groups in a genuine political process, so that this military victory does not turn into a renewed insurgency?

David Miliband: We have been discussing all options for the delivery of funding to Sri Lanka. It is important to say that until now the focus has been on humanitarian help, for reasons that I imagine the right hon. Gentleman will understand.

When it comes to reconstruction, a wide range of funds will be delivered to Sri Lanka. The country has a bid in for International Monetary Fund funding and there has been discussion in this House over the past two months about the appropriateness of such funding, but I assure him that nothing has been ruled out. The crucial issues for us will be: first, to ensure that there is genuine international support; secondly, to ensure that the money reaches the right people; and thirdly, and obviously, to ensure that it is properly meshed with the arrangements being made by the Government of Sri Lanka. One particular on which work is under way is demining, because the areas that have been “cleared” and now need to be repopulated include those that had a lot of mines laid by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam—the LTTE. That is a particular issue where I know that there is a need for help and we want to ensure that it reaches the right place.

Mr. Hague: I very much accept what the Foreign Secretary says, but will he examine this already worked-up proposal? He has done a lot, although he has often been checked at the United Nations, to focus international attention on the crisis in Sri Lanka, and I hope he will take the message from across this House that we support
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his calls for unfettered access for international agencies to what have been the conflict zones and to internally displaced persons camps.

Finally, on the question of support, given widespread reports that the Foreign Secretary is about to be replaced by Lord Mandelson, may I invite him to agree that in the 21st century the appointment by an unelected Prime Minister of an unelected Foreign Secretary in an unelected House would be a very good argument for an immediate general election?

David Miliband: I shall take that as warm good wishes from the right hon. Gentleman. Whether or not they are good for my prospects is an open question, but suffice it to say that I look forward to at least another year of the jousting that we have had across the Dispatch Box.

T4. [276092] Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will know that more than 250,000 Tamils are in refugee camps in the northern region of Sri Lanka and that no independent monitors or journalists are allowed into that region. Given that situation, the fear of reprisals and the fears about the removal of evidence of atrocities, will he do everything he can to inform the Sri Lankan Government that they will never win the peace unless they allow the United Nations monitors in at the earliest possible opportunity?

David Miliband: It is right to recognise that my hon. Friend has been a doughty, principled and passionate advocate of not only her constituents but all civilians in Sri Lanka. Her call for the maximum transparency and the maximum access is in the interests of not only the people of Sri Lanka who have suffered, but all those committed to Sri Lanka’s future, because it is precisely the sort of access and transparency that she advocates that will be essential for any kind of reconciliation or political settlement to take place. I said in this House two weeks ago that a war without witness was being fought in the north of the country and, in many ways, that is the most dangerous kind of war, because it makes winning the peace that much more difficult. I assure her that the commitments to openness and access that were reflected in my written ministerial statement today will be followed up by the Government at all levels.

T2. [276090] Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): Following the totally unjustified actions by the Burmese authorities in moving Aung San Suu Kyi and five of her supporters to jail, and as the authorities in Burma spent more than 50 per cent. of their budget on arms and armed forces in order to suppress their own people and prop up their rotten Government, will the Foreign Secretary undertake a new initiative with the United Nations to see what further sanctions can be applied to Burma, including a worldwide arms ban?

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Bill Rammell): We have been at the forefront of the case for sanctions against the Burmese regime. We recently saw the rollover of EU sanctions. The recent actions have been reprehensible—the Prime Minister led the way internationally last week in condemning them—and the re-arrest last week suggests that the
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Burmese regime was intent on finding any pretext, no matter how tenuous, to extend Aung San Suu Kyi’s unlawful detention. While thousands of political prisoners are still locked up in jail, including Aung San Suu Kyi, there cannot be credible elections in Burma next year.

T3. [276091] Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): Is not the lesson from Northern Ireland for the middle east peace process that all parties need to be involved? What steps is the Foreign Secretary taking to ensure that Hamas is involved in the forthcoming peace talks?

David Miliband: One can debate long and hard the lessons of Northern Ireland, but one lesson is that all sides need to renounce violence. That will be the basis for a political settlement in the middle east.

T6. [276094] Colin Burgon (Elmet) (Lab): Our foreign policy towards Cuba is that Ministers will not visit Cuba. The Minister will be aware that this month the Canadians sent their Foreign Minister, thus meaning that the Heads of State or Ministers of 16 countries have visited Cuba. Would the Minister be willing to meet a group of us who think that our current policy is wrong for the Cuban people and wrong for Britain, too?

Gillian Merron: I will be very happy to meet my hon. Friend and other hon. Members to discuss our policy on Cuba. Our policy is continually to develop good relations with Cuba, which we have. On the issue of ministerial visits, my hon. Friend knows that I would be delighted to visit Cuba, but the difficulty is that the Cuban authorities indicate that, regrettably, they feel it would not be appropriate for British Ministers to meet the Opposition. I hope the hon. Gentleman understands. Perhaps he could assist me with this, as we need to see some change in that situation to allow me or other British Ministers to visit Cuba, in line with the EU common position.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement today on Sri Lanka, for his emphasis on humanitarian aid and for his comments in answer to other hon. Members about the importance of transparency and UN monitors as well as the need for President Rajapaksa to reach out to the wider Tamil community to get a wider political solution. However, is not the key lesson from this horrific suffering that the international community has reduced influence when countries such as China prevent a united international position? May I prevail on the Foreign Secretary, in a week in which he has lauded the emergence of China as a major power, to urge his Chinese counterparts not to shirk their responsibilities as a major power but to deliver the same message to the Government of Sri Lanka as Britain and the EU?

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that disunity in the international community terribly undermines any sort of effectiveness in it. He will know that in Beijing in February 2008 I argued for responsibility from all powers, not just to their own citizens but to the international system, too. That obviously applies to China as an important member of the UN Security Council, and I hope that our increased engagement with the Chinese authorities means that we will be able
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to find more common ground of the sort that he describes. Whether in the case of Sri Lanka, Iran or any of the great major conflicts that we face, disunity breeds impotence and it is vital that that is overcome.

T7. [276095] Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): Many opponents of the European Union are telling people that as much as 75 per cent. of the legislation debated in the House comes from Europe. What assessment has my right hon. Friend’s Department made of that assertion and can she give us some more information?

The Minister for Europe (Caroline Flint): It is absolutely rubbish to say that 75 per cent. of legislation comes from Brussels. In fact, the House of Commons Library produced an independent research paper demonstrating that between 1998 and 2005 only 9 per cent. of statutory instruments were actually about implementing European legislation. The other important point to remember is that often when we have domestic laws other European countries are mindful of them, so we do not have to implement anything because we are able to negotiate a position that reflects our current situation. That is about having influence—about having people listen to us—and I am pleased that we have more friends and allies in Europe in 2009 than we inherited in 1997.

T5. [276093] Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): With regard to point 9 of the 2008 UK action plan, which gives to the countries of origin joint responsibility for preventing the trafficking of human beings, will the Minister meet the Foreign Secretary of China and tell him exactly how human trafficking actually works from China? Young people, mostly children, are trafficked across from China and when they are on the plane they either swallow their passport or put it down the loo. Having come to Gatwick, they claim not as trafficked humans but as asylum seekers. They are brought to a care home just outside Gatwick and within two hours they have disappeared: their trafficker rings them on a mobile and off they go, and are lost for
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ever. Is the Minister aware of that and will he talk about it to the Foreign Secretary in China?

Bill Rammell: I know the hon. Gentleman has taken a keen interest in these issues and I pay tribute to that. We have an important bilateral relationship with China, and one of the key elements of that relationship is seeing greater co-operation and improvement in both migration and trafficking. We take those issues up on a regular basis, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to talk to me about them privately, I shall happily take that further.

T8. [276096] Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole) (Lab): On a recent visit to Washington, I was very impressed by all that the Obama Administration are doing to try to rebuild trust and faith in the American presidency and Administration across the world, in stark contrast to the President’s predecessor. Given how closely our Government were associated with the Bush regime, I wonder what my right hon. Friend is doing to back the Obama Administration so that we too can help to rebuild trust across the world.

David Miliband: We want to build trust across the world on the basis of what we do, and what we do with our allies, and our long-standing relationship with the United States stands us in very good stead. The Obama Administration share not only priorities but values with the UK Government. In respect of the new American President’s outreach to the Islamic world and in respect of issues such as climate change, and also in his determination to get to grips with the middle east process, he has made a flying start in the past 120 days. He has made a start that is rebuilding America’s reputation around the world.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. We are over time, and I have tried to take the questions that were on the Order Paper.

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