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House of Commons

Tuesday 19 January 2010

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Business before questions

Beverley Freemen Bill [ Lords]

Bill read the Third time and passed, without amendment.

Oral Answers to Questions

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Secretary of State was asked-


1. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): When he next expects to meet his EU counterparts to discuss EU relations with Zimbabwe. [311313]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): Zimbabwe will be considered by EU Foreign Ministers during the course of February, and I look forward to having discussions then. The UK and the EU are strong supporters of the global political agreement-the GPA-and we will continue to press for progress. We welcome the recent agreement of the GPA signatories to establish key commissions, and we urge implementation of that agreement.

Mr. Bellingham: I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for that reply. Does he agree that, although the economic news coming out of Zimbabwe is now more promising, there are still huge concerns about human rights abuses and about the detention of Movement for Democratic Change MPs such as Roy Bennett? Does he also agree that the existing sanctions should not be lifted until those issues have been dealt with?

David Miliband: Yes, I agree that numerous aspects of the situation in Zimbabwe are of deep concern. It is right to say that, over the past year, the economic situation has changed in a quite fundamental way, although it is not quite right to refer to the detention of Roy Bennett as a continued threat to him through a legal case.

In respect of sanctions, we have made it clear that they can be lifted only in a calibrated way, as progress is made. That is something that we will discuss. I do not think that it is right to say that the choice is between lifting all sanctions and lifting none at all. We have to calibrate our response to the progress on the ground,
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and, above all, to be guided by what the MDC says to us about the conditions under which it is working and leading the country.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): Does the Foreign Secretary share my concern that President Zuma of South Africa has not challenged Mugabe and the MDC fully to carry out the terms of the global political agreement? He seems continually to be urging compromise on the MDC.

David Miliband: President Zuma is playing a careful hand, and he is playing it rather skilfully. The Prime Minister was able to discuss Zimbabwe, among other things, with him at the Commonwealth conference in November. President Zuma will be making a state visit to the UK in early March, and I have had discussions with my South African opposite number. The position of the South Africans has certainly been to urge adherence to the global political agreement, which requires compromise on all sides, and I do not think that they have been less than even-handed in the way in which they have done that.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): Should not all European Union Governments recognise that Morgan Tsvangirai was right to enter into a coalition with Robert Mugabe, if there was to be a prospect of peaceful change? Is it not worth remembering that even Nelson Mandela entered into a coalition with the white South African National party, and that Solidarity in Poland entered into a coalition with the communists? They all recognised that change has to be gradual if it is to have any chance of producing peaceful stability.

David Miliband: No European country, to my knowledge, has condemned Mr. Tsvangirai for the move that he made. I am not sure what the implication of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's question was, but I hope that it was not to question the fact that this is a transitional agreement whose conclusion will be a proper democratic election that respects the will of the Zimbabwean people. There was a hint in what he was saying that there is perhaps-to echo the term used by my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey)-rather more compromise with Robert Mugabe than the mood of the House would wish. Mr. Tsvangirai's position has been well established, however: he has shown himself to be a man not only of principle but of competence, and we should support him strongly.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): There is one EU member country that has a very direct effect on Zimbabwe, through the Kimberley diamond certification process. Belgium is a member of that process. Will the Foreign Secretary speak to his Belgian counterpart about the human rights abuses in the diamond mines in Zimbabwe, and discuss whether it would be right to threaten suspension of the Kimberley process in order to ensure that the human rights of people working in the diamond mines are protected?

David Miliband: As it happens, I now have another new Belgian opposite number in the new Belgian Government. I spoke to him at the end of last week. I will be happy to talk to him about a range of issues, including Zimbabwe, when I next meet him.

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Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): The Foreign Secretary has talked about specific EU targeted sanctions, and said that they should be calibrated. Will he explain which of the current EU sanctions are really having an effect and encouraging ZANU-PF to move towards removing the human rights abuses that have been in place for so long?

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman will know that a range of EU sanctions is in place. Some of them refer to individuals, others to so-called parastatal organisations. Different sanctions have been brought in at different points, and different sanctions are the responsibility of different ministries in the Zimbabwean system. Some are controlled by the MDC. I would be happy to give the hon. Gentleman a more detailed answer, but I think that it might detain the House beyond the time available for the question. I believe that EU sanctions have helped to send a strong message, and that they have had a practical effect without hurting the Zimbabwean people, which would have been a sanction too far.

Middle East

2. Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): What his most recent assessment is of progress towards peace in the middle east; and if he will make a statement. [311314]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): There is a huge degree of concern in the middle east and around the world at the deadlock in the drive for a credible route to a credible state for the Palestinians, enabling them to live alongside a secure Israel. The UK shares this concern and therefore strongly supports the efforts of Senator Mitchell to establish such a process with such a goal.

Andrew Rosindell: Does the Foreign Secretary share my horror that the rocket attacks from Gaza against Israel continue unabated? Will he tell us what the Government are doing to put pressure on the Palestinian authorities to end this outrage and what they are doing to jump start the peace process with Senator Mitchell via the European Union?

David Miliband: I am happy to share with the hon. Gentleman a condemnation of rocket attacks, although I think he has to be very careful indeed before he puts those rocket attacks at the door of the Palestinian Authority, which he sought to do. As he will know, the rocket attacks come from Gaza, and the tragedy of the Palestinians is that the Palestinian Authority does not have control over Gaza. I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not want to send a message from the House that there is condemnation of President Abbas or Prime Minister Fayyad-who, frankly, offer the best hope for the Palestinians-rather than of Hamas, which is sending the rockets.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that I returned yesterday from leading a delegation of 60 European parliamentarians from 13 countries, including 11 from this Parliament, to Gaza where we saw for ourselves the appalling destruction inflicted on civilian life by the Israelis. We visited a United Nations school where dozens of people seeking refuge were killed or maimed and heard from children
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how they saw their parents being killed before their eyes. When is action going to be taken to lift this illegal siege and bring justice to the Palestinians?

David Miliband: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the other side of the coin to the rocket attacks from Gaza is the siege of Gaza. The flow of humanitarian aid has proceeded from a trickle after the Gaza war to a rather larger number of lorries and a greater volume of aid getting through, but he is also right to say that the current levels of aid going in are below what the United Nations says is the minimum necessary to establish decent life in Gaza, never mind to improve or reconstruct the situation. He will know that resolution 1860, passed by the United Nations Security Council about a year ago under British sponsorship, calls both for an end to arms smuggling and the firing of rockets and for the lifting of the blockade on Gaza. It is important to say that that applies from the Egyptian as well as the Israeli side.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Particularly as the Egyptians tighten the border around Rafah, what is the Foreign Secretary's understanding of the responsibilities of the Israelis under the Geneva convention towards Gaza as an occupied territory?

David Miliband: I am not going to give the hon. Gentleman a legal answer, but a political one. The responsibilities of both the Israeli Government and the Egyptians are laid out very clearly in UN Security Council resolution 1860. The Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), who has responsibility for the middle east, was in Cairo last week. It is important to send a message of support for President Mubarak's recent meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu. The Egyptian effort to play a positive role in restarting the peace talks is something that I welcomed in private discussion with Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit last week and the whole House should support it more generally.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is outrageous that Tzipi Livni, a strong supporter of the two-state solution, is unable to visit this country to discuss the way through to peace, providing justice for both Israelis and Palestinians, for fear of arrest? When is action going to be taken to stop this deplorable state of affairs?

David Miliband: It is very important that this country, as a permanent member of the Security Council, is able to talk to all leaders from around the world who are involved in conflicts and disputes, including those from Israel, including Mrs. Livni. That is not in contradiction to our determination to uphold our responsibilities for so-called universal jurisdiction; it is a cross-party consensus in the House that we must be the people who uphold international law on war crimes, which we did in 2005 in respect of an Afghan warlord. We do ourselves no good by preventing ourselves from having a serious discussion with the Israeli Government or the Israeli opposition on these important issues.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that we will not get peace or reconciliation in the middle east unless the people of
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Gaza can see some hope not only of reconstruction, but of a normal life in the future? To that end, what representations has he been making to the Governments of Egypt and Israel about reopening the crossing points further, and about whether an international presence on the ground might be needed as part of any agreement?

David Miliband: This issue is raised by the Prime Minister, myself and the International Development Secretary in all our contacts with both the Israeli Government and the Egyptians. The hon. Gentleman is right to point, as have other hon. Members, to the fact that Gaza has to be part of the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It cannot be left until last. However, the Palestinian divisions do neither them nor the prospects of peace any good.

The hon. Gentleman will also know that the Gaza issue has become tied up with the question of the continued detention of Corporal Shalit. This is a further complication, and it is in everybody's interests both that Corporal Shalit is released as soon as possible and that the Israeli Government and the Egyptians honour their responsibilities as enunciated in resolution 1860 as soon as possible.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): Did my right hon. Friend see last night's "Panorama" report, which sketched very graphically the systematic dispossession and expropriation of Palestinian properties in East Jerusalem? It appears to many of us that Israel feels it can do this without consequence, even though the international community may express displeasure. Will he say what the consequences for Israel could be if it continues with that illegal policy?

David Miliband: I am sorry to have to tell my hon. Friend that I did not watch last night's "Panorama" programme as I was otherwise occupied. The point he makes is important, however, because, as we know, Jerusalem is the tinderbox to beat all tinderboxes, and the process of evictions in East Jerusalem-never mind the settlement building-is a direct threat to the achievement of the sort of peace and stability that would be vital for any peace talks to make progress. It is important that the international community does express displeasure-to repeat the word my hon. Friend used-and it is also very important that all sides honour the commitments required of them under United Nations and other resolutions.

British Victims of Crime

3. Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): What support his Department provides to British citizens who are victims of crime abroad. [311315]

The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant): The support we provide to British citizens who are victims of crime abroad varies enormously from person to person. It might include the following: giving general information about local police and legal procedures; giving details of local lawyers, doctors, hospitals and translators; contacting relatives or friends; or providing specific help if a British national has suffered rape or serious assault, or is in hospital.

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Greg Mulholland: Mark Aveyard died tragically in suspicious circumstances in Gran Canaria, and there is clear evidence that the Spanish police have not properly investigated his death. However, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff's response to the grieving family was to say, "Go and find yourself a Spanish lawyer." I am afraid that that was not an acceptable response in helping a family whose son may have been the victim of a serious crime abroad. Will the Minister meet me and the family to discuss this very serious case?

Chris Bryant: Of course I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and the family. He and I have already exchanged several letters on the issue, and I send my condolences to the family of Mr. Aveyard. This must be particularly distressing for a family in a country where they do not fully understand the legal system or speak the language. However, the difficulty for the Foreign Office and consular staff is that, as I think the hon. Gentleman will accept, it is not possible for them to provide legal advice, and often the most important piece of advice we can give is to make sure that people have access to a lawyer who speaks English.

Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East) (Lab): On crime abroad, Google last week identified e-mail accounts that had been hacked into by people based in China. Hillary Clinton has said this is so serious that she has raised it with the Chinese. Does the Foreign Office intend to do the same, and what reassurance can the Minister give the Foreign Office staff who use the Microsoft browsers about which the Germans and the French have said, "Please don't use"?

Chris Bryant: I am not quite sure what this has got to do with British citizens abroad, but my hon. Friend is, of course, absolutely right to say that we should take up every instance of human rights abuses in China with the Chinese authorities, and we do so constantly. A vital element of the free society that we aspire to for China is free access to the internet and the ability to live without censorship.


4. Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): What his latest assessment is of the political situation in Iran; and if he will make a statement. [311316]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): The Iranian Government continue to face protests from their own people following the disputed elections in June. The abuse of the human rights of demonstrators has fuelled concern in the country. The Iranian Government's problems are exacerbated by a poor economic situation of their own making. Attempts to blame the United Kingdom for any of the post-election disturbances are not only wrong but an insult to the intelligence of the Iranian people.

Mr. Amess: I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will accept that Iran is the biggest sponsor of terror against British troops in Afghanistan and Iraq as a result of its supplying explosively formed penetrators to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. If that is the case, what are the British
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Government trying to do to stop the supply of these weapons and funds to Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza?

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that in a wide range of countries there is evidence of Iranian support for terrorist groups. However, I do not think one should believe that the sum of the problems in Afghanistan is down to the Iranian Government. Iran has a border with Afghanistan, it has to deal with a range of problems that are exported from Afghanistan to Iran and it has a range of links with a variety of groups in Afghanistan. In many of our debates about Afghanistan we have talked about the importance of engagement with its neighbours, but I do not think that that particular neighbour is the primary source of the problem in Afghanistan, however much it has failed to play the sort of constructive role across the country that is important. One final point that should not be forgotten is that in the west of Afghanistan-in provinces such as Herat-the Iranian influence is strong but the situation is relatively peaceful.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): In the context of Iran's nuclear power, be it civil or for weapons, have we made any progress in persuading Moscow that an Iranian nuclear weapon would be much more immediately threatening to the Russians than it would be to us in western Europe?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend makes an important point. All the members of the E3 plus 3-the European three plus America, China and Russia-oppose the development of an Iranian nuclear weapons programme. All of us support an Iranian civilian nuclear programme, as long as we can be sure that it is not leaking into a military programme. That applies as much to the Russian authorities, for the obvious reasons that he points out, as it does to the other members of the E3 plus 3 and the rest of the United Nations Security Council. After all, on five occasions the Security Council has said to the Iranian regime that it needs to take action to comply with its international obligations and on three occasions it has imposed sanctions towards that end.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): Earlier this month, Secretary Clinton said:

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