|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): The Prime Minister set out in April 2009 the Government's strategy on Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is a comprehensive approach that draws on the range of security, political and development levers in pursuit of our objectives and those of the international community as a whole. The test of effectiveness is on the ground, and it is widely recognised that the co-operation in the civilian-military mission in Helmand, which is led by the UK, is the best of its kind.
Mr. Touhig: At the London conference, my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and for International Development worked very hard to ensure that human rights, particularly women's rights, were high on the agenda. Can the Foreign Secretary tell us what progress has been made to ensure that human rights, and in particular women's rights, are protected throughout Afghanistan?
David Miliband: My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. The only basis for guaranteeing human rights is first, decent security, and secondly, the rule of law according to the Afghan constitution. That is why I think that since the London conference the major effort in Helmand province, including in Marjah, has been a significant step towards that goal. However, the strengthening of the constitutional framework at the national level remains a priority for the new Government.
Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): What terms of reference has the Foreign Secretary set for the latest review of the Helmand road map and, crucially, how do they differ from those used two years ago?
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that we continue to support the Afghans in order to improve their Government's capacity? We are still undertaking a similar process in Iraq, so does he welcome the forthcoming Iraqi elections as the next stage in that?
David Miliband: I certainly welcome the democratic advance in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan. I am sure that everyone will recognise the significant role that my right hon. Friend has played in strengthening human rights in Iraq and the example that she has set for our work in Afghanistan too.
Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): Last month, President Karzai signed a decree amending the electoral law to allow him to choose all five members of the Electoral Complaints Commission and exclude the three non-Afghan members. Is the Foreign Secretary not concerned that the impartiality of the commission will now be called into question? It was very important, given the issues that it raised, at the previous elections. Should we not be bringing all pressure to bear on President Karzai, because this is what our troops are fighting for-democracy in Afghanistan?
David Miliband: Yes, I am very concerned, to use the hon. Gentleman's words, about the perception that might be raised about the impartiality of the Electoral Complaints Commission. The Electoral Complaints Commission, which sits alongside the so-called independent Electoral Commission, played a critical role in rooting out fraud in the presidential elections. The best way of making our views clear is to say the same thing in public as in private, which is that the people who are appointed to the panel will be scrutinised very carefully. If they are not to be internationals, they need to be people of the highest quality and integrity. I certainly hope that President Karzai chooses international representatives precisely to tackle the perception dangers raised by the hon. Gentleman.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): Argentina has made a number of recent protests on this issue. The Government have made it clear that we have no doubt about the United Kingdom's sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. The principle of self-determination underlies that. There can be no negotiations on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands unless and until such a time as the Falkland islanders so wish it. They have made it clear that they have no such wish.
The best way of supporting legal and appropriate economic development around the Falkland Islands is to uphold the rule of international law. That is precisely what we are doing in the case of
the hydrocarbons exploration that is going on at the moment. The companies are acting wholly within their rights and within the legality of international law- [ Interruption. ] I am happy to answer a question from the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) if he would like to put it properly rather than from a sedentary position. There is a good answer to his question, if he chooses to ask it, concerning where the proceeds go. The best way to secure such rights is for international law to be upheld.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): May I thank the Foreign Secretary for his unequivocal and reassuring response to the original question? Will he tell the House what special action has been taken to ensure that the mistakes of the early 1980s are not repeated and that the Argentines are given no encouragement whatever to think that they can take unprovoked, provocative action against a sovereign country and an independent people?
David Miliband: The most important way in which we can continue to secure the Falkland islanders' right to determine their own future is to continue the security presence that we have in the area. We do so on a routine and uninterrupted basis, and that is very important. We will continue to maintain in international forums as well as bilaterally with the Argentine Government the importance of upholding international law.
Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East) (Lab): The people of the Falkland Islands have very broad shoulders and they deal with Argentine sabre-rattling with great resilience. They do so because they know that all Members of this House give them our full support. May I ask the Foreign Secretary to consider sending one of his Ministers to the Falkland Islands before the general election so that they know that they have our solidarity and support and our very best wishes may be taken to them?
David Miliband: I am not sure whether my hon. Friend is suggesting that our military capacity and security presence somehow needs the reinforcement of a ministerial flak jacket in the Falkland Islands. My hon. Friend the Minister for Europe has been extremely active bilaterally both within the European Union and with other South American countries. It is important that we say that the right of the Falkland Islands to self-determination is absolute while, at the same time, continuing to work for co-operation with the Argentines, for example in the forum of the G20, which is a good forum for international co-operation.
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): When the Foreign Secretary next meets the Argentine chargé d'affaires, will he perhaps suggest that the development of hydrocarbons around the Falkland Islands could benefit the people of Argentina as well as the people of the Falklands if Argentina were prepared to undertake normal commercial relations with the Falkland Islands, but that on questions of democracy and self-determination we cannot compromise?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not making a suggestion regarding the proceeds from that exploration. Perhaps he is trying to answer the question that the hon. Member for Moray raised earlier.
I assure him that I do not have to go to see the Argentine chargé d'affaires, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe met the Argentine chargé on Friday and was able to discuss this issue fully and in the round.
Mr. Davidson: I am very glad to hear that, because Buckfast is a noxious substance that causes tremendous difficulties with antisocial behaviour and crime in my constituency and throughout the west of Scotland. It is very welcome news that Bermuda is considering banning it, and I welcome the fact that the Government will not intervene to prevent the Bermudans from doing so. Will the Minister undertake to give them a warm welcome when the new aircraft carriers visit Bermuda?
"This world is a comedy to those that think, and a tragedy to those that feel."
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the issues relating to Buckfast. The Government in Bermuda have not made it clear that they want to ban it, but they have made it clear that they are considering the issue. They have already decided to reclassify some other alcoholic and caffeine drinks.
10. Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): What representations he has received on the effects on the indigenous Tibetan population of his Department's change of policy in relation to the status of Tibet. 
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): The decision to update our position on Tibet brought the UK into line with international partners, including the United States, and the position of the Dalai Lama himself. It gives us a stronger platform to raise the issues that matter to the people of Tibet, and we have been raising those issues. I have been very clear in my contacts with the Chinese leadership that we have serious concerns with the human rights situation and the lack of meaningful autonomy in Tibet. I have urged them to engage in dialogue, and I will do so again when I visit China later this month.
I am grateful for the response that I have been given, and I recognise that the Government have been doing lobbying of that nature, but I am concerned that there has not been one single concrete achievement for the Tibetan people as a consequence of that change of policy. I do not refer to the visit to Tibet by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis),
as that was not for the Tibetan people. Can the Foreign Secretary, in all honesty, point to a single thing that has been achieved for the people of Tibet arising from that change?
David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. In the end, the test is whether there is an improvement in conditions on the ground. If we are to have any kind of engagement on that internal issue, we have to do so through forums such as the human rights dialogue that we have now established with China, in relation to which there has recently been a visit to Tibet. Such engagement is important, and I look forward to reporting back on the discussions that I shall have in China later this month.
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): Has my right hon. Friend any information about the whereabouts of the Panchen Lama, who was for all practical purposes kidnapped at the age of five or six by the Chinese Government and has not been heard of since, even now, about 15 years later? Has my right hon. Friend ever asked the Chinese about the whereabouts of the Panchen Lama?
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Ivan Lewis): Iranian authorities continue to suppress legitimate protest, restrict civil liberties and threaten violence, even execution, to silence dissent, but the Iranian people continue to demand their fundamental rights. We urge the authorities to respect the right of their citizens to be heard.
Mr. Amess: Efforts for peaceful regime change seem to have stalled at the moment, but the Iranian President continues with his development of nuclear weapons and his hatred of Israel. Will the Minister tell the House what specific pressure is being put on the Iranian regime to improve its human rights record?
Mr. Lewis: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the issue at this time. Amnesty International says that it is the worst human rights situation for 20 years. The way in which the Iranian authorities attempted to quell protests during the national day celebrations has rightly been described as
"a chilling campaign of threats and intimidation".
We, in the context of the European Union and with our allies in the United Nations and the United States, constantly apply pressure to the Iranians about their human rights record and their nuclear file.
Frankly, we have reached out an olive branch to Iran. We have offered a diplomatic and political way forward but, instead of getting a positive response, we have seen a deterioration in internal human rights there. In addition,
Iran has not co-operated in meeting its responsibilities under international obligations with regard to its nuclear weapons capacity. That is why we now believe that the only way forward is to consider tougher economic sanctions against Iran.
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): Has the Minister had any discussions with representatives from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which involves Russia, China, India and Pakistan among others, to see whether it can exert pressure on the Iranians to cease their nuclear installation programme?
Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): Is the Minister aware that on 14 February, in the presence of representatives of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Iranian authorities transferred almost their total supply of low-enriched uranium from a deeply protected underground facility to a surface plant, for no obvious reason? Does the Foreign Office have a view about why that might have happened, particularly as it makes the country's very valuable enriched uranium far more vulnerable to possible military action?
Mr. Lewis: This has been discussed in the IAEA only this week. It is a serious escalation of the situation that should give the international community more cause for concern. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman is fully aware, it is essential that we achieve international unity over the next stage, which is adopting economic sanctions, especially against the decision makers in the regime. We have seen no attempt by the Iranian authorities to respond positively to our requests for diplomatic and political solutions. The door remains open, but we have no choice now but to consider economic sanctions.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I thank the Minister for what he said about human rights in Iran and I agree with him on that. Will he look forward to the non-proliferation treaty review in May and extend efforts to create a nuclear-free middle east? That would help to defuse the situation and bring Israel into discussions about nuclear disarmament, which in turn would remove any arguments that could be used in favour of developing nuclear weapons in the region.
Mr. Lewis: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Every UN resolution on the question of Iran's nuclear weapons capacity that has been proposed and passed talks about a middle east that is free of nuclear weapons. As a result, it is simply untrue for the Iranians to say, as they sometimes attempt to do, that we are not playing on a level playing field when it comes to our response to their nuclear weapons capacity. We should remember that this is not just about the threat to the stability of the middle east that would be posed by Iran developing nuclear weapons. The arms race that would be triggered in the region would be like nothing we have ever seen before, and that is why it is so crucial that we stop Iran developing nuclear weapons.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|