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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 404: debated on Tuesday 6 May 2003

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Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

The Secretary of State was asked

Ukraine

1.

If he will make a statement on the effect of EU tariffs on Ukraine. [111594]

Tariffs on Ukrainian exports to the European Union benefit from most favoured nation treatment. That means that Ukraine is treated as though it were already a member of the World Trade Organisation.

I thank the Minister for his reply. There are serious concerns about possible arms exports from Ukraine to Iraq, allegations of money laundering and the murder of prominent journalists. If Ukraine is to be led along a path towards internationally accepted norms, does he agree that nothing should be done to make it more difficult for it to trade with its neighbours following the accession of the Baltic states to the European Union?

The hon. Gentleman is right, and I raised those points in a recent meeting with State Secretary Chalyi of Kiev, who is responsible for European affairs. Enlargement will be a big opportunity for Ukraine, giving it access to an expanded single market, and, overall, Ukraine's trade with its new EU neighbours should increase as enlargement generates greater wealth in those countries. We have what is called an active new neighbours policy, working constructively with the Kiev Government to try to bring Ukraine closer to the European Union.

I was very interested in that reply. The Minister in turn may be interested to hear that only last week I returned from a trip to Ukraine organised by Peterborough city council—my Peterborough constituency is twinned with the city of Vinnitsa. Members of our delegation were left in no doubt that Ukraine is extremely eager to become a member of the European Union. Will the Minister tell us how the UK Government may assist with that, especially in relation to developing trade links?

I congratulate my hon. Friend and, indeed, the city of Peterborough on those links. It is important that we look beyond the current enlargement of 10 new EU member states to the new neighbours who were all present, including President Kuchma of Ukraine, in Athens for the European conference—an idea initiated by Her Majesty's Government. We will work constructively with the Ukrainian Government to try to bring them closer to their ultimate ambition of membership of the European Union.

Mr. Speaker, you will remember the welcome visit that you kindly hosted only last week of the President of the Rada and other distinguished parliamentary colleagues. Will Her Majesty's Government follow up that excellent initiative with an intensification of the already good relations with Ukraine, an expression of thanks for Ukraine's participation in the coalition of the willing in the recent Iraq crisis—a courageous initiative on its part—and a determination to help Ukrainian agriculture, which has always been the backbone of Ukraine's economy?

We noted Ukraine's deployment of a nuclear, biological and chemical clean-up battalion to Kuwait earlier this month. The hon. Gentleman is correct to draw attention to the welcome commitment of the Ukrainian Government to the conflict to get rid of Saddam Hussein. We are now in discussion with Ukraine about how it might further assist the coalition. The question of Ukrainian agriculture, like the broad problem of agriculture in the whole of Europe, must be set in the context of the need to reform the common agricultural policy.

Iraq

2.

If he will make a statement on the role of Iraqi opposition leaders in the Iraq crisis. [111595]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Mike O'Brien)

I attended the conference of Iraqis in Baghdad last week. That gave me an opportunity to meet internal leaders as well as members of the diaspora opposition. A wide range of local leaders, academics, clerics and secularists were represented. We aim to create a broad-based Iraqi interim administration in a few weeks' time that can lead Iraq towards democracy. It should reflect the Shi'a, Sunni, Chaldean, Kurdish and Turkoman people but also women as well as men.

I am sure that the Minister shares my delight at seeing Iraqi opposition leaders elected to Mosul city council last weekend, but does he agree that the Iraq crisis will not be over until the weapons of mass destruction, about which the war was fought, are found and secured? Does he further agree that, should the intelligence that the Government received before the war be shown to be wanting in that respect, a fundamental review of our intelligence service will be required?

The coalition forces are actively pursuing sites, documentation and individuals connected with Iraq's WMD programmes. Both the United Kingdom and the United States have deployed specialist personnel and will send more in the near future. This investigation will not be a quick process. Saddam had ample opportunity to conceal his WMD programmes and he had considerable experience in concealment, dating back to the early 1990s. The process itself will be painstaking in detail. We want to establish the truth beyond any doubt. We cannot expect the coalition to conduct a proper forensic examination merely in a matter of weeks, so I ask hon. Members to bear with us while we conduct the investigation in what is still in some areas quite a dangerous environment.

Almost every week, I am telephoned by someone in Iraq who is concerned about the preservation of evidence. It is a matter that I have raised here time after time, but I still do not know what our Government are doing on this point. The point that I want to make now is that the mass graves are being uncovered not by forensic scientists or people who can assess the evidence that they are uncovering, but by people who are looking for their sons, daughters and relatives, which one can quite understand. But at the same time, we as the coalition, have a responsibility to preserve that evidence so that it can be used in the trials that will undoubtedly take place.

I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a responsibility to seek to preserve evidence, but in some circumstances it is still a dangerous environment and, within that context, we need to seek to preserve not only some of the sites but some of the documentation, some of which has obviously been disturbed—in some cases deliberately removed and in others ransacked by looters. There is therefore quite a large task to be undertaken, but as soon as we can establish effective security, I agree that our objective needs to be to seek to protect the evidence on which those who have committed such appalling atrocities under Saddam Hussein can be brought to justice.

Is there any reason other than security why the UN inspectors should not return to Iraq to fulfil the mandates given to them by the Security Council under resolutions 1284 and 1441? When does the Minister think that it will be safe for the inspectors to return to Iraq, and is there not now an overwhelming urgency about their return in view of the International Atomic Energy Agency's request today for access to sensitive sites?

Hans Blix himself has said that he believes that the circumstances are dangerous, and it would have been unsuitable to date for the inspectors to seek to return to Iraq and complete their task. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said that it is the Government's hope that inspectors will be able to return to Iraq in due course and that they will be able to give independent oversight of the process of the finding of WMD. However, their objectives will be different. The objective will no longer be detection, more a validation of findings, and our objective is to see if we can ensure that there is some independent oversight of those findings.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked what the other restrictions are. Obviously, we will need to ensure that the United Nations Security Council is satisfied that that is the way to proceed, and we hope that we shall be able to obtain not only further resolutions from the Security Council, but agreement on how inspection and a range of other matters will proceed in relation to Iraq.

In light of my hon. Friend's previous reply, is he saying that validation of weapons of mass destruction, should they be discovered, will be the preserve of UN weapons inspectors, and will they also be responsible for the oversight of the destruction of any such weapons should they be found?

Certainly, it is our view that there should be some independent validation. We hope that the UN Security Council will decide that it can undertake that task through the inspectors, but, to some extent, we have to discuss not only with the United States but with the UN Security Council and with others how we can take this forward. We hope that the inspectors will be able to have a role, but there are still some steps to be taken to ensure that they do.

The vast majority of the people whom I met last week in Baghdad were deeply grateful to the coalition forces for liberating them from the regime of Saddam Hussein. I am afraid that a great many of them were also alarmed about the possibility of being shot, because there has been a huge increase in shootings. What steps does the coalition envisage taking to restore policing to Baghdad, as I believe is our obligation under the terms of the Geneva convention?

As the hon. Gentleman says, it is certainly our obligation to ensure that we establish law and order in Iraq, and we intend to do that. We have already begun the process in Basra, which we took before Baghdad was taken. We already have about 600 Iraqi police officers on the streets to patrol together with our British forces, so steps have been taken there. The Americans took Baghdad later and have begun to get a number of police officers to return to duty. They have begun making some patrols together with Iraqi police officers, so law and order is starting to come under some element of control. However, the situation is much more difficult in Baghdad in many ways. We still think that large numbers of foreign fighters remain in Baghdad and are taking potshots at people. Indeed, while the hon. Gentleman and I were in Iraq, we saw each other in Baghdad, and while I was doing an interview and he was watching, shots were fired in the background. There is still firing and it is still a dangerous place, but we are seeking to establish order.

Middle East

3.

If he will make a statement on progress with the road map for peace between Israel and Palestine. [111596]

5.

What progress has been achieved with the road map for the middle east; and if he will make a statement. [111598]

11.

If he will make a statement on progress on the middle east road map. [111604]

The publication of the Quartet's road map on 30 April is a major opportunity for both sides to work with international support to achieve a just and lasting settlement to this terrible conflict. All in the international community have worked hard over recent months to reach this point. We expect both sides to respond positively and to start implementation without delay. We shall continue to do all we can to help the parties to reach a settlement.

For the convenience of the House, I should like to announce here the appointment of our outgoing ambassador to Cairo, John Sawers, as the British Government special representative to Iraq. Mr. Sawers will work alongside Chris Segar, head of the newly opened British office in Baghdad, particularly in relation to the political process and our work in the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, but will he outline to the House what role, if any, Yasser Arafat has to play in this process? Secondly, is he convinced that President Bush and Ariel Sharon are genuine in seeking some sort of settlement with the Palestinians?

Yasser Arafat remains Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, but under reforms that we were happy to support, encourage and indeed facilitate in two sets of meetings in London earlier this year, there have been constitutional changes under which a Prime Minister has been chosen, his appointment endorsed by the representative Palestinian Legislative Council and a Cabinet appointed. Abu Mazen and his Cabinet will undertake most of the detailed work on the implementation of the road map, and we welcome that development.

We believe that the Israeli Government are indeed committed to the process. As for President Bush, I am in no doubt personally of his profound commitment to implement the road map and to see implementation of resolutions 242 and 338, as well as resolution 1397, which for the first time laid down the commitment of the Security Council, with full United States backing, to a two-state solution—a secure state of Israel alongside a viable state of Palestine.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the only basis for a lasting settlement in the middle east will involve a secure state of Israel alongside a viable Palestinian state? Does he agree that that requires the Quartet to deliver commitment, courage and determination to make that vision a reality: and, if so, will he encourage it to do so?

Yes, I would. The process requires courage and determination on all sides—not only from the Palestinians and the Israelis, but from the Arab states, which have clear responsibilities to end their support and financing of terrorism and, in due course, fully to recognise the state of Israel.

Will my right hon. Friend make clear the Government's position on Israel's continued activity and settlement in the occupied territories, and does he agree that it is illegal under international law and an absolute obstacle to peace?

It is a matter of legal fact that the settlements are unlawful under international law. Under the road map, we look first to an end to further settlement activity, then, as part of the progress that is mapped out in that document, to a progressive withdrawal by Israel from those settlements.

Do our Government take the position that our US allies are right to continue to include Syria in their list of states that are sponsors of terrorism?

Syria is one of the states in the region that supports rejectionist terrorist organisations operating in Israel and the occupied territories, and we look to Syria to recognise the new realities on the ground and to end such support.

We all welcome the road map. I particularly welcome the Foreign Secretary's reference to the neighbouring states. Does he agree that they could act as a road block, causing detours, if they do not recognise Israel's right to exist in the area?

Let me make it clear that I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but that some of the neighbouring states have played a profoundly constructive role in getting to this point. I would particularly mention—this is not an exclusive list—the work of Jordan, the work of Saudi Arabia and the initiative of Crown Prince Abdullah, and the work of Egypt, especially that of President Mubarak and Omar Suleiman, the head of intelligence, in sponsoring and facilitating the process. The hon. Gentleman is of course right that every Arab and Islamic state has a responsibility to support the process, which will lead to what they say they want—namely, peace in the middle east.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the information that the British-born terrorists who last week committed the Tel Aviv nightclub outrage received support from Damascus reinforces the need for Syria to remove itself from supporting terrorism? What specific actions are the Government taking to ensure that that end is achieved in order to give the road map to peace a chance?

I refer my hon. Friend to my answer to the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis). The President of Syria and his colleagues have recently had many conversations on the matter, including with my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), who is the Foreign Office Minister responsible, and with Secretary of State Colin Powell, who visited Damascus last week and delivered, as did my hon. Friend, very firm messages to the Syrian Government about their need to take fully into account the changed circumstances in the region.

I welcome the appointment of John Sawers as the special representative in Iraq. I am sure that he will be a great asset in bringing the process to a sensible resolution.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that we must be wary not to vest in the road map an element of magic, and that it will ultimately depend on the political will of the Israeli Government and the Palestinians to march along it and successfully to negotiate the details within it? Does he agree that the key is reciprocity—the confidence on each side that the steps laid out are being matched on the other side? What mechanisms will ensure that the reciprocal steps that are made are publicised, thus helping to build and sustain that confidence? Is it not essential that the Quartet, whatever their previous views, are now seen to he completely even-handed in their approach?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his agreement and acceptance regarding the importance of the appointment of John Sawers. I should explain that Mr. Sawers will come to work for me as the new political director of the Foreign Office in the summer, and that his leaving Cairo provides a useful opportunity to make use of his talents in the intervening period.

The right hon. Gentleman is also correct that the road map is no magic solution. Its steps have been well set out in the past in a series of documents, including the Tenet and Mitchell reports. The difference now is that there appears to be an international consensus on those steps, especially full backing for the process from President Bush.

The right hon. Gentleman is right that the arrangement is reciprocal, but each side has a responsibility to take steps immediately and not wait for the other because unless there is good will and an initiative towards it, we will not get the final status settlement that we want in 2005. I accept the right hon. Gentleman's comments about the need for the Quartet to monitor progress, publicise that monitoring or its failure and act together.

From the experiences of other peace processes, is not it, sadly, odds on that extreme interests on both sides will try to undermine the progress in the road map through terrorist attacks in Israel and provocation against Palestinians in the occupied territories? What measures can the Quartet and neighbouring Arab states introduce to ensure that such incidents are prevented as far as possible and not allowed to destroy confidence, without which the initiative cannot succeed? In particular, what assurances has the Foreign Secretary been able to give his Israeli counterpart about potential terrorist attacks from this country?

It is an appalling truth that the extremist rejectionist terrorist organisations will try to prevent any democratic progress towards peace by both sides by resorting to bombing, shootings and especially the facility of suicide terrorism. That was apparent in a suicide bombing that was by no means accidentally timed as the Quartet's road map was being published. It is a matter of great regret that the two suicide bombers were British citizens.

Last week, I spoke to Foreign Minister Shalom to express the British Government's—and, I believe, the British people's—condolences on the death of the Israeli citizens. I also said that we would do everything that we could to ensure that the suicide bombers' backgrounds were fully investigated and that such incidents were prevented in future.

I welcome all that my right hon. Friend said, but may I remind him that, if the road map is to succeed, much responsibility will fall on the elected Government in Israel? They have the power to make changes in the area. If they do not allow Abu Mazen and his new Cabinet and Administration the room to exercise power, and simply demand that something happen but simultaneously frustrate it by continuing the occupations, road closures, targeted killing and house demolitions, it will be impossible for any new Administration to gain credence. It will also make it appear that the Palestinians do not want peace. Israel says that it is the only democracy in the area, so surely a greater responsibility falls on the elected Israeli Government to make a bigger gesture, even in the face of adversity.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. However, I believe that the responsibilities lie evenly on the Government of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the states in the region. Israel is indeed a vibrant democracy; that is one of its great strengths. However, we must all acknowledge that the peace party has been undermined in Israel as a direct result of the suicide bombers who have operated so viciously in the months since the intifada was declared.

Am I right that phase 1, which seeks to end terrorism, is designed to be accomplished by this month? More important, will the Foreign Secretary confirm that phase 2—the creation of an independent Palestine—depends on the achievement of phase 1?

I am afraid that I do not know the answer to the hon. Gentleman's first question. I think that he is right, but in any event I shall make that clear in due course. I read the whole of the road map over the weekend, but this just goes to show how other things can crowd it out. The answer is certainly very shortly.

I thank the hon. Gentleman, who tells me that it will be by the end of May. The time scales for the initial steps to be taken are certainly very swift. What we need to see is an indication of good will from both sides.

Hong Kong

4.

What representations he has made to the Hong Kong Government about article 23 of the Basic Law. [111597]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Bill Rammell)

I have discussed article 23 with senior members of the special administrative region Government in Hong Kong and in London. In those discussions, and in the statement that I issued on 27 March about the draft article 23 legislation, I made clear our concerns about certain aspects of their proposals.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. It might be too early for him to make an assessment of the impact, if any, that severe acute respiratory syndrome will have on the progress of the Bill, but may I put to him this crucial point? The institutions that have made Hong Kong so successful—freedom of speech, press freedom, the independence of the judiciary, and the rule of law—must not be compromised by the implementing of the legislation.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend far making that point. I very much agree that those key ingredients that have made Hong Kong such a success story need to be preserved through the passage of this legislation. I certainly welcome the fact that the special administrative region Government have made several changes in the draft legislation, compared with their original proposals. I also welcome their assurance that the basic rights and freedoms in Hong Kong will not be eroded. The devil will be in the detail, however, and that is why we shall follow this issue very closely indeed.

Will the Minister tell us which of the concerns to which he referred in his first answer has met with the least positive response from those with whom he has been talking?

There has been some movement on all the issues. There are a number of concerns, but the key remaining issue is that of the proscription of organisations in Hong Kong that are subordinate to organisations that are banned in mainland China. Part of the success of Hong Kong since the handover is the autonomy of the legal system, and the concern is that a move in this direction would blur the distinction between Hong Kong and the mainland. That is the key point that we are continuing to make.

Zimbabwe

6.

If he will make a statement on the implications for security in Africa of UK policy towards the regime in Zimbabwe. [111599]

The United Kingdom wants the restoration of a stable, prosperous and democratic Zimbabwe. Poor governance in Zimbabwe has reduced foreign investment there, precipitated economic decline and exacerbated political instability. The crisis there has also damaged neighbouring economies. Zimbabwe's inability to pay neighbouring countries for power supplies, and the spread of foot and mouth disease, for example, clearly have major implications for the prosperity of southern Africa generally.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the economy of Zimbabwe is in a state of anarchy and that millions are starving? Is he aware that Opposition MPs have been imprisoned and tortured, and that the leader of the Opposition is on trumped-up charges of treason? Furthermore, the Mbeki mission has ended in farce, yet the United Kingdom Government are sanctioning a cricket tour that can only bolster the Mugabe regime. Surely the time has come for them to start to take Zimbabwe more seriously.

The hon. Gentleman is right to talk about the state of the economy. Gross domestic product is reckoned to decline by 12 per cent. this year, and to have declined by a quarter over the last four years. The official rate of exchange of the Zimbabwean dollar, which was until recently valued at 50 to the US dollar, is now 800 to the US dollar. The unofficial, black market rate of exchange is 1,500 to the US dollar. That is an indication of the wreckage that President Mugabe has produced from that once extremely prosperous and potentially very prosperous country.

So far as the cricket tour is concerned, I would say to the hon. Gentleman that we are of course as committed as he is, and feel as strongly as he does, about the need to bring pressure to bear on the Zimbabwe regime. However, I have always taken the view that, even if we had the power to stop sportspeople from Zimbabwe visiting, we would be punishing ordinary Zimbabweans rather than punishing the regime.

The hon. Gentleman talks about chaps who wear black armbands. Henry Olonga—

Henry Olonga is a great man. He told theDaily Mail just the other day:

"It is right for the cricketers of my country to be here"
in the United Kingdom.

There is perhaps a glimmer of hope that the leaders of the African union are beginning to realise the adverse effect of what is happening in Zimbabwe on the perception of Africa generally. How important does my right hon. Friend consider the current initiative by the Presidents of South Africa, Malawi and Nigeria? I refer to their visit to Zimbabwe, which I think was scheduled for yesterday.

I have yet to receive a full report of the visit, but I have no doubt that those three Heads of Government, and indeed virtually all Heads of Government across the continent of Africa, are fully aware of the damage that the Mugabe regime has caused to Zimbabwe, to the South African region and to the reputation of Africa generally. The issue between us often relates to tactics and how best to put pressure on the Mugabe regime, but I think everyone can see that whatever "consent" the regime may once have had is rapidly dissolving before our eyes.

Does the Foreign Secretary share the regret felt by many that President Mugabe has been unwilling to step aside? Is not the cruel truth that the failures of Mugabe's Government are a blight on the whole of southern Africa, and inevitably affect the levels of support and investment that the developed world gives the region—which in turn undermines NEPAD, the New Partnership for Africa's Development? Is it not outrageous that some of the poorest people in Africa must pay for the excesses of the Mugabe Government?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is entirely right. James Morris, director of the World Food Programme—who briefed the United Nations Security Council on 7 April—described the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe as "almost beyond comprehension".

We are determined that the Zimbabwe crisis should not undermine NEPAD, although it has certainly not made NEPAD's implementation any easier.

Yesterday's visit to Zimbabwe by the three African Presidents was a belated but nevertheless welcome initiative, although the outcome was predictably disappointing. Is not the key element of any solution, quite simply, the restoration of the democracy and rule of law destroyed by Mugabe, and is it not true that progress will not be made until Government-sponsored rape, torture, ethnic cleansing and starvation are ended?

Is it not the case that this is no longer just a domestic problem, but a matter of regional security and a humanitarian crisis? Is there not a role for the United Nations Security Council to play in coming to grips with it? Will the Foreign Secretary, even at this late date, shake off his self-confessed post-colonial guilt, take the initiative of the Security Council, and stop passing by on the other side?

I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was doing quite well until he reached the last bit, which was rather predictable.

Ask him what he would do! He has not told us what he would do.

My hon. Friend points out—from a sedentary position, but I think everyone could hear because he is a good Essex boy—that the right hon. Gentleman never says what he would do. He mentioned the Security Council. I would be the first to have the matter taken before the Security Council if I felt that there could be a successful outcome, but there is no evidence for that at present, which I greatly regret. If we tried and failed, Mugabe would clearly regard it as a victory for him.

The circumstances are very different from those in Iraq. We are working to put the maximum pressure on Mugabe. Notwithstanding the predictions of Conservative Members, we managed to obtain sanctions supported by the Commonwealth and sanctions supported by the European Union, and to have those sanctions tightened. It is obvious that the pressure is working, and is destabilising the Mugabe regime.

Is it not a tragic fact that what my right hon. Friend has said is an understatement of the current problem of decline in Zimbabwe? Following the recent visit by leaders of other African countries, is it not perhaps time to say to all those in ZANU-PF who recognise that Mugabe's time is up that if they want to save their country, they should tell him that now is the time for him to go if he wants to do likewise, and to stop the appalling decline that we have witnessed in the past few years?

Iraq

7.

If he will make a statement on the coalition's plans for elections in Iraq. [111600]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Mike O'Brien)

At the conference of Iraqis in Baghdad last week, there was a call for a conference in four weeks' time to agree a broad-based independent Iraqi government. It is envisaged that such a government will then call a constitutional assembly; this will agree a constitution, to be put to a referendum. An electoral roll will need to be drawn up; then, we hope that elections will take place to select a representative Iraqi government. It is difficult to be precise about the timetable, as requested, but an estimate would be 18 to 24 months in all.

May I welcome the Minister's commitment to the free and fair elections that his answer seemed to imply? Can he explain the status of important political groups such as the Ba'ath party, the Communist party and the Islamic fundamentalists? Will they be allowed to compete freely and democratically in those elections, and if they won would they be allowed to win?

Yes, we hope that there will he free and fair elections. Whether they are through proportional representation remains to be seen, but I would imagine that the Iraqis would have more sense. We hope that the 13a'ath party will not be able to involve itself in that election, and certainly not in the form that it took under Saddam Hussein. It is not envisaged, therefore, that it would be allowed to operate. However, other parties would have to form and to put themselves in the normal way before the electorate. So it is a decision for the Iraqi people themselves as to exactly how they want to develop their political culture and go about creating a new and representative Iraqi government. Any birth is a difficult process, and the birth of a new democracy is going to be difficult; but it can also be a wonderful process.

When Donald Rumsfeld says that America will not tolerate any outside influence in the affairs of Iraq, is the irony intentional, and by what authority does America—or, indeed, Britain—determine which countries should have any influence in the elections in Iraq?

As my hon. Friend will know, under the Hague convention and the Geneva convention the coalition forces have a responsibility to ensure law and order and basic security in Iraq, and that is what we are seeking to establish in a difficult environment. Therefore, there is legitimacy in Donald Rumsfeld's saying that, and in warning others who may seek to disrupt law and order in Iraq not to do so. There are obviously one or two other regional players, and other organisations that are not governments themselves— Hamas, Hezbollah and various other groups—that might seek to play a role. We are simply flagging up that they should not seek to disrupt what we hope will be an orderly progress towards a democratic Iraq.

When it comes to elections in Iraq, what philosophical differences does the Minister think might divide potential political parties there? This is a crucial moment for shaping Iraq's permanent institutions of justice, taxation, human rights and local government, and, indeed, for the whole scope of government itself. In terms of structure, does the Minister think that the Swiss model might be a good one to emulate, and do the Government think that it would be good for Iraq's longterm economy—and, indeed, for the well-being of its citizens—for Iraqis to have a health service that is free in respect of all health needs at the point of delivery, including even foundation hospitals, or are we to conclude that when it comes to Iraq, this Government have a two-tier set of principles?

That was laboured—very laboured—but the philosophical differences between Iraqi parties are for the Iraqis themselves to resolve. Whether a Swiss or any other model—even a proportional representation model—is established will be for the Iraqis to decide. The same applies to foundation hospitals. They would be wise to listen to the arguments, but, in the end, it is entirely for the Iraqis to decide.

South Africa

8.

If he will make a statement concerning the United Kingdom's bilateral relations with South Africa. [111601]

I know that the House will join me in mourning the death last night of Walter Sisulu, one of the founders of the African National Congress and of modern South Africa. We share with all the people of South Africa their grief at that loss.

On the question itself, our relations with South Africa are good. I will visit South Africa shortly, for the UK-South Africa bilateral forum, when a wide range of bilateral and regional issues will be discussed. I pay tribute to President Mbeki for the role that he has played in promoting the New Partnership for Africa's Development and in the drive for peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi.

Given the inconclusive meeting of the three presidents of South Africa, Nigeria and Malawi in Harare yesterday, will my right hon. Friend do all that he can to use Britain's good relations with President Mbeki of South Africa to ensure that he continues to put pressure on the Mugabe regime and finds a swift solution to the appalling situation in Zimbabwe?

I look forward to discussions with my opposite numbers in South Africa and elsewhere about bilateral and regional issues. Zimbabwe will feature high on the list of regional issues. As I have already told the House, I am in no doubt about the South African Government's concern about Zimbabwe.

While I agree with the question asked by the hon. Member for Stevenage (Barbara Follett), how does the Foreign Secretary feel that our bilateral relations with South Africa have been influenced by the tragedy in Zimbabwe? Does he agree that the security of the whole of central southern Africa might well be influenced by the tremendous damage that events in Zimbabwe are doing to other countries in southern Africa? Does he believe that we, as a country with influence in southern Africa and South Africa itself, can do anything else to bring about a change of leadership in Zimbabwe?

The hon. Gentleman speaks with great knowledge of the region. What has happened in Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe has plainly damaged the wider region as well as that country. However, I believe that our relationship with South Africa is too important to be defined by Zimbabwe and, as it were, by the gross inadequacies of President Mugabe. South Africa is by far the most important country in southern Africa and it has a leading role to play in the economic development of the whole of Africa. We have very good bilateral relations with the country and the subject forms an important part of my agenda for discussion at my forthcoming visit.

We have set a clear agenda for putting pressure on the Mugabe regime, including sanctions and the opprobrium of the international community. We have to work with our partners in southern Africa to achieve an acceleration of that pressure, which is already working, as can be seen on the streets of towns and cities across Zimbabwe. From a depressing position late last year, the opposition parties are winning by-elections and the Mugabe regime is becoming highly destabilised. It is my belief—it may be optimistic—that if we maintain that pressure, sensible people inside the ZANU-PF regime will realise that, for their country's future as well as their own, they have to detach themselves from President Mugabe.

During the Secretary of State's forthcoming visit to South Africa, will he raise with his opposite number the contents of the written statement by Baroness Amos a few weeks ago about the appalling situation whereby, in London and South Africa, the so-called Northbridge group—a bunch of mercenaries—is actively recruiting Brits and South Africans to destabilise the region, particularly the Ivory Coast? Is it not about time that this Government and the South African Government took legislative powers to control and regulate those bandits who are doing great harm throughout the continent?

:My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. We are taking a number of actions in respect of this company but, as he knows, the Foreign Affairs Committee—of which he is a member—has made important recommendations to the Government on legislating in this area and we have already offered a positive response.

The Foreign Secretary will recall the pivotal and direct role that the previous South African Government played in bringing to an end the illegal regime of Ian Smith. When he meets President Mbeki, will he remind him that, under the terms of NEPAD, African leaders have an obligation to speak out clearly and act against abuses of democracy by Governments in the region?

I shall be happy to spell out to President Mbeki and other Ministers the nature of the Harare principles and the Southern African Development Community's parliamentary principles, and the importance of these being implemented right across southern Africa.

Rwanda

9.

If he will make a statement on the political situation in Rwanda. [111602]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Bill Rammell)

:Progress is being made on rebuilding Rwanda and the lives of the people, but there is still a long way to go. The political situation is encouraging, with a constitutional referendum scheduled for 26 May and presidential and parliamentary elections later this year. We stand ready to help Rwanda with its election process. The Foreign Secretary is meeting President Kagami in London later this week.

:My hon. Friend will agree that the post-genocide transition period as defined in the Arusha accords is coming to an end and that it is a critical time for Rwanda. My hon. Friend will be aware also of the recent crackdown on the political opposition parties in Rwanda, particularly the largest opposition group, the MDR. Does he share my concern that, in the run-up to a referendum and constitutional elections, there is no serious opposition to the ruling RPF? As the biggest bilateral donor to Rwanda, should not the UK play a critical part in ensuring that fair elections are held? Will he impress that upon President Kagami at the talks later this week?

I certainly agree that this is a critical time for Rwanda. With regard to the MDR, we will be urging the Rwandan Government to follow full due process and to demonstrate their commitment to an inclusive and democratic state. I am not sure that I would go so far as to say that there was no opposition; there are some 80 opposition parties in existence. Undoubtedly, we will be taking the opportunity this week to discuss with the Rwandan Government how they intend to manifest their commitment to establishing a democratic and inclusive state. I am sure that will be on the agenda for the talks with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Middle East

12.

What plans he has to meet the new Palestinian Prime Minister to discuss the middle east peace process; and if he will make a statement. [111605]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Mike O'Brien)

:Both my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I regularly discuss the road map with our Arab colleagues. It was one of the subjects raised during our recent, separate visits to the region. I regularly brief Arab ambassadors in London on UK policy towards the middle east, including the peace process. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has invited the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas, to visit London.

:Does the Minister understand that what seems to be lacking from his reply and that of the Foreign Secretary is a sense of urgency? The new conditions that pertain in the world post-Iraq, with the President of the United States fully supporting the new process, demand a new sense of urgency from the world. When he next meets representatives of Arab Governments or the Israeli Government, will he remember the word of Brutus in "Julius Caesar"?

"There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life.
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures."
Does he agree that we are on such a full sea, that we must take that current, which is flowing strongly in the direction of peace, and that, if we fail, future generations of Palestinians and Israelis will never forgive us?

Et tu, Brute. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been discussing this matter with the American President over a number of months, with more than a little success. The Government have shown throughout that we are aware of the urgency of creating an Israel that is free from terrorism, and a Palestinian state that is viable. In that way, there will be an end to the injustice that has been done to the Palestinian people. The Government are committed to supporting that peace process, and we are working with the Americans and others to ensure that there is full backing for the quartet's road map.

May I add my welcome to the road map? I should also like to echo the comments made earlier by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who said that the obligations on the parties were immediate and simultaneous, and not sequential, as some members of the Israeli Government have suggested. However, I want to ask my hon. Friend the Minister about a related issue—the fact that a number of foreign nationals were shot recently as they attempted either to report what is going on over there, or to promote peace. What representations are being made to the Israeli Government, especially about the case of Tom Hurndall, who was recently shot, and is now in a coma? Yesterday, Israeli forces fired shots over a convoy carrying Mr. Hurndall, even though the convoy bore diplomatic flags and was accompanied by British embassy staff.

:My hon. Friend is right to say that we have serious concerns about the incident to which he refers. I spoke to the Israeli ambassador on Saturday and expressed our deep concerns about the matter. I also asked for a full report to be made after a proper inquiry into the incidents has been held. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has also spoken to some of the families concerned. We will pursue these matters with the utmost vigour. They are very serious, and my hon. Friend need be in no doubt that the Government will treat them seriously, as consular matters. We will give as much support as we can to the families concerned, and we will make sure also that the Israeli Government are in no doubt about a problem that seems to occur all too often—the lack of discipline among Israeli defence force soldiers. That issue of discipline needs to be dealt with by the Israeli Government.

Even if the Minister cannot aspire to a Shakespearean vocabulary, will he at least use a jargon-free vocabulary? Can we discard "road maps" and "quartets" and talk about the peace process instead, and then get on with the job?

Nigeria

14.

What steps the Government are taking to press the Nigerian Government to prevent the stoning to death of Amina Lawal for adultery. [111607]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Bill Rammell)

:First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that she has done to raise this appalling case. The Government and our EU partners regularly raise our concerns about this case with the appropriate authorities in Nigeria. Indeed, my noble Friend the Minister for Africa, Baroness Amos, expressed to President Obasanjo our concern about the harsh sentences imposed under the sharia penal codes, and emphasised the strength of feeling against them in the UK.

:The Nigerian state court will hear Amina's case on 3 June. Both Muslims and non-Muslims in my constituency have told me how appalled they are at Nigeria's interpretation of sharia law, which is in flagrant violation of the UN torture convention. They are also concerned about the other Nigerian women facing death by stoning who have not received the same international publicity and who do not have legal representation. Are the Government making equal efforts to raise those cases too? Human rights need to be protected, wherever people are.

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. We take every opportunity to raise all cases in which this extreme interpretation of sharia law is used, and we will continue to do so. I reassure my hon. Friend that, through our high commission, we also maintain close contact with the national human rights commission in Nigeria, and the non-governmental organisations. In that way, we will get advance warning in cases such as this, and that will allow us to do everything in our power to apply the maximum pressure.

The integrity and good intentions of the Minister are not in dispute, but what indication has he had that the representations that he and his noble Friend Baroness Amos have made about the proposed barbaric penalty will, in practice, be heeded?

:I take comfort from the fact that the Nigerian Attorney-General has made clear his view that the cases will ultimately be ruled unconstitutional in the federal court. We should none the less continue to apply pressure on an issue that is of serious concern across the House.