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Volume 467: debated on Wednesday 7 November 2007

With permission, I would like to make a statement on the situation in Pakistan, which I am sure the whole House will agree is dangerous, fast-moving and important to us in Britain.

The House will have followed in the news the unfolding events since the weekend. In brief, on 3 November, President Musharraf declared a state of emergency and the suspension of Pakistan’s constitution. He has issued a new provisional constitutional order, the two key features of which are as follows: first, the suspension of constitutional articles guaranteeing security of the person, safeguards on arrest and detention, freedom of movement, assembly, association and speech, and equality of citizens; and secondly, the removal of the Supreme Court’s authority to issue any order against the President, Prime Minister or any person exercising powers or jurisdiction under their authority, or to challenge the PCO.

In addition, the President has issued separate ordinances to tighten up regulations for print and electronic media, forbidding them from criticising the Head of State, military or judiciary, showing bodies of suicide bombers or their victims or broadcasting anything

“prejudicial to the maintenance of law and order”.

Another effect of the PCO is to suspend all the Supreme Court judges pending their taking of a new oath of allegiance. We understand that fewer than half of the present bench of 19 judges have taken the oath. The former Chief Justice and 14 of his colleagues have been dismissed. Hundreds of other civil society leaders and political activists have been detained or placed under house arrest.

I have today spoken to our high commissioner in Islamabad. He and other members of the high commission staff, and other partner missions and embassies, are in close touch with civil society and other political figures who are the subject of restrictions and we are expressing our concerns to the Government and all relevant authorities at all levels.

I am sure that the whole House shares the Government’s grave concern at these developments. The Government of Pakistan say that they are temporary. It is vital that they are so. We are very much aware of the terrorist threat with which the Government of Pakistan have to grapple and which President Musharraf has cited in justification for his decision to suspend the constitution. The bombings over the last two weeks—in Karachi, Rawalpindi and elsewhere—have resulted in the murder and injury of hundreds of innocent victims. We have deplored those attacks and reiterated our support and determination to work in partnership with the Pakistani authorities to counter this menace.

However, since the weekend, we have seen actions from the Government that have set back the process of democratic transition which is essential for the future stability and security, as well as for the sustainable development, of Pakistan.

I have made clear our concerns on the telephone to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Aziz and Foreign Minister Kasuri, as well as speaking to Opposition leaders Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, and indicated what actions we now expect the Government to take. Specifically, we call on the Government of Pakistan to do the following: first, to declare now a specific date for January elections and implement the necessary conditions to guarantee that they are free and fair; secondly, to release all political prisoners, including members of the judiciary and human rights activists, and pursue energetically reconciliation with the political Opposition; thirdly, to honour the President’s commitment to step down as chief of staff by 15 November; and fourthly, to relax restrictions on the Pakistani and international media, including the BBC.

The stability and development of Pakistan matter to the UK. Pakistan is a vital partner for us in tackling the serious threat of terrorism and extremism against UK targets in the region and at home. We also need to work closely with Pakistan in promoting stability in the wider region, not least in Afghanistan, and in tackling a range of serious issues such as proliferation, drugs, migration and the environment.

It is not the moment for discussing the separate incident in northern Afghanistan yesterday, but it is right that I mention it. It led to terrible loss of life—the current number is around 40, including five Afghan Members of Parliament. Suffice it to say that I am sure that the House is keen to express its horror at and condemnation of those terrible attacks on Afghan democracy. However, as I said, they are a separate matter.

For the medium and longer term in Pakistan, we are convinced that democracy and the rule of law are prerequisites of stability and development in the country. Such stability is essential for economic growth. There has been much positive development in recent years. We have enjoyed a successful partnership between Pakistan and the Department for International Development. We are looking forward to the implementation of a new, expanded programme of co-operation from 2008 to 2010, which includes a focus on partnership in education. In total, that amounts to a doubling of our overseas aid. We do not want those positive developments for the poorest members of Pakistani society to be put at risk now.

Our concerns are shared by Pakistan’s other friends. I have been in touch with European counterparts and spoken to the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, and to Javier Solana, the EU’s high representative. There is a unanimous view from the international community that democracy, human rights, political freedoms and constitutional rule are the allies of security and stability in Pakistan. There is also a unanimous view that President Musharraf has very important responsibilities to fulfil his commitments at this vital time for Pakistan. We are following developments closely and seeking to co-ordinate our response so that our own vital interests are not damaged.

The situation also raises important issues for the Commonwealth. We look forward to a meeting of the Commonwealth ministerial action group next Monday in London, which has been convened to discuss the situation in Pakistan. Leaders will also have the chance to discuss the issue at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Uganda later this month.

The friends of Pakistan know that it is a critical time for that country. I acknowledge that that is particularly worrying for British citizens of Pakistani heritage and the Pakistani community resident in the UK, but it matters to us all. We hope that they will recognise our actions and that they, too, will use their contacts through family and business to make the case for democracy and the rule of law that we have been trying to articulate.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for making that timely statement. It is a crucial time for Pakistan and its relations with the United Kingdom and the rest of the world. So many issues bind our countries together. With a million British citizens claiming Pakistani heritage and our extensive trade links, Pakistan is a crucial ally and partner of the United Kingdom.

I absolutely agree with the Foreign Secretary that strengthening democracy in that country is the best way in which to guarantee its security, stability and prosperity for the future. Against that background, the Government’s response to the draconian measures taken at the weekend has, so far, been the right one. The Foreign Secretary’s representations and requests: that elections should go ahead in January on a free and fair basis; that General Musharraf should resign as head of the army by 15 November; that political prisoners should be released, and that restrictions on the media should be lifted, have the Opposition’s full and strong support.

That said, of course I have several questions, and the first is about elections. The Pakistani Government have given three different accounts so far of when elections will be held. When does the Foreign Secretary expect them to reach a decision? How highly does he rate the chances of elections being held in January? Will he confirm that the Department for International Development is providing £3.5 million to support the electoral process in Pakistan, and that he will continue to press on the Government of Pakistan the need for elections to be free and open and for the result to be upheld? What has he said to the Government of Pakistan about the continuation of British development aid and its doubling in the next three years, which hon. Members of all parties welcomed?

A former Prime Minister of Pakistan said yesterday that the state of emergency will

“end in two to three weeks”

as the President is

“aware of the consequences of long emergency rule”.

Do the Government share that assessment?

Following the Foreign Secretary’s conversations with Opposition leaders, what assessment has he made of their intentions? What assessment have the Government made of the number of people who have been detained so far and does the Foreign Secretary know whether any UK nationals have been detained? He referred to his discussions with other Foreign Ministers and the clear and united message from the international community about the course that the Government of Pakistan should now follow. Does he know who will represent Pakistan at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Uganda to receive that clear and united message?

I have a final set of questions on the overall security situation. The Foreign Secretary expressed his horror at yesterday’s terrorist attack in Afghanistan, a sentiment with which we absolutely concur. We are concerned that the instability will affect the Government of Pakistan’s ability to control the volatile border areas with Afghanistan. We are also concerned about the risk that the Taliban and al-Qaeda elements there will seize the opportunity caused by instability in Islamabad to step up their cross-border operations into Afghanistan. What assessment have the Government made of the risk of a spillover into Afghanistan and of the impact of recent developments on our continued co-operation there? What is the Foreign Secretary’s assessment of the security situation in the North West Frontier province and Waziristan?

Such considerations underline the fact that the future stability of Pakistan is not only of vital interest to the United Kingdom, but an important matter for the whole world, because of Pakistan’s central role in the fight against terror, its relation to events in Afghanistan and its possession of nuclear weapons. Is it not the case that we need Pakistan as our ally, but we need it as a free, democratic and stable one?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the content, tenor and tone of his comments and questions. Let me start where he ended. The position of Pakistan is vital for the whole world, not just for Britain, and a free, fair and democratic Pakistan is the best guarantor that the voice of the moderate majority that I believe does exist there is properly heard. That is an issue that goes far wider than bilateral relations.

Let me also say by way of introduction that the unanimity across the international community to which the right hon. Gentleman referred is important and that the unanimity in the House is important, too. For obvious reasons of history, this country has an important voice, which is heard by both the Government and the people of Pakistan. It is wholly welcome that there should be cross-party agreement on the issue.

Let me quickly run through the issues that the right hon. Gentleman raised. In respect of when the elections will happen, I have made the point to the Government of Pakistan at the most senior levels that it is massively in their interests to provide clarity about that now. He asked whether I would like to predict whether the elections would take place in January. The best thing to say is that they must take place in January and that the most suitable time is 15 January, which is when they have been set for. That is an important message. He is also right that the elections must be free and fair. That is certainly what our funding is determined to achieve and what the independent electoral commission must seek to achieve, too.

In respect of development aid, I do not believe that this is the time for threats. However, the right hon. Gentleman will know that the agreement that we have with the Government of Pakistan for development aid includes criteria in respect of human rights, and that is right. The consequences of the actions that have been taken, if they continue, would have to be taken into consideration in an obvious and sensible way.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the end of emergency rule and predicting the timings for that. The sooner that happens the better. I would not want to associate myself with the prediction of two or three weeks that was issued yesterday. However, some of the relaxations in the media that have been introduced in the past four or five years, which I have seen for myself, have been some of the most positive changes in Pakistan over that period and it is seriously detrimental that they should have been set back.

In respect of my conversations with Opposition leaders in Pakistan, I have emphasised to them both that statesmanship on their part will be very important and that their followers will be looking to them. Mrs. Bhutto is planning a series of protests. Obviously it is important that they are organised in a way that maximises the safety and security of her followers, which I know is an important issue for her.

I do not have any specific evidence about UK nationals. I have heard about people who have spent time in the UK, for example as students, being detained, but obviously we are monitoring the situation carefully.

There has been no indication yet, as far as I know, of who will be the Pakistani representative at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, but it will obviously be for other Heads of Government to decide on any consequences for Pakistan, should the current situation continue over the next two or three weeks as the Commonwealth Heads of Government gather.

The right hon. Gentleman’s final point, on the situation in the North West Frontier and the federally administered tribal areas, deserves a much longer discussion. This is a long-standing issue, and the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), who is a former Foreign Secretary, has written about it at length, with wisdom and insight. It would be wrong to say that we have seen any short-term spillover of the situation in Pakistan into the border area. However, there is far too much safe refuge for Taliban fighters across the border. Also, we have to recognise that Pakistan itself has suffered serious loss of life in trying to patrol that area. There are between 85,000 and 90,000 Pakistani frontier troops on the border, and I think that I am right in saying that the Pakistani frontier corps has suffered 1,000 losses in the border area in the past year, although I am happy to be corrected if that figure is not quite right. Pakistan is suffering losses, and when I met Government representatives there in July, they were keen to impress on me that, while there could be debates about tactics, they did not want us to doubt their commitment to putting men in harm’s way, as they have done.

As I have said, this is a major issue for our strategy in Afghanistan, and the Prime Minister said yesterday that he will make a statement on Afghanistan next month. That will provide an opportunity to revisit this issue, but I am happy to find others as well.

May I endorse what the Foreign Secretary has said, and echo his concerns, which will be shared by many people in my constituency and elsewhere who have family and friends in Pakistan? He referred to the Commonwealth, and he will be aware that, when the military coup first took place in Pakistan some years ago, Pakistan’s membership of the Commonwealth was suspended. If Pakistan does not comply with the democratic values set out in the Harare declaration, and if there is no speedy return to civil liberties, no release of political prisoners and no setting of a date for elections, will my right hon. Friend bear it in mind that one of the sanctions that might be pursued, is, sadly, the renewed suspension of Pakistan from the Commonwealth?

My hon. Friend speaks with authority on this matter, as Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. He is absolutely right to say that suspension is one of the sanctions available, and it will no doubt be discussed at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting if there is no change in the situation. One cannot help but note the irony of the fact that the Harare declaration is about good governance and human rights. It was indeed in Harare, however, that the declaration was first promulgated, and it is important that all members of the Commonwealth adhere to its contents.

I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement and, like the shadow Foreign Secretary and the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I echo his sentiments about yesterday’s tragedy in Afghanistan. As he said, that is an issue that we shall need to debate in due course.

The Liberal Democrats recognise the serious internal security challenges that Pakistan faces, not only now but over many years. Like others, we condemn the suspension of the constitution by General Musharraf as totally inappropriate and unacceptable. Similarly, we understand the importance of the United Kingdom’s relationship with Pakistan, at all sorts of different levels, not least in relation to security. However, that cannot continue to be a justification for tolerating the abuses of the promises that General Musharraf has made over many years to restore his country to democracy. Notwithstanding what the Foreign Secretary said earlier about threats, will he confirm that we will take action, along with our allies, against Pakistan if the elections do not proceed as originally promised?

Does the Foreign Secretary also agree that General Musharraf, in addition to his democratic failings, has also failed the security tests that his countrymen and women and the international community have set for him? Does the right hon. Gentleman therefore accept that, at this crucial moment, on the grounds of principle and pragmatism, Britain and the rest of the international community should not simply settle for the return of a façade of constitutionalism in Pakistan?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments and support. He is absolutely right that there are no grounds for tolerating the abuse of power or the breaking of promises. Let me take up his two points.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about taking action against Pakistan. I am sure that he would want to join me in saying that any action would have to be very careful to distinguish between the Government of Pakistan and the people of Pakistan. As I said in my statement, much of the new aid is focused on education, so that reinforces the point that we must be careful not to engage in loose talk—although I am not accusing the hon. Gentleman of engaging in it—about what actions we should take. I know that he would accept that any action must be targeted against the perpetrators of the actions that we deplore. We must ensure that the people of Pakistan do not suffer. It is worth noting that the country spends less than 2 per cent. of its national income on education, which makes our educational aid very important. Longer-term discussions are necessary about the path of development that Pakistan sees for itself.

In respect of what the hon. Gentleman called the security test, it is important to re-emphasise how challenging are some of the security dilemmas faced by any Government in Pakistan. When I met President Musharraf in July, he told me not to doubt his determination on security, but to engage with him in debate about tactics. He mentioned the 90,000 troops—troops of the frontier police, not the mainstream army—that he has placed on the border. There is a range of issues about how they are deployed and many whys and wherefores. Rather than saying that the measures have been a success or a failure, it is better to say that further work unquestionably needs to be done, notwithstanding some progress that has been made. We want to ensure that we work with a Government of Pakistan who have a democratic mandate, because that is the best way of taking forward the security agenda. I would also say that the governance of FATA—federally administered tribal areas—is a long-standing issue of governance for Pakistan. We need something more than a military solution if we are to make progress in those areas. On its own, a military solution is not enough.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that those who have had a close and warm relationship with Pakistan over many years and an equally close and warm relationship with the many thousands of people of Pakistani origin who live in my constituency have been deeply concerned at what has taken place over recent days, just as we were concerned about the original military takeover by President Musharraf? That concern exists notwithstanding the many useful things that President Musharraf did in his earlier years as president. Will my right hon. Friend send to Pakistan a message from those in this House who are friends of Pakistan, saying that we look forward to the restoration of the full parliamentary democracy that was bestowed on Pakistan by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of the country, who learned his democracy in the Gallery of this House of Commons?

My right hon. Friend has been a consistent and doughty champion of both Pakistan and the British community of Pakistani heritage. I would certainly want to convey that message and I will do so. He has championed a free, open and democratic Pakistan, which provides the best basis for the country’s development that its people want to see, as well as making Pakistan the best possible ally of the UK. I echo my right hon. Friend in bearing witness to the important historical links that he mentioned.

What is the Foreign Secretary’s reading of the part played by the Inter-Services Intelligence in Pakistan? Does he share my concern about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear installations? With that in mind, has he had any discussions with India?

We should all be concerned about nuclear installations in all nuclear power countries. We have seen no evidence, however, of any threats or any change in the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. We are obviously in touch with the Government of India, not least through our own high commission, but there has been no suggestion of any increase in tension between Pakistan and India.

In respect of the ISI, the visible signs are of continued order and continued clear lines of command in the armed forces. The army and intelligence services in Pakistan play an absolutely key role. Obviously, we would always be concerned to ensure that the armed forces and intelligence services in Pakistan answer very clearly to an elected Government. That is the message that we have tried to convey at every opportunity, both publicly and privately. I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, and we are doing our best to ensure that they are understood.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and for much that it contains. If Pakistan is to play the role in security that it has, the current leadership does not help its cause by treating human rights, civil liberties campaigners and the press in such a way. If it is to tackle terrorism, it needs to have the eyes and ears of the Pakistani people with it, not against it. I also support my right hon. Friend’s decision to continue aid, particularly to those non-governmental organisations that want to ensure that democratic institutions are strengthened and that democracy returns as soon as possible.

My hon. Friend puts it very well. He is right that there is DFID funding not only for education but for civil society organisations, earthquake relief and a range of activities to develop Pakistan and strengthen Pakistani-British relations. His reference to the eyes and ears and voice of the Pakistani people is absolutely right. I am convinced that Pakistan has a moderate majority, and we must make sure that its voice is given full vent.

I strongly support the Foreign Secretary’s emphasis on the need for Pakistan to move towards democracy and the rule of law. But may I suggest a note of caution? Will he agree that the process of transition in Pakistan will be difficult and dangerous, given the history of that country, the role of the army and its possession of nuclear weapons? In particular, will he learn from the experience of 1979, when western pressure on the Shah, for understandable reasons, led unintentionally not to democracy and the rule of law but to an extremist, Islamist regime in Tehran, with all the problems that the international community now faces? That is not an argument against reform in Pakistan, but it does mean that the west should not seek to destabilise that country as a whole, as that could have incalculable consequences.

I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has taken a long interest in this issue. The relationship between democracy and stability, and democracy and security, is obviously a delicate one. There are always temptations to say that security comes before democracy, but as he implied, that is dangerous. I am glad that he referred to a transition to democracy, so that we are clear both about the end goal and the fact that there will be steps towards it. If there is a positive outcome in the next few days and weeks in respect of the January elections, I hope that the House will not believe that the Pakistani folder is therefore closed. Some difficult steps remain in the days and months ahead, up to elections and beyond. We are in a unique situation, with President Musharraf’s commitment to resign as the head of the army and to lead in a civilian capacity. He has said that he wants a transition to democracy, and the Prime Minister of Pakistan reasserted that to me on the telephone on Monday. It is right to say, however, that the transition needs to be careful.

Some 10 per cent. of the Pakistani population voted for parties that, in some quarters, are alleged to have extremist links or leanings. My judgment is that those people and many others are looking for a path that is respectful of Pakistan’s religious heritage but that is also committed to modernisation of the country. It is incumbent on the mainstream parties to speak to those aspirations and to ensure that those people are not driven into the hands of extremists. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman will agree, democracy is our ally in that process. The worst thing would be for extremists to be able to claim that there is no other way than extremism for people to have their say, and that they should turn away from the ballot box. That is why democratic rules and elections are important in the short term, as well as building democratic institutions in the longer term.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement; I know that many of my constituents will also appreciate it very much. May I ask him to restrain any move towards expelling Pakistan from the Commonwealth? Unless things get really bad, I would rather see it inside the Commonwealth than outside, because we can influence it more that way. Although I am not a fan of military dictators, may I also remind my right hon. Friend that President Musharraf appointed Maleeha Lodhi—a woman—to the high commission in London, and has reserved one third of the seats in the National Assembly, the regional assembly and local authorities for women? That was a brave step, which sends a good message to many Asian women in my constituency.

I am sure the whole House is pleased to know that those who represent the beating heart of the Labour side of the House continue not to be fans of dictators. It is important to have that reasserted.

My hon. Friend has made an important point. It is important for us to see the last eight years in its overall context—as a unique set of circumstances, which we would not have chosen. Someone referred to the events of 1999, but there have been changes that have been welcome both for Pakistan and for the wider international community. The key is to build on those. The tragedy of the last few days is that we threaten to set back those changes rather than building on them, which is what we need to do.

The reaction of many of my Pakistani constituents has ranged from intense anger to acute embarrassment, but perhaps the most depressing reaction from a number of them has been a weary exhausted acceptance—a “Here we go again”. They tell me that they have been waiting for full and fair elections in Pakistan for nine years. They are also critical of our own stance towards Musharraf, feeling that we have been too willing to support him despite the fact that he took over as a dictator and continues to rule without democracy. Does the Foreign Secretary think we have been naïve in the past to believe Musharraf’s promises of imminent elections?

I do not believe that any member of the Government—including my predecessors, one of whom has just walked in—has been naïve at any stage. Records that I have seen, and conversations in which I have engaged, have revealed in our relationship with Pakistan a clear emphasis on the fact that democracy and free and fair elections are a vital part of its future. That is one reason why human rights and constitutional rule were built into our partnership agreement. As I have said, it would be a tragedy if we began to take backward steps and revisit some of the issues that have taken the country forward over the last four or five years. We are determined to do all we can to avoid that.

On an earlier occasion when there were difficulties in Pakistan we considerably reduced the number of our staff working in Islamabad, which has one of the busiest high commissions in the world. My constituents were greatly inconvenienced by that. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that we will keep our staff in Islamabad for as long as possible throughout the present difficulties, while of course maintaining their safety?

When I spoke to the high commissioner at the weekend just as these events were taking place, one of the questions that I asked him concerned the security of our own staff. He assured me that there was no suggestion of any threat to them. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice has just whispered to me, when the number of staff was reduced a few years ago, that was because there were threats to those concerned. As long as there is no threat to staff, there will be no change in their deployment.

While I wholly endorse the Foreign Secretary’s general approach—and also the wise words of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind)—does the Foreign Secretary agree that it would be folly to demonise Musharraf? There are dictators and dictators, and this dictator has been, to a degree, an enlightened one.

We shall come to the finer distinctions of dictatorship when obituaries need to be written. My concern—which I am sure the hon. Gentleman shares—is for the people of Pakistan. As he spoke up from a sedentary position when my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) raised the issue of expulsion from the Commonwealth, I thought that he was going to ask about that. In response to an earlier question I referred specifically to a suspension rather than an expulsion. That is an important aspect of this issue, and we must consider it.

Do we not have to be unambiguously in favour of democracy rather than slightly ambivalent about dictatorship? If there are to be free and fair elections in Pakistan, is it not important that the following two preconditions are met: that the Government honour the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly, and that the independent electoral commission must be genuinely independent, must have some power and, most importantly, must have enough resources—so that it can put in place an accurate electoral register, for instance?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. Let me expand on what he said about the independent electoral commission. One criterion is that it must be genuinely independent. As well as having full roles, it must have people policing those roles who are, and are seen to be, independent. That matter has been raised with me by Ms Bhutto and also, publicly, by other opposition politicians. We must ensure that the elections are seen through, and I agree with my hon. Friend that the rights that he mentions are universal rights, not particular ones.

The Foreign Secretary has acknowledged some of the extreme pressures that have led to these unwise decisions. Another pressure is the continuing running sore of Kashmir, an overwhelmingly Islamic province. Last year’s Mumbai bombings made clear the extent to which it acts as a recruiting sergeant for al-Qaeda. Does the Foreign Secretary not agree that one of the ways in which we can strengthen moderate voices in Pakistan is by encouraging India in the modest steps that it has taken over the past two or three years towards engagement on that issue?

The hon. Gentleman’s point might have had more purchase some years ago. I have been encouraged over the past few years—certainly since the engagement between President Musharraf and former Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee and the composite dialogue they established—that the discussion of Kashmir has been put in a much safer box. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that it remains an issue for many people, not least in our country, but saying that it is currently a running sore creates the danger of giving the impression that it causes more problems than it does. Emotions are high and it remains an important issue, but we should recognise the steps that both Pakistan and India have taken to address that issue in a sensible fashion.

Further to the views expressed by other Opposition Members, does the Foreign Secretary accept that the worst thing that could happen would be the descent of Pakistan into a radical, Islamic fundamentalist nuclear state? If he reaches the conclusion that that could happen, will he accept that he has some very tough decisions to make?

I do not think that any such decisions are easy. Careful judgments must be made. There is a range of worst-case scenarios—there is not only one worst case—and I would be happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman about some of the worst cases that might arise. The one that he has raised would certainly contain real dangers, but there are many dangers in this situation, and we need to handle them carefully, with our international partners who also have influence there.

The events in Pakistan over the past few weeks are potentially the most potent threat to world stability since 2001, for the reasons that my hon. Friends have mentioned. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that, notwithstanding our support for the constitutional path to free and fair elections, the most important thing, before January 15 next year, is that our Government should do nothing diplomatically, politically or financially to undermine the role of General Musharraf, because if that happened we would run the risk of an armed coup and a consequent backlash by Islamic fundamentalists, which would be disastrous for world security?

I do not want to introduce too high a note of discord at this stage of our discussions, but five or six Opposition Members have referred to the differences between different sorts of dictators and the need to be careful about the language we use against President Musharraf. I think that the goals that the Govt are formally committed to in Pakistan—the goals shared by President Musharraf and Prime Minister Aziz—involving a democratic transition, are the goals that we should clearly emphasise are in the vital interests of Pakistan. If we start to compromise on that, we will end up in a dangerous situation. I do not want any message to go out from here that somehow we are compromising on the transition to democracy; that is absolutely vital. I urge the hon. Gentleman to be very careful about giving any messages that might lead people to claim that that impression had been given.

The Foreign Secretary described the situation as both dangerous and fast-moving. Those are powerful but accurate words. Should the situation deteriorate, there will be many who will choose to leave the country. How many UK passport holders are in Pakistan, and what initial plans are being thought of, possibly to return them to the UK?

One of the striking things over the last three days has been the fact that peace and order have been present on the streets. There are no plans for mass or other evacuations from Pakistan. If the hon. Gentleman wants a specific answer regarding the number of British nationals who we think are in Pakistan at the moment, I will write to him about that figure.


Child Maintenance and Other Payments

Mr Secretary Hain, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Straw, Secretary Des Browne, Mr. Secretary Hutton, Secretary Ed Balls, Mr. Secretary Woodward, Mr. James Plaskitt and Mrs. Anne McGuire, presented a Bill to establish the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission; to amend the law relating to child support; to make provision about lump sum payments to or in respect of persons with diffuse mesothelioma; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time and Second time without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 80A (Carry-over of bills) and Order [4 July 2007]; and ordered to be considered tomorrow and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 3].

Criminal Justice and Immigration

Mr. Secretary Straw, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Jacqui Smith, Secretary Alan Johnson, Mr. Secretary Hutton, Secretary Ed Balls, Mr. Secretary Woodward and Mr. David Hanson, presented a Bill to make further provision about criminal justice (including provision about the police) and dealing with offenders and defaulters; to provide for the establishment and functions of Her Majesty’s Commissioner for Offender Management and Prisons and to make further provision about the management of offenders; to amend the criminal law; to make further provision for combatting crime and disorder; to make provision about the mutual recognition of financial penalties; to make provision for a new immigration status in certain cases involving criminality; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First and Second time without Question put, and stood committed to a Public Bill Committee in respect of clauses 10 to 129 and schedules 5 to 23, pursuant to Standing Order No. 80A (Carry-over of bills) and Order [8 October 2007]; and ordered to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 1].

European Communities (Finance)

Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, supported by the Prime Minister, Secretary David Miliband, Secretary Hilary Benn, Andy Burnham, Jane Kennedy, Mr. Jim Murphy, Angela Eagle and Kitty Ussher, presented a Bill under Standing Order No. 50 (Procedure upon bills whose main object is to create a charge upon the public revenue) to amend the definition of ‘the Treaties’ and ‘the Community Treaties’ in section 1(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 so as to include the decision of 7th June 2007 of the Council on the Communities’ system of own resources: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 2].