House of Commons
Monday 23 June 2008
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State was asked—
The Secretary of State for Health and I have today written to all Members of the House following the announcement that we made on 6 June of a £142 million fund to help local authorities in England to offer free swimming to people aged over 60 and under 16, in support of a longer-term ambition to offer free swimming for all by 2012.
I welcome what the Secretary of State will confirm in writing to us. I was about to buy a new pair of swimming trunks, when I realised that in the borough of Fylde, the problem would not be accessing a swimming pool. The financially hard-pressed borough is committed to closing one of its two municipal pools. The borough is not isolated in the pressures it experiences in maintaining publicly available swimming facilities. In pursuance of the answer that the Secretary of State has just given, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman will work with the Local Government Association to investigate the financial pressures that hard-pressed district councils such as mine face in maintaining their swimming facilities?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. I should not want to dissuade him from purchasing his swimming trunks—we want to get as many people active as possible in time for 2012. Local authorities must make a judgment about providing enough pools for the local population. His council must take its own decisions on that. The scheme that I announced gives incentives to councils that are prepared to do the most to make swimming more accessible to people, including giving them the opportunity to access capital funding to support their swimming pool stock. I hope that he will talk to Conservative colleagues on his local council so that they can come up with proposals to get more people into pools, rather than let them decline, ensuring that more people are active in time for the Olympic games.
I welcome the announcement by my right hon. Friend. In 2005, Wigan metropolitan borough council—a Labour borough—introduced free swimming for under-16s, and in the following year it did the same for the over-60s. There have already been some 300,000 free swims, and tens of thousands of young and older people are taking up sport and leisure for the first time. In April 2009, the scheme is to be extended to all citizens of the borough. As a consequence, we will improve health opportunities for all in sport, and people like me will start swimming rather than end up having triple heart bypasses to save their lives.
I say to my good friend and neighbour that the Wigan scheme was very much the inspiration for the policy that we announced a few weeks ago. As he rightly says, it is popular and it gets people active. That is the best use of public money in my view—getting people healthy and happy, and getting them out of their homes to lead an active and independent life. My right hon. Friend puts it so well; I am proud that Wigan is one of the first councils that want to make swimming universally free by next year. I hope that will set a path for others to follow. He is right to say that in the long term the policy can relieve pressure on the national health service, and social services, too.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there are different models of swimming provision throughout the country, and in some cases community organisations own swimming pools. The idea is that the council is in the driving seat. We want councils to make swimming as available as possible and to remove the barriers. Whatever people say, for many families throughout the country, entry charges are still a significant barrier to going to the pool. We will announce more details before the summer recess, but the hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We want to be as flexible as possible in helping councils throughout the country come with us on this journey of removing entry charges for swimming.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that Conservative-led Bradford district council proposes the closure of four swimming pools in the district? I have a letter from a constituent of mine at Oxenhope, in which she says:
“I am writing to voice my dismay about the proposed closure of four of our local swimming pools.”
That includes Bingley, which is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), but the lady who has written to me is my constituent. She has been taking her daughter for swimming lessons for the past 30 weeks, and if the pool closes, they will cease. Will my right hon. Friend make representations to Bradford and persuade it not to close those pools?
I have been concerned about some of the local plans in Bradford and the area, where, it has been brought to my attention, five pools were earmarked for closure. The whole idea of the scheme is to stop councils managing a process of decline in swimming—in pools, stock and use—and get them thinking more positively about the contribution that swimming can make to people’s sense of well-being, happiness and activity. I have made the judgment that swimming is universally popular—something that everyone can imagine themselves doing and that different generations of families can do together. I believe that, if councils take a positive view of the contribution that swimming can make to managing other costs, they will reach different decisions. However, I am happy to talk to my hon. Friend and other colleagues about pursuing those discussions locally.
A range of Departments contributed to the fund. The Departments for Work and Pensions, for Children, Schools and Families and for Communities and Local Government and the Department of Health came together and contributed to the fund that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport had initiated and to which we, too, have contributed.
Will the hon. Gentleman hear me out? The Departments’ contributions make an important statement about the way in which the Government can collectively pursue a positive policy that will have an impact on people throughout the country.
Let us have the discussion: if people think that the policy is the right way to go and that we should develop it further, I personally believe that that sort of activity would be a good use of lottery funds because it gives something back to everybody. However, the fund that I described is drawn from the Departments that I mentioned and will show that not only people who work in sport but the wider public endorse that way of working.
I am not sure whether the Secretary of State appreciates the significance of what he has said. In January, his predecessor gave a categorical assurance in the House that there would be no more lottery raids to fund Government Olympic budget miscalculations. Yet the Secretary of State claims that the lottery would be a good source of money, and the Under-Secretary said in a parliamentary answer last week that he would discuss with Sport England a lottery contribution this summer. When will Ministers leave the lottery alone and stop using it to fund Government Olympic budget incompetence?
It is amazing that the shadow Secretary of State can come to the House and try to proclaim as a bad news story an unprecedented announcement to take promoting physical activity to a different level. Five Departments are lining up behind that initiative, and that sends an incredibly positive signal to those who work in sport and to councils.
I said quite clearly that the lottery has not contributed to the fund that I have assembled. I said that I was open minded about whether it could have a role if we wanted to take the initiative further, but it is wrong of the hon. Gentleman to mix up the £9.3 billion Olympic budget with the wider scheme, which will help sport, physical activity and the Olympic games to touch the lives of and have meaning for people throughout the country.
Ilford has had a swimming pool since 1931, and I swam there as a child. However, the Conservative council in Redbridge proposes to close the pool by December. What advice can the Secretary of State give to the more than 100,000 people in my constituency who will no longer have a pool because of Conservative council incompetence?
My hon. Friend is a living embodiment of the good that swimming can do early, often and throughout one’s life. I would give his council similar advice to the advice that I would offer the council of my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer): to come out of a position whereby swimming is an easy target—the item to be cut and the first thing to take away from people when the pressure is on—and take a more enlightened view. If councils invest in sport and physical activity in the long run, they can relieve pressure on other parts of the council budget. Given that we have made the money available and are providing incentives for councils to take up the scheme, I hope that my hon. Friend can persuade his council to follow that route with us.
Experience from existing schemes, such as in Wales and Wigan, leads us to believe that our free swimming initiative will make an important contribution to the aim of getting 2 million more people active in time for the London Olympics games in 2012.
Unlike my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), I have a pair of swimming trunks and I swim regularly. I pay tribute to the Government for wanting people to go swimming. However, from the Secretary of State’s answer, it appears that the Government have no evidence that their proposal will increase the uptake of swimming among the over-60s or the under-16s. People who already swim will get free swimming, which is very nice for them, but that will not encourage swimming. In fact, let us be blunt: the Government are just spending money on an eye-catching gimmick.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, the thought of him and his right hon. Friend in their swimming trunks is nearly putting me off my stride, but I will try to banish it from my mind. What I am beginning to hear, floating up, as it were, from the Opposition Benches, is a negativity and cynicism that is not shared by the public at large, who like the initiative and want the Olympic games to improve the way the country embraces sport and physical activity. The evidence is clear. My local authority has seen a nearly 50 per cent. increase in the number of young people going swimming. Trevor Barton, who was chair of Wigan borough sports council, and Rodney Hill, the chief executive of the Wigan leisure and culture trust, have said and proven that if we go down that path, people will take up swimming and new people will be brought into the pool. The hon. Gentleman might be cynical about that, but I most certainly am not.
Will my right hon. Friend congratulate Labour-controlled Bolton council, which has already introduced free entrance to all swimming pools for all pensioners and children? This year, the council will introduce free swimming lessons for children. Furthermore, it will build a brand new swimming pool in partnership with the university and, surprisingly, the primary care trust, because the pool will have a health facility built within it. Is that not a good thing?
It is a very good thing. I was at the Bolton arena not long ago to see the efforts being made to engage young people in sport in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and a mighty fine thing that is, too. What you are hearing today, Mr. Speaker, is that this policy—a Labour policy—is about the Government making sport available to as many people as possible. The Opposition carped about free entry to museums and galleries, which has seen the number of people using museums and galleries double, and they are doing the same today. I congratulate Bolton. I will have the courage of my convictions and say that what we are doing is the right thing to do. As a result, we can make lots more people healthy and active.
Will the Secretary of State congratulate the London borough of Redbridge on its investment in leisure facilities, with improvements in my swimming pool in Ilford, North and the commitment that it has given to swimming in Ilford, South? Under health and safety regulations, the council may indeed have to close the pool later this year, but is consulting the entire borough on how to raise the £50 million needed to replace the swimming pool in Ilford, South. Will the Secretary of State congratulate the Conservative-led Redbridge administration?
I will congratulate any council, of any political colour, that takes a bold vision on sport and physical activity. Let there be no doubt about that. Let me say also that we are talking about a fund to benefit everybody in the country. Any council is absolutely welcome to make its case to benefit from it. In the past four years, more local authority pools have opened than have closed in this country, contrary to popular belief. In the local area agreement process, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has been conducting, more than half of all councils have selected participation in sport as a priority indicator. That tells me that, at the local level, councils are prioritising sport. I congratulate them, but I ask them to work with us and to persuade those who have a different view to change tack.
Does my right hon. Friend wonder, like me, how we can encourage swimming under councils such as the Liberal Democrat council in Liverpool? It closed New Hall swimming pool in my constituency, which had been specially adapted for special needs? The next pool along, in Queen’s drive, was merged into Alsop school, thereby taking it out of public use for half the day. How is that encouraging people in a deprived part of the city to take up swimming?
On my frequent visits to Goodison Park, I see the new facility at Alsop school. It looks like a very good facility, and I hope that my hon. Friend will work hard to ensure that it is made as widely available to the community as possible. As much as possible, we need to work with councils to identify the barriers that prevent facilities from being used, and to help them to overcome them. If all else fails in making progress down this path in my hon. Friend’s constituency, I am sure that he will agree that swimming will always be free in the River Mersey.
The Secretary of State has just told the House that £142 million has been designated for this budget from a variety of Government Departments. Will he tell us how long he expects this budget to last, and at what point and in what financial year he will start raiding lottery funds?
The fund that we have put together is within the spending limits from the current comprehensive spending review. It predominantly covers the financial years 2009-10 and 2010-11—the back two years of the current spending review. We will want to see how the initiative develops, but, as I have already said in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), councils such as ours are already saying that they are minded to make swimming universally free from April next year. We shall look at the evidence that emerges from Wigan, and from Blackburn, where the primary care trust has already agreed to make swimming universally free from April next year. Let us work with the areas that are going down this path, examine the evidence and consider whether to extend the scheme further as we approach the next spending review.
The UK has three tracks capable of hosting European standard series events, none of which is indoors. As part of the development of cycling facilities for the London 2012 Olympic games and Paralympic games, a velopark will be created in the Olympic park consisting of an Olympic standard BMX track with 6,000 spectator seats. After the games, the facility will remain as a permanent open-air BMX track.
Here we have a sport at which Britain excels, and Bassetlaw, which was the centre of the cycling revolution in Britain from the time of Tommy Simpson in the 1960s onwards, has one of the three BMX tracks. Will the Minister consider how much opportunities for our cyclist athletes would be improved, not least in terms of medal contention, if the BMX track at Harworth could be encased so that it is available in bad weather as well as in good weather? If that were to happen, we could be the very top team in the world, rather than just being among the top teams.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on championing some great sports. He will be aware that we have a BMX world champion in Shazane Reade, who is one of the leaders in the sport. My hon. Friend needs to speak to British Cycling, the national governing body for cycling, on the basis that it has transformed cycling. Anyone who saw the world cycling championships recently will know that Great Britain got 10 of the 17 gold medals available. Cycling is a progressive sport, and the organisation will perhaps consider my hon. Friend’s bid in the light of the new sports plans.
As the international standard cross-country mountain biking tracks are in Wales, Scotland, the north and the west, why is public money being used to create a new track in Essex, which lacks one of the key essential requirements for mountain biking—mountains? Could we not hold the event in south Wales, where there is an excellent track at Margam?
I understand that there are a few hills in Essex. However, the hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, in that we need to ensure that the recent Sport England review actually works. We need to talk to sports governing bodies to ensure that their whole sport plans will benefit everyone through different types of sport. The cycling governing bodies are leaders in reacting to proposals, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be able to take up this issue with the relevant organisation.
The Secretary of State and I have regular meetings with the chair and the chief executive of the Arts Council. We will meet them at the beginning of July to discuss the new three-year funding agreement and arrangements for monitoring.
Brighton and Hove arts commission has benefited from Arts Council England and Millennium Commission funding over the past few years, which has made a huge difference. The making a difference programme itself has put on nearly 2,000 performances and 300 events. Will the Minister tell me how she believes such funding will benefit not only the cultural diversity of my city but the run-up to the cultural Olympiad in 2012?
We are very proud of our record of investment in culture. Two out of three people nowadays go to a performance of some kind every year. All the figures show that, with a real-terms increase in spending, people’s participation and enjoyment of cultural experiences has more than doubled. Much of the work over the last decade or so—and, indeed, the work that we will be taking forward—has been to widen the pool of people who enjoy culture. Many who were perhaps disadvantaged in the past are now getting the benefit of that. In my visits to theatres, concerts, art exhibitions and dance performances, I am increasingly proud of the growing diversity of the audience and of the participation in those media.
The Government have now received advice on the strategic sale options to which I referred in my written statement to the House on 5 March this year. The Government are considering that advice and will announce as soon as possible how they intend to proceed.
It is now some seven years since the Government gave their manifesto commitment to privatise the Tote for the benefit of racing. As a result of dithering and failures in policy, the work force and the management are now still unclear about the Tote’s future. Will the Minister please give a commitment to a final date when we will really know the future for the work force and the management so that we can ensure that the Tote continues as an independent successful model that benefits racing and Wigan?
I know that the hon. Gentleman, along with other Members, takes a close interest in the Tote’s future—not only its development, but what will happen to its staff. The Goldman Sachs report is now with us and we will take a decision on the way forward at the earliest opportunity.
What recent meetings and discussions has the Minister had with representatives of the British Horseracing Authority? Will he reassure the House that once the sale of the Tote has been completed, racing will receive its fair share of the sale as soon as practicably possible?
Again, I know that my hon. Friend, as co-chair of the all-party racing and bloodstock industries group, takes a keen interest in this issue. He will understand the complexity of the issues we face in trying to meet our manifesto commitment while also giving 50 per cent. back to racing. I have had recent meetings with the British Horseracing Authority, the Racehorse Owners Association, the Racecourse Association and others, and they all have a view on what should be done with the 50 per cent. amount after the sale. First things first, however, as we need to take a decision on the way forward, and when we have done that we can talk to the racing authorities about how to divvy up the profits.
After seven years of dithering, incompetence and indecision, what confidence can the horse racing industry have in this Government to deliver any benefit to it from the sale of the Tote when Goldman Sachs is now reporting a £90 million black hole in the accounts and the price tag for the Tote has reduced by £100 million since last year alone?
I do not accept at all that there has been dithering. The issues are complex, involving state aid rules, the price of the Tote and how to give money back to racing. I believe that we have already shown in our discussions with the racing bodies that we are keen to move forward quickly and we will do so. We will honour the commitments that we have made.
Have we not already gone through plan A, plan B and plan C to get to the current plan D, and cannot we only surmise how many more alphabetic characters are to follow? Will not Brussels in any case veto any deal that redistributes any significant part of the proceeds to the racing industry; and in that light, should we not abandon the whole sorry saga?
We could do that, but it would be the wrong direction of travel. What we have to do is look at the options made available to us through the report that I mentioned. We will study it as quickly as we can and then take the appropriate decisions. In the interests of racing and of the staff who work at the Tote, I believe that we have to move forward. It is important to consider all the options, which I hope to do as quickly as possible.
Half the proceeds of the sale would be welcome to racing, if indeed the Minister can get that past Europe, but probably more important is the ongoing contribution that the Tote makes year on year to racing. If the Tote is sold on the open market, how will he guarantee that the money remains available to racing year after year after year?
That is the difficulty if we sell. We will also have to determine what the 50 per cent. should go to by working through what the definition of “racing” should be. Everybody in racing thinks that they should receive the 50 per cent. following the sale, but I have tried to get the racing industry to be more modern in its outlook, which is why we have tried to find a different way of dealing with the levy.
Whether it is with the pitch tenure positions or with the Tote, we are positively engaged with racing. All round the House, there are people who support racing and know that it is a great sport, but we have to try to move from a mentality of looking for handouts and towards the sport standing on its own two feet.
There is a sense of déjà vu: I understand that this question has been posed to the Government more than 40 times since 2001, when the manifesto commitment was made. The Minister must, at some point, make a decision—not only on the Tote, but, as he mentioned, about on-course bookmakers and the future of the levy. To add to that, we have the eagerly anticipated announcement, so to speak, on stakes and prizes. I plead with the Minister: may we please have some support for the £4 billion racing industry?
I will not take any lessons from the Conservative party on investment in racing. We have worked properly with racing to ensure that it modernises, which is why we have seen great developments and great strides forward. The issue involving the Tote is complex and governed by state aid rules. We want to ensure that we act in the best interests not only of racing and the people who work at the Tote, but of the taxpayer. On the other issues that the hon. Gentleman mentions, we will make announcements very soon.
Television Services (Sight-impaired People)
Blind or partially sighted people and those aged 75 or over are two of the groups eligible for the digital switchover help scheme. Voice-over narration, or audio description, is accessible through the equipment provided by the scheme. Recent trials of a talking electronic programme guide developed by the Royal National Institute of Blind People appear promising and will be kept under consideration by my Department in relation to the scheme.
I am sure that the RNIB and others who are concerned about people with sight impairment will welcome my right hon. Friend’s response. I am sure that she appreciates that the digital switchover, which could open up access to so many services, might extend the digital divide unless this process is put in place expeditiously.
Will my right hon. Friend agree to ensure that voice-over narration and talking menus are made available without delay through the core receiver requirements and for the set-top boxes that are available through that support scheme, which she mentioned? Will she also ensure that they are in place and available in good time for switchover in south Wales and my constituency of Cardiff, South and Penarth—that is, the middle part of next year?
First, I acknowledge the contribution that my right hon. Friend made to digital switchover during his time as a Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry. He is right to say that if we do not get this right it will increase the digital divide just when the opportunity of digital switchover ought to extend access to more programmes. We will ensure that audio description is integrated into the offer for all who need it. If we make progress as swift as technology allows on the electronic programming guide, clearly we will want to incorporate that, too, into the digital switchover programme.
Is the Minister aware that switchover in the borders later this year will affect hundreds of disabled and elderly people for whom it is essential that controls and menus are easy to use, if they are able to access digital TV at all? Will she assure the House that an individual’s need, not the cost, will be the deciding factor in which type of digital receiver is provided, because some disabled people find freeview easier to use than Sky?
Indeed, we must ensure that individuals have access to the system that suits them best. We have been working to ensure that the equipment available is accessible not just to the general population but to those with the greatest need, who might find it difficult to use buttons on a handset or whatever. That concern has driven our negotiations with manufacturers over the nature of the equipment.
We are working with the Amateur Swimming Association, the Local Government Association, Sport England and others to develop the arrangements for implementing the scheme. We will issue guidance to local authorities as early as possible, and, in any event, in plenty of time to allow them to prepare for setting budgets in the autumn. I will make a further statement, outlining progress, before the House rises for the summer recess.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. We dived into the swimming pool for Questions 1 and 2, and now we are on the surface for some swimming. Will he note that in Stafford the local council has just opened a brand-new, modern-design swimming pool, which has plenty of happy swimmers? The council is very interested in the scheme, but is anxious to know the criteria so that its plans for a new swimming pool can fit them. May I urge him to keep to the timetable that he has described, and to consult local government about design?
We have been very grateful for the help, co-operation and advice of the Local Government Association so far, and we will continue to have the closest possible dialogue with it in taking the scheme forward. As I said, the intention is to have a partnership with local government, not to impose anything on anybody. We want councils voluntarily to come up with the basic idea, and to help make swimming as free as possible. It is a fantastic statement to the public that brand-new facilities such as those described by my hon. Friend are available free. We will start with the over-60s and then hope to make progress on the under-16s. We will give details before the summer recess, which will allow his council to plan accordingly.
In many parts of the country, local authority swimming pools are already very busy, whereas swimming pools in private gyms are often underused. Has the Minister thought about encouraging the participation of the private sector in the initiative?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. In the past few years, many private sector pools have opened, and making the best possible use of them is a matter for local decision making. As I said earlier, more local authority pools have opened than have closed, which is in itself a positive statement. In constructing the scheme, we want to provide the capital that is available to those local authorities that are prepared to do most. If the hon. Gentleman will accept the logic, the more that people use pools, the more that such local authorities deserve help with the maintenance and improvement of facilities. He makes a good point: some councils’ pools are run by private organisations on a contractual basis. I am prepared to be flexible to help all councils make the best possible use of the pools located in their areas.
The Government do not intend to introduce new regulation to tackle ticket touting. Ticket touting is banned for football matches on public disorder grounds, and for the Olympic games in 2012 to meet International Olympic Committee bid conditions. The Government have consistently taken the view that the consumer interest comes first, and market-led measures to benefit consumers are a far better option than the burden of legislation.
I thought that the Minister would say that, and I must say that I profoundly and utterly disagree with him. The truth is that ticket touts are parasites who prey on the legitimate interests of fans and the sporting and cultural achievements of this country. As he says, ticket touting is illegal in relation to the Olympics and football. Why should it be legal in relation to Wimbledon or big arts events? Let us make it illegal.
Well, he did; anyway, he has been vociferous in his support for making ticket touting illegal. The consumer should come first. First, we want to work with the governing bodies to see what the primary market can do to stop ticket touting. Secondly, we want to work with the secondary market to see what safeguards can be put in place in future. A market-led approach is better than a legislative one.
Today, I shall place the interim report from the digital radio working group in the Libraries of both Houses. Millions of people are already enjoying the benefits of digital radio, and I believe that radio must have a digital future if it is to remain relevant.
I am pleased that the working group has set a possible framework for digital radio migration, but a number of issues must be resolved before a decision on the framework can be made, not least the impact of digital migration on consumers. I look forward to the group’s final report at the end of the year, and to considering what steps can be taken to build a strong digital future for radio.
What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills about the consultation that that Department is conducting on informal learning, especially on the future of courses such as the exercise class that I attended at the Sutton College of Learning for Adults last Friday? Such provision is key to the delivery of the 1 per cent. increase in participation in physical activity that the Secretary of State wants to see. Can he promise some joined-up government and no cuts in exercise-related adult learning classes?
I have had one discussion with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills. Both he and I recognise that the worlds of sport, music, the arts and culture have the potential to contribute enormously to informal learning provision for older people.
I accept the hon. Gentleman’s broad suggestion. The discussions are at the earliest stage and I do not want to imply that they are anywhere near finished, but I am thinking about how the DCMS world can make a contribution, and I will keep the hon. Gentleman up to date on progress.
The hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) raised the issue of the Tote. May I remind my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State that there is a wider issue for the industry as a whole? In constituencies such as mine and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Turner), literally hundreds of jobs are at stake. It is important for the final decision to be right for not just the short term but the long term. Will it take account of the fact that in metropolitan areas such as Wigan, investment of this kind has been a driver for change in the labour market over the past decade? We should like that change to be sustained through the ensuring of good access to the excellent jobs that the Tote currently provides.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Turner). Both have shown considerable interest in matters relating to the Tote, especially those involving the work force. The decision will affect 600 jobs, so it is important that we get it right, not only for the taxpayer but for people who work in the north-west. I shall be happy to meet both my hon. Friends later today to discuss the issue in more detail.
I am always interested in issues of national importance. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman write to me with the details so that I can consider this matter properly. If it requires me to visit his constituency, of course I shall be happy to do so.
My constituency is very close to that of my hon. Friend. When I look at Winter Hill and think about the signal being switched off in a little over a year’s time, it certainly focuses my mind.
I am aware of the problems in Skelmersdale, where people have historically received television programmes via a local authority-operated cable system that is now approaching the end of its useful life. Ofcom has required that a new relay transmitter to serve the town must be built and operational before switchover in the Granada area late in 2009. I understand that the process is likely to be completed as planned, subject to the availability of a suitable site, local planning permission and the allocation of suitable frequencies, but I assure my hon. Friend that I will pay the closest possible attention to the issue, and will ensure that her constituents benefit from switchover when the time comes.
Is the Secretary of State aware of the concern that has been expressed about his recent remarks that appear to rule out the possibility of taking advantage of the European Union audiovisual media services directive to allow some product placement on commercial television? If he has made up his mind on this issue, what is the point of having a consultation on it?
May I say to the Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee that the Government often conduct a consultation on the back of a preference—a clearly stated view—and that is what I did in this instance? I take the view that British television has benefited from having standards and integrity, and that it has an international reputation for that. I further take the view that, especially when we contemplate the pressures that commercial television may face in the future, we in this country should think about allowing the space between programmes to be sold, and not the space within them. I do not believe that British viewers want to think that the hand of the ad sales director might have been at play in editorial decisions. That is my preference, but I said in my speech that I understood that others would say that there are benefits to product placement. We will conduct the consultation, and although I have made my initial preference clear I am prepared to hear other sides of the debate. If the hon. Gentleman holds different views, he is welcome to put them to me, and at the end of the process we will come to a considered decision.
I would be very willing to meet my hon. Friend to discuss those issues in order to see how we might be able to help take further forward the discussions in her area. Only on Friday, I opened the Leigh indoor sports centre. It is part of the £80-million Leigh sports village, which, frankly, is my pride and joy. It is a scheme that will, in a deprived part of the country such as my hon. Friend’s, give people access to the highest quality sports facilities. I could not be more proud of anything I have ever achieved than I am of that. If she is seeking to do something similar in her constituency, she will have my full support.
In January, the Arts Council announced that it was cutting funding to respected organisations such as the Derby playhouse, the Yvonne Arnaud theatre in Guildford and the City of London Symphonia, yet over seven years its spending on administration has risen from 5p in every pound distributed to 12p in every pound distributed. What measures will the Department take to ensure that the public’s money is being spent on arts, not arts administration?
Let me first say that in that same settlement, which was very generous, and under which there has been a £50 million increase in the money available to the Arts Council over what is a very tight spending review period, more than 80 new organisations received Arts Council funding for the first time. That is as it should be, because the arts change and it is important that the Arts Council reflects that in its distribution of moneys. I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern that we should always work towards reducing the money spent on administration and ensuring that it goes out to the front line. The Arts Council has been taking steps over the past years to reduce its administrative costs, and it has succeeded in doing so. [Interruption.] From the figures I have in front of me, I do not recognise the figures the hon. Gentleman puts to us, but of course there is more work to be done on this, and part of the Arts Council’s remit over the current spending review settlement period is to produce a cut in the administrative costs year on year.
I am as passionate about cricket—not just Test cricket but all cricket—as my hon. Friend is, and I understand how high passions run on this issue. However, I point out that when Test rights were drawn up on the secondary list—on the B-list—that allowed the England and Wales Cricket Board significantly to increase the amount of money it was able to invest in grass-roots cricket: £30 million in investment in facilities and clubs, and there is also the “Chance to shine” scheme, which has been a real success. There always has to be a balance between grass-roots investment and access to the sport. I hear what my hon. Friend says and I have a lot of sympathy with his wish to get more people watching cricket, but we always have to listen to the governing body and get money into the grass roots to get more young people playing.
Do the Government acknowledge that amusement arcades and bingo clubs are on their knees? In February, the Minister with responsibility for such matters promised to respond to recovery proposals within a week. In March, he said that he would respond shortly; in May, he said that it would be very soon. And yet we are still waiting. Is he aware that while the softer forms of gambling are collapsing, there is a huge growth in the highly addictive and super-lucrative gaming machines in betting shops? Has he not got his priorities wrong, and how soon is very soon?
The hon. Gentleman knows that I have referred the issue of fixed-odds betting terminals to the Gambling Commission because of our concern about the migration to FOBTs. I am pleased to reassure him with the announcement that we will make a written statement this Wednesday to answer the issues of the British Amusement Catering Trade Association and the bingo industry.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue, which is of prime importance. The question is how, given the changing technology, we ensure that proper value is obtained for creators across all our sectors—be it music, film or the written word. We said in our “Creative Britain” document that if we could not get a voluntary agreement between the ISPs and the industry on these issues, we would introduce proposals for regulation. We stand by that, but I am pleased to report to my hon. Friend that the mere publication of the document is already encouraging both parties to come to the table. We are hopeful that we can in the near future obtain a voluntary agreement between them, to the benefit of all those who create in Britain today.
The questions that the hon. Gentleman raises are straightforwardly an editorial matter for the BBC, but in all her discussions with the Chinese authorities my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Olympics has repeatedly made the point that there should be progress toward full freedom of speech on all issues. She continues to make that case at every opportunity.
As my hon. Friend knows, we have made our new policy for Sport England public in the past few weeks, and it is very much a policy of working through the national governing bodies of sport. We want to get 1 million more people playing organised and competitive sport, and that means having a clear relationship with the governing bodies in order to provide more coaching and more competitive opportunities to young people, thus expanding the talent pool at the very bottom, so that we can increase the chances of international success for the country. That is the vision that we have set out. It is a clear vision that sharpens the distinction between sport and physical activity. We think it is the right way to go, when coupled with initiatives such as free swimming, which will help to get more people active.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work on listed sporting events and his robust defence of the need for such a list to ensure free-to-air access to our main national sports. I am as committed as he is to that principle, because it is important to balance giving sports access to the widest possible public and getting money into the grass roots. He will be aware that the list is subject to some challenge in Europe—for example whether it is possible to maintain such a policy. I assure him that I am vigorously defending the principles of the list, and I look forward to having continued discussions with him on this subject.
The Minister for the Olympics was asked—
Responsibility for promoting Olympic training sites lies with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, which will publish a pre-games training camp guide at the Beijing games this summer. In addition, £25,000 will be made available by LOCOG as a credit to help attract national Olympic committees to the UK to set up pre-games training camps.
I would like to take this opportunity to remind all Members that they can act as advocates for their local authorities and constituencies. The hon. Gentleman’s constituency contains a training camp, which has been deemed suitable for equestrian events. There is the possibility for Members of this House to act as advocates and bring teams to this country.
As the Minister rightly says, Myerscough college in my constituency has been deemed a place for equestrian training. Unfortunately, although it has great facilities, it lacks the international networking skills that perhaps the larger venues already have. Will she assure us that any plans that Sport England and the Olympic committee put in place will help to target the smaller venues as well as to assist the larger ones?
My home town of Hastings has made an offer, through the high commissioner, to provide some facilities to Sierra Leone. In respect of both pre-training and the occasions of the Olympics, the problem is frequently the cost of getting athletes from highly indebted countries to the event. Could some assistance be provided to help with the plane fares?
The key concern on Olympic training sites and, indeed, the wider London 2012 project is security. Last week, a KPMG report was extremely critical of security planning, noting:
“It is…difficult to have confidence in current cost estimates in the absence of a full, costed security plan.”
That conclusion was then backed by the National Audit Office report on Friday. Three years after Singapore, and given the obvious importance of the issue, why is there no full, costed security plan?
The fully costed security plan, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, is in the process of being prepared. It is being led by the Home Office with proper oversight and management arrangements. Yes, work has been under way for some time, but we wish to ensure that the security budget pays only for those matters that are specifically relevant to the Olympics, and that no further additionality or other wish lists are being funded from the Olympic budget. Because of the lead that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has taken, there is confidence that the planning of security is properly under control and we will have a safe and secure games, with security a proportionate part of the way in which the games are run and managed.
Are the funds that my right hon. Friend mentioned just for the training camps or will local authorities and local sports partnerships be able to access them to help to attract sporting bodies to our areas, as we want to do in Northamptonshire?
The £25,000 credit to which I referred is specifically available to encourage national Olympic teams to come to any of the 600-plus preferred and approved training camp venues. That money is not available if an Olympic team chooses to use non-approved facilities.
Will the Minister confirm also that the assistance that will be given will include advising potential Olympic training sites on what to tell overseas sporting bodies about the action that the Government intend taking in relation to safeguarding the future of the Olympic village and how much additional investment might be required to ensure that that is delivered?
That is a good try at getting in a question about the financing of the Olympic village, on which the hon. Gentleman has been briefed, as has the Conservative spokesman. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) will understand that because of the economic downturn, Lend Lease has experienced difficulty in raising all the debt that it originally sought to finance the village, but there is full confidence that the financing package will be completed by the end of this year, and work on the site has already begun.
Target Pistol Shooting
The Royal Artillery Barracks at Woolwich has been designated as the venue for all the shooting competitions at the 2012 games, including target pistol shooting. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the Olympic Delivery Authority are currently developing their plans for the facilities at Woolwich.
As an enthusiastic supporter of the Olympic games coming to London, I am increasingly worried about the state of the British economy. Will the Minister now explain how she can justify having this competition in a temporary building in Woolwich at a cost of £28 million, which is against the Olympic charter of a lasting legacy, when the competition could easily be held at the headquarters in Bisley?
First, the cost that the hon. Gentleman refers to has not been confirmed. Secondly, yes, the venue at Woolwich will be temporary, but the intention is that the facilities will be relocated in other parts of the country. Part of the commitment to holding down costs and living within the Olympic budget is the need to strike a proper balance between temporary venues, which the Olympic park will include, and the permanent venues that will provide a lasting legacy.
The target pistol shooters will of course be housed with the other athletes in the Olympic village, for which the private sector financing deal is now in some difficulty. Last week, I saw some Olympic Delivery Authority figures: £450 million from the private sector and £550 million from the ODA for that facility. However, my understanding is that the baseline contribution of the ODA in the budget is only £300 million, with the balance—of up to £1.5 billion, not £1 billion—to be provided from the private sector and other contributions. Can my right hon. Friend shed some light on the discrepancies in these figures?
With respect to my hon. Friend, I think that he might be referring to the figures for the Olympic village, not the figures for target pistol shooting, which have not been published. The figures for the Olympic village have been subject to some coverage. They have been fully disclosed at this stage to the National Audit Office and are on the public record. The important thing is that the deal is a matter for commercial negotiation and as such, it is not right nor possible—neither is it the best way to protect taxpayers’ money—to make every step of the negotiations available. However, in the spirit of the cross-party running of the games, I have shared the information in real time with Opposition spokesmen and the Select Committee.
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the European Council held in Brussels that I attended with the Foreign Secretary on 19 and 20 June. The main business of the Council on Thursday and Friday evening was to focus on the economic challenges ahead—the triple challenge of rising oil prices, rising food prices and, because of the credit crunch, the rising cost of money—and, in the wake of the US downturn, on measures to keep the European economy moving forward.
Important conclusions were also reached on the Irish referendum, on climate change, on the millennium development goals and on the European response to the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe. On Thursday evening, in the discussion on the Irish referendum vote, the Irish Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, offered to the Council meeting in October a report on the next stage for Ireland. The Council held that other member states will continue with their ratification processes and I was able to report for the UK that—like in 18 other countries—the Lisbon treaty had completed its parliamentary process and that the Bill received Royal Assent on Thursday. Once we have received the judgment in the ongoing legal case, we will move to ratification.
This time last year the price of oil was about $65 a barrel. At the last European Council in March it stood at $107. At the June Council, the oil price had risen further still to more than $135 a barrel. The global challenge that we face is a rising demand for oil—particularly from China and the other emerging economies now and in the future—that has so far been only partly met by an increase in supply, driving up fuel bills for families across the whole of Europe. Governments are taking action domestically to help—including our winter allowance and the new agreement that we have signed with utility companies for low-income households—but we know that those are ultimately global problems that require global solutions. The shared European view is that we must take action to reduce our dependence on oil and to improve our energy efficiency.
The new technology of carbon capture and storage will help us continue to use coal, oil and gas in a way that avoids harmful emissions, so earlier this year we reiterated our commitment to move forward with up to 12 commercial scale carbon capture and storage plants by 2015. Last week, accepting UK arguments about the importance and urgency of the matter, the Council called on the Commission to bring forward an incentive mechanism to achieve that goal. Britain is ready to have the first such plant in Europe.
Transport will account for two thirds of future increases in oil demand so improving fuel efficiency and exploring alternatives to petrol and diesel is essential to incentivise innovation among car manufacturers. The UK will continue to push for a commitment to an EU-wide car emissions target of 100 g per kilometre by 2020—down from 160 g, and a 40 per cent. reduction—saving the British family about £500 a year in fuel costs. At Britain’s urging, the Council also agreed to explore the scope to accelerate the introduction of commercially viable electric vehicles and the infrastructure that their widespread use would require across the EU. Generating electricity is significantly less carbon intensive than using oil, and with all major car manufacturers—including all UK-based ones—now close to developing commercially viable hybrid and electric vehicles, they have the potential to reduce our dependency on oil and our carbon emissions as well as to create thousands of jobs in the British automotive industry.
All those measures will help to meet our overall target of reducing carbon emissions by 20 per cent. by 2020—or by 30 per cent. as part of a wider international agreement—but these decisions are made in the context of a dialogue between oil producers and consumers, where both should commit to greater transparency and a better balance between supply and demand. The Council therefore welcomed Saudi Arabia’s high-level meeting between oil producers and consumers, which I attended, in Jeddah this weekend. I am today writing to all European leaders to inform them of the results of the Jeddah process, which will lead to a follow-up summit in London later this year. I can tell the House that the summit discussed measures to deliver a more sustainable global oil price, to reduce the risks and uncertainty that can increase prices and to ensure greater investment in oil production as well as energy efficiency and alternatives to oil.
I proposed that Britain and other oil consumers should open up our markets to new investment from oil producers in all forms of energy, including renewables and nuclear, providing all producers with a long-term future in non-oil energy. In return, oil producers should be open to increased funding and expertise in oil exploration and development through co-operation with external investors, providing increased oil supply in the medium term while growing economies adjust to a less oil-intense long-term future. The House will know that Saudi Arabia announced at the summit its increases in oil production.
The prices of rice and wheat are now double what they were only a year ago. Higher food prices cause concern to many of us here at home, but in poor countries, where food often accounts for more than half a family’s spending, they can be even more devastating. To tackle rising prices both here and overseas and to help boost agricultural production, the Council agreed to implement the conclusions of the Rome food summit. It also agreed to assess the evidence of the indirect impact of biofuel, and the UK’s Gallagher review on the indirect impact, due to report shortly, will be part of that process.
We also committed to work towards a successful outcome to the Doha trade round, where eliminating trade-distorting subsidies and import restrictions could increase global gross domestic product by as much as $300 billion a year by 2015. That is something that I have discussed with President Bush, President Lula, Chancellor Merkel and President Barroso as well as with the European Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, in recent days. I believe that while we are at the eleventh hour in getting a trade deal, a trade deal is definitively within our grasp.
The European Union must take action on the elements of the common agricultural policy that raise the cost of food for consumers across Europe. Removing incentives for taking arable land out of production, for example, could reduce cereal prices by up to 5 per cent. The Council agreed to re-examine the issues of fair competition and sustainable agriculture.
As part of the year of action on the millennium development goals, and ahead of the G8 in July and the United Nations meeting in September, the European Council signed up to an agenda for action that reaffirms EU aid targets and sets specific milestones for the developing countries, to be achieved by 2010: increased European investment of €4 billion to recruit 6 million more teachers, and, on health, an extra €8 billion to help save 4 million children’s lives and provide for 75 million more bed nets against mosquitoes in Africa. I will be pushing the G8 in July to ensure that we have as a world the 120 million nets that we need, so that every child in every family in the world is able to sleep safely at night. The Commission has also agreed to establish millennium development goal contracts, linking European Union spending to specific and agreed outcomes by developing countries, that will secure value for money. I am pleased to announce a British contribution of £200 million to that fund.
The Council also discussed the deteriorating political and humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe. In recent weeks under Mugabe’s increasingly desperate and criminal regime, Zimbabwe has seen more than 80 killings, 2,700 beatings, the displacement of 34,000 people and the arrest and detention of Opposition leaders, including Tendai Biti and Morgan Tsvangirai. In the face of that unacceptable situation, the European Council reiterated its readiness to take further measures against those responsible for the violence. We will seek to impose travel and financial sanctions on those in the inner circle of the criminal cabal running the regime.
The House knows that since the Council met last week, the situation has deteriorated further still. As a number of African Presidents and Ministers have already stated, the regime has made it impossible to hold free and fair elections in Zimbabwe, and state-sponsored terror and intimidation have put the Opposition in an untenable position. Our thoughts are with the people of Zimbabwe, who are facing an unprecedented level of violence and intimidation from the regime. The whole world is of one view: that the status quo cannot continue. The African Union has called for the violence to end. The current Government—with no parliamentary majority, having lost the first round of the presidential elections and holding power only because of violence and intimidation—are a regime who should not be recognised by anyone.
The UN Security Council will meet later today. The Foreign Secretary will make a detailed statement in a few minutes following the discussions that he and I, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Africa, Lord Malloch-Brown, have held with African leaders. Today, I have talked to the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon; to the president of the African Union, Mr. Kikwete; to the President of South Africa; and to Morgan Tsvangirai himself. Members of the Southern African Development Community and the African Union leadership will want to meet to discuss the emergency. We understand that there are plans for meetings very soon, and we support that happening quickly.
We urge that SADC observers’ evaluations of the seriousness of the situation on the ground be made public immediately so that the whole world can witness the truth about what has been happening. We urge that the UN and the African Union work together with SADC to send envoys and a mission to Zimbabwe to discuss the situation on the ground and the way forward. We believe that the UN envoy should be allowed to return immediately to examine the human rights violations. The international community must send a powerful and united message: that we will not recognise the fraudulent election rigging and the violence and intimidation of a criminal and discredited cabal. We are ready to offer substantial help for the reconstruction of Zimbabwe once democracy has been restored.
The Council also expressed its ongoing concern about the humanitarian situation in Burma in the aftermath of the cyclone and called for a return to democracy and the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners. We made clear our continued determination to play a leading role in ensuring peace and stability in Kosovo.
Our national interest is, and remains, a strong Britain in a strong European Union. We will continue to focus on an outward-looking European agenda that tackles in an effective way the global, economic, environmental and development issues that affect us all. That is what the Council sought to do at its June meeting, and that is what the Government will be doing in the run-up to the French presidency that starts in July. I commend this statement to the House.
May I first welcome what the Prime Minister said about the millennium development goals and about Burma?
On Zimbabwe, we welcome what the Prime Minister says about the EU widening sanctions on members of that regime, but will he make sure that it really happens this time? Will the Government press for a UN commission of inquiry into the abuses of human rights, with a view to future action by the International Criminal Court? Vitally—he hinted at this, but perhaps he could go further—will he set out a detailed rescue package for the post-Mugabe era to make it absolutely clear that when Mugabe goes we will do all that we can to breathe new life into that country and into those people who have suffered so much? But is not there something else that we can do? Should not we now make it clear that we are prepared to withdraw international recognition from Mugabe’s regime to say to him and his henchmen: “You are no longer the legitimate Government of the country you are terrorising”? The Foreign Secretary shakes his head, but the Prime Minister’s statement was so opaque that perhaps he can be a little bit clearer in his reply about withdrawing recognition. If he rattles these things off like a machine gun, it is extremely difficult for people to follow things. Let me take this nice and slowly so that he can concentrate.
Let me turn to the cost of living. There are three key policy areas where the EU has real power to affect the cost of living—free trade, reforming agriculture and, crucially, keeping its own costs under control. On that basis, was not the European Council a huge disappointment? On free trade, there was nothing more than platitudes. There was no new action on the common agricultural policy, and not a mention of the EU keeping its own costs under control. Meanwhile, at a time of rising living costs, have not our own Government given up £7 billion of our rebate—taxpayers’ hard-earned money—with nothing in return?
The Prime Minister rightly focused on the price of oil and the need to encourage renewables and new technology. We welcome what he says about the 100 g carbon dioxide target for new cars by 2020—that is, I can announce, another Conservative policy introduced by this Government. Given his enthusiasm, though, why is he going ahead with the Kingsnorth coal-fired power station without carbon capture and storage, why has he done so little on tidal and wave power, and why is he dragging his feet on feed-in tariffs? Clearly, the supply of crude oil is important, but what is he proposing to do about the danger that prices are being driven higher because financial institutions are investing so heavily in commodities, including oil?
At the heart of this European Council was the issue of the Irish referendum. The Prime Minister said so little about Ireland, I thought that he was about to tell us that it was a far-away country of which we know little. Did not the Prime Minister face a very clear choice? He could have done the difficult thing and declared the treaty dead, or he could have done the easy thing, and joined others in starting the process of bullying Ireland into a second referendum. Is it not the case that in taking the latter path, he has let down the people of Ireland, let down Britain and let down Europe? Can the Prime Minister really explain why he has done this?
Governments of this country, whether Labour or Conservative, have never wanted a European constitution, with a European President, a European Foreign Minister and a European diplomatic service. Even Tony Blair was clear, when the process started, in saying that he did not want a constitution. The Prime Minister has only ever attempted to sell the treaty on the basis of what he has opted out of, rather than anything positive in the document. So why, when the only people given the chance to speak say no, does he fail to show any leadership? Even Tony Blair was better than this. When France and the Netherlands voted the treaty down in its original form, Tony Blair halted ratification and said that people were
“blowing the trumpets round the city walls.”
Why did the Prime Minister not give the same sort of lead following the Irish vote? [Interruption.] I have not only read the treaty; I have also looked at your website.
Is it not the case that anyone arguing against this treaty is met with four entirely bogus arguments? First, the Government say that it is time to stop talking about institutional reform. If that is the case, what is the Prime Minister doing supporting a new institutional treaty? Secondly, he said last week that the treaty is absolutely essential for enlargement. Is it not the case that that is simply untrue? The Labour Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee—I am glad to see him in his place—has said that that is
“not legally true, and…not politically true either.”—[Official Report, 18 June 2008; Vol. 477, c. 980.]
Instead of giving cover to those who want to slow down or halt the enlargement process, will the Prime Minister correct that statement today? Thirdly, he says that if the treaty is killed off, we would be isolated in Europe. But is that not wrong too? On our side, against this steady creation of a European state, are the Dutch voters, the French voters and now the Irish voters.
Is not his final argument the most bogus of all? He says that any party that chooses to talk about the loss of national vetoes, the dangers of a European superstate or giving people a vote in a referendum is somehow backward-looking and indulgent in old politics. Does he not see that what is backward-looking is the political elite in Brussels, endlessly coming up with new powers to transfer to a European Union without giving anyone a say? In every other walk of life, people are being given more control, more choice and more freedom. That is the new politics. When is the Prime Minister going to wake up and realise that the European Union is going in entirely the wrong direction?
A year ago, the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing street and said that he would protect the British way of life, build trust in government and bring the change that could not
“be met by the old politics”.
But let us look at what he has done: he has brought back a constitution, pretending it is a new treaty—[Hon. Members: “No!”] Yes. He is taking part in the bullying of a small country that has voted against it, and insisting on driving through the treaty without allowing the British people a say on it. Half-truths, ignoring democracy, breaking promises and shutting people out when they should be given a say: can you get any more old politics than that?
Let me start with Zimbabwe. We all know about the deterioration of the situation—on that, we are agreed—but I would like the House to know the extent to which we will work with other countries to try to find a way forward for the people of Zimbabwe that avoids violence, brings an end to intimidation and allows them to have a fully democratic Government in their country.
It is right that sanctions have been placed against the bank accounts of 130 people. It is also right that the European Union, at our prompting, is considering further financial and travel sanctions not only against those individuals, but against others and their families. We know the names of the people responsible for running the criminal cabal surrounding Mugabe in Zimbabwe, and we are determined to force through the sanctions and to track down the money that is in their accounts in other countries.
It is also right that we are taking action through the Security Council. I spoke to the Secretary-General earlier this afternoon, and it is right that the Security Council expresses, through a presidential statement, its distaste for what has happened, its desire for an end to violence and its call for democracy to be restored in Zimbabwe. I have spoken to the other African leaders, as has the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Africa. Many of those leaders signed a statement last week, calling for democracy in Zimbabwe, and they, too, are appalled by the recent turn of events and understand the frustrations that have led the opposition party to pull out of the elections, but they want a positive way forward that avoids an extension of the violence. I call on the African Union and the Southern African Development Community, working with the United Nations, to send a mission to Zimbabwe so that we can see a way forward from today’s events.
The Leader of the Opposition mentioned the human rights situation in Zimbabwe. The United Nations has sent an envoy, who has been in Harare and is now in Pretoria. We would like the Government of Zimbabwe to allow him to return so that he can report to the world on the human rights situation. The whole world now sees the regime for what it is, and there is a consensus in the House that what has happened is intolerable. We want an immediate end to violence because the loss of life is unacceptable, but we also need a way forward for the people of Zimbabwe.
I confirm to the Leader of the Opposition that we have not only offered help for reconstruction, but are working with other countries on a detailed plan to help the Zimbabwean people so that, once democracy is restored, reconstruction can happen, poverty can be alleviated—many people are not even getting food aid at the moment, even though non-governmental organisations want to get it to them—and Zimbabwe’s economy, which should be one of the strongest in Africa, can be restored to its proper place, delivering jobs and prosperity to the people of that country.
On recognition, I made it clear that we do not recognise the regime as legitimate. That has been made clear for many weeks and it is clear in the statement that I gave the right hon. Gentleman before the questions today.
We are working hard to ensure that a trade deal takes place. Discussions are happening at the moment and I hope that there will be a ministerial meeting soon. I hope that, before we go to the G8, we can make progress on getting a signal that protectionism is unacceptable around the world. A world trade deal will, incidentally, help developing countries. After all, it is the Doha trade deal.
The Leader of the Opposition said that we had announced the go-ahead for a coal power station. That is not the case—the matter is still under discussion. We want to move forward on wind and wave power in the United Kingdom. There are local planning objections, some from members of the Conservative party, to wind power, but we are determined to move forward with our renewables objectives. A full statement on that matter will be made on Thursday.
I come now to the right hon. Gentleman’s objections to the discussion in Europe on the Irish referendum. Let me make it clear that the Irish reported to us and said that they wanted time to discuss the matter in their country. They also said that they wanted to report to the Council. It is for the Irish to make their position known, and they made it absolutely clear. The Irish Government made it clear that they were not seeking to persuade other countries not to ratify the treaty. That is why the Leader of the Opposition is isolated in Europe; he claims that other European Governments are with him, but every other country is moving ahead with the ratification process because, unlike him, they believe the first words of the declaration of Brussels almost a year ago: the constitutional concept has been abandoned and the reform treaty is very different from the original treaty, which has been forsworn. He asks whose voice has been heard—this Parliament’s voice has been heard and he should respect the fact that the House of Commons and the House of Lords both voted in favour of the treaty; otherwise it could not have received royal consent.
The right hon. Gentleman wants environmental co-operation round the world, but refuses to support co-operation in Europe. He wants to tackle poverty in Europe, but refuses to support the social chapter and wants to repatriate social policy. He wants a world trade deal, but that can happen only through Europe working as Europe to make that possible. He wants action on food prices, but that, as well as action on issues related to the economy, can be best done by being part of the European Union. I sometimes think that the Conservative party forgets that nearly 60 per cent. of our trade is with Europe and that 3 million jobs depend on our membership of the European Union. The Conservative party is isolated not only in Europe, but in the perverse view that blames everything on Europe, when Europe is delivering many good things for the British people.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement.
Compared with other six-monthly European Union summits, last week’s was not a hugely significant one. In truth, it was more about catching up with fast-moving developments than about setting the pace for the future. Rather than being their master, the summit was in many ways a slave to events, whether the aftermath of the Irish vote on the Lisbon treaty or the unscheduled spat between the French President and the Prime Minister’s good friend, the EU Trade Commissioner.
On the Lisbon treaty, the Prime Minister is right, of course, that we need to respect the need for the Irish Government to consider their next steps before October. However, as a supporter of the treaty, I none the less worry that we might soon make the best the enemy of the good. Uncertainty beyond October would genuinely raise the spectre of a paralysed European Union, unable to deliver concrete benefits to European citizens. So will he give some assurance that the treaty’s fate, whatever one thinks about it, will be sealed one way or another in October and that we will not be pitched into months of further uncertainty about the treaty?
On the issue of Zimbabwe, I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to working in the European Union and the United Nations. I hope that the international community will consider all the options available, including the case for stopping foreign currency remittances into Zimbabwe, restricting electricity supplies from South Africa and Mozambique, and encouraging the Southern African Development Community to take more action. However, does the Prime Minister agree that there are more things that he could do now, here? Will he, for instance, consider allowing asylum seekers who are fleeing Mugabe’s brutal regime to live and work temporarily in the United Kingdom, until such time as Zimbabwe is more stable and they can return home?
I also welcome the summit conclusions in favour of carbon capture and storage technology. However, how does the Prime Minister square that approach and the summit’s unambiguous conclusion with the strong indications that his Government will go ahead with a new generation of dirty coal power stations that are CCS ready, but not CCS functional, such as the one at Kingsnorth?
Finally, it is good to see the European Union grappling with the issue of food and fuel prices. However, the Prime Minister’s summit-hopping, from Europe to Jeddah, is not enough. We need him to take practical steps here at home, too. So will he emulate the example of other European Union countries, such as Spain, whose Government have clawed back some of the massive subsidies that energy-generating companies have been handed on a plate through the European emissions trading scheme, to compel energy companies to help the fuel poor and to promote energy efficiency in our homes on the scale that is now urgently needed?
I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said about Zimbabwe. All of us are appalled by the violence taking place, and all of us are looking for a way forward. Each asylum case is dealt with on an individual basis, but I will consider what he has said about that. However, he must agree that the priority is to see an end to the violence in Zimbabwe and a way forward that allows democracy to be properly in existence there, and then, once democracy is restored, to see how we can help with the reconstruction of that country.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned carbon capture. We are leading the rest of the European Union in seeking to have the first demonstration plant, and then the first commercial plant, for carbon capture. We want the EU to provide a mechanism by which that will be possible, because it is an expensive thing to do. We are urging the Council—I hope that he would support this—to ensure that, from the budget of the European Union, there is a means by which carbon capture can be given some support.
The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned food and oil. I agree with him that they are the major problems that many households up and down the country face, with the cost of food in the supermarket and the cost of petrol at the petrol pumps, as well as gas and electricity bills being higher as a result of the oil price. However, he underestimates the extent to which we have raised the winter allowance. We have provided additional help for insulation, which was billions of pounds in previous years and will be billions of pounds in the years to come, to help people insulate and draught-proof their houses, and to make energy-efficient and environmentally sensitive adjustments. When the right hon. Gentleman talks about the utility companies, I think that he has forgotten that we have just negotiated a deal that gives us £150 million a year after next year—the deal will go for many years—to provide extra money to give help to low-income households.
The right hon. Gentleman’s first point was about the report on Ireland. We have said to the Irish Government that it is for them to come forward with their proposals. It is for them to suggest, as they have done, that they need time to look at this. They will then submit a report to the Council in October. At a time when we have 26 other countries moving towards ratification, the Irish will come to us with their views about what can be done, and we will look at the matter in October. It is fair to give the Irish Government the time to assess the situation and then bring their proposals forward to us.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement, and particularly for his remarks about Zimbabwe and Burma. He also referred to Kosovo. Will he give the House more information about what discussions were held on the progress of the implementation of the EU-led programme for the judicial and police takeover in Kosovo, and on the prospect of the enlargement of the European Union and the ongoing discussions with Croatia about further enlargement in the western Balkans?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question; he takes a huge interest in these matters. There was a long discussion about the proposals for the next stage for Kosovo at the Council meeting and at the Foreign Ministers’ dinner the night before, and the UN Secretary-General’s proposals for reconfiguring the support that is given to Kosovo were mentioned. The EU will take a bigger role in future and I believe that, despite all the differences that have been expressed over Kosovo, there was a general welcome for the proposals.
Having lived and worked in Zimbabwe, may I suggest to the Prime Minister that the collapse of law and order in that country has now reached a point at which it is no longer a question simply of the internal trauma of the Zimbabwean people? There is now a threat to the stability of the whole of southern Africa. Does the Prime Minister agree that perhaps the only key to progress lies with the African Union and with SADC? Will he try to impress upon the leaders in southern Africa, who are now speaking out more eloquently than they have done before, that the answer is not simply a mission to Zimbabwe but a withholding of recognition of Mugabe’s Government by the African Union and SADC, and a threat to the Zimbabwe Government that they will be suspended from the African Union and SADC, if they do not embark immediately on the necessary reforms?
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for that question. I know of his great interest in Zimbabwe and that he worked at the university there for some time. I have talked to him about that on previous occasions. He is absolutely right to say that African leaders must be vocal in their condemnation of what is happening. I sense that the surrounding leaders are becoming increasingly angry and appalled by the events that are taking place, and that they are now prepared to speak out against them. He is also right to say that we should discuss all possible measures to ease the situation there. I agree with him that a mission to Zimbabwe in itself is only the first stage in dealing with the problems that exist. I also agree that none of the African states should recognise the legitimacy of the Mugabe regime, and they should certainly not recognise any elections—if they go ahead—that take place at the end of the week.
I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will sense from the conversations with African leaders that I have mentioned, and from the statements that they have made, that there is a new mood in Africa that is unprepared to accept the violence, the intimidation, the lack of democracy and the poverty and degradation that have been forced upon the Zimbabwean people. He is in good company in saying that the whole world must speak out and give no legitimacy to that regime. It is time that we supported the people of Zimbabwe, who want democratic rule and a return to prosperity.
I would like to ask my right hon. Friend many questions about the policy issues, but I am afraid that there is a great barrier between my wish and the reality. That barrier is the Irish referendum. It is quite clear from all the legal advice and the Crotty decision that Ireland would require another referendum or amendments to be made to the constitution, the Lisbon treaty—[Interruption.] You know what I said about that in the past. The treaty would have to be amended in some way to allow Ireland to have an opt-in or an opt-out in the way that Denmark had. That would then require re-ratification by all 27 countries.
It seems to me that everyone expected something more enlightening and open than just waiting to see what we can get the Irish to come up with. I urge the Prime Minister to tell us whether anything else went on at the Council and to give some hope to those who want to see the European Union expand that there was more in it than simply waiting to see whether the Irish can somehow change their minds.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is also Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee and provided the House with a report previously. I think that he would agree, however, that in the situation in which we find ourselves, when 26 countries are moving ahead towards ratification, but one country after a referendum is unable to do so, we should give that country time to consider the position. There are many reasons that the Taoiseach will want to look at in reflecting on the result of the referendum and many issues were not exclusively concerned with the treaty itself. There are reasons such as the state of the economy and other matters in Ireland, as well as the provisions of the treaty, that could have contributed to the result—[Hon. Members: “Ah.”] I have to say that the Taoiseach has set these issues out in speeches over the last few days, which provides all the more reason for listening to the Irish Government as they review what has happened and make progress towards making a statement to the European Council in October. That is the right way to proceed—to be sensitive to what the Irish Government will wish to say.
Is it not patently clear that people such as Mugabe and those around him, who have been responsible for the murder of scores of people, who have brutalised thousands and wiped out the livelihoods of millions, should now be brought within the ambit of international criminal law? Will the right hon. Gentleman make a commitment to that as a matter of Government policy?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising the issue of conditions in Zimbabwe. The Foreign Secretary will be making a further more detailed statement about what is happening there. The Zimbabwean Government are not signatories to the International Criminal Court provisions and it would require a motion by the UN Security Council to bring them within those provisions. We will of course look into everything that needs to be done, but the priority now is to secure an end to the violence and a way forward for the people of Zimbabwe and then to secure the reconstruction of the country. I have already mentioned the action that we propose to take in respect of imposing travel, financial and other economic sanctions on the criminal cabal around Mugabe.
May I assure the Prime Minister that, notwithstanding the comments of the leader of the Liberal Democrats, every European Council is significant and every European Council reflects the forward march of the Union? In respect of the question about the Irish raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), the House should welcome the statement of the Taoiseach to come back in October and explain and define how the Republic of Ireland will stay at the heart of Europe.
As to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) about enlargement to the east, does the Prime Minister agree that such enlargement of the 27 member states cannot take place uniquely on the back of the treaty of Nice?
I think it is generally recognised that the treaty of Nice contains provisions that make it very difficult for the EU to move ahead with 27 members. At one stage, the Opposition parties wanted a referendum on the treaty of Nice and now they want us to govern Europe by the treaty of Nice; I think the best way ahead is to implement the reform treaty. It is right to listen to what the Irish Government say and it is right for them to review the situation. That is clearly the best way forward and I would have thought that every sensible Member in the House would support it on that basis.
Like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), I served in Rhodesia, as it was called in those days, in 1979 in order to bring universal suffrage to that country. I was proud of our position then, but I am not particularly proud of ours or Europe’s right now. Does not the secret to providing a solution lie in Pretoria and Beijing? Is it not time that we said in no uncertain terms to the Chinese that if they wish to be accepted as a decent nation, they should stop supporting violent regimes such as Mugabe’s? If we also said to President Mbeki, who is almost alone in South Africa in supporting that man, that if he pulled out the stops, made Zimbabwe a pariah state, cut off all support and said to Mugabe, “Go or we will finish you”, he would be gone in a week.
I understand the knowledge of the situation that the right hon. Gentleman has given from when he was in the country many years ago. I have to say to him that the UN Security Council will meet this afternoon and I believe that there will be a presidential statement. That will require the countries that are part of the UN Security Council and that play a part in its affairs, including the ones he has mentioned, to be able to support that statement. I hope that they will support a statement that says in the strongest terms that the violence is unacceptable. What has led to the opposition leader pulling out of the election is perfectly understandable and a way forward has to be found for the Zimbabwean people, but that will be discussed by the UN Security Council later this afternoon.
I talked to President Mbeki before I came to the House this afternoon and urged it upon him that there had to be a solution and a way forward found, but he, too, will in my view join the statement that will be made by the UN later this afternoon, which shows that South Africa, too, wants an end to the violence and a solution to the problems we face.
First, I congratulate the Prime Minister on the considerable success of the summit and on the meeting in Saudi Arabia. Does he agree that true leadership consists of being guided by the long-term interests of the country and that, in the case of the EU, that means playing a central, constructive and, indeed, leading role, and in not constantly picking quarrels, sending signals that we do not want to be part of the venture at all and for ever playing to the gallery?
The Conservative party, as everybody knows, is isolated in Europe. It not only wants to renegotiate this treaty, but it would have renegotiated the other treaties signed under this Government—Amsterdam and Nice. It wants to withdraw from the social chapter and from social policy in Europe. It has no support in any other part of Europe for doing so. It should start to recognise that it is isolated in Europe. If the Conservatives were in power, we would be in the second division as a result of it.
In response to the global energy crisis and, in particular, to help hard-pressed sectors such as the hauliers, the French Government tabled a proposal at the European Council to introduce a cap on fuel taxes when oil prices reach $150 a barrel. The Austrian Government proposed a windfall tax on oil speculators, who have been heavily criticised by the US Congress and American regulators recently. Surely that is a more attractive proposal than going cap in hand to authoritarian regimes in the middle east. Did the Prime Minister support the French and Austrian initiatives?
As far as speculation is concerned, the EU, like the American Congress and other bodies including the Treasury in Britain, is looking at the forces at work in the marketplace. If there is any speculative activity, which is market manipulation, they will report on its existence. On the hon. Gentleman’s other proposal concerning VAT and the discussion on it, the Council agreed to look at all proposals that the different countries were putting forward. A report will come on that in the next few months.
We will look at those proposals, but the hon. Gentleman should also know that we in Britain have done what many other countries have not. We have raised the winter allowance for pensioners to help them with their fuel bills; we have negotiated a deal with the utilities to help low-income households; and we have frozen petrol duty, as we did in the Budget, for the next few months. The Chancellor will announce later what we will do in future.
Following the Irish no, there have been suggestions that work is going on that tries to disaggregate the Lisbon treaty into those things that could be brought in without treaty amendment and those that are institutional changes that could be piggy-backed on to a Croatian accession treaty. Will the Prime Minister give an undertaking to the House that if any British official is involved in any such negotiations, he will inform the House either in writing if the House is in recess or in a statement, or via the Select Committees?
While I welcome what the Prime Minister has said about Zimbabwe, may I ask him to take up the opportunity presented by Nelson Mandela’s visit to this country? Although Mr. Mandela, who has unrivalled moral authority in southern Africa, has retired from international politics, will the Prime Minister seek to persuade him to appeal to President Mbeki and say to him that the image of southern Africa is tarnished further by every minute that this evil man remains in power in Zimbabwe? He should be given the opportunity to go quietly, but if he does not do so, he should be put in the proper place, which is in the dock at The Hague.
I will raise those matters with President Mandela when I meet him later this week. The whole world is appalled at the violence and everybody who has a love of Africa is appalled at what is happening. Now that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned it, the whole House will want to send its best wishes to President Mandela on the occasion of his 90th birthday. He has been a true servant of Africa and of the world, and his courage is unsurpassed in modern times.
I thank the Prime Minister for a generally very helpful and welcome statement. May I ask him for assurances with regard to his view that there should be external investment in Britain’s nuclear industry, which is already causing some concern in the country? It strikes me, and perhaps others, that should investment come from certain Saudi quarters and nuclear stations be built with Saudi money, that would offer a tremendous security risk to the country.
Any nuclear work in this country, including nuclear stations, happens under the strictest of conditions attaching to both security and safety. Those conditions will be rigorously and strenuously upheld at all times. I must tell my hon. Friend that some of our nuclear industry already has external investment.
The European Council received a report on the extensive preparatory work already done on aspects of the Lisbon treaty, including the External Action Service or European foreign ministry. Given that the treaty can no longer come into effect, certainly not on 1 January, did the Prime Minister take a lead and demand that all that anticipatory work stop immediately, or is he, on that as on everything else, continuing to defy the verdict of the Irish people?
My right hon. Friend will recall the December 2001 Laeken declaration triggering a process to bring about the objectives of making the EU more transparent, democratic and efficient, and fit for a Europe of more than 27. Given the deliberations of the Irish and the difficulties that they face, will he do everything in his power to see that those original objectives are achieved at the October Council?
My hon. Friend is right that there are many questions that the Irish Government will want to consider as a result of the defeat in the referendum on supporting the European treaty. Those are the kind of issues that they will consider as they prepare the report for the October meeting of the European Council. It is not for me to say exactly what they will come forward with; that is a matter for them. But I am absolutely sure that they will want an open, transparent and democratic European Union.
It was a decision made by the Saudi Government as the right decision to increase oil production around the world. All oil producers are sensitive to the fact that demand for oil is rising very quickly, as a result not just of what is happening in China, India and Asia, but of the growth in the oil-producing countries themselves. Supply will have to adjust to meet that demand. There are many ways of doing that: to find alternative sources of supply than oil, such as nuclear and renewables; and to make the use of oil more efficient, through improved technology for running vehicles and other means of conserving energy. One way forward will be that those oil suppliers who have the capacity to do so should use that capacity to increase their production of oil. The Saudi Government are aware that many people have argued that it is important that they increase their production where they can, and that is what they announced yesterday.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing the pilot scheme for carbon capture and storage to the United Kingdom; only through that means will we deal with the Chinese and Indian problem. If we can develop carbon capture and storage in a way that can be sold, it will be a big step forward. If he wants to do that, the billions of tonnes of coal in the United Kingdom should be used for that purpose, and I suggest that the plant should be in Scotland.
When I met the Croatian Prime Minister last week, I told him that it is this Government’s view that Croatia should not be held back from its membership of the European Union, that the negotiations should proceed as planned, and that we hoped that the timetable for membership could be met. Of course, Croatia must meet the conditions for membership, but I have every reason to believe that it is working to meet those conditions, that it will meet them, and that it is in the interests of Europe for it to meet them.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the leadership that he has shown on the issue of future vehicles, which is enormously important to the British economy. We have a very complex transition to undergo, and if Britain is to play a leading role, we must also manage the manufacture of internal combustion engines and secure the maximum efficiency from them. May I urge him to bring together representatives of power generation, oil refining and the vehicle industry, and to create a high-level summit to work out the best way forward for the strategy?
I shall be happy to do that. My hon. Friend has fought hard for the car industry in this country, as well as fighting for the best environmental standards. The United Kingdom will continue to lead the battle in Europe to secure a lower car emissions target. We are aware of the sensitivities relating to particular models in the United Kingdom and will bear them in mind, but it is important to recognise that the prize ahead of us is a 40 per cent. reduction in emissions as a result of what we do. That is why I think that my hon. Friend’s proposal should commend itself to Members in all parts of the House.
Article 6 of the European Union constitutional treaty states that following ratification:
“The instruments of ratification shall be deposited with the Government of the Italian Republic”
by each country. Does the Prime Minister intend, if Stuart Wheeler loses his case, to deposit the United Kingdom’s instrument of ratification in Rome—yes or no?
Yes, we would hope to move forward, but we are confident that we will win the case in the courts. We believe that we have the right case and a good case. Let me clear up matters for the House. We wrote to the judge saying that we knew he was considering these matters and we wanted to proceed to ratification. He asked us if we would wait until he had given his judgment. We were happy to do so, and we now know that his judgment will come this week. What that judgment will be is of course a matter for the judge, but we believe that we have a good case, and after that we will proceed to ratification.
May I draw the Prime Minister further on China? Can he tell me how we are to stop Chinese inward investment in Zimbabwe, and also reassure me that the money-laundering that is going on pertains to Chinese banks in Hong Kong and Beijing?
We will examine the matters that my hon. Friend has raised. Clearly, the sanctions that we are considering are sanctions on individual members of the regime, but I will look at what he has said. I believe that China will support the presidential statement from the United Nations today, and will support both an end to violence and the restoration of conditions in which democracy can happen and flourish in Zimbabwe.
The Prime Minister has said nothing about Afghanistan. Will he tell us whether he raised with the Governments of Germany and France the possibility of German and French troops being deployed in Helmand province in an operational role? Does he agree that the Government’s decision to deploy British forces in the province without assurances from the Governments of France and Germany that they would reinforce on request was an act of the grossest incompetence?
I have talked to the Chancellor of Germany and the President of France on a number of occasions about the challenges in Afghanistan. We must remember that more than 40 countries are involved in supporting efforts in Afghanistan both to secure law and order and to bring democracy and prosperity to the country.
Germany is active in pushing forward with the programme that all of us want to support, and is leading in respect of the training of police forces for the future in Afghanistan. It has just doubled the number of police forces there, and I applaud the Chancellor for taking that step. The French are to move troops to the east of Afghanistan, which will allow American marines to move to Helmand, thus strengthening the position there in the months to come.
As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, last week the Secretary of State for Defence announced that we would reconfigure our troops in Afghanistan and ensure that there were additional troops there for the work that needs to be done. We all know of the sacrifices that British servicemen and women have made in Afghanistan. We are determined that those sacrifices will lead to the democracy that we want to see there and to greater prosperity for the Afghan people.
The Prime Minister will be aware that the first millennium development goal is the eradication of hunger, and while a 40 per cent. rise in global food prices over a year is painful for European consumers, it is catastrophic for the poorest living in developing countries. What impact does my right hon. Friend think the rise in food prices will have on the achievement of that millennium development goal, in particular with reference to Zimbabwe, 45 per cent. of whose population is currently dependent on food aid?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. The first thing that should happen in Zimbabwe is that the non-governmental organisations providing food aid should be allowed to do so; at present, hundreds of thousands of people are being denied food aid because the NGOs are not allowed to operate. My hon. Friend is also right that 100 million people face famine as a result of the increased food prices and the inability of many countries to deal with the food shortages in their midst. We are determined to work with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to do more about that. At the conference in Jeddah yesterday, the Saudi Arabians offered $1 billion extra for relief from the high oil and food prices and the problems facing the poorest countries, and we are talking to the World Bank about what more we can do together to meet the need for food around the world.
After the Jeddah meeting, can the Prime Minister answer some of the myths about the oil market, notably the myth that oil producers are deliberately withholding supply when spare capacity is only 2 per cent., and the myth perpetuated by the Conservative leader today that prices are where they are because of financial speculators rather than the underlying reality of rapidly rising demand and fixed supply?
On speculation, I have said in answer to another question that the Treasury is looking into that matter. An inquiry is going on within the IMF and the US authorities are conducting an examination. If there has been market manipulation, that will be exposed by the work being done. On supply, I am satisfied that many of the largest oil producers are trying to supply the market. The problem is that there has been insufficient investment in capacity and refining in previous years, and another problem is that some oil-producing countries get their oil to the marketplace in inefficient ways. These forces should be examined. That is why British oil companies, and oil companies from outside the region, should be allowed to invest, so that we have higher production and better refining in these areas. It is also why, reciprocally, we should agree that the oil producers should be able to diversify their portfolio and invest in other aspects of energy so that they have an interest in the stability of the whole energy market.
The last time the British people voted on the European Union they voted yes, and the Conservative party has never come to terms with the fact that Britain is part of the European Union and that it should remain at the centre of the European Union. Instead of using every excuse to oppose the European Union, it should start to recognise that if it has truly changed as a party, it would have changed its visceral opposition to the European Union.
Ahead of the start of the French presidency of the Council, what discussions did the Prime Minister have with President Sarkozy about French plans for greater defence co-operation in general, and the creation of EU-controlled defence forces?
I answered that question last Wednesday. We issued a statement after the meeting with President Sarkozy when he came to Britain only a few months ago. We outlined those areas where defence co-operation was not only taking place, but was good for Britain, Europe and the world. I said last Wednesday that those people who were trying to suggest that there would be a merger between the British and French navies were totally wrong, because when one examines the detail even of the French statement, one sees that it is made absolutely clear that there is to be co-operation and working together, not merger and amalgamation.
With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will make a statement on the situation in Zimbabwe.
I am sure that the whole House will unite in its condemnation of the depravity of the Mugabe regime; in grieving at the needless loss of life in Zimbabwe; in wanting to send a clear message of support and solidarity to the people of Zimbabwe at this time; and in supporting new African efforts to find a resolution to the crisis. We share both their demand for a democratic future and their belief that they should not be denied by this violence or intimidation.
Since 29 March and the extraordinary scenes of courage shown by ordinary people who put their faith in democracy and the ballot box, we have seen a regime that has reverted to type. President Mugabe and his key generals used changes to the law as a means of identifying those people who chose to vote for change. From then onwards, a campaign of violence was inflicted on those people, intended to punish them for having had the temerity to say no to Robert Mugabe and no to ZANU-PF. We know that 34,000 people have been displaced, 2,700 injured and 84 murdered since that day.
This is not British propaganda. Non-governmental organisations have documented the existence of torture camps. Independent media have published the names of those who have directed and orchestrated the violence. African election observers have seen the violence with their own eyes. Thousands of teachers and public servants who had volunteered as presiding officers in the first round withdrew their names for fear of violence and intimidation in the second round. By Sunday, only 84 election observers had been accredited, when more than 10,000 had applied. It is also a matter of public record that Morgan Tsvangirai has been detained five times in the last 10 days, and that the secretary-general of the Movement for Democratic Change, Tendai Biti, has been in prison and charged with a trumped-up treason offence since arriving back in Harare. The stage was set for the most rigged election in African history.
The failure is not of the opposition but of the Government. Robert Mugabe and his thugs made an election impossible, and certainly made the notion of a free and fair election farcical. It is clear that the only people with democratic legitimacy are those who won the parliamentary majority on 29 March, and who took most votes in the first round of the presidential election, and that was of course the opposition.
If I may, I will pick up on one point that came up in the exchange between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. We do not—repeat not—recognise the Mugabe Government as the legitimate representative of the Zimbabwean people. We will not “de-recognise” the state of Zimbabwe, because that would mean the withdrawal of diplomatic representation and all that goes with it, but the Prime Minister could not have been clearer that we do not believe that a Government who have clubbed their way to victory and defied the constitution, which requires a second round within 30 days of the first round of the election, can claim to be the legitimate representative of the Zimbabwean people. Zimbabwe does, however, need a broad-based Government who command the confidence of the majority of Zimbabweans and, in addition to stopping the violence, that must be the focus of regional and international efforts.
Since the announcement yesterday, the Prime Minister, Lord Malloch-Brown and I have spoken to Foreign Ministers and key figures in southern Africa and around the world. This is a crucial moment for democracy and prosperity right across Africa and the whole region. Ahead of the election, 40 senior Africans underlined their concern at the conditions in Zimbabwe. The African Union Commission has called for violence to end. The head of the pan-African parliamentary observer mission has said that violence was now at the top of the agenda of this electoral process. Zambia’s President Mwanawasa, who is currently chair of the Southern African Development Community, has said that
“the current political environment in Zimbabwe falls far short of”
SADC’s “principles and guidelines”. He said yesterday, more strongly, that the situation in Zimbabwe was scandalous and that what was happening there was embarrassing to all Africans in the region. I applaud his frankness and that of his Angolan and Tanzanian colleagues, who have spoken in similar terms. It is now for SADC and AU leaders to convene in early session and to establish a clear basis for regional engagement on the issue.
At the European Council last week, the Prime Minister and other leaders underlined their readiness to take further measures, should President Mugabe attempt to steal the election. On behalf of the EU, the Slovenian Foreign Minister has issued a clear statement condemning the violence and the conditions that forced Morgan Tsvangirai to withdraw from the election. I spoke to Foreign Minister Rupel last night to welcome that statement, and to discuss with him now the need urgently to consider how we can put further pressure—a widening and deepening of the EU visa ban and targeted financial measures—on Robert Mugabe and his elite that can be actioned at the next meeting of EU Foreign Ministers. Javier Solana and Commissioner Michel have both now issued statements condemning the violence and supporting Morgan Tsvangirai’s decision.
I have also spoken to the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, and I welcome his statement yesterday. Later today, the Security Council will discuss Zimbabwe. I am sure that our permanent representative will speak for the whole House when he says that the UN must contribute to the resolution of this crisis before the entire region is destabilised further. It is right and it is necessary that the Security Council, the African Union and SADC work together on this. The UN agencies have prepared for continued help for refugees who flee Zimbabwe.
The UN Secretary-General’s envoy remains in the region and should be allowed to return to Zimbabwe, but the burden will still be borne by the region and by Zimbabwe’s neighbours, and the role of their leaders is vital. Britain has long and historical links with Zimbabwe. I have never believed that the rights and wrongs of our history should prevent us from speaking clearly and frankly about the situation today. Robert Mugabe’s misrule does not invalidate the struggle for independence; our colonial history does not mean we cannot denounce that which is wrong. The test, at all times, should be whether our commitment and action can help the people of Zimbabwe.
The cynical decision to suspend non-governmental organisations delivering vital humanitarian aid shows how far Mugabe has gone in abandoning Zimbabwe’s people. Our foremost duty is still to press for humanitarian space to be re-opened and for those NGOs to be allowed to restart operations. Some 1.5 million people have been affected by the ban imposed by the Mugabe regime. As the second largest bilateral donor, we will continue to provide aid and assistance as we can. The Secretary of State for International Development chaired a meeting this morning to consider what more we can do to support urgently those in Zimbabwe. Just before this sitting of the House, I spoke to our ambassador in Harare, and he and his staff are working hard to maintain a full suite of diplomatic roles in Harare. Travel advice remains under review and recommends against all but essential travel to Zimbabwe.
We will continue our efforts publicly and privately to press for a solution to this crisis that reflects the will of the people in Zimbabwe. I am sure hon. Members will agree with me that such a solution cannot come quickly enough. Mr. Mugabe says that only God can remove him from office—let us hope the people of Zimbabwe get there first.
May I thank the Foreign Secretary for coming to the House to make that statement and say at the outset that I think that there will be unanimous agreement with what he said about the violence and murder of recent weeks? Should it not now be clear to the world that this is a despotic regime that cares nothing even for the welfare of its own people and that has no democratic credibility whatever? Does he agree that no one should condemn the Movement for Democratic Change for withdrawing from such a manifestly un-free and unfair election? As Morgan Tsvangirai has said, his party was
“facing a war rather than an election.”
We should commend the bravery of those opposition figures and supporters who campaigned despite the overt threats against them and in the face of appalling violence towards and suffering for their families.
The response by Zimbabwe’s neighbours and the wider international community should be swift, united and decisive, and we welcome everything that the Government have done to encourage such a response. We welcome their commitment to raise the issue of Zimbabwe at the UN Security Council today. Can the Foreign Secretary tell the House whether the Government will put actual proposals to the Security Council, for instance, on a UN commission of inquiry into the grotesque abuses of human rights taking place in Zimbabwe? Does he agree that unless there is a negotiated solution, Mugabe and those around him must one day be held accountable for the crimes being committed? Can the Foreign Secretary say whether the Government will at least call for and gather support for a United Nations referral to the International Criminal Court?
The Government announced earlier this year that they would seek an informal moratorium on arms sales to Zimbabwe. Is that still the Government’s policy, and is there any possibility of it being achieved? The Foreign Secretary rightly referred to European Union sanctions. This is surely the time for those to be seriously extended and rigorously enforced. In particular, should they not include extending the EU visa ban and assets freeze to associates and relatives of regime members, many of whom currently travel and study in Europe with impunity? The time has surely come for the pusillanimous policy of allowing Mugabe to attend summits with the European Union to be struck down once and for all—there should be no place for the man at any of the world’s summit tables.
I welcome what the Foreign Secretary said, in clarifying the Prime Minister’s remarks, about not recognising Robert Mugabe’s regime as the legitimate Government of Zimbabwe. On that point, the Foreign Secretary is aware of statements—he listed some of them—by SADC and its leaders that the election should not now go ahead as planned. The President of Zambia, who is also the chairman of SADC, has said that postponement was needed
“to avert a catastrophe in the region”.
Since that is the view of those countries, and even now the regime seems bent on going ahead with the rerun, does it not follow that it is time for SADC countries to withhold recognition of the legitimacy of the regime?
Have we not also reached the point at which South Africa’s willingness to prop up the Government in Harare is harming South Africa’s image in the world and when all friends of that country should call on the South African president to live up to his regional responsibilities?
There are between 3 million and 4 million Zimbabwean refugees living in neighbouring countries. The latest shocking violence and the economic collapse are expected to create another wave of desperate people fleeing the country. The Foreign Secretary mentioned it in his statement, but can he tell the House what help has been offered to the neighbouring countries in dealing with that problem?
Whatever happens in Zimbabwe over the next weeks, we must stand ready to continue to support the people. Is he satisfied that we have prepared as fully as possible for the rehabilitation of Zimbabwe at the appropriate time, once the country is set on a clear course towards the rule of law and democracy?
Finally, from a wider perspective, the early 1990s saw a positive trend towards multi-party elections in Africa. For various countries, they marked a transition from an extended period of authoritarian rule to fledgling democratic government. They held out the possibility that democratic practices might be deepened on that continent. However, the recent use of violence, intimidation and politically motivated harassment of various forms to retain power in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and now, so spectacularly, in Zimbabwe have undermined that trend. Is it not therefore more crucial than ever that we send a message of unity and clarity to the criminal regime of Mugabe and those who may be tempted to use intimidation and brutality against their own people that that can never be accepted as the norm, and that the people of Africa deserve the rule of law and freedom just like the rest of us?
I counted 12 questions from the right hon. Gentleman, so I hope that he will forgive me if I try to pick out not the easiest ones, but those that I have not covered at great length so far. Certainly there is no condemnation of the MDC from anyone who has their senses about them. The life and limb of its supporters were at risk.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether, in the happy circumstance of a negotiated solution or way forward, we would “call for and gather support for” criminal action against Robert Mugabe. Sometimes calling for such things makes it more difficult to gather support for them, but we certainly believe that all aspects of international law should be used where appropriate. We will not shy away from using the tools that are at our disposal, although as the Prime Minister made clear, Zimbabwe is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court, and any action on that level would therefore require a UN Security Council resolution.
There is an EU and, I think, a US arms sales ban on Zimbabwe and we certainly seek to take that further and wider. I think that I am right in saying that the Chinese ship that tried to dock in Zimbabwe never did disperse its cargo and we hope that that remains the case—
The hon. Gentleman shouts out his support for the South African dock workers, and he is right to highlight their role. It emphasises the need for both Governments and civil society, including trade unions, to be active on this issue.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about President Mugabe’s attendance at summits. Certainly it was gut-wrenching to see him turn up at a summit to discuss food, of all things, but it is not possible to ban him from attending the UN summit until he is no longer the President of Zimbabwe. In respect of Mugabe’s legitimacy, the right hon. Gentleman raised an important point about the need, even in the first 24 hours after Mr. Tsvangirai’s decision not to contest the second round, of southern African countries not to throw in their lot with Mugabe’s rule. As the right hon. Gentleman said, those countries should refuse to recognise the Government as a legitimate expression of the will of the Zimbabwean people.
I will be in South Africa in two weeks’ time and I certainly propose to discuss all aspects of the crisis, including the refugees. I would have thought that it dawned on people in South Africa some time ago that, since the majority of those refugees are in South Africa, it is their problem as well as a Zimbabwean problem and that it afflicts them directly.
In respect of the threat of further refugees, we obviously keep the issue of stockpiles of food and shelter under review. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, as I said, held a meeting on that this morning. The UN presence is critical to this, and we are in touch with the UN on this issue.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman rightly drew attention to the importance of the rehabilitation—I think that was what he said—of Zimbabwe afterwards. He asked how confident I was about the plans for that. I am confident that a lot of work is going into them, but I have to say to him in all candour that a country that, according to our ambassador today, has reached 8 million per cent. inflation this week is a country for which rehabilitation is hard to plan. With that caveat in mind, I assure him that although the focus is on the immediate issue we certainly have not forgotten the need to recognise not only our responsibilities but those of all wealthier countries, including those in the region, to contribute to the rehabilitation of Zimbabwe when this vile rule is over.
The first round of the presidential election was clearly won by Morgan Tsvangirai. The Movement for Democratic Change won the parliamentary elections. Given that this second round is illegitimate now that the opposition have been forced to withdraw, should we not recognise that fact and do more to help the MDC internationally as well as to help the civil society organisations and non-governmental organisations forced into exile by the Mugabe regime? Should we not do whatever we can internationally not just to de-legitimise Mugabe but to say that the real President is Morgan Tsvangirai?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Of course, it is not just him who says that Mr. Tsvangirai won the first round. Mr. Mugabe recognises that the parliamentary majority was won by the MDC and the presidential plurality was won by Mr. Tsvangirai. That is why I have said yesterday and today that if anyone can claim democratic legitimacy it is the MDC and Mr. Tsvangirai. It is worth saying that there is a lot of talk about Governments of national unity and about people coming together, but that must be based on respecting the only decision that the Zimbabwean people have made, which was certainly not one that would put Robert Mugabe at the head of a Government.
I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for advance notice of his statement and we very much welcome what he has had to say. He is absolutely right that over the past few weeks Robert Mugabe’s regime has reached new heights of brutality and disregard for the people of Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is heading for total collapse. It is clear that free and fair elections would have been impossible under those circumstances, so we can all fully understand and respect the decision taken by the MDC to pull out of the election.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that under the UN principle of responsibility to protect, the international community now has a duty to act? Is he concerned that SADC’s chairman, the President of Zambia, recently described the silence of that organisation over the elections as “scandalous”? Is the Foreign Secretary doing all he can to remind SADC countries, particularly South Africa, of the principles on which that organisation is founded, namely respect for democracy and human rights?
In the absence of a free and fair second round of elections, the Foreign Secretary is right to say that the result of the first round must be taken to express the will of the Zimbabwean people. Does he not agree, too, that the Zimbabwean Parliament should be allowed to meet unmolested to express its will on the matter?
The demands that we must now make are clear. The violence must stop and either the elections must be rescheduled with a massive international presence or a Government of national unity should be formed under Morgan Tsvangirai. In order to ensure that those demands are met, are the Government willing to take three further steps on a temporary basis until the regime complies? First, will they act to stop the remittances that provide the hard foreign currency that sustains the regime in power? Secondly, will they pressure the Governments of South Africa and Mozambique to be willing to restrict or cut off the supply of electricity to Zimbabwe? Thirdly, will they exceptionally allow asylum seekers from Zimbabwe to work in this country should they seek refuge here? Those are drastic steps but they would remove the only resources that now sustain this evil regime. The Government must show now that they are prepared to take such steps.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his overall welcome for my statement. I certainly agree that we must do all that we can in all our roles to make sure that SADC lives up to its principles. His point about the Zimbabwean Parliament is well made; it does, of course, represent one source of strength for decent people in Zimbabwe.
Let me address the three questions that the hon. Gentleman asked. He is not the first member of the Liberal Democrat Benches to raise the question whether we should try to stop remittances. On previous occasions in the House, I have tried to say in a diplomatic way that I think that a completely idiotic idea. I have to say again in the nicest possible way that it is very stupid indeed to keep on asking us to try to stop the remittances, because the remittances are keeping together the bodies and souls of very poor people.
I have said in the House before that I have met people in this country who are providing care and sending money back. When they are asked about the conditions of their families, they say, “This money is the only thing that is keeping them alive.” Honestly, I ask in the nicest possible way that people should stop suggesting the idea; I promise that it is a very bad idea—[Interruption.] Carry on if you want, but I say to the hon. Gentleman that I honestly do not believe that stopping the remittances would serve the ends that we share on this issue. They are providing much-needed currency not to the regime but to very poor people who need to keep body and soul together—ditto in respect of the electricity supply; living in Zimbabwe is tough enough without that being cut off.
The right thing to say on the question of the asylum seekers is that every case must be treated seriously on a case-by-case basis. Anyone with a genuine fear of persecution—we can see the conditions under which that would exist—must, of course, be given asylum in this country.
As my right hon. Friend knows, there is a split in the leadership of the African National Congress in South Africa. While I was there a few weeks ago, President Mbeki addressed 1,500 delegates from all over the world and did not mention the word “Zimbabwe”. However, the Speaker of the Parliament got up directly afterwards and said that nobody should remain silent on the issue.
There is one voice that is respected throughout the world and ought to be heard on the issue: President Mandela’s. He is in London this week celebrating his 90th birthday. Will my right hon. Friend discuss the matter with President Mandela and ask him to speak out, as I am sure he would have done had he been President now?
My right hon. Friend’s role with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and her visit to South Africa were important. Obviously, President Mandela has a unique position in the world, never mind in Africa. I certainly would not tell him what to do. As I am sure my right hon. Friend knows, he will use whatever offices he has and can appropriately use to effect decent change in South Africa. The issue will certainly be a subject of discussion—not necessarily during the pop concert, but at some time during his visit. I hope that my right hon. Friend will agree that any of us would proceed with great temerity and humility in suggesting lessons that we could teach President Mandela about how he fulfils his functions.
Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House to what he attributes Mr. Mbeki’s pathetically inadequate response to this terrible tragedy? Secondly, is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the Commonwealth has put together a response formidable enough to ensure that its views are properly known?
In respect of the first question, I do not want to put myself into the mind of the leader of South Africa. As I said earlier, the burden borne by South Africa from the 2 million-plus refugees from Zimbabwe who are there is reason enough for any country—from self-interest, never mind moral interest—to speak out on the issue. We have debated before the role of President Mbeki in securing the rounds of the election. Obviously, however, the fact that those elections have not been able to take place in anything other than grotesque circumstances has rendered that null and void.
The hon. Gentleman raised a very important point about the Commonwealth. Zimbabwe’s absence from the Commonwealth is regretted and due entirely to how Mugabe has run the country. Mugabe has spurned the Commonwealth; I do not believe that the people of Zimbabwe have done so. I can certainly confirm to the hon. Gentleman that this week I will be in touch with the new secretary-general of the Commonwealth to see how neighbouring Commonwealth countries can use the organisation’s good offices in a positive way.
On 26 March last year, I made a statement on Zimbabwe. During the past year, the only thing that has gone down is support for the regime, while murder, corruption, violence, hunger and unemployment have gone up, as well as the numbers of refugees. We still see in the international community a failure to take sufficient action together in such a way that would lead to a recognition by Mugabe of the need for a transition through democratic means to a new form of democratic government. I am certain that in the end the people of Zimbabwe will win, despite the damage done to them in the immediate future. My right hon. Friend will be involved, privately and publicly, in very complex negotiations over this. I ask him to think about a group of people in Zimbabwe that nobody speaks of—the thousands of elderly and vulnerable people who will require our support immediately Mugabe goes because they may lose their lives within hours of his regime collapsing in whatever way it does.
Before I made my first statement on Zimbabwe, I read my right hon. Friend’s statement of last March. He raises a very important point. The whole country is vulnerable at a time of 8 million per cent. inflation, but those who are elderly and vulnerable are particularly at risk. I can assure him that they are very much in our thoughts on a consular and a more general humanitarian basis.
The Foreign Secretary was absolutely right to remind the House that leading Ministers in Zambia, Tanzania and Angola have spoken out against Mugabe; I am sure that he would have wished to add Botswana. However, one neighbour has not—he had to omit South Africa. When he meets President Mbeki, will he point out that many friends of South Africa on both sides of the House are appalled at this inaction and that he can no longer be an honest broker between the Mugabe regime and the opposition but has to take a stance?
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said earlier, he has been in touch with President Mbeki on a regular basis, including earlier today. President Mbeki’s role is very important. Of course, there are other South African voices as well. I completely understand what the right hon. Gentleman says about friends of South Africa wanting them to play a positive role in change in Zimbabwe that brings stability and prosperity right across the southern African continent.
Without underestimating the difficulties, will my right hon. Friend look at how far Britain can work with SADC and the African Union to ensure that we support the infrastructure in Zimbabwe, which will not only be necessary for delivering humanitarian aid but, in the long run, be the basis for the re-establishment of civil society? Without practical investment now, difficult though it is, and in the future, Zimbabwe will collapse even when Mugabe goes.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. With every week and month that goes by, as Zimbabwe descends further into chaos, it is harder for it to drag itself out of that chaos or to be dragged out of it by the international community afterwards. It is a moving target, and that is making the job of planning by the international community increasingly difficult. At the World Bank and the UN, as well as in the British Government, serious thinking is going on about that country’s infrastructure, to use his word, in the widest possible sense of the term—the physical and human infrastructure. After all, as many right hon. and hon. Members have said, Zimbabwe should be a rich country, not a poor country—it has the resources to be such, both human and physical. I hope that is what is keeping the people of Zimbabwe going through this dark, dark hour.
What happens in Zimbabwe will no doubt affect the long-term future of the whole of central southern Africa. While I express gratitude to the Minister of State, Lord Malloch-Brown, for the way in which he has co-operated with Members of this House who take a deep, long-standing interest in Zimbabwe, does he accept that the one person who could bring this catastrophe to an end is Mr. Thabo Mbeki, the President of South Africa? I support my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames). Could we not bring greater pressure to bear on Mr. Mbeki? Even if switching off the electricity is an extreme act, the people of Zimbabwe have suffered long enough, and they would be prepared to put up with that action if it would bring down Mugabe.
I think that we are united throughout the House on the responsibility of regional leaders. The strong words from Angola, Botswana and Zambia, set out by the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay), were conspicuous in the leadership role that they have played, and they have set an example for others to follow.
Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that there will be no shady deals when Mugabe goes, and that he will be brought to court wherever he may go?
I am struggling to know the answer to this question, but would it not be possible to start an exile Government—perhaps in South Africa, given that there are 2 million to 3 million Zimbabweans there—and would he raise that point with Mbeki when he sees him in two weeks’ time?
Certainly, the full force of international law should be felt. The important thing is that we take our lead from the people of Zimbabwe and their elected opposition representatives. It is Mr. Tsvangirai whose lead we should follow and it is premature for us to start proposing an exile Government—it must be for us to follow and support his lead. He is the man at the sharp end, and he is the one who, in the end, will have to provide leadership to find a way out of this morass.
Many people find it morally repugnant that the international community has fiddled so ineffectively as Zimbabwe has literally burned. Can the Foreign Secretary tell the House how many British subjects there are in Zimbabwe, and what sort of plans are in place in the event of civil war, which many correspondents are now suggesting might happen? What contingency plans are there to remove those British citizens to safety? I say to the Foreign Secretary that the Almighty is not the only person who could remove Mr. Mugabe; the Special Air Service could also do a pretty good job.
Whatever the degree of frustration that the hon. Gentleman feels, I do not think that he really wants me to pursue the latter part of his question.
The best thing to say about British nationals is to refer back to my earlier statement on the issue, which recorded that there are 12,000 British nationals in Zimbabwe, many of whom are elderly, and there is no evidence of them being subject to intimidation or attack thus far. They are supported by a well-developed wardens network, and by some very brave non-governmental organisations. The best thing to say is that they remain the subject of continued engagement, and if the hon. Gentleman wants to have a word with me afterwards, I could say a bit more to him about that.
May I urge Her Majesty’s Government to stop being quite so nice to President Mbeki of South Africa? Anyone listening to his remarks last night would wonder whether he was on the same planet as many of us. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider withdrawing Mbeki’s invitation to the next G8 summit—he attended the Gleneagles summit on the understanding that he was going to be the person in Africa speaking up for good governance and human rights. He has not honoured his side of the bargain; should we not be looking at our side?
Of all right hon. and hon. Members in the House, my hon. Friend has played a long-term role in standing up for decent values in Zimbabwe. The extension of an invitation to the G8 is to South Africa, not an individual, and it is important that we expand the G8 to include countries such as South Africa. It is also important that we engage with such countries. We should speak plainly of our own views, but we should engage with those countries, and whatever the levels of frustration, the worst signal to send would be that the leading industrialised countries had lost interest in talking to, in this case, those countries’ democratically elected leaders. Although I totally understand my hon. Friend’s frustration, I hope that she agrees, on reflection, that engagement on a clear basis is the preferable way forward.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the full force of international law should be felt. Does that mean to say that as a matter of principle he accepts that the International Criminal Court should have jurisdiction over what is going on in Zimbabwe? If that is his position, and it is mine, will he start taking action within the Security Council to mobilise support for a resolution that would subject Mr. Mugabe and his immediate supporters to the full rigour of the International Criminal Court?
When I said “the full force of international law” earlier, I did not say it lightly but because I believe it. However, we have been trying to mobilise support to get Zimbabwe on to the Security Council agenda. That has been the blockage, and I would fail in my duty if I pretended to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we were at a stage yet when we could start mobilising support for something greater than a standing item on the agenda. However, I assure him that, from my two conversations with our permanent representative at the UN yesterday and previous conversations, there is no lack of clarity on the part of all members of the Security Council about the importance of the issue. Its discussion last week and the fact that Burkina Faso became the ninth country to support its debate at the Security Council is significant. I hope that we can build on that—it is certainly our priority.
May I press my right hon. Friend on the suggestion that the European Union should extend travel and financial sanctions to the families of those who are subject to them? During my time at the Foreign Office, we took the view that the sins of the fathers should not be visited on the children but, given the enormity of what is occurring, perhaps the time has come to revisit the issue.
The 131 people who are currently subject to a travel ban have been carefully chosen. It is right to consider all options for further travel bans or financial intervention. Although we recognise that there is a pull in both directions, it is right to examine all the options without fear or favour.
On behalf of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru, I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance notice of his statement. We are all appalled by the situation in Zimbabwe. Does not he agree that it would be the making of the African Union and SADC if they could sort out the situation so that democracy, the rule of law and human rights were secured in this new era for Africans by African diplomatic efforts?