HC Deb 13 January 1998 vol 304 cc136-8
8. Mr. Day

What steps his Department is taking to promote democracy in the Commonwealth. [20420]

Mr. Tony Lloyd

Under my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's chairmanship, Commonwealth Heads of Government at Edinburgh reaffirmed the Commonwealth's principles of human rights and democracy and set them as criteria for new members. Britain plays an active part in all Commonwealth bodies and in particular the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, whose remit was extended by Commonwealth Heads of Government at Edinburgh.

Mr. Day

The Minister will be aware that Malawi has made great strides towards a more democratic and accountable system. He may not be aware that a delegation from the UK branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, of which I had the honour and privilege to be a member, recently visited Malawi. We discovered that the only real help for its people, who were suffering particularly from the threat from AIDS, came from health clinics fully funded by British aid under a programme established by the previous Government. Can the Minister assure the House that he will confer with the Department of International Development to ensure that when that aid programme comes up for review shortly, it is allowed to continue its terrific work, which is desperately needed by the people of Malawi, as a recognition of the strides towards democracy that Malawi has made?

Mr. Lloyd

I endorse the hon. Gentleman's observations. Under its present Government, there is no doubt that Malawi has made considerable advances towards conformity with international human rights standards. We should all applaud that. AIDS affects huge areas of Africa. That was brought forcefully to my attention by many people when I was in southern Africa last week. I do not want to pretend that our wish to support the very necessary funding of programmes to combat the effects of AIDS should be made conditional, directly in this case, on the human rights performance of Governments. The House will agree that the devastation caused in the wake of AIDS transcends many issues on which we would normally place a high priority.

Mr. Ernie Ross

What action are the Government taking, bilaterally or through the Commonwealth, to move Kenya towards democracy?

Mr. Lloyd

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. As he knows, the Kenyan people had the opportunity to go to the polls over Christmas and the new year. The Government funded the presence of local observers at those elections. There is no doubt that there were some irregularities in those elections. That was the strong view not only of local observers but of the international diplomatic community, and was reflected in the statement put out by the European Union under the British presidency. Clearly, we had concerns. Nevertheless, we have little doubt that President Moi achieved election according to the will of the Kenyan people under the present constitution. It is now incumbent on him to conform to what he has already said about the need for a constitutional convention to update Kenya's constitution, the need to drive hard against corruption and the need to involve opposition politicians in establishing a new future for the country. In our bilateral deals, and as part of European Union, we will ask him to keep to those commitments.

Mr. Streeter

Does the Minister agree that it is an important right in any democracy that all citizens should have free access to an independent court? Does he therefore share my alarm that farmers who are to have their land confiscated in Zimbabwe will, apparently, be denied access to their courts to challenge the legality of that act? If he does share my alarm, will he take the necessary steps to stop further aid to Zimbabwe until its Government are prepared to act in a more democratic manner?

Mr. Lloyd

Fortuitously, I was in Zimbabwe last week and I raised that issue with the Zimbabwean Foreign Minister among others. We made it clear that Britain will offer support for the process of land reform provided that a number of conditions are met. First, land reform should be targeted at giving the land to the poor, which is one of our legitimate interests. Secondly, any land reform programme should be transparent, and legal rights under domestic law and in accordance with international obligations should be respected by the Zimbabwean Government. On that basis, we made it clear to that Government that the present land reform scheme simply does not allow those conditions to be met. We have therefore made it clear that Britain will not provide any money for that scheme.

Mr. Donald Anderson

Does the Minister agree that much of the key work of democracy building in the Commonwealth is carried out by and through non-governmental organisations, and that paramount among those is the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association? He will be aware that the millennium conference of the CPA will be held in Edinburgh, where it is hoped that the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly will be represented as full members. Will he ensure that Her Majesty's Government pledge their full support for that important millennium conference?

Mr. Lloyd

My hon. Friend is right to draw to the House's attention the valuable work performed by the CPA throughout the Commonwealth not only in bringing parliamentarians together but in insisting that the common standards of acceptance of parliamentary democracy and human rights are the norm within it. The important conference that is due to take place in Edinburgh will receive Government support.