HC Deb 22 March 2000 vol 346 cc213-33WH

11 am

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham)

It is a pleasure to speak in this Chamber, whose layout I saw for the first time today. I am glad that adversarial politics is not dead, despite the hemicycle layout of the Chamber. I also welcome the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones) back to the Palace—it is a great pleasure to see him here.

It is a pleasure and a privilege to introduce this brief debate on the future of the Commonwealth, which played an important part in most of our lives while we were growing up. It was created 50 years ago, in 1949, and it is currently in a period of transition. The current Secretary-General, Chief Anyaoku, is about to retire, to acclaim from everyone who worked with him, and the new Secretary-General will take over on 1 April. Our debate could not be more timely.

It is only a couple of weeks since Commonwealth day, which falls on the second Tuesday of March. It would be interesting to take a straw poll of the number of people who knew that 13 March was Commonwealth day. [Interruption.] I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) knew that. Although the Commonwealth has been part of our lives for more than 50 years, few of us knew that 13 March was Commonwealth day.

The Commonwealth is widely known and respected and it is regarded with great affection, but its history and purpose are not as well known as they should be. I spent several years as a governor of Archbishop Tenison's school, which is located just over the river opposite the Oval cricket ground. Although 90 per cent. of its boys had west African or West Indian backgrounds, I wonder how much of their curriculum was devoted to the Commonwealth's history. Are we bringing up a generation who do not share our knowledge of the way in which, uniquely, the United Kingdom gave up its empire relatively peacefully and created the Commonwealth? If so, we should fear for its future as an organisation that serves anyone other than Heads of Government.

I welcome the fact that last November's Heads of Government meeting agreed to set up a working party to review the Commonwealth's future. Although our country is a member of that review team, it is sad that our Prime Minister left the Heads of Government meeting early. I hope that that does not reveal the importance that the Government place on the Commonweatlth. One of its strengths is its sheer variety—the number of countries that belong to it means that in world councils it punches above its weight.

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle)

Is it not encouraging for the Commonwealth—and, therefore, for the world—that a former Portuguese and a former French colony have seen fit to join what had been a gathering of ex-British colonies? That is reassuring for the cohesion of the world and for the success of the existing Commonwealth.

Mrs. Lait

Indeed. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is good that countries from different traditions of empire feel strongly enough to join the Commonwealth.

The strength of the Commonwealth, and the subtle relationships between the countries concerned, were probably helpful during the recent floods in Mozambique. Those countries were able quickly to help a nation in deep distress that was, hearteningly, returning to democracy and improving its economic structure. That development has been affected by the floods, and we hope that the people of Mozambique will not lose heart in relation to that regeneration. The Commonwealth has a role to play in ensuring that Mozambique recovers as quickly as possible, both democractically and economically.

The Commonwealth is not an economic grouping. However, the Commonwealth Business Council has a major role to play in developing its lobbying to help developing countries to benefit from global trading. I understand that the council was actively lobbying at the World Trade Organisation conference in Seattle. Perhaps if it had been allowed to get on with that, undisturbed by people who thought that they had a greater interest in the economic development of developing countries, something more postitive might have emerged from Seattle. We hope that the business council will build its lobbying power to improve global trading to a greater extent than it has done so far.

The Commonwealth is, if anything, a political grouping of countries held together by the experience of empire. It is impressive that those countries still wish to work together. However, if the Commonwealth is to increase in strength and power over the years, it must ensure that it has the internal strength to do so. I shall outline some of the problems that it has faced, and continues to face. It would be helpful if the review group were to take them into account when considering the future development of the Commonwealth.

In the early 1990s, I chaired the Conservative west Africa committee, in which people with an interest in Nigeria played a substantial part. At meeting after meeting, we watched Nigeria descend into endemic corruption. Despite the elections, we are only now witnessing some control over foreign bank accounts being taken back, and some of the knock-on effects of the corruption being remedied. The Commonwealth was active at that time: Nigeria was excluded from the councils of the Commonwealth for some time. However, it could have been more proactive in trying to get Nigeria back on the straight and narrow earlier.

Zimbabwe is a current case that represents the need for the Commonwealth to be much more proactive in trying to impose common discipline on its members. Those of us who have watched the development of Africa since many of its countries have become independent recognise that what is happening in Zimbabwe is similar to what has happened in many other African states—that is, the emergence of a tyrant or dictator and the impoverishment of the people. Africa often provides wonderful examples of the positive force that democracy can represent in the world, but unfortunately Zimbabwe appears to be experiencing the last throes of the African dictators.

However, Zimbabwe is still part of the Commonwealth. Given the arguments—which I shall not go into today—about the role of the white farmers, the evidence that Mugabe is raping the country of most of its income and the general poverty to which the country has been reduced, the Commonwealth has been very slow in taking positive action to try to enforce the rule of law and democracy in Zimbabwe. I hope that it will soon consider explusion. After all, it acted quickly on Pakistan.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Will my hon. Friend reflect on the fact that, despite Zimbabwe's serious difficulties—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Frank Cook)

Order. The convention is to address the Chair, as I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, as a senior Chairman, is well aware.

Mr. Wells

I am aware of that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I apologise. On the other hand, I do not like to turn my back on a lady, and shall therefore have to stand half way between the two positions.

I was asking my hon. Friend to consider the point that, despite the fact that Zimbabwe has serious difficulties because of the leadership of President Mugabe, an organised Opposition is acting democratically to try to bring to the attention of Zimbabweans—and the world—the need for proper, accountable democracy to be established once more.

Mrs. Lait

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I have no objections to looking at his back; it is a very attractive back. I accept his point about the Opposition in Zimbabwe, and we must hope that it wins the forthcoming election. My point was that it has been clear for some time that President Mugabe is debasing Zimbabwe's democracy, and the Commonwealth has not been as proactive as it could have been in imposing collective discipline.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

I am afraid that I have no compunctions about my back.

Does my hon. Friend agree that some disturbing developments have taken place since the court's judgment on Friday about the eviction of squatters from farms that have been occupied? There is every indication that the authorities in Zimbabwe are ignoring the judgment, and that the number of properties that are being invaded is increasing as we speak.

Mrs. Lait

I entirely agree. The sooner that the election takes place, the better. Without wishing to interfere in Zimbabwe's internal affairs, we must hope that the Opposition win. The Commonwealth should have been much more proactive at a much earlier stage in trying to ensure that President Mugabe could not behave as he has.

Before my hon. Friends kindly gave me more information, I was about to move on to the speed with which the Commonwealth reacted to the military takeover in Pakistan. Many of us would not wish to see a military dictatorship in that or any other country, and instant action—in so far as any international action can be instant—was taken. I wonder whether, in excluding Pakistan, we may have undermined influence that we might otherwise have had over the current conflict in Kashmir between India and Pakistan. By expelling Pakistan, the Commonwealth's good offices may have been lessened. Can the Minister give some reassurance on that?

Events in Kashmir may well reflect what was known in Victorian times as the great game, although the players may no longer be Britain and Russia, as they were in Kipling's day, but America and China. As I understand it, the stated intention of President Clinton, who is currently visiting India, is to try to improve the situation in Kashmir. India and Pakistan were both members of the Commonwealth, but now only one is, and the Commonwealth could perhaps have played a more helpful role had Pakistan not been excluded. I am grateful that Pakistan appears to want to rejoin as soon as possible.

I am also concerned about the Commonwealth's potential role in the fight against drugs, as, I expect, are all hon. Members. Unfortunately, many farmers in a number of Commonwealth countries are involved in the drugs trade. One of the bases of reducing the worldwide supply of addictive drugs such as heroin and cocaine is the replacement of the poppy and coca plant with a more productive crop. The Commonwealth Development Corporation appears now to be managed properly and will be under the discipline of a decent capital return. Various attempts have been made throughout the world to find such a crop, and it is perhaps fanciful to say that the CDC should become involved in finding alternative crops for farmers.

However, fair trade goods have proved successful and are increasingly to be found in shops. Indeed, a constitutent of mine lobbied me, saying, "Why can't we have fair trade coffee and tea in the House of Commons?" I was initially informed that those brands did not have the same back-up as their more commercial counterparts, but was subsequently told that the House does indeed now stock fair trade coffee and tea. In the light of the increasingly commerciality of fair trade goods, the Commonwealth could do a great deal more to promote replacing the very profitable crops of poppies and coca—I do not blame the farmers, who must make a living—with crops that are profitable but considerably less damaging to health.

Mrs. Gillan

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government should investigate the use of pyrethrum, which grows in similar conditions and is much in demand as a natural herbal pesticide? It would be helpful if the Minister could say whether pyrethrum could replace the poppy.

Mrs. Lait

Indeed. However, although I accept my hon. Friend's point, I do not want to divert hon. Members down the horticultural route; one could speculate on the use of willow and yew in cancer drugs, and so on.

In summing up this brief overview, I should say that the evolution of the British empire into a Commonwealth that is attractive to countries with different heritages is a huge achievement. I am sure that there is no desire for the Commonwealth to break up and I recommend that the review group works more towards developing links and becoming more effective in world councils, so that the basic philsophy behind the Commonwealth becomes more deeply entrenched throughout the world.

The high-level group that has been set up to examine the Commonwealth should set out long-term objectives, one of which must be that the Commonwealth's own back yard is fully open to the scrutiny and standards demanded of others. Whether I believe in the Government's foreign policy philosophy is immaterial, but if the Government believe in it, they should participate wholeheartedly in discussions on the development of the Commonwealth's future role. The Prime Minister should be as deeply involved in those discussions as befits our role in the Commonwealth and I hope that he will not again leave them early, as he did a few months ago.

11.21 am
Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle)

It is a great joy to be able to participate in this debate on the future of the Commonwealth. I have enjoyed and am proud of my links with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

The Commonwealth is a gathering of friends and many believe that it is not politically effective, but it is successful because it is not primarily a political or economic alliance. It is a gathering of friends from many different cultures throughout the world. They speak many different tongues, some of which are spoken in only one country, but, to Britain's advantage, it is still essentially an English-speaking union. English is the language of government in many Commonwealth countries without a common national language.

There is much for Britain to be proud of in the concept of the Commonwealth and other members can take great pride in the fact that all of them have shaped the Commonwealth as we know it today. It is a very different animal from the one that was created when it was based on what were known as the white dominions. It has been changed into a multicultural, multinational organisation. Countries such as Cameroon and Mozambique, which, tragically, has been much in the news recently, can be proud of their part in the development of the Commonwealth because they introduced a new dimension that is a key to its future. It is, yet again, going through a transitional stage. It may become a more effective group of friends, crossing even more cultural barriers, and may even become more effective than the United Nations often is.

The United Nations is based on great ideals, but, tragically—hopefully, only for the time being—is not always as effective as we all want it to be. Mozambique has benefited during its tragic current circumstances from its links and friendship with the Commonwealth. It is a genuine friendship because Mozambique has a different historical tradition. I am proud, and I am sure that the Commonwealth is proud, that such a country should wish to be among our number. It shows that the Commonwealth has a great future.

On the future direction of the Commonwealth, we need to consider the standards employed within it. In almost every case, its members are either fully fledged democracies or, in Africa and other parts of the world, struggling towards a more open and democratic society. Many are not perfect, but which democracy is? Although our democracy is long-standing—of which we are most proud—none of us would claim that it is perfect. No democratic system can be perfect, as it relies on human beings, who, as we all know, are far from perfect. Democracy is imperfect by nature. Many countries in the Commonwealth are slowly developing towards the kind of democracy that is understood in this country and throughout western Europe. We must tolerate countries whose circumstances sometimes do not permit them, for practical reasons, to base their system of democratic parliamentary government on exactly the model that we understand. That is part of the strength of the Commonwealth, and I hope that it will continue.

However, certain Commonwealth members do not in any way live up to the expectations of fellow members, at whatever stage they have reached in the development of their democracy. The Commonwealth was right to take action against Pakistan at the time of the military coup. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding is that, in the case of Pakistan, the Commonwealth was able to take action because of the military nature of the takeover. Zimbabwe has suffered massively from the misrule of Mr. Mugabe, who has milked the country for his and his cronies' benefit. The people of that country have suffered hugely at the hands of a former terrorist, who is essentially still a terrorist in government. The Commonwealth should be able to take action in such cases. The Government of Zimbabwe should not be allowed to behave in such a manner, especially when its own people, whom they are supposed to protect and succour, are the victims. I hope that the British Government will take a lead within the Commonwealth on that.

Britain has a strong connection with many African countries and Commonwealth members, which still regard Britain with great affection. I have had the privilege of visiting a number of African Commonwealth countries. It is out duty to take action. We hear a great deal about the moral dimension of Government policy; I would like to see it in relation to Zimbabwe.

11.28 am
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) on securing the debate, and join her in welcoming the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones) back to this Chamber. I believe that this will be his first debate since he returned, and it is good to see him back.

I also welcome the Minister, although I am disappointed that once again he has been lumbered with a debate that is not strictly in his area. His hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), who describes himself as a son of Africa and who should be fielding this debate, is out of the country. It is sad to see that there is not one Labour Member in this Chamber to support the Minister. It is a crying shame that, in a debate on the Commonwealth, only one Liberal Democrat Member is present, but at least a good group of Conservative Members is present.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. John Battle)

I should like to put it on the record that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, whose responsibilities cover Africa, is at an international conference in Geneva working on human rights. He is representing the Government and ensuring that our voice is heard on the matters that the hon. Lady and her colleagues are raising.

Mrs. Gillan

I am delighted to hear that robust response but, nevertheless, the poor Minister is lumbered again, for which he has my sympathy. I hope that he will convey the Opposition's strong message to his hon. Friend.

In the early 1960s, Sundays were special days in my house. My family regularly entertained a group of guests who would bring to our home in Norfolk a wealth of tradition, experience and friendship. Sunday was the day that we were visited by members of the Victoria League who, as citizens of Commonwealth countries, were in this country to help it. They included many of the nurses who put their efforts into our health service. That was my first experience of the Commonwealth. There was always a riot of colourful costumes and a true wealth of talent and friendship. It created a special impression, and the bond between this country and other countries has left its mark on me. Those early days formed my deep affection and respect for the Commonwealth.

When I came into the House, I was proud to be a member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and I am delighted to have the opportunity to serve on its executive. I want to put on record my thanks, and those of other Opposition Members, to the staff who serve in our branch offices and the CPA headquarters, which is based in London. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham in paying tribute to the outgoing Commonwealth Secretary-General, his excellency Chief Anyaoku. I am looking forward to attending Madam Speaker's special reception for him this evening. He has served the Commonwealth in that role for 10 years, following 34 years of sterling Commonwealth service.

Don McKinnon will take office on 1 April. As New Zealand's Foreign Minister, he will make a fine Secretary-General. I am sure that he will draw on his undoubted skills to guide the Commonwealth through an increasingly challenging period. I have seen Don in action, and we all look forward to working with him, not least at the annual CPA conference, which this year will take place in London and Edinburgh. We will welcome to this country representatives of more than 50 countries to take part in our proceedings in Westminster and Scotland.

When I first became a Member of Parliament, I turned to the CPA for education on foreign affairs and contact with other countries. Those people who argue that the Commonwealth is on the downturn should consider the countries that are interested in joining it. They include countries that one would not connect with the Commonwealth, such as Yemen, Jordan and Rwanda, which have occasionally murmured an interest, although they have not made a formal approach.

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association offers practical help to democracies. Unlike many organisations, its training and seminars are low on ideology and high on good sense, which should not be underestimated. Also, it is exceedingly cheap to run. If the UK branch received the same money as the dome, it would be funded for 1,000 years. The CPA creates good will. It helps members to learn about colleague countries and allows politicians to network.

Although I would like to speak about many Commonwealth issues, such as the tensions between India and Pakistan and Her Majesty the Queen's visit to Australia, time is short and I shall confine myself to two matters. I hope that the Minister will be able to provide decent answers if his mind is concentrated on a small rather than large set of issues. He has often called himself a master of joined-up thinking; I hope that he will do us the credit of giving us some joined-up answering instead.

The British Council is a key player in the Commonwealth. I am sure that the Minister is more than grateful for its expertise and for the high regard in which it is held. That strengthens his Department's efforts in advance of Commonwealth events. However, the Government's policy is hampering and frustrating the British Council. What will the Minister do about that? He will know that, in the developing countries that are Commonwealth members, the British Council has suffered from the decision taken by the Department for International Development to stop using its services and to concentrate on bilateral giving to other Governments. As a result, in Africa alone, overall British Council programme funds are down by more than 50 per cent. The Government boast of their funding of the British Council, but the Minister should note that for each year of the current comprehensive spending review, its funding will be lower than in any year of the previous Parliament. He will know that the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs has found that the British Council is severely underfunded. What assurances can he offer, particularly on Commonwealth needs that can be met by the British Council?

The second issue concerns ethical and moral foreign policy and the situation in Zimbabwe, to which other Conservative Members referred. Pakistan has been suspended from the Commonwealth councils as a direct and clear-cut response to the violation of the Harare principles. How can we then sit back and ignore what is going on in Zimbabwe? The argument may be that there is no mechanism for suspending Zimbabwe, but I think that that should be altered.

The Commonwealth principles contain some simple statements, including We believe in the liberty of the individual … We recognise prejudice as a dangerous sickness, and We oppose all forms of colonial domination. When the Harare declaration was established, we set up a group to examine the way in which Commonwealth members met those principles. Zimbabwe was represented on the Commonwealth Ministers Action Group—the body that was to sit in judgment on the way in which countries adhered to the principles. Indeed, Zimbabwe was in the chair and was only replaced in that role in November. However, the country was transferred on to the high-level group of countries that is also considering the Commonwealth's future and the way in which Commonwealth countries adhere to the principles. I have called for the Ministers to suspend Zimbabwe from the high-level group, but there has been no reply. I have called for a suspension of EU aid to the Zimbabwe Government, which is required not least after the Court of Auditors report showed that aid was being diverted to other ends and was not reaching the people most in need. The Government have not responded.

Zimbabwe is not even observing the basics of the Harare declaration. It is sending money and support to a war in the Congo rather than feeding its own citizens; it prevented opposition parties from gaining access to the media during the referendum; it is about to give presidential consent to a Bill allowing interception of electronic mail and other communications; it arrests journalists because they write the truth—the reports of the torture of journalists last year are horrific—instead of Government propaganda; it condones the illegal grabbing of farms and instructs squatters to stay put; it raids diplomatic bags and gets away with it.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

My hon. Friend is giving us an impressive list of the horrors of the Mugabe regime. Is she aware that last Friday, Mugabe threatened that his political opponents would face death?

Mrs. Gillan

Nothing that comes out of that regime surprises me after the catalogue of misery that I am recounting.

This morning I received an e-mail that I think will interest hon. Members. It stated: Here in Kwekwe there had been considerable land invasion of productive commercial farms with the use of city council police and Government transport. Drunken unemployed crowds are rented for the occasion. There is evidence that they have been armed. They have been predominantly arriving at night, ramming down security gates with heavy vehicles, breaking entry to property, taking over homes with contents and expelling the occupants into the night with abuse and beatings. Farmers, in the interests of protecting their families and their lives, have had no alternatives than to be passive. The police are rendering no assistance whatsoever. I shall make the e-mail available to the Minister afterwards. It ends:

Mrs. Gillan, please do all you can. There are a lot of people depending on the likes of you to do something. Please make a fuss in the House of Commons. It has to be known. I am making a fuss in the House of Commons. I called for EU aid to the Zimbabwean Government to be suspended when it became obvious that it was not being used to help the poor. I called for Zimbabwe's suspension from the high-level group, because it has lost the right to sit in judgment on others until it sorts out its own affairs. I now call on the United Kingdom Government to call for Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth. The Government cannot operate an ethical and moral foreign policy only when it suits them. It is about time that the Government stood up and were counted. They should show backbone and set an example by saying no to what is going on in Zimbabwe.

The Commonwealth is a proud association with much to offer the world and an opportunity to continue to set a great example in democracy and human rights. Let us ensure that the Government do not let the Commonwealth down. Nothing less than the Minister's full suport for my requests will do.

11.41 am
Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friends the Members for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait), for Cheadle (Mr. Day) and for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan). I heartily congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham on landing this important debate. Given the number of Labour Members, it is lamentable that the only Labour Members who have found time to come are the Minister and his Parliamentary Private Secretary. That is pathetic and shows how important the Commonwealth is in the scale of Labour priorities.

The Commonwealth faces a crisis today with problems in Zimbabwe. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle spoke eloquently about the success of the Commonwealth. Britain can be congratulated on the peaceful way in which we slipped away from our empire and handed power and responsibility to a kaleidoscopic variety of peoples. Some would say that that might have been precipitate. When the original plans for Indian independence were discussed it was suggested that African states should take independence as late as the 1980s. Decisions were made by the Macmillan Government and I still feel that we have responsibility for many of the countries from which we stood back.

We have been much less directly involved than the French and there have been successes on both sides, but I fear that we cannot stand back any further from Zimbabwe. What is happening there is appalling and is down to one man who is, in simple terms, a thief. Zimbabwe faced prosperity. My brother worked in racing stables there for some years and commented on how much better the race relations between its small white minority and the various black populations were than in, for example, neighbouring South Africa. It is an extraordinarily rich country with wonderful potential for prosperity across the board at every level.

What Mugabe has managed to do is tragic. With 60 per cent. inflation he has achieved what the Beira patrols never did. He has created extraordinary fuel shortages, mostly because he is an ex-communist and does not understand sums. The devaluation of the Zimbabwe dollar meant that fuel had to go up, but the national oil company, Noczim, held the price of fuel. It now has a $9 million deficit. The state-owned power company Zesa has run up a debt of $20 billion. The shortage of hard currency is so chronic that the Zimbabwe Standard reported on 30 January that the Cambridge examination board had refused to clear examination results because it was owed £2.6 million by the Zimbabwean Government. That is the level to which this wonderful and potentially prosperous country has been reduced.

It is obvious to anyone who takes an interest in Zimbabwe where the money has gone. As a kleptocrat who has visited 150 countries since he took power, Mugabe's foreign travel bill has been a staggering $260 million. On 23 January, the Panafrican News Agency reported that he takes $50,000 in cash with him on each trip and that the first lady takes $10,000. It was also reported that Mugabe

does not have to account for the use of that money. Who would have the gall to ask him for the change? Those around him also are on the gravy train. Government officials are paid an average of $250 a day on foreign trips. Ministers take an average of $15,000 and senior Government officials are paid $12,500 a day. Compare that disgusting behaviour with the state of the average Zimbabwe citizen. One in four adults between the ages of 19 and 49 has HIV or AIDS, and 2,500 people a week die of the disease. Mugabe is a truly revolting dictator.

The result of the referendum was a potential breakthrough; 55 per cent. of the population voted against giving Mugabe unacceptable powers. However, the country now faces rigging during the next general election campaign; it will be rigged with straightforward violence. A strong case can be made for postponing the general election. Indeed, that was proposed by the Justice Minister, Emmerson Mnangagwa, as a result of an independent survey, which showed that a quarter of those on the electoral roll were dead or fictitious or had multiple entries. Mugabe has ignored that, and insisted that the election go ahead.

The circumstances are not propitious. The attempt to blame the 4,500 white farmers for all Zimbabwe's ills is nothing less than a disgrace. Critically, those farmers dominate the tobacco industry. Some 40 per cent. of Zimbabwe's export earnings have been hit and, on 11 March, The Economist estimated that the total loss was about 400 million Zimbabwe dollars. It is nothing less than ethnic cleansing. We went to war last year to stop ethnic cleansing in a country with which we have no cultural or historical links, virtually no commercial links and a questionable strategic link. In Zimbabwe, we have links going back to days when British settlers first arrived and the capital was named after a British Prime Minister. We have a real responsibility to look into what is happening there.

Mrs. Gillan

Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the forthcoming election? The register of voters is hopelessly obsolete, there is no independent electoral commission and the President appoints one fifth of the Members of Parliament. Does my hon. Friend agree that that bodes badly for a fair and free election?

Mr. Paterson

My hon. Friend is correct. We have a critical role, and the Government and the Commonwealth could take beneficial action to try to ensure that the election is as fair as possible. The electoral roll is totally distorted and Commonwealth observers are needed now.

Mrs. Gillan

Is my hon. Friend aware that observers have overseen no elections in Zimbabwe since the early 1990s, and perhaps even before then? Does he share my concern that Commonwealth observers have not been invited to Zimbabwe during the past decade?

Mr. Paterson

My hon. Friend is right. I was not aware that no observers had been in. Given the circumstances, it was remarkable that the referendum result went the way of sensible, right people. There are good people in Zimbabwe, if only we could support them. The new Movement for Democratic Change, led by Morgan Tsvangirai, and the Zimbabwe Union of Democrats, led by Margaret Dongo, could win 75 seats if encouraged and if the election went fairly.

Our first problem is the horrific persecution of the press. In an appalling case last year, Mark Chavunduka, the editor of the independent Standard, and his reporter, Ray Choto, were arrested after publishing a report on an alleged military coup in which 23 members of the Zimbabwe national army had been detained for plotting to overthrow the Government. The authorities failed to comply with the several high court orders calling for the immediate release of Chavunduka. The military stated: The judge cannot direct us…anyone who meddles with military matters is subject to military matters. When the two were released, they had hideous signs of torture on their bodies—of cigarette burns, of electric shocks and of having been submersed in drums of water.

Those who perpetrated that torture are also involved in the extraordinary and outrageous invasion of white farms. Those who turn up are not just squatters and poor peasants looking for land, as the Government describe them. They turn up in Government-registered vehicles, have food and supplies and are directed by men in flashy suits and sunglasses who spend most of their time on mobile phones to Harare asking for instructions for what to do next. Mugabe is clearly driving the operation.

An appalling case featured in one of the broadsheets yesterday concerning an attack on some people whose family had been farmers since 1820. Mr. Smith of Nyarenda farm in Mashonaland was knocked to the ground with an axe; one of the mob shouted:

You white dog. Our President, our God Mugabe, has ordered us to kill you. The Government must begin to address the situation or there will be no hope of prosperity in the Zimbabwean economy. No one will invest further and there might be a wholesale exodus of the highly skilled farmers who provide 40 per cent. of foreign earnings through tobacco exports.

A high court order taken out last week compelling the squatters to leave was put through by Judge Paddington Garwe. However, the police commissioner, Mr. Augustine Chihuri, ignored the directions—the police have done nothing and the 72 hours have elapsed. He was under clear instructions from the Government. Up to 650 farms have been invaded.

Some think that there might be justice in the matter. They argue that the white farmers constitute only 1 per cent. of the population and that it would be fairer if there were even land distribution. I cannot endorse that view. Of the 2,000 farms that have been acquired by the state since 1980, 462 have been distributed among Mugabe's cronies.

Death threats were announced last week on opponents of the Mugabe regime. African News Online reported calls to clamp down on the broadcasting of songs critical to the Government. Officials cannot speak in public under clause 20 of the public service regulations.

I shall end with a most sinister quotation from police commissioner Augustine Chihuri. He said: The police force will not hesitate to arrest members of the opposition for fear of being labelled brutal. The Commonwealth has a real moment of truth. I call on the Government to ensure that Commonwealth monitors go in this week, before the election campaign descends into total chaos, and that Zimbabwe is suspended from the high-level group. Further, I call on them to make it clear that Zimbabwe will be suspended from the Commonwealth and that all aid will be ceased if the policy of ethnic cleansing is continued.

11.55 am
Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

I regard myself as a Commonwealth man because I have found the Commonwealth to be a great teacher and a great friend. My first association with the Commonwealth was in 1955, when I had the misfortune to experience an aircraft breakdown in Karachi, Pakistan. There, for the first time in my life, I witnessed the most abject poverty, and Pakistan is still among the poorest countries in the world. People were living in cardboard boxes alongside the Sindhu river, which runs through Karachi, and had been living in that condition since the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. That poverty was created by human beings and by badly administered government. The enmity between people within the Indian subcontinent engraved itself on my mind, and we can all do something to eradicate it. Much is being achieved through the efforts of the Commonwealth, both in the sub-continent and throughout the Commonwealth, and that sets an example to the rest of the world.

I have had the good fortune to be close friends with two Commonwealth Secretary-Generals, one of whom is Sir Shridath Subindrinath Rhamphal of Guyana, where I served for seven years. He led the way in considering the political aspects of the Commonwealth and in enhancing the pursuit of democracy, fairness and the rule of law, because he is a lawyer. Above all people, he values the Commonwealth and has enhanced its ability to provide help. My other friend is the retiring Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku of Obosi, Nigeria. He and I have something in common in that we both joined the Commonwealth Development Corporation as management trainees—he in Nigeria a few years before I joined the corporation in London. Throughout the time that he has led the Commonwealth as Secretary-General, he has been true to the Commonwealth Development Corporation's concept of economic development. One of his enduring marks will be his promotion of the Commonwealth private investment initiative, which is administered by the Commonwealth Development Corporation in three regions of the Commonwealth. Through the gathering of private sector money to invest in small and medium businesses in Africa, the Caribbean, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, economic development in those countries is being encouraged. The project has been very successful.

Although I had not realised it, the chief and I came to a similar conclusion about the effect of democracy in Africa. I was asked to give a speech to an African conference last year, in which I put it to the assembled Africans that democracy was a natural form of government for Africa. The speech came to the attention of the chief, who sent me a copy of the speech that he made when he was asked to address the newly opened South African Parliament following the first election after the end of the apartheid regime. He spoke on exactly the same theme as I did, and I want to quote two passages from his speech. He mentioned the Harare declaration in October 1991 and said:

it was agreed that whatever the national variations, a true democracy would be judged by the resence of a number of essential universal ingredients. These included the right of a people to choose freely the men and women who would govern them and to cashier them; the primacy of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary; freedom of expression and association; and the continuing transparency and accountability of government. My hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) explained that, sadly, those factors are absent in Zimbabwe. I have not doubt that the situation would bring about the disapprobation of the chief, because the rule of law is not being respected or complied with. In fact, it is being undermined by President Mugabe. I remind the Chamber that Zimbabwe has a tradition, through the Commonwealth, of democracy and, if supported by the British Government, it will triumph.

Chief Emeka Anyaoku continued: What Commonwealth leaders identified as the essential ingredients defining every genuine democracy hold good for Africa.

Mr. Battle

I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman. I greatly respect his comments, given his record and interest in such matters over many years. I assume that he believes that we are strong enough to support Zimbabwe and that he does not align himself with the comments of the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), who was asking for a full blockade and boycott.

Mr. Wells

The Government must consider carefully what action to take in Zimbabwe, so that they support those who support democracy and are interested in re-establishing the rule of law and enabling the people of Zimbabwe to decide freely who should govern them and how they should be governed. I hope that the Government will support that. I am sure that they disapprove of the illegal invasion of other people's property. There are 20,000 acres of land in Zimbabwe in the ownership of the Government that could easily be used to satisfy the legitimate desires of the people of Zimbabwe to own and farm more of their land.

Mrs. Gillan

I have called for Government to Government aid and for EU to Zimbabwean Government aid to be blocked. Does my hon. Friend agree that that would be the way forward? Aid to non-governmental organisations and aid that can reach the people directly should, of course, continue to go into Zimbabwe. I must make it clear that we have called for a block on Government to Government aid to Zimbabwe and I do not want the Minister to misinterpret that objective.

Mr. Wells

My hon. Friend is right. We should be careful what aid to Zimbabwe we block. In the light of current events, it would clearly be inappropriate to continue dealing with those who support the Government. Much of the aid budget in Zimbabwe is going to the people of that country for the fight against AIDS, for the education of women and the health of the children and their mothers. I hope that that assistance will not be stopped.

What the chief said in his speech makes good sense in relation to Zimbabwe. He said: What Commonwealth leaders identified as the essential ingredients defining every genuine democracy hold good for Africa. Democracy in Africa will differ in its detailed arrangements from country to country, but if it is a genuine democracy, it will have to incorporate these essential ingredients. Why these particular features? At the heart of any genuine democracy lies accountability…And accountability can only be enforced if the governed have the power to make or unmake governments. It is essential for the Commonwealth to recognise that such elements must be in place, but they are sadly lacking in Zimbabwe, as they are in Pakistan and were in Nigeria. However, Nigeria should be welcomed back because it has returned to democracy after a series of military dictatorships. The instinct of the African people is to go back to a form of government that rests on the consent of the people of that country to be governed.

Why am I referring to a particularly African form of government? As Chief Ameka said in his speech, A study of traditional government in any part of Africa would disclose one fact—a healthy hostility against the concentration of power without accompanying checks and balances to control it, beginning with the position of the Chief. No chief was a chief except by the will of his people. In many African societies this maxim was impressed upon the chief in the process of his installation and was in addition to the various mechanisms in place to ensure that the chief marched in step with the wishes of his people. That cannot be said of President Mugabe in Zimbabwe at present.

Democracy lies at the heart of how Africa and other parts of the world have traditionally been ruled. We now have to build a modern society based on those traditions. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association is fostering and helping democracies emerge and take their rightful place for all the peoples of Africa, the Caribbean, the Indian sub-continent, Malaysia and even Australia and New Zealand. We are speaking in this Chamber today partly because the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons visited Australia and thought that this ancient House could experiment with an equivalent to that country's alternative Chamber.

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association allows us to learn from each other, possibly to advance democracy, to make it more accountable and to fulfil the amibtions of chief Emeka Anyaoku, who has led the Commonwealth so well. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham said, London will host the association's conference in August and September. The conference will be a great opportunity to enhance the association and the concept of the Commonwealth, which is based fundamentally on democracy. The conference embraces the ambitions that we all cherish of seeing the economic as well as the political development of the Commonwealth enhanced through talking to each other.

In the same speech, the chief said: Sir Winston Churchill once said that the best way of governing states is by talking. Indeed, government by talking is one of the many definintions of democracy on offer. So it was in traditional Africa. I hope that the people of Zimbabwe, whether they oppose or support Mugabe, will honour that African tradition, with the help of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. It has held post-electoral seminars to improve the knowledge of parties in government or opposition in the legislature of Zimbabwe, so that they know what to do in a traditional constitutional manner.

As we pointed out in the March 1996 report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Britain hugely benefits from its membership of the Commonwealth. Countries throughout the world are jealous of the relationships of Britain, Australia and Canada with the Commonwealth. Our common language, traditions of law and forms of government, and our deep understanding of the Commonwealth are huge bonds to very different countries with different cultures and religions. In international forums such as the World Bank, the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation, the British can talk with and receive support from many Commonwealth countries because of those bonds. Britain must value and cherish those traditions even more than it has done before. It is through those friendships and traditions that we learn from each other, and that real peace, economic development, justice and the rule of law can be obtained. Britain should enhance the Commonwealth in every way that it can.

12.9 pm

Mr. Nigel Jones (Cheltenham)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) on securing the debate. I thank her for her kind words to me, and I thank the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), an old—I should say not old, but former—pupil of Cheltenham ladies college. It is a great privilege to follow the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells), who is the chairman of the Select Committee on International Development, on which I have the privilege of sitting. He and I share a strong interest in the Commonwealth, which I believe is a great force for good in the world. It enables big and small countries to meet as equals in an atmosphere of mutual respect and generosity and in which countries whose economies are not major can be noticed.

I shall talk about countries where the population lives on an average of less than a dollar a day, particularly countries in sub-Saharan Africa. I have a great interest in Africa. Last year, through the wonderful job that we do, I had the privilege of visiting three Commonwealth countries in Africa: South Africa, as a UN observer of fair elections during its second election; Botswana, as a member of a CPA delegation; and Mozambique, as an Inter-Parliamentary Union observer of its second democratic election, where I had the privilege of meeting former United States President, Jimmy Carter. One thing that the Commonwealth does well and needs to do more of—with which the Government should perhaps help—is the monitoring of elections that bring democracy to Commonwealth countries. I am not sure what we do about Zimbabwe; I certainly do not volunteer as an observer of its elections, but I am sure that one or two hon. Members would be prepared to do so.

The Commonwealth can act as a powerful unit in a crisis, as we saw in the recent disaster in Mozambique. I visited Mozambique last December and was shown some of the damage that the el Nino rains caused a couple of years ago. People said that it could happen again and, sure enough, it did. They had the most appalling floods, as well all saw on our television screens. The Commonwealth responded extremely well to that crisis. South Africa stepped in and gave enormous help, and the UK also did a huge amount. Having sat on the International Development Committee, I believe that the Department for International Development did its best to get resources there as fast as it could, from wherever it could find them. Last week, we grilled the Secretaries of State for International Development and for Defence, and they did their best. There is a debate on whether we need regional emergency centres; we should think about that within the Commonwealth, and, more broadly, the United Nations.

The Government of Malawi have only two helicopters but sent one to help during the floods. I had the privilege of meeting the President of Malawi, Dr. Bakili Muluzi, two or three years ago. Malawi, formerly Nyasaland, is one of the poorest countries in the world and we need to give it more help. I was pleased that the Government doubled assistance to Malawi in the comprehensive spending review, but the country has severe problems: it has half a million AIDS orphans, out of a population of 12 million, and more than 60 per cent. of the population is malnourished. As a Commonwealth friend, we need to work to help it, particularly with the products that it exports. Its biggest foreign currency earner is tobacco, not the best product on which to base an economy. The lake, which provides much protein for the people, is over-fished. We also support health clinics there. Health is a real problem for the whole of Africa, particularly with the scourge of AIDS.

In Kenya, which has 30 million people, the infrastructure is crumbling, roads are deteriorating, and health is also a problem. Tanzania, which has continuing internal tensions between the mainland and Zanzibar, also has health care problems. I do not understand why it moved its capital from Dar-es-Salaam to Dodoma; for one of the poorest countries in the world to move its capital, at great expense, was perhaps not the best use of money—particularly a country as heavily indebted as Tanzania.

I met John Cheyo, a Tanzanian politician, who explained that the local hospital in his constituency was closing because the roof was falling in. With pain in his eyes, he told me that women were dying in childbirth.

Africa has some bright spots: Botswana, which we visited last summer, was a real surprise. I expected it to be another poor African Commonwealth country, up to its ears in debt, but it is not like that at all. It is more than twice as big as the UK, and as big as France, with fewer than 1.5 million people. It has been an extraordinary success. I understand that a previous Government decided in 1965 that there was no strategic reason to keep Bechuanaland, as it used to be called, so it became independent—as Botswana—in 1966, and discovered diamonds in 1967. We jokingly suggested to the President, Mr. Festus Mogae, that we had come to renegotiate the independence settlement, and he told us that we could not.

We visited the Jwaneng diamond fields, an extraordinary, huge hole in the ground with incredibly large digging equipment, and we met the manager, who told us that he had just received a report on a saliva test of his staff, whose participation was voluntary and anonymous. The company had discovered that 30 per cent. of its staff were HIV positive, right across the pay grades. I simply cannot understand how to build into a business plan the replacement of those staff, many of whom have many years of experience and training. The Commonwealth needs to put pressure on the United Nations and medical researchers to try to find a cheap solution to the AIDS problem, because countries in sub-Saharan Africa cannot afford the enormous cost of drugs, such as those used in this country to cope with AIDS.

The same is true in the north of the country, which has the most wonderful wildlife, as do many countries in the Commonwealth. I do not suggest that she is wildlife, but we had the privilege of meeting Miss Universe, Miss Botswana, who is not only extraordinarily beautiful, but is making AIDS awareness here campaign during her year as Miss Universe.

Sierra Leone is another country with which I have links, as a patron of the Kambia hospital appeal. Kambia is a town north-east of the capital, Freetown, and my local hospital, Cheltenham general hospital, has a link with Kambia. Last year, during the civil war, the rebels looted, set fire to and destroyed part of the hospital, and as a result, the area had no health care. In a debate on Sierra Leone last year, when I told the Foreign Secretary about that, he confirmed that the hospital had been badly damaged and promised that the United Kingdom would provide some cash for reconstruction, although not specifically for that hospital. I am not pressing for an answer today, but perhaps the Minister would consider whether funding might be provided to enable that hospital to be rebuilt so that the people of Kambia have health care.

There are tensions in the Commonwealth. A fifth—indeed, perhaps almost a quarter—of the world's population lives in the Commonwealth, especially in the Indian subcontinent, and there are big tensions between India and Pakistan. The CPA, which several hon. Members mentioned, is a force for good. To have Members of Parliament from Pakistan and India in the same room, talking one-to-one, can only be beneficial. We shall have to think long and hard about allowing countries such as Rwanda to join, but it might be the solution for that war-torn country. I pay tribute to the staff of the CPA—of which I am an executive member—in London and in other countries. On CPA visits, staff have been magnificent in organising sometimes difficult and strenuous tours.

The CPA is an extraordinary organisation and it is cheap to run. We must ensure that it continues. I hope that the Minister will reassure us that the CPA will indeed continue and that some funding will be provided for my hospital in Sierra Leone.

12.20 pm
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. John Battle)

In the remaining 10 minutes, I shall attempt to answer questions relating to two debates. The first is about the future of the Commonwealth, and I thank the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) for the tone in which she introduced it. Within that wide-ranging debate, we have had another on the crisis in Zimbabwe, which we all take seriously. I shall do my best to blend my answers to those two debates. I, too, welcome the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones): we are glad to see him back with his customary style, courtesy and consideration. We hope that recent events are behind him and will never be repeated—for any of us, I am tempted to say.

The Commonwealth celebrated its 50th birthday in 1999. It has come a long way in those 50 years. It is now in a process of transformation. It is a dynamic, loose association, originally of half a dozen countries, but now with 54 members. I agree with the hon. Member for Beckenham that it is important that its history and purpose should be spelt out often and in public. She is right that it is not as well known as it should be.

A week after we took office, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spelt out our commitment as a Government— to strengthen the Commonwealth and to improve the prosperity of its members. That has been the basis of our approach in our many dealings with the Commonwealth secretariat and with individual members of the Commonwealth.

I shall not rehearse at length—I do not have the time—the characteristics that set the Commonwealth apart from other international organisations, but it is important to remember that it is a different sort of organisation. It is not the United Nations, the World Bank or the World Trade Organisation. It operates through consensus at all levels, so majorities can never overrule minorities. As one member, we are equal with the other 53 nations that comprise the organisation. It is not treaty-based, but developed for itself a set of guiding principles—most famously, the Harare declaration of 1991—to which member states are expected to adhere. It is an informal, genuine family of nations that have much in common.

The hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day), who has apologised for leaving, pointed out that Mozambique had benefited from a relationship of friendship, which is why the Commonwealth is different from other organisations. As I said, it is a genuine family with much in common, such as the English language, and legal, judicial and parliamentary systems. Some Members of Parliament are also members of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. They know from experience about the Commonwealth's administration systems, contacts, education and so forth, which go back through many years of history.

At the heart of the Commonwealth are commitments to good governance, the rule of law and the protection of human rights. The Commonwealth has invented a mechanism to ensure that those principles are translated into practice—the Commonwealth ministerial action group of eight Foreign Ministers whose responsibility is to investigate serious and persistent violations of the principles enshrined in the Harare declaration. It is relevant to the issues that were raised about Zimbabwe.

The Commonwealth ministerial action group was established in 1995 by Heads of Government at the Auckland Commonwealth Heads of Government conference as part of the Millbrook Commonwealth action programme. The eight Ministers were given a mandate to deal with serious or persistent violations of the principles contained in the declaration. They are about promoting democracy and good governance, respect for human rights and the rule of law, and sustainable economic and social development. It was established to ensure that those principles were implemented. The UK plays an active part in the Commonwealth ministerial action group, but the other seven members do not, as some Members thought, include Zimbabwe. They are Australia, Bangladesh, Barbados, Botswana, Canada, Malaysia and Nigeria. Zimbabwe is no longer a member of CMAG.

Mrs. Gillan

In November, Zimbabwe left CMAG, but it is still on the high-level group that is considering the future of the Commonwealth and what we might call the CMAG-ing of countries such as Pakistan. Will the Minister join me in calling for Zimbabwe to be suspended from the Commonwealth?

Mr. Battle

No we will not, because it is not our role to do so. We have led action in response to the situation in Zimbabwe. I should be grateful to receive the hon. Lady's e-mail—I assure her that we shall take its contents seriously. However, she must accept that we led EU action and raised concerns directly with the Zimbabwean Government, bilaterally and multilaterally. We also moved the resolution that was passed by the EU to toughen up our approach and to spell out the situation in public, and we let the Zimbabwean Government know in no uncertain terms that the international community was not happy with the situation.

Mrs. Gillan

The Minister has clearly spoken out, but the Government have done nothing. Has 1p of EU aid that goes directly to the Zimbabwean Government, or 1 p of Government-to-Government aid from this country to Zimbabwe, been stopped?

Mr. Battle

I am more than happy to discuss Zimbabwe, rather than the wider issues that are associated with the Commonwealth. The hon. Lady has changed her ground. Did we take action? Yes. The Government initiated discussions with our EU partners, which led to the EU demarche and the declaration, and we have continued to put diplomatic pressure on Zimbabwe in an attempt to resolve the situation peacefully. I hope that the hon. Lady will not go down the road that was suggested by a Conservative Member, who appeared to argue that we should resolve the situation by going in with a pair of jackboots. That position was not adopted by the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford, who has for many years taken a great interest in the Commonwealth. I agree with him—we seek to ensure that aid programmes focus on reducing poverty and that they benefit the people who need them rather than the Government. That is our programme's purpose. Funding is going to AIDS and women's projects on the ground, and to health and education programmes. Our aim is not to cut off aid or block resources, which would hit the poorest.

Mr. Paterson

I do not know which Conservative Member the Minister accuses of advocating the use of jackboots, but I regard that as a pejorative term. I asked for Commonwealth monitors to be sent in immediately to ensure, in an atmosphere of intimidation and violence that is getting worse every day, that the general election is fair. I also called for aid to be suspended and for Zimbabwe to be suspended from the high-level group and from the Commonwealth if ethnic cleansing continues.

Mr. Battle

I thought that I had spelled out the situation. The hon. Gentleman is a superb unilateralist—he thinks that he runs the world, let alone the Commonwealth. How would he implement his policy in relation to an organisation that operates through consensus? We have to achieve consensus before taking action. That is why we believe that it is important to engage in conversations when seeking to introduce change.

The land issue is important. The commissioner of police was ordered by a court to remove squatters from farms and to tolerate no governmental interference. Despite the fact that the court's deadline had passed, no action was taken. The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), said that that was another twist in the sad spiral of bad governance that grips Zimbabwe. We made it clear that one of the few redeeming features of Zimbabwe's current crisis was the existence of an independent judiciary. Our aims are to ensure that the President and Ministers do not put themselves above the law and that we support the rule of law in Zimbabwe where we can.

In the minute that remains, I must respond to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham that we were not serious about British Council funding. Under this Government, the grant in aid for the British Council increased by 2 per cent. in real terms, which is in line with the settlement of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Our increase in commitments is above the rate of inflation. I visited the British Council, which does a superb job establishing bilateral educational links between countries—it encourages people from overseas to visit this country and vice versa. We support its works in the Commonwealth and in the rest of the world.

I shall respond to the point made by the hon. Member for Cheltenham. It was agreed at the Heads of Government conference in 1999 that the scourge of HIV and AIDS is a global emergency, and that that issue would be a high priority. We committed more than £22 million at that conference to fight the HIV-AIDS challenge. We are devoting resources to it, and will continue to do so.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody)

I call Mr. Nigel Evans on the next debate.