» Thursday, March 22, 2007

Zimbabwe/Northern Ireland Statements

Asked which Minister would make the oral statements, Mr Straw said it would be a Foreign Office minister for the former. He noted that he had been criticised for saying previously that there was a problem of availability of FCO ministers. They went around the world and, sometimes, it was difficult to meet the demands of the House, much though everyone tried. Asked later if there was any specific issue on Zimbabwe for the statement being made, the Leader said that it had not been possible to have a statement to the House today because the unavailability of Ministers. Another reason was that he had hoped, as did the Foreign Secretary, that it would have been possible to find a slot for a debate before the Easter recess. That had not been possible for practical reasons. They were still trying to find an opportunity for a debate after the recess. He thought a statement, meanwhile, would be a good idea. Pressed on the statement, Mr Straw said there were some important issues about Zimbabwe, including the UK’s action to tighten sanctions. The UK was also raising the matter in the reformed Human Rights Council of the UN. He understood that it was also being raised in the Security Council. There was also the issue of the EU-Africa summit, which was very tricky because of recent history, which had meant that it had not been possible for the EU formally to engage with the AU on Zimbabwe.

On Northern Ireland, the statement would be made by a Minister of the Crown. He also pointed out that he had again stated during Business Questions "that the choice for the Northern Ireland parties on 26 March – next Monday – is either devolution or dissolution. There can and will be no legislation to alter that date. Her Majesty’s Government believe that the people of Northern Ireland want to see the institutions restored and very much hope that the parties will seize the opportunity of restoration on 26 March."

The Leader agreed that the deadline was midnight next Monday. Asked if his earlier response on the identity of the Minister to make the statement indicated that the Government could not be sure that agreement was "in the bag", Mr Straw said he did not think anyone could say what the outcome would be. No decisions had been made.

Briefing took place at 15:00 | Search for related news

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