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The Prime Minister
: The issue of observers for the Iraqi elections has not been decided yet. Obviously, if at all possible, it would be right to send observers. The process is being conducted by the United Nations, and
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it is important that we try to do that. Obviously, there will be security issues, and we shall have to take account of them. But most people would like to see the elections in Iraq held as freely and fairly as is possible. If only the terrorists stopped, of course, that would happen.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): After the European Council had finished examining the troublespots to the east, did it take a moment to look to the south, to Sudan and Zimbabwe, with both of which Britain has a long-standing connection? Both are countries where brutal Governments are currently engaged, through a series of semi-legal militias backed by the apparatus of the state, in massacring many of their own subjects in ethnic minorities and opposition political groupings.
The Prime Minister: Yes, of course we considered the question of Sudan. We reiterated the very strong position in support of the African Union troops and the need for the Sudanese Government and those fighting on the other side to conclude an agreement by the end of the year. We have to keep up pressure to do that.
On Zimbabwe, there are different positions in Europe, but the British Government's position remains the same. We do what we can to help people in Zimbabwe who have a difficult situation and for whom it is intensely difficult to function properly politically. We do what we can, but what more we can do is often difficult to foresee exactly.
Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD):
With the waves of accession that are now planned, the problematic countries of the former republic of Yugoslavia and Albania will find themselves
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surrounded by the EU but outside of it. Can the Prime Minister assure the House that their development remains high on the European Council agenda and that it will not lose priority because of everything else that is going on?
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Given that trade-distorting subsidies to western agricultural production are both morally wrong and economically damaging, and that such destructive policies help, at least in part, to explain why, on present trends, the noble millennium development goals will be achieved only between 100 and 150 years beyond the due date of 2015, can the right hon. Gentleman indicate what faster timetable and greater specificity of policy in terms of trade justice he has in mind that can be progressed to give the poorest people in the world the chance to compete and grow?
The Prime Minister:
The only answer is to make sure that we give, in the World Trade Organisation round, a comprehensive EU offer that deals with access to markets and with the common agricultural policy. That is what we will be fighting to ensure in Europe. There has already been a significant movement, and there needs to be much more. That will then have to be joined by other countries; it is not just a European problem. The one thing of which I am absolutely sure is that one of the main claims that will be made by civic society, non-governmental organisations and the Commission for Africa will be that it is wrong to tell Africa that it should stand up for itself and stand on its own two feet while we keep its goods out of our markets. We need to open our markets, and that will be good for Africa and, ultimately I believe, good for us.
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Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sure that you have been following events in Birmingham, where Sikhs have been demonstrating against a play that they said was offensive to their religion. The demonstrations turned violent over the weekend and I understand that the production has now been pulled. This is an extremely serious matter, because the police should guarantee the security of theatre-goers and anyone else. The Sikh community has said that it cannot guarantee that there will be no more violence. Has the Home Secretary indicated whether he will make a statement or are we to have our theatres censored by the mob, who will decide what we watch and do not watch?
Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I understand the concern expressed by the hon. Lady, but it is not a matter for the Chair. I certainly have not been made aware that the Home Secretary intends to make any statement.
That this House expresses its gratitude to Sir Michael John Austin Cummins, on his retirement from the office of Serjeant at Arms, for his 23 years in the service of this House, including five years as Serjeant at Arms, which was preceded by 24 years of distinguished military service, and for his unfailing courtesy, good humour, and helpfulness to individual honourable Members; and extends to him its best wishes for his retirement.
I believe that the whole House will wish to support this motion and join me in paying tribute to Sir Michael, who retires at the end of the year. Michael and his staff, including the doorkeepers, do an exceptional job. He is regarded highly, and with much affection, by Members and staff alike. I know that the whole House will also join me in paying tribute to his wife Catherine, who is seated under the Gallery and is doubtless checking that all our tributes in his honour are up to scratch.
Sir Michael has served this House since 1981, following distinguished service in the Army. After graduating from Sandhurst, he served in the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, reaching the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He saw service overseas in Germany, Norway, Denmark, Aden and Kuwait and in operational tours in Northern Ireland.
Sir Michael joined the House as a Deputy Assistant Serjeant at Arms and was promoted to Assistant Serjeant at Arms in 1982, later becoming Deputy Serjeant at Arms in 1995 and then Serjeant at Arms on 1 January 2000. He has overseen significant modernisation reform to the House, including the introduction of television coverage, the huge expansion of information technology and, following the Braithwaite review, a comprehensive programme of change, including the creation of a new senior management structure.
Sir Michael also managed the completion of the building works to Portcullis House, the occupation plan for the building and the official opening by Her Majesty the Queen in February 2001. He oversaw the lying in state of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and the successful golden jubilee celebrations in 2002. He led the accommodation review that resulted in the House, for the first time, having a coherent forward accommodation strategy. He also formulated and put into practice a comprehensive contingency plan for the relocation of the House in an emergency.
Sir Michael showed determination in the face of this year's serious security breaches and I know that he welcomes as much as I do the appointment of the new security co-ordinator. When, earlier this year, there was some disparaging comment in the media about the so-called "men in tights", none of it saw fit to mention the fact that Michael has seen front-line service in Northern Ireland in the notoriously dangerous border areas. In any case, I would be the first to acknowledge that nobody looks better in black stockings than he doeswell, no men, anyway.
Throughout his time here, Sir Michael has exercised his responsibilities with great courtesy, good humour and charm. He has always been approachable and unfailingly helpful to individual Members. The Serjeant's parties are reputed to be the best in the Palace
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of Westminster and, I am told, involve even more fancy dress than he has to wear in the course of his daily duties. We will indeed miss him.
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): On behalf of the Opposition, I join the Leader of the House in his tribute to Sir Michael Cummins, the 37th Serjeant at Armsa post first established in 1415. During his 23 years here, he has made a huge contribution to the work of the Serjeant at Arms Department, since 1995, as deputy Serjeant, and during the last four years as the Serjeant.
As has been mentioned, Sir Michael oversaw the opening of Portcullis House, the new parliamentary building that has done a huge amount to improve the work of this place. He has also overseen the major development of information technology, which now has a department of its own.
During this period, there has been a large increase in the number of people visiting Parliament and I know how pleased Sir Michael has been that so many have been able to enjoy that experience. Inevitably, he has overseen an extension of our security precautions, but has always borne in mind the wish of the House that this place be accessible to our constituents. He has shown great dignity in the face of some unfair criticism.
In implementing all those changes, Sir Michael has shown great skill and been unfailingly courteous. From my time on the Administration Committee, I remember the helpful way in which he addressed the ideas of individual members, while always seeking to ensure that the most adventurous ideas were very fully scrutinised before being implemented. As a result, many of them did not see the light of day.
Sir Michael was able to bring a wealth of knowledge to the discussion of all areas under his responsibility, including security, where he had detailed knowledge of the work of other Parliaments. I know that members of the House of Commons Commission found that particularly useful.
Michael Cummins has served his country well as a soldier and in his work in the House. We wish him and his wife Catherine a long and happy retirement in Pimlico. I am sure that we all hope to see them visit this place regularly. Perhaps Sir Michael will find more time to enjoy his recreations of tapestry and equitationalthough I suggest that he should not try them both at the same time.
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