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Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

Volume 400: debated on Tuesday 25 February 2003

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

The Secretary of State was asked—

Zimbabwe

1.

If he will make a statement about the situation in Zimbabwe.[98782]

5.

What action he is taking regarding human rights abuses by the Government of Zimbabwe.[98786]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Mike O'Brien)

The situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate. The leader of the opposition is on trial for treason. Arrests and torture of those opposed to President Mugabe's regime continue unabated. The economy is in crisis: unemployment is at over 70 per cent., inflation is above 200 per cent., the currency is in free fall, there is a critical shortage of foreign exchange, and more than 7 million Zimbabweans now need emergency food aid. We are doing what we can to feed the population: Britain is the largest governmental donor to the humanitarian programme. Our aim remains a democratic, prosperous and stable Zimbabwe, under a Government of its people's choosing.

I share my hon. Friend's concern about the catalogue of disasters that have befallen the Zimbabwe people; but does he share the pleasure that I felt on observing the bravery of two cricketers from Zimbabwe who wore black armbands to demonstrate their solidarity with the people?

I do share my hon. Friend's admiration—and, I think, that of all Members—for the two Zimbabwean cricketers who stood up to the Mugabe regime and in their own way, quietly expressed their abhorrence of the behaviour that the Government are causing in the countries to which they belong. They were an example to everyone.

Although our own cricketers were understandably concerned about their own safety in the event of their playing in Harare, I think it was clear from the comments of many of them, particularly the captain, that they also took a moral position. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating those cricketers on showing that they were not willing to compromise their own position or to compromise with Mugabe?

Is not one of the big problems in dealing with Zimbabwe the fact that South Africa sees the position rather differently? What discussions is my hon. Friend having with South Africa to enable it to see what we can see, and what President Mbeki does not seem willing or able to see?

I agree that the England cricketers were very uncomfortable about the prospect of playing a game of cricket in Zimbabwe in the circumstances in which the Zimbabwe people find themselves under the Mugabe regime. We have been trying to work with a number of countries, including South Africa, to bring about an international understanding that that regime is unacceptable, and is making its people's lives a misery. Only if South Africa, the Commonwealth countries and indeed the European Union recognise the abhorrent nature of the regime and try to change it can we give the opposition in Zimbabwe the support—both political and other support—that it requires.

Many of us strongly support the comment by the Secretary of State for International Development that a tacky deal was done with the French on Zimbabwe. Will the Minister assure us that we have told our French allies, in the strongest possible terms, that their action in allowing Mugabe to come to Paris last week has totally undermined the west's condemnation of the human rights abuses in Zimbabwe?

President Mugabe's visit to Paris certainly constituted a sad day for France. It was deeply regrettable. On the positive side, however, it produced a robust condemnation of President Mugabe inLe Monde and other French newspapers. I think that that brought home to many French people the detestable nature of the Mugabe regime.

What precisely have the Government done in the last two months to put pressure on the evil tyrant Mugabe? Following last week's disgraceful scenes in Paris, will the Foreign Secretary be summoning the French ambassador to tell him that the actions of the President of France are held in utter contempt by Members in all parts of the House of Commons?

On 18 February we agreed, through the European Union, to extend the ban on travel. Unfortunately the ban was interrupted for four days, between 14 and 18 February. We regret that, and we regret that President Mugabe was able to visit Paris; but we managed to ensure a continuation of the ban from 18 February, which was a result of the efforts of the British Government—working with others—to convey the message that as far as we are concerned, Robert Mugabe's Government are unacceptable.

My hon. Friend referred to the courageous action of Henry Olonga and Andy Flower in standing up to bemoan the death of democracy in Zimbabwe, and the Government have already shown support for their stand. However, as both are Commonwealth citizens, will the Government consider honouring them in a specific way, to show that we really do want to see change in Zimbabwe?

My hon. Friend makes a very good suggestion, and I shall take that idea away with me. We are certainly prepared to consider any similar suggestions from other Members, and as I have said, those two cricketers are an example to us all.

Given President Chirac's contemptible demolition of the EU travel sanctions as he danced attendance on Mugabe in Paris last week, and given the almost certain failure of the Commonwealth to renew Zimbabwe's suspension, is not the Government's policy on Mugabe now in tatters? Why will they not show the same moral outrage and determination in relation to human rights abuses in Zimbabwe that has been shown in relation to those in other parts of the world, and mobilise the international community—if necessary, through the United Nations—to bring about fresh elections in Zimbabwe, and to end this brutal human tragedy? When will they understand that they can no longer pass by on the other side?

In the real world, Zimbabwe is a sovereign country, and the sad reality is that if a regime is determined to destroy its own country and its own people, there is a limit to what the international community can do. However, the international community is making clear to the Zimbabwean Government the effects of their policies, and we have made it very clear that the Zimbabwean Government are behaving in way that is totally abhorrent to us. Through the Commonwealth, through the European Union and through our contacts with other countries, we have made plain our detestation of that Government, and we are continuing to apply as much pressure as we can to ensure that that message goes out throughout the whole of the international community.

Gibraltar

2.

What assessment he has made of the outcome of the referendum held by the Government of Gibraltar on 7 November 2002.[98783]

We have taken note of the outcome. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House on 18 November last year, we have always been clear that no deal will be imposed on the people of Gibraltar against their will.

The Minister will know by now just how proud the people of Gibraltar are of being British, and who can blame them? Bearing in mind what I have just said, has the Minister had time to study the recent United Nations press release, in which it recommends that the decolonisation of such territories should include the option of integration? Does he agree with the United Nations, or not?

The hon. Gentleman, who is an expert on this matter, poses an important technical question. Gibraltar is an overseas territory with considerable devolved powers of self-government. We do of course support the principle and the right of self-determination, but it must be exercised in accordance with the UN charter, and with other treaty obligations. In Gibraltar's case, as the hon. Gentleman knows, that includes the treaty of Utrecht.

It is clear that everybody recognises the voice of Gibraltar through the referendum, and their overwhelming support for remaining British citizens. Will my hon. Friend now look forward to helping to celebrate 300 years of British sovereignty of Gibraltar next year?

As an historian, I find that the idea of celebrating the 300th anniversary of the treaty of Utrecht has considerable appeal. However, we should perhaps note that, at the moment, Spain is standing shoulder to shoulder with the people of Britain over the great question of Iraq. I hope that the patriotic people of Gibraltar will welcome the fact that currently, we have a very strong ally on the big issue that confronts us all.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the referendum, far from being eccentric, was judged to be fair and open. Will he take this opportunity to reflect on the bullying, arrogance and inaccuracies that have been characteristic of Ministers on this issue? I invite him to apologise now to the people of Gibraltar, whose only cardinal sin in the eyes of this Government is simply to want to remain British.

I have been accused of many things since I became Minister for Europe, but being a bully is not yet one of them. The hon. Gentleman is an expert on being arrogant. I am happy to repeat what has been said again and again at this Dispatch Box—as long as I am Minister for Europe, it will be the people of Gibraltar who will decide their future. That is the position of the Government. It was the position in the past, it is the position now and it will be the position in the future.

Do not the people of Gibraltar, especially the 98.97 per cent. who voted as they did, have an inalienable right to self-determination? Has not the treaty of Utrecht been overtaken by concepts of international law and are not the secret Anglo-Spanish talks in breach of international law?

There are no secret talks in which I have taken part. The treaty of Utrecht remains valid under international law—pacta sunt servanda, to use the Latin phrase. That means that we obey international law. I would not want to be a member of a Government who tore up international law just because it suited some people.

Iraq

3.

What recent discussions he has had with EU partners about Iraq. [98784]

4.

What the Government's policy is on Iraq; and if he will make a statement. [98785]

I have had frequent discussions with my EU counterparts on Iraq, including yesterday at the General Affairs and External Relations Council. Our policy is to ensure that Iraq complies with its obligations under relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions. Resolution 1441, which served notice on Iraq that it must now give up its weapons of mass destruction or face serious consequences, is strongly supported by the EU and the international community as a whole. The United Kingdom, Spain and the United States yesterday jointly tabled a draft second resolution in New York and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will make a statement about that at 12.30 pm today. The House will also wish to know that I have presented to the House today, for the convenience of right hon. and hon. Members, a Command Paper containing relevant diplomatic documents relating to Iraq, including the main inspectors' reports, statements to the Security Council and 13 of the—

It was written principally by the Security Council—and I think most of them have PhDs. It contains 13 of the main Security Council resolutions.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his response. In his discussions, did he confirm that the UK and the US would uphold international humanitarian law, which precludes the use of cluster bombs and attacks on water and electrical infrastructure? Did he also confirm the role that the UK and the US would play in rebuilding Iraq after a conflict and establishing democratic government there?

We have always made it clear that we will act strictly in accordance with all aspects of international law. The reason we are so focused on Iraq at the moment is to require it to meet its clear obligations under international law. If right hon. and hon. Members are unconvinced about the need for us to take firm action on Iraq, I urge them to read the 13 separate Security Council resolutions, which chart the obligations on Iraq, the threat posed by it and the fact that, year by year, its defiance of the UN has become greater. At the European Council yesterday we did not discuss humanitarian relief if military action takes place, but that is the subject of intensive discussions, not least with the Secretary-General of the United Nations

What is the Foreign Secretary's knowledge of the reported attempts by the US Government to bully, bribe and blackmail members of the Security Council into supporting the new US-UK draft resolution? Do those activities form part of the Government's moral case for war against Iraq?

My knowledge of such activities is zero. All members of the Security Council seek support for their positions, but I hope very much that they will all recognise that, after the decisions of 8 November, Iraq has been, and remains, in material breach of a string of very clear obligations that have been imposed on it. It has had a final opportunity to deal with those violations of international law but continues to pose the clearest possible threat to international peace and security through its possession of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles, and its defiance of international law. I hope that the whole of the international community will recognise the responsibilities borne by it and by individual members of the Security Council to ensure that international law means what it says. I still hope that we can gain enforcement by peaceful means but, if we cannot, the serious consequences that we spelled out in operative paragraph 13 of resolution 1441 will have to follow through.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, when I ask the spokesmen for the Scottish National and Liberal Democrat parties what credible alternative they have for dealing with Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction, they do not have an answer?[Interruption.] That is why they are shouting. Is not it clear that their approach is irresponsible opportunism—not for the first time—

Does my right hon. Friend share my concern at reports in last weekend's press that, because Germany did not support this country's stance with regard to military action in Iraq, the US was threatening to withdraw troops from that country, with all the economic consequences that would ensue? Does my right hon. Friend support America in that?

There have been some sharp exchanges between individuals in Germany and in the US. I regret the nature of those exchanges on both sides, and believe that we all have to acknowledge our overwhelming responsibilities to act in a diplomatic way and to continue to search very hard, even at this stage, for a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Liberal Democrat Members believe that the draft resolution tabled by the UK and US Governments is premature. At a time when the international community should be coming together to maximise the opportunity for peaceful disarmament of Iraq, the measure is completely divisive. Will the Foreign Secretary explain why the weapons inspectors are not to be allowed to continue their work for as long as they believe that it is worthwhile and productive? Will he set out why he is opposed to the alternative approach tabled by France, Russia and Germany?

Well, Mr. Speaker. I hope that that question gives me a legitimate opportunity to respond, through you, to the points made earlier about the position of the Liberal Democrats. I thought that my right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) was unfair to say that they had no answer to the issue. They have a number of answers, and they vary day by day, as the record shows—not least on the question of whether a second resolution is needed.

There is no suggestion—and I do not know where the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) got the idea—that we are saying to the inspectors that they must stop. We have put forward the draft resolution, and said that a vote should not be held on it until we have received the next set of reports from Doctors Blix and el-Baradei. We must be clear about that, but it must also be understood, not least by the Liberal Democrats, that there is only one reason why the inspectors have been readmitted to Iraq. That reason is not, sadly, all the words in the 13 or more resolutions passed by the Security Council. It is because we in the UK, the US and some other countries have been willing to follow through chapter VII of the UN charter and to back our diplomacy with a credible threat of force.

As for the proposals from France, Germany and Russia, I shall put them before the House and ask hon. Members to consider them. We always take proposals of that kind seriously. However, I have to say to those of our colleague countries on the United Nations Security Council who are now praying in aid the importance of Security Council resolution 1284 that it should be remembered that it was we in the United Kingdom who pushed 1284 and finally got a vote. As a matter of record, it so happens that France did not support 1284. In any event, the inspection regime that was established by 1284 in December 1999 was inoperable until we got 1441 through and backed the process with a credible threat of force. I submit to the House that the only way in which to disarm Saddam Hussein peacefully is the strategy that this House has endorsed and the position of the Government.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people hope that when he has discussions with our partners in the European Union, he will bear in mind the grave reservations of the Kurds in northern Iraq about the new-found role of Turkey, given Turkey's human rights record and its treatment of the Kurds in the past, both of which leave a great deal to be desired?

Yes. One of the paragraphs of 1441 and one of the paragraphs of the draft resolution that we submitted for consideration to the Security Council yesterday says explicitly that the territorial integrity of Iraq, including the Kurdish area, has to be preserved, and we will make sure that that happens. As. my right hon. Friend will know from his contact with Kurdish representatives, they are the first fully and actively to support the strategy of the Security Council as endorsed by this House.

In relation to Question 3, will the Foreign Secretary join me in condemning the increasingly arrogant and bullying behaviour of the French President? Will he make it clear to President Chirac that threatening to veto applicant countries if they do not toe the French line is intolerable in a union of sovereign nations? Does he agree that fundamental divisions in Europe on the meaning of resolution 1441 can only give comfort and encouragement to Saddam Hussein? Surely the words "une dernière possibilité" and the words "a final opportunity" mean one and the same thing, and did not France sign up to those words last November? Is not the only silver lining in France's otherwise murky behaviour that it demonstrates once and for all that a unified European foreign policy is an unachievable fantasy?

As far as the right hon. Gentleman's first remarks are concerned, I repeat what I said earlier. If we are to resolve the issue by diplomatic means, we all have a responsibility to moderate our language. There will be no way in which serious negotiations can take place unless we do that.

On divisions in Europe, it is sad that divisions have been exposed, and all the sadder given that every single member of NATO and every single member of the European Union signed up fully to the terms of 1441. It is not the case, as people sometimes suggest, that this is the US versus Europe—that is a parody. Of the total number of countries that are due to enter or already in the European Union, just over half are fully in support of the strategy followed by the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands and a number of others, and just under half are not.

The last point that the right hon. Gentleman raised concerned the terms of operational paragraph 13 of 1441. That says, in French, in English, and in all the other official languages of the United Nations, that this is a final opportunity. Paragraph 13 then says that if Iraq fails to take that final opportunity, serious consequences will follow. That underlines the full terms of 1441 and underlines the fact that while we would prefer to achieve a second resolution, and we want to see further consensus inside the Security Council for action that is necessary to resolve the matter peacefully, the full terms on Iraq, including the consequences that will follow, were laid out on 8 November when the Security Council unanimously passed 1441.

Will my right hon. Friend clarify a point that I believe he just made? Last night, the news reported that a vote on the new resolution would be sought on 10 March and that a further inspectors' report would be presented on 15 March. Will a vote be sought before all the inspectors' scheduled reports have been made?

We have not been specific about the dates for putting the resolution to a vote. I continue to hope that a vote can be avoided because the purpose of the resolution is to serve very clear notice on Saddam. Its intention is to give him two weeks' notice that the final opportunity has nearly passed. I have not heard speculation about 15 March, but I assure my hon. Friend that the inspectors' reports will be presented before a vote is taken. Reports are due by the end of the month.

Convention On The Future Of Europe

6.

If he will make a statement on his policy aims in the Convention on the Future of Europe. [98787]

The Government's aim in the Convention on the Future of Europe is to build a Europe that is better understood, more democratically accountable and works better.

The convention's recommendations will be discussed in an intergovernmental conference, when Heads of State or Government will make decisions, acting by unanimity. The outcome will be put to Parliament before ratification.

As the Minister knows, the convention has published a draft constitution, which is organised on a federal basis, as it puts it, with massive new powers, especially over economic policy, and with full legal incorporation of the EU charter of rights. Since all that is contrary to the Government's previously expressed policy positions, will he either explain why they are making all those concessions in the convention or instruct the Government representative, who is not in his Department, to start saying no, clearly and unambiguously, to the new constitution? It will be impossible to retrieve all the new concessions at the intergovernmental conference that the Minister mentioned.

The key noun in that question was "draft". Member states have already tabled more than 1,000 amendments to the proposal. It will be changed and emended by all the interested parties, including the British Government, the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members of the House of Commons and the other place who represent British interests on the convention. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will make a doughty job of presenting his point of view.

Will the Minister join me in welcoming the convention's great emphasis on developing parliamentary democracy, with regard not only to the European Parliament but to national Parliaments?

Indeed. I hope that that avenue will be explored further in the remaining months of the convention's work. The Government and, I believe the House, want to see national Parliaments brought fully into play in terms of subsidiarity and in terms of oversight of what the EU does.

Given the far-reaching changes envisaged in the constitution, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) alluded, will the Minister explain whether the Government intend to put the matter not only to Parliament, but to the people in a referendum—and if not, why not?

This country does not have a tradition of plebiscites that allow populists to range over plebiscitary politics, using their weekly magazines to pump out endless anti-European propaganda. Every previous treaty from the treaty of accession in 1973 to Maastricht, Nice and Amsterdam has been debated properly in the House, and I think that ratification by Parliament is the right way forward.

Reference has already been made to the charter of rights. Can my hon. Friend say whether it is still the position of Her Majesty's Government that they want the EU to sign up to the European convention on human rights and want that convention to be the primary human rights document for Europe as a whole? Are the Government prepared to introduce the necessary changes into the European convention, along with our allies and other members of the European Union, to ensure the possibility of accession by the EU?

As my hon. Friend knows, that issue has been discussed; indeed, I discussed it recently with parliamentary delegates at the Council of Europe. The Government of France, for example, have grave reservations about the proposal. We have incorporated the European convention on human rights into our domestic legislation. The issue of whether the European Union as a whole should adhere to it is very technical, and it will be properly examined and discussed by the convention. Finally, of course, it will be decided by the intergovernmental conference.

Will the Minister confirm that a European constitution containing a legally enforceable charter of fundamental rights, the creation of a separate legal personality for Europe and the subjection of our foreign and defence policy to European jurisdiction would constitute a crossing of the rubicon between a Europe of sovereign nations and a federal Europe? Does he accept that no democratic Government have the right to surrender such fundamental areas of sovereignty without the specific consent of the people? Given that the Government support referendums on mayors, the euro and regional assemblies, will he now accede to the demand of my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) for a referendum before any new European treaty containing such a surrender is agreed or ratified, so that the British people can reject it out of hand?

Let me say this:

"I do not think that one can have a federal Europe. The Creation of a United States of Europe is not realistic, because not a single nation is prepared to give up its identity."
I was quoting the President of the French Republic, Monsieur Jacques Chirac, and I agree with his words. However, I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he agrees with this quote:

"I'm very worried about enlargement … the European Union is … going to get much worse when we try and absorb a lot of other countries with different cultures."
That is an extract from remarks made on the BBC by the Conservative party's representative on the European Convention, the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory). I should like him now to say that the Conservative party supports enlargement and that we should not insult and patronise our friends in Poland and the Czech Republic with such extremist, anti-east European nonsense.

In view of the wide-ranging significance of the draft constitution for Europe, does the Minister think that it is appropriate for the United Kingdom to adopt it simply through the exercise of a treaty-making power? Is it really appropriate for the proposal to be made binding upon us simply through exercise of the royal prerogative in this matter, bearing it in mind that, by doing so, one limits significantly the ability of this House to consider the proposal? Is it still appropriate in this day and age to regard the European Union as a foreign country?

I was not in the House at the time, but I recall the folklore memories of nights and days spent debating the Maastricht treaty. It will be the House of Commons and Parliament that will decide whether to ratify any treaty that is the outcome of the intergovernmental conference and the convention. I have complete confidence that the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members will deal with the matter in the traditional British parliamentary way.

Middle East

7.

If he will make a statement on the implications for global security of securing a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.[98788]

A settlement of the dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians would plainly enhance global security, including the security of the immediate region and of Europe and the United Kingdom. We are in active support of the Quartet of the European Union, the Russian Federation, the United States and the United Nations in working for renewed negotiations, including the publication of the road map to give effect to President Bush's vision of a two-state solution by 2005.

This morning, I spoke with Chairman Arafat of the Palestinian Authority to welcome the constitutional changes that he has announced and press for the early appointment of a credible Prime Minister with effective powers.

The whole House will be grateful to the Foreign Secretary for reconfirming that he views the peace process as central to future global security. Do his close allies in the United States take the same view? Does he think that there is any possibility of the central importance of the peace process being compromised in any way by action against Iraq?

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's first question is that the United States takes broadly the same view. However, it certainly does not take precisely the same view. We have been encouraging it to be more forward in recognising the need to implement fully the very welcome statements that President Bush made last June and the very welcome United Nations Security Council resolution that was passed at the behest of the United States and that laid down for the first time that there should be a clear two-state solution. We continue in very intense dialogue with our American and other friends.

As far as conflict with Iraq is concerned, all Palestinians—including Ministers—to whom I have spoken have made it crystal clear that they are the last people in the world to have anything good to say on behalf of Saddam Hussein. The case for advancing the peace process and trying to continue to get both sides together stands on its own merits. However, I accept—given the allegation of double standards—that the case for pursuing it is all the greater when set against the possibility of military action in Iraq.

Given the current readiness of the United States and the United Kingdom to discount UN Security Council vetoes, can my right hon. Friend estimate how many UN resolutions there would have been on Israel and Palestine over three and a half decades, and of what seriousness, had it not been for the use or threatened use of the US veto?

We are not discounting the use of the veto. As has every member state of the United Nations, we have had to acknowledge that there could be circumstances in which we would take action without a second resolution. However, let us be clear. As the Command Paper that has been published this morning makes clear, the authority for any military action in respect of Iraq is based very firmly on UN Security Council resolutions that have already been passed. It is of profound importance that that point is understood. I invite my hon. Friend to read, in particular, resolution 687, which agreed a conditional ceasefire, and resolution 1441, including its final operative paragraph.

As far as Security Council resolutions in respect of Israel and Palestine are concerned, we want to see those implemented fully. What I know is that, if we stand by and fail to implement the resolutions in respect of Iraq—where the violation of the United Nations authority is the greatest—there is no prospect of getting resolutions implemented in respect of other conflict areas, including Israel and Palestine. The reverse is also the case.

Our intentions, inevitably, are principally to do with Iraq. However, I agree with the Foreign Secretary and with my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) that the peace process in the nearer middle east is crucial to the prospects for peace in the wider region. Those who think that the two cases can be treated separately are fooling themselves and risk making the world a more dangerous place.

Will the Foreign Secretary give the House his assessment of the security situation in Gaza and the west bank over the past few weeks—areas that have seen the deaths of quite a lot of Palestinians? Given that Ariel Sharon has been talking to Abu Ala, that he has at last formed a majority Government with Shinui and the National Religious party, and that—as the Foreign Secretary has said—Mr. Arafat is prepared to accept a more ceremonial role, can the Foreign Secretary confirm that constructive talks are at last resuming and that they stand some chance of staying on track?

The security assessment in Gaza and the west bank is serious. In recent weeks, according to a count made yesterday, there have been 41 deaths of Palestinians, principally at the hands of the Israeli defence force, and one death within the state of Israel itself. I greatly regret those deaths; I regret the deaths whatever side they are on. We have called on, and continue to call on, the Palestinians to condemn terrorism and take effective action to control terrorists within the occupied territories and Israel. At the same time, we call on the state of Israel to act proportionately and in accordance with international law in the actions that it takes.

On the second matter that the hon. Gentleman raised, I have been in active discussions with a number of representatives of the Palestinian Authority—they were over here last week, led by Yasser Abed Rabbo of the Palestinian Authority—and although the situation is dire, there are some improving signs because of the position now taken by the Palestinian Authority. But now that a Government have been formed in Israel, we look to Israel and the United States to agree to the early publication of the road map that was endorsed by President Bush on 20 December.

Can my right hon. Friend tell the House how he expects to be taken seriously in his determination to deal with the very real problems that Iraq poses to the rest of the world when we have assembled an army and, for the second time, flown it past the most blatant example of daily repression and breaking of international humanitarian law by a Government who are signatories to the convention? Can he tell me why he expects that country to act proportionately, when it has never done so in the past, when there is another right-wing Government in Israel?

I understand, as I said earlier, the argument about double standards and the fact that it has some resonance based on fact, not only in the Arab and Islamic world, but in the wider world. But what I would say to my hon. Friend is that Security Council resolutions such as 242, 338, 1397 and 1402 impose obligations not only on the Israelis, yes, to recognise a viable state, to withdraw from the settlements, to negotiate the future of East Jerusalem and to deal with the issue of refugees, but on the Palestinian Authority properly and effectively to control terrorism and on all the surrounding Arab states to recognise the state of Israel and not to support terrorism themselves. The answer to the terrible issue of the middle east is for us to continue to apply pressure to all sides to achieve an effective negotiated settlement.

The Foreign Secretary has just said that the Government urge Israel to be consistent with international law. How many Palestinians have been killed since September 2000 by Israel's policy of extra-judicial assassination? Do the Government believe that that policy is consistent with international law?

I am afraid that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an exact number, but I am certainly happy to write to him about that. As to whether that is consistent with international law—no, and we have made our view very clear to the Government of Israel.

International Criminal Court

8.

What recent discussions he has had with his counterparts in the USA about the International Criminal Court.[98789]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Mike O'Brien)

There have been no discussions on the International Criminal Court with US counterparts since 17 October. On that date, officials met at US request for preliminary discussions on the US request for a bilateral agreement under article 98.2 of the Rome statute. We await a further approach from the US side.

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply, but he will be aware that the US Government have sought bilateral agreements with other countries that revoke article 98 of the Rome statute to exempt US officials from prosecution by the international courts and, as has been already alluded to earlier, to strengthen economic sanctions such as the termination of military aid to countries if they do not comply with US demands. Does he agree that such action undermines the process to establish an effective International Criminal Court and that, without ratification by the US, the International Criminal Court will essentially be a toothless tiger?

We are strong supporters of the International Criminal Court and, of course, we will do nothing that conflicts with the statute. We understand US objections to the court, but we simply do not share them. Of course article 98.2 provides a procedure, and therefore acting within that article would comply with the statute. However, we will act on the basis of the guiding principles agreed by European Union Ministers on 30 September: no immunity for US citizens, no exemption for UK citizens and exemptions only for US citizens sent by their Government. Unfortunately, there is no common EU position on that. It appears that the French have opted for their soldiers to be excluded for seven years. The French seem to be taking a more American position on this issue.

It has been suggested that one solution to the Iraq crisis would be for Saddam and his clique to go into exile. How would that be affected by the existence of the International Criminal Court in the unlikely event that he decided to go into exile, but did so in a country that had signed up to the ICC? Would not there be a clash between the terms of his exile and the possibility that someone could rightly bring him before the ICC for the many crimes that he has committed?

The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point, which I shall consider in detail. Of course, Iraq is not currently a party to the ICC statute, so the court can exercise its jurisdiction only following the referral of an allegation by the UN Security Council under chapter VII of the UN charter. Therefore, if somebody was in a country that was adhering to the statute, I assume that the procedure would still be to use the UN charter chapter VII. I would have to consider in detail the legalities of that, and I will write to the hon. Gentleman.

Eu Enlargement (Czech Republic)

9.

If he will make a statement on enlargement of the EU; and what progress is being made in respect of the Czech Republic's application to join the EU.[98790]

Following the conclusion of negotiations at the European Council in December, the existing EU members, the Czech Republic and nine other candidates will sign an accession treaty on 16 April. Subject to treaty ratification, the Czech Republic will accede on 1 May 2004. That is good news for the UK, the EU and the Czech Republic.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he share my concern that the nations seeking to join the EU were invited to the summit in Brussels last week to discuss Iraq, but were not allowed to participate? It seems to emerge that, after that meeting, President Chirac was threatening those nations wishing to join with a veto if they did not agree with his views on Iraq. Would not a better way of taking forward EU membership be whether they meet the criteria, rather than whether they agree with the President of France?

The Minister will be aware that coalition discussions in Austria have centred in large part around the issue of nuclear power stations in the Czech Republic. Threats have been made by the far right, extremist Freedom party to block Czech membership of the European Union. Does he agree that it would be much more welcome for the Austrian Government to discuss issues of substance rather than accede to the extremist designs of Jörg Haider?

When negotiating with partners for the accession of the Czech Republic and other applicant countries, will my hon. Friend ensure that the rights of Roma people in those countries, which are not upheld at the moment, will be fundamental to conditions for accession to the EU? That will prevent us from ending up in a situation in which the problems of the Roma people are settled by them resettling in our country and other parts of the EU.

My hon. Friend raises a sensitive point. Since the end of communism, steady progress has been made on dealing with all the different minority questions in central and eastern Europe. The issue of the treatment of the Roma people figured largely in the assessment about new member states joining the European Union. My hon. Friend is right that we must keep a careful eye on the matter.

Serbia And Montenegro

10.

If he will make a statement on the political situation in Serbia and Montenegro. [98791]

The Serbia and Montenegro state union was proclaimed on 4 February. Elections to the new Parliament are taking place there. We urge the new Government, when in place, to press ahead with reforms, including co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

Does the Minister agree that one of the biggest problems facing Serbia and Montenegro is the huge number of refugees and internally displaced people within its borders? That exerts a great deal of pressure, and will possibly lead to political instability. What will the Government do to try to return those people to their rightful homes?

The hon. Gentleman, who takes a great interest in the region and contributes positively to the House's discussions and debates on it, raises an important point. We still have a large number of British troops in the region to try to ensure that people can go back to their homes and villages. The hon. Gentleman will know that one of the best contributions that might be made is for the new Serbian and Montenegrin Government to surrender to The Hague all the alleged and indicted criminals, given the actions that took place. That is the most important step that could be taken to bring peace and stability and to restore confidence to the region as a whole.

Is my hon. Friend aware that 1 have represented the Council of Europe as an election observer in the last two presidential elections in Serbia? Because of a ruling introduced under Milosevic that means that there has to be a turnout of 50 per cent, the clear wishes of the people of Serbia were not met. Such a turnout was not achieved on either occasion. Therefore, when my hon. Friend next meets the Serbian authorities, will he say that that ruling does not meet the wishes of the people of Serbia and that it needs to be changed?

I am not quite sure that it is for the British Government to dictate the electoral system for the election, under the old arrangements, of the President of Serbia. We now have a new entity, Serbia and Montenegro, and elections to its Parliament are taking place today. Perhaps if there were a candidate who could command sufficient support because he or she was saying the right things for a new Serbia and Montenegro, that person might receive the support to overcome the technical barrier to which my hon. Friend referred.

Afghanistan

12.

If he will make a statement on the political situation in Afghanistan. [98793]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Mike O'Brien)

Afghanistan has made progress towards implementing the Bonn agreement, but the situation remains fragile. Over the coming year the transitional Government will focus on improving security, including through the development of the new Afghan national army, the development of a new constitution and, of course, preparations for elections in 2004.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Very obvious security issues affect Afghanistan, but to what extent does political instability hinder the reconstruction of this tragic country? What more can be done to deal with that?

There is a large amount of work being done to ensure that we give political support to the Afghan Government, and they are responding enormously well. I was in Kabul some months ago and saw the very high calibre of many Afghan Ministers. They are doing a very good job. One of the key advantages that we have seen in recent months is that there are now 4.5 million children in school in Afghanistan, and half of them are girls. Few schools operated under the Taliban, and girls could not go to them. Steps are being taken forward not only on security, but on education, health and other issues. The position is precarious but the steps forward show the benefit of the steps that the British, American and others Governments were prepared to take in intervening in Afghanistan.[Interruption.]

Does the Minister agree that a satisfactory security situation is crucial to a positive political development in Afghanistan? Can he assure the House that there is no question whatever of the Federal German Government withdrawing their peacekeeping contingent as has been mooted in many quarters of the press?

We are in discussions with the Germans, as are other countries. We very much hope that they will remain there until the change to other forces is undertaken. We believe that there will not be the gap or lacuna that the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Iran

13.

What steps he is taking to assist in tackling human rights abuses in Iran. [98794]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Mike O'Brien)

We regularly raise human rights issues with the Iranian authorities at all levels. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary did so most recently with the Iranian Foreign Minister this month. We support the EU dialogue on human rights with Iran and also provide practical bilateral assistance for a range of projects.

A hundred thousand people have been executed in Iran since 1981 and many of them were stoned to death for adultery and homosexuality. The United Kingdom Government have not specifically condemned stoning. Will they do so and will they continue to work with those pursuing serious human rights concerns with Iran?

We and our European Union partners have repeatedly expressed concerns about stoning, and are working to deal with some of the changes that need to take place in Iran. Reform has been called for, especially by women's groups in Iran that have campaigned on the subject for years. We therefore welcomed the announcement at the end of last year by the head of the supreme administrative court that the practice of stoning had been suspended.