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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 406: debated on Tuesday 10 June 2003

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Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

The Secretary of State was asked

Sierra Leone


If he will make a statement on Sierra Leone. [117938]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Bill Rammell)

The UK has made a significant political, military and financial investment to end the conflict in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone has now enjoyed over a year of peace under a democratically elected Government. The UK has a long-term commitment to Sierra Leone, and will continue to support the Government as they make the reforms that will ensure a sustainable peace.

Two key elements in that long-term stability are the prosecution of war criminals and preventing conflict in adjoining countries from destabilising Sierra Leone. In view of that, will the Minister tell the House what practical steps Her Majesty's Government are taking to bring President Taylor to justice? Secondly, what steps are they taking to secure a regional solution to the problems of the area?

We have taken the lead in establishing the special court, and committed some £6.6 million to that effect. The court and the prosecutor are entirely independent. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was referring to the indictment that was recently laid down in respect of Charles Taylor. The prosecutor makes his own decisions, but we are urging that Charles Taylor should give himself up to the authorities, and that others in the region should support that move.

The hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) rightly made the connection with the situation in Liberia, because we know that Sierra Leone's problems have almost always been imported from that country. Even more important than the indictment of Mr. Taylor—although that would be a good thing—is the peace process in Liberia. Will my hon. Friend tell the House what practical steps the British Government are taking to drive through that process, which is a necessary precondition to long-term peace in the region?

My hon. Friend's analysis is absolutely right. We need to push forward the peace process in Liberia, and we are certainly pushing to that effect. The pressure to achieve that will have been enhanced by United Nations Security Council resolution 1478, adopted on 6 May, which renewed the arms embargo and the travel ban aimed at those breaking the arms embargo, and dealt with the issue of rough diamonds. From 7 July, the sanctions will also apply to timber, the revenue from which is used to purchase arms. That pressure, allied with our constant urging of the Liberian authorities to engage in a peace process, represents the right way forward.



If he will make a statement on the present situation in Cyprus. [117939]


If he will make a statement on the current situation in Cyprus. [117948]

I welcome the partial easing of restrictions on freedom of movement across the green line, and the European Commission's trade and aid package for the Turkish Cypriots. I hope that they will lead to a comprehensive settlement based on the UN plan, which remains vital.

I note that reply, but my hon. Friend will be aware of the dramatic changes that have taken place in northern Cyprus in recent weeks. For the first time since the events of 1974, we are hearing the voice of the Turkish Cypriot community, which is clearly saying that it wants to end the isolation and to be part of the Cyprus that goes into the European Union next year. Against that background, what are the Government doing to re-engage the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the President of the Republic of Cyprus, President Papadopoulos, with a view to reconvening the talks in the genuine hope that, at long last, we shall see the people of Cyprus, be they Greek or Turkish, living and working together? Just what are we doing?

Those aspirations are shared by the whole House. Out of the population of 680,000 Greek Cypriots, 270,000 have crossed into the north, and 120,000 of the 180,000 Turkish Cypriots have crossed into the south. Never before have we seen such people power voting with its feet for a united Cyprus. The Government have repeatedly urged the Cypriot Government and the other players in the region—the Turkish and Greek Governments—to take up Kofi Annan's plan, which is on the table and represents the best way forward. We want the authorities on the island and in the relevant countries to help to unite Cyprus and to bring a united Cyprus into the European Union next May.

I, too, welcome the opening of the green line, but of course this is only the beginning, not the end, in terms of finding a solution. We must keep up the momentum of bringing the parties together. What action is my hon. Friend taking to build confidence between the two communities on the island, and, more importantly, what is he doing to engage the Turkish Government to ensure that they play their full part in bringing together the two communities and restarting the negotiations?

I believe that there is confidence between the two communities. Where the breakdown exists is, perhaps, between their political leaders. My hon. Friend is right to focus on Ankara, where the Turkish Government, Parliament and military have an historic responsibility to press Mr. Denktash to reach an agreement within the Annan proposals and then allow a united Cyprus to enter the European Union—and one of its top officials will indeed be a Turkish-speaking representative if the Annan plans are adopted. I think that it is in Turkey's interests for the EU to contain a member state one of whose senior representatives in the European Council of Ministers will be speaking Turkish.

Further to the points made by the hon. Members for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and for Edmonton (Mr. Love), will the Minister confirm that there are increasing signs that neither the Turkish Cypriots nor the Turkish settlers are prepared to see a divided island remain when Cyprus joins the EU? Will he use his good offices to stress to the Turkish Government that this is the best time to start playing a more positive role in the solving of the problem, especially if Turkey wants to join the EU?

I strongly agree. It has been a great pleasure to see Turkish Cypriots waving the blue and yellow EU flag and, along with those in the rest of Europe—with one political exception, perhaps—voting yes to the EU. The hon. Gentleman is also right to say that it is for the Turkish Government to engage. We think that they have taken positive steps, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I continue to urge them to move further so that a united Cyprus can enter the EU by May next year.

Now that Lord Hannay's remit has expired, may I take this opportunity to thank him, on behalf of the Conservatives, for his efforts to resolve the intractable problems of Cyprus? Following the unfortunate recent collapse of the talks, will the Minister join me in welcoming the unilateral proposals of the Republic of Cyprus for moves including freer movement of goods, persons and vehicles and the relaxation of employment restrictions for Turkish Cypriots? Will he applaud the Cypriot Government for continuing to seek a positive resolution of the problem?

I think that the proposals, some 16 of them, advanced by the Cypriot Government, are a move in the right direction. The main stumbling block remains the position of Mr. Denktash, which must be dealt with through direct communication with him. We believe that, again, the Turkish Government, Parliament and military have a key role to play.

Let me record the House's thanks to Lord Hannay. He has been a remarkable servant of Britain in many ways, and has done a great service in trying to bring the two sides together to secure a final deal allowing a united Cyprus to enter the EU.

Given the announcement of the termination of Lord Hannay's service as special representative, what assurance can my hon. Friend give about specific measures that the British Government will take to recognise their special responsibilities as a senior member of the UN and of the Commonwealth and a guarantor of the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus? What, specifically, will the British Government do about replacing Lord Hannay?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the triple role that Britain plays as a permanent member of the Security Council. It is under the aegis of the UN that a solution to the Cyprus problem must be found. Britain is obviously also a member of the EU, and is looking forward greatly to Cyprus becoming a partner.

I believe that things must now be done at Government level. We need to engage with our partners, especially, as I have said, the Turkish Government. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will meet the Turkish Foreign Minister here in London shortly, and we will continue to press all parties—particularly the Turkish Government, Parliament and military—to accept their responsibilities. We firmly believe that the signals from Ankara can unblock the path to a solution under the Annan package, which gives a fair deal to both communities on the island.



What action the Government are taking to bring about the restoration of human rights in Zimbabwe. [117940]


What recent discussions he has had with the Governments of (a) South Africa and (b) Nigeria on Zimbabwe; and if he will make a statement. [117942]

The situation in Zimbabwe is very serious. We have been in regular discussion about it with Presidents Obasanjo and Mbeki, and with South African Foreign Minister Zuma.

Last week President Mugabe's security forces sought to crush opposition protests, and again arrested opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. They have now also arrested the secretary-general of the Movement for Democratic Change, Welshman Ncube. Responsibility for the present state of Zimbabwe lies squarely with its present Government. It is they who are responsible for the abuses of human rights, the collapsing economy and the threat of starvation to millions of people. The plight of the white community is bad, but that of the black community is even worse.

Together with the rest of the international community, we will continue to provide humanitarian relief, to sustain Mr. Mugabe's international isolation and to highlight his abuses of fundamental human rights. We will continue to work with international partners—the European Union, the United States and the Commonwealth—in the region.

In that connection, the House will wish to know that, with our active support, the board of governors of the International Monetary Fund decided on Friday 6 June to suspend Zimbabwe's voting and administration rights in the IMF. It is an indication of how critical Zimbabwe's economic and political situation is that that is the first time that such a measure has been taken by the IMF against a country that is not at civil war.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his answer. The whole country, and, indeed, the world, are aware of the ever worsening human rights position in Zimbabwe. There is not just torture and imprisonments but deaths, verified by more regular reports—the latest by Statewatch today. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider two specific things. First, will he make an additional effort with his Commonwealth colleagues to prevail on the President of South Africa to make it absolutely clear that the view in Africa, as here, is that that activity on behalf of the Government of Zimbabwe cannot and should not continue? If South Africa and the neighbours of Zimbabwe were to say that in terms, there might be a chance of some movement and response by the Government in Harare.

Secondly, given the welcome announcement last week—

Thank God, Mr. Speaker.

We are engaged in very constructive discussions with President Mbeki and Foreign Minister Zuma of South Africa. Our Prime Minister met President Mbeki last week in Evian, and I met both the President and the Foreign Minister two weeks before that. The South Africans are well aware of the gravity of the position. Indeed, in a joint communique from Foreign Minister Zuma and me, both countries underlined that
"the longer the problems in Zimbabwe remain unresolved, the more entrenched poverty will become."

The arrest of Welshman Ncube today, and the fact that Morgan Tsvangirai is on trial for his life, are very serious. Why is it that the IMF has been able to act, the French have acted in the Congo, yet we have done nothing?

The IMF has, as I have just reported to the House, acted with our full and active support.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is South Africa that has to give a strong voice, and that Thabo Mbeki must recognise that this is not the time to repay Mugabe for the support he may have given to the African National Congress in the past? Now is the time to say to Mugabe that what is going on in his country cannot be accepted. ZANU-PF supporters in Zimbabwe must also be clear and condemn what is being done in their name if we are to see an end to the atrocities and tragedies.

I entirely understand how my hon. Friend feels about the matter. I know from my discussions in South Africa, and from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's discussions with President Mbeki, that the South Africans are well aware of the very serious damage that is being done not just to Zimbabwe but to the whole region of southern Africa.

Since the Foreign Secretary stood beside South African Foreign Minister Zuma on 14 May and meekly endorsed her policy of quiet diplomacy and dialogue in relation to Mugabe, does he know how many people in Zimbabwe have been murdered, tortured, imprisoned, beaten and politically prosecuted? In the past week alone, more than 800 people have been arrested, 400 treated for injuries and 10 hospitalised; three are on the critical list, two have been murdered, and the leader of the opposition and his deputy have been arrested and charged with treason. All that we have had from the Foreign Secretary today is more gestures and more platitudes. When will he finally accept that quiet diplomacy and dialogue are nothing more than a cover for appeasement, that they encourage Mugabe to ratchet up his oppression and that they are a shameful betrayal of the suffering people of Zimbabwe?

I understand the right hon. Gentleman's frustration and anger, which we all feel. What we have done is to secure sanctions by the Commonwealth, sanctions by the European Union, sanctions by the International Monetary Fund and the increasing international isolation of Zimbabwe, which is exactly what I thought the right hon. Gentleman had demanded in the past. What would be devastating for the people of Zimbabwe, however, would be to imply, by that kind of rant, that there are things that we could do, but we are holding back from them. The only thing that the right hon. Gentleman missed out from his rant was the obvious conclusion, expressed by the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin), that we ought to be taking military action. However, the right hon. Gentleman has himself said to me that he rules out military action. So next time he comes to the Dispatch Box, instead of ranting let him say exactly what he would do in this situation.

We need to ask why, when we were so ready to take effective action against the abuse of human rights and against ethnic cleansing and genocide in the Balkans, we are apparently paralysed in the face of similar atrocities in Zimbabwe. For a start, when will the EU's targeted travel ban and freezing of assets be extended to the families of Mugabe's henchmen—not least to their children studying in England—and to the shameful business men who bankroll Mugabe? And when will the Foreign Secretary go to the United Nations Security Council to seek a resolution to internationalise the crisis in Zimbabwe and put observers on the ground? In short, when will he stop walking by on the other side?

I will go to the United Nations Security Council for a resolution when I believe that we will win a resolution. What would be a disaster—no doubt under the right hon. Gentleman's diplomacy it would already have happened—is for us to go to the Security Council with the certain prospect that such a resolution would be [HON. MEMBERS: "Flush them out!"] They say, "Flush them out," but I am not in the business of providing gratuitous victories for President Mugabe, as the right hon. Gentleman evidently is.

As for the right hon. Gentleman's reference to action in the Balkans, frankly, that shows up the vacuity of his position. He continually implies that we should take action similar to that taken in the Balkans. The only difference between the action that we took in the Balkans and that which we are taking in Zimbabwe is that in the former, yes, we were able to take military action. He knows very well that a military option is simply not possible in Zimbabwe. More to the point, he wrote to me on 24 October, saying:
"I have not called for military action in Zimbabwe."
I rest my case.



If he will make a statement on the Government's policy on ensuring that weapons of mass destruction in Iraq are independently verified. [117941]

We recognise the need for credible, independent validation of any discoveries by the coalition. Dr. Blix noted last week that UNMOVIC remains ready to resume work in Iraq as an independent verifier, or to conduct long-term monitoring, should the Security Council so decide. United Nations Security Council resolution 1483 explicitly tasks the Security Council with reviewing the inspectors' mandates. This work will be undertaken in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, as the security situation in Iraq stabilises, the work of the 1,400-strong Iraq survey group of coalition forces will get under way.

Given that the position of the coalition, and of Her Majesty's Ministers in particular, depends almost entirely on the credibility of assertions that have been made about the existence of weapons of mass destruction, and given that, to put it mildly, that credibility is still very much in question, does the Foreign Secretary accept that it is essential that an element of the verification process should be independent and be seen to be independent, that the process should not be subject to any editorial steering by any other party, and that it should begin as soon as possible?

I do not accept the first part of the hon. Gentleman's claim. The simple truth of the matter is that if anybody still needs convincing about the holding of weapons of mass destruction by the Iraq regime before military action was taken, they need only read the very extensive reports of UNMOVIC and its predecessor UNSCOM, which set out in forensic detail the holdings of Iraq and its failure to explain what had happened to them. That point was made by Dr. Blix in his valedictory report to the Security Council just last week.

On the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I accept that if there are further—I emphasise the word further—finds of evidence they need to be independently verified.

Will my right hon. Friend impress on our US allies that the early unrestricted return of both UN inspection agencies would help in reasserting the authority of the UN and establishing international credibility, and, if weapons of mass destruction do exist, could speed the urgent task of preventing them from spreading via the black market to terrorists? Subsequently, both agencies could play a vital role across the world in implementing the G8's non-proliferation proposals.

As a result of military action the security situation in Iraq has changed totally, and the big threat that—as accepted by the international community—it posed while Saddam remained in power, has now been removed. As for the future of UNMOVIC, operative paragraph 11, which was agreed unanimously by the Security Council, required the UK and the USA to keep the Security Council informed of our activities in respect of Iraq's meeting its disarmament obligations, so that it would revisit in due course the mandates of UNMOVIC and the International Atomic Energy Agency. That remains the position of Her Majesty's Government.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House when the matter will be revisited, and what action he intends to take to ensure that that is done fairly quickly? That is important, because it will bring international legitimacy to whatever the findings may be.

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an exact timetable, but I can say that now that the security situation in Iraq is stabilising—that is the first priority of the coalition forces—the 1,400-strong Iraq survey group is getting going. It should be allowed to do its work. In tandem with that, discussions with the US and other international allies about the future role of UNMOVIC are continuing.

As my right hon. Friend suggests, the security position in Iraq is one of the reasons why the inspectors have been unable to go back into the country. However, is it sensible for the Coalition Provisional Authority to have disbanded the Iraqi army, discharging 500,000 men without any rehabilitation or retraining, and to have allowed them to keep their armaments when they are on the streets without any alternative employment, at the same time as calling for a weapons amnesty? Is such action not likely to destabilise the security situation in Iraq and make it less possible for the inspectors to return?

I accept the burden of my hon. Friend's question—that a difficult balance has to be achieved between the necessary de-Ba'athification process and the need to maintain security and ensure the continuation of some of Iraq's institutions. I am not saying that all the decisions taken by the Coalition Provisional Authority have been correct, but I can tell my hon. Friend that we are in constant discussion with our US colleagues—at Government-to-Government level and within the CPA in Baghdad—about how to achieve the most appropriate balance in order to get Iraq going again at the same time as reducing internal security threats.

The thing about verification is that the weapons have to be found first, but the new Secretary of State for International Development has said that looking for them is no longer a high priority. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that it does remain a high priority, because the trust that we placed in the Government—and in particular, in the Prime Minister—now appears to have been abused by deceitful spin, all sorts of embellished arguments and by "sexed-up" propaganda? Does not independent verification also require an independent assessment of what we were told existed? For the sake of the Government's tarnished credibility, will the Foreign Secretary now confirm unequivocally that Alastair Campbell will be required by the Prime Minister to appear before any Committee of the House that may be investigating weapons of mass destruction?

The appearance of members of the Prime Minister's staff before Select Committees is a matter for the Prime Minister—[HON. MEMBERS: "And the House."] Ultimately for the House, of course, but initially for the Prime Minister, who will clarify the matter. I recall that the hon. Gentleman made a fine speech on 18 March, summing up the resolution that was agreed overwhelmingly by the House. On that occasion he was unequivocal in his support for the military action on the basis of the evidence then available—[Interruption.] It does the Opposition no good to try to change the terms on which they backed the Government. The basis on which we took the decisions still applies today, and the hon. Gentleman knows that very well.

Did the Foreign Secretary hear Dr. Blix, in the course of his thoughtful reflections, refer to the difficulties of Iraqi pride, and the way in which weapons would have deteriorated over the years? In the light of the forged Niger documents, and what Paul Wolfowitz has now said about weapons of mass destruction, is not it the case that—with the best will in the world—nobody will believe us unless there is an independent investigation?

I do not accept that and I refer, yet again, to the clearest possible evidence, published by Dr. Blix himself, of the unanswered disarmament questions—173 pages of them—which was made available to the Security Council on 7 March. My hon. Friend has always been remarkably charitable towards the former Saddam regime, but to try to explain their lying, conniving, abuse of human rights and refusal to co-operate fully with the inspectors on the basis of hurt pride is, frankly, testing the credulity of all of us.

Last week the Prime Minister dismissed comments from the Opposition about weapons of mass destruction on the basis that the war in Iraq was justified because the people of Iraq had been relieved of a dreadful dictator. Nobody can deny that they have been relieved of that pressure, but will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the legal basis for the military action was the issue of weapons of mass destruction and UN resolution 1441, and that simply invading a country to relieve it of an oppressor is not legal under international law?

The legal basis for the military action was clearly set out in the Attorney-General's advice, a summary of which was made available to the House, and a longer letter that explained the background to his decision was also published by me in evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee. The reason why we took military action was agreed by the House in a lengthy resolution, which was essentially a paraphrase of resolution 1441, which set out that Iraq posed a threat

"to international peace and security"
because of its
"proliferation of weapons of mass destruction",
its unlawful missile systems, and its defiance of the United Nations and a host of Security Council resolutions. It was for those reasons—that Iraq was already in material breach and, under resolution 1441, in further material breach—that the House rightly decided that that country had to "face serious consequences": military action. That was what the House agreed, and it was successfully undertaken.

Are any Iraqis coming forward with details of where weapons of mass destruction might be found? Some might be motivated by money, members of the Ba'ath party might want to do deals to protect their future, and others who were opposed to the regime might have ideological reasons, so one would expect that information to be forthcoming from Iraqi sources.

As the Iraq survey group gets going—it has only just started, for reasons that I have explained, including the need to stabilise the security situation—I am sure that many scientists will come forward for interview. However, the House would, rightly, be the first to complain if people were not able to give free and unfettered evidence in such interviews.

Human Rights


What steps are taken to co-ordinate foreign policy with other member states of the European Union on human rights. [117943]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Bill Rammell)

By working with our EU partners, the UK is better able to promote human rights than we are by working alone. The EU this year has secured UN resolutions on Iraq, North Korea, Turkmenistan, the Congo and Burma, at the Commission on Human Rights. The EU holds regular dialogues with third countries, it promotes human rights globally and it has made respect for human rights a key condition for EU membership.

The Attorney-General and others have given robust assurances that UK law will not be undermined by the European constitution, but what use are those assurances when the charter of fundamental rights is to be interpreted by judges of the European Court? The former Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), once said, memorably, that the charter had no more legal standing than the Beano. However, the opposite is true, and the result will be cataclysmic. In those circumstances, is it not right to put the European constitution to the British people for a vote? I suspect that they might prefer the British tradition exemplified by Dennis the Menace and the Bash Street Kids to the Euro-imperialism of President Giscard.

We welcome the declaration, in the charter to which the hon. Gentleman refers, of the basic rights, freedoms and principles common to all European citizens. However, we have consistently made it clear that we cannot support a form of treaty incorporation that would enlarge EU competence. The hon. Gentleman makes a specific call for a referendum, but that would carry more credibility if the previous Conservative Government had called for a referendum over the far more fundamental changes to the workings of the European Union that flowed from the Single European Act and Maastricht.

My hon. Friend has given a number of examples of welcome developments on human rights in the EU, such as those in connection with Iran and China. But does he agree that the human rights profile should be higher? For example, none of the clauses in the relevant agreements with third countries in respect of human rights have been activated. Is there not also a need to have personnel with serious human rights experience—such as those from non-govermental organisations—in the EU's key foreign policy structures?

My right hon. Friend is right that we in the EU must constantly seek to do more, although I must point out that the articles to which he refers were activated in the specific case of Zimbabwe. We pushed for that strongly, and very much welcome it. However, there is no doubt that there are further matters that we need to push and press, and we shall do so.

When co-ordinating foreign policy on human rights, will the Minister take account of the human rights of the nine UK subjects held in Guantanamo Bay? Will he seek to achieve a common EU position that holds that those nine UK subjects should either be charged or released, and that their present detention is both illegal and intolerable?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that the Foreign Office has sought reassurances about the health and welfare of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay on a number of occasions. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear consistently, the situation is difficult and unusual and it cannot go on for ever. We are pressing on the matter.

Eu Constitution


If he will visit Nottingham, North to discuss the EU constitution; and if he will make a statement. [117944]


If he will make a statement on the latest draft of the constitutional treaty from the Convention on the Future of Europe. [117946]

At the Thessaloniki European Council next week Valéry Giscard d'Estaing will present his final report on the Convention on the Future of Europe. The convention will be followed by an intergovernmental conference, where decisions will be taken by unanimity.

I can inform my hon. Friend that I visited Nottingham on 27 February to discuss Europe. I plan to do so again as part of a series of visits to 100 UK cities and towns to get over the truth about Europe and dispel the propaganda myth.

That greatest of Britons, Tom Paine, once said:

"A constitution is not the act of a government, but of a people constituting a government: and government without a constitution is power without a right."
Does my hon. Friend accept that there can be no short cuts to winning people's consent, either to the euro or to a new constitution that will influence this country? While he is about it, will my hon. Friend tell the House how successful he has been in his pan-European search for a poet who can rewrite some of the Euro-babble that Giscard uses in his first draft into an inspirational text—something a little more inspiring than a sheepmeat directive?

We should render unto poets that which poets can do and render unto the responsibility of good government that which we have to do.

My hon. Friend is both right and wrong. He is right to quote Tom Paine, but he may recall that a number of countries have managed quite well without the need for a written constitution. At the end of a conference of 25 sovereign and independent nation states, we shall have a constitutional treaty that we shall bring back to the House of Commons to debate line by line. Thereafter, I know that my hon. Friend and I will continue to argue the case for being in Europe and helping to run Europe—unlike the Opposition, who want to isolate us from Europe and many of whom want us to withdraw altogether.

The hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) just referred to Valéry Giscard d'Estaing as a Euro-imperialist, but is not the truth that, despite being French, the president of the Convention has actually produced a remarkably un-French document? Bearing in mind the Chancellor's announcement yesterday that he hopes to take Britain into the euro—eventually—is it not all the more important that we ensure that future amendments to the constitutional treaty do not include proposals for tax harmonisation?

On the latter point, my hon. Friend is right. He is right, too, to note that Valéry Giscard d'Estaing has been widely criticised by Euro-federalists, by a number of small countries which think that he has given far too much power to the role of the nation state. The president of the Convention has also been criticised by the Opposition—so between the Euro-federalists who think he is doing a bad job and the fanatical anti-Europeans in the Conservative party who think he is doing a bad job, perhaps he is getting something right.

As we have no written constitution in this country, is there not an unanswerable case for putting a written constitution to the people of this country?

We are already fully signed up to the constitutional treaties that make the rules that allow us to make the European Union work. That is what will be brought back to the House. Yesterday, I heard the hon. Gentleman constantly make the point that it is this Parliament that should decide the affairs of our British people, not the Daily Mail with its populist plebiscites. That is why I look forward to bringing back the constitutional treaty for the House to debate and examine line by line.

The Prime Minister has said that there will be no referendum on the EU constitution because it is not constitutionally significant. Can the Minister explain how on earth the introduction of a constitution in a constitutional treaty is not constitutionally significant? Why do not the Government have the courage of their convictions and promise a referendum so that people can actually decide—or are they scared that "rogue elements" in the electorate might seek to undermine them?

The people actually have decided, consecutively, on Europe—whether in 1975 or thereafter, when generally one party has put forward a position in a general election of isolation or withdrawal from Europe and one party has said, "Let us go more strongly into Europe." In the 1980s, the former was the Labour party and we lost again and again. Today, it is the Conservative party—the Opposition—and if they maintain their hostility to Europe and their calls for isolation from Europe and insist that the Daily Mail decide the future of our European policy, they will remain on the Opposition Benches for years, if not decades, to come.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that there was a wonderful result in Poland at the weekend. Does he agree that the likely enlargement of the EU to 25 member states next year makes it essential that we have a streamlined constitution to meet the needs not only of the present but of the future?

I am glad to welcome from the Government Benches the remarkable yes vote delivered by the Polish people on Sunday and I am sorry that we have heard no expression of support from the Opposition for that yes to Europe. To quote the Polish ambassador in today's edition of The Daily Telegraph:

"As a member of the EU, Poland will strengthen, not lose, her sovereignty."
He went on to say that
"the authorities of my country have not planned for a referendum on the EU constitution and it is not required by our law".
For once, we might follow the example of Poland and say yes to Europe and drop this populist plebiscite nonsense that is shaped only by those who want a no vote to Europe and to isolate Britain still further from Europe.

Middle East


If he will make a statement on the road map for peace between Israel and Palestine. [117945]

We welcome the commencement by both the Palestinian Authority and Israel of the road map and also the personal engagement of President Bush in its implementation. President Bush, Arab leaders and the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas, met at Sharm el Sheikh on 3 June. There the Arab leaders made clear their commitment to a negotiated solution and their determination to work for that, including by preventing support from reaching terrorist groups.

President Bush, the Israeli and Palestinian Prime Ministers and King Abdullah of Jordan met the next day, 4 June, at Aqaba. There Prime Minister Sharon reiterated his commitment to a contiguous Palestinian state, saying that it was not in Israel's interest to govern the Palestinians, and he undertook to remove settlement outposts. Prime Minister Abbas undertook to work to end the armed intifada and to act against incitement and violence.

In that connection, I know that the House will wish to condemn the actions of those in groups—such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the al-Aqsa Brigades—who claimed responsibility for the serious attacks and killings at the Erez crossing on Sunday and who are, by those actions, actively seeking to destroy the peace process and the men of peace in the Palestinian Authority.

I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for his answer. In the light of the actions that he mentions that took place at the weekend, and the rejection by Hamas and others of Abu Mazen's best efforts to achieve peace through the road map, does not the Foreign Secretary recognise the problems faced by the Israeli Government in trying to introduce further concessions, with a backdrop of that violence and the rejection of peaceful methods by Hamas and others?

I recognise indeed the very significant problems faced by the Government of Israel, and I applaud the stand that Prime Minister Sharon is now taking, against a lot of opposition, not least from within his own party. At the same time, I greatly applaud the statesmanship shown by the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas, and the simple fact is that neither side—nor indeed the international community—can any longer allow the agenda for peace to be disrupted and undermined by the men of violence. If we had allowed that in Northern Ireland, we would never have had a peace process. We must not allow that in respect of this much worse conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

I am sure that we all wish the road map well, and I condemn those who are obstructing the process. It is clearly still a very dangerous place and, in that context, I wonder whether I might be allowed to raise the case of my constituent Mr. Tahseen Chaudhry, a fourth-year medical student at Birmingham university, who appears to be have been arrested by the Israeli authorities on or about 20 May, then apparently released on 4 June, but re-arrested by the Jordanian authorities. The family are naturally extremely anxious to know what has happened to that young man. Will my right hon. Friend do all that he can to make contact with the Jordanian authorities to find out whether they are holding my constituent? Can my right hon. Friend confirm whether British officials will be given access to him? If the Jordanian authorities have any plan to charge him with any offence, can we know what that offence is; and, if not, should he not be released?

I fully understand my hon. Friend's great concern about the fate of the two men involved in the case to which he refers. My understanding is that they were initially arrested by the Israelis, then handed over and taken into custody by the Jordanians. We have been in touch today with the Jordanian authorities, and they have confirmed to our embassy in Amman this morning that both men should be released very soon.

May I join the Foreign Secretary in his condemnation of those in terrorist groups who seek to undermine the process established by the road map? As one who has been critical of Mr. Sharon and his Government in the past, it would be churlish of me not to acknowledge the symbolism of the dismantling of a number of settler outposts, even though they are relatively minor and, in some cases, uninhabited? Does the Foreign Secretary agree, however, that more than symbolism will be required to meet the full requirements of international law in so far as that relates to settlements? Can he tell us what mechanisms, in his judgment, will be available to the Quartet to ensure that that objective is achieved?

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his opening remarks, as the simple truth is that the leaders on both sides, Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Sharon, are showing great courage, including personal courage, in the face of intense and potentially violent opposition from within their own areas. We need to do all that we can to support such statesmen, who are taking such risks to secure a wider peace. Yes, of course there must be more than simply symbolism, but in such a theatre of conflict we should not underestimate the power of symbols, and a start is now being made to remove some of those symbols and shibboleths. Of course, that must be followed by further and tangible action on the ground, which is why the Quartet are not static but are continually in contact to monitor progress and to ensure that that takes place.

We know that, as part of the road map, the American Administration have identified an individual who will stay and work on the road map. Who else will be involved in the road map process? Who is the EU representative? Who will be the United Nations representative? Who will be the Russian representative? What will be their role in helping to take forward the road map?

It is an indication of the high priority that President Bush has given the implementation of this peace plan that he has appointed his own National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, to be directly responsible for its implementation. Others will work under Condoleezza Rice in the region. The United Nations representative Ls Terje Roed-Larsen, and a change is currently taking place in terms of the EU representative, because the existing representative has just retired. Active consideration is being given to a replacement for that individual, but the fact that there is currently a vacancy in no sense indicates a lack of determination by all European Union Heads of Government and Foreign Ministers to play our active part in pushing forward the peace process in the middle east.

The Foreign Secretary is absolutely right when he says that we need to support Prime Minister Abbas in the courageous steps that he has taken. He will have seen the seriously unhelpful comments from President Arafat. What do the Quartet propose to do with President Arafat? How do they propose to get round Arafat, who is once again proving to be an obstacle to peace in the middle east?

One of the contributions that the United Kingdom made earlier this year was actively to encourage the reform process within the Palestinian Authority through two sets of meetings held in London in January and February, so that the Palestinians reformed themselves with a new constitution that established a Prime Minister who could be an active and reliable interlocutor for the Israelis and for the international community. Given what the hon. Gentleman has said, that is perhaps one of the most important contributions that we could have made to the peace process.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it is easy to be cynical about peace? Does he recall those voices in the media who said that the road map would never be published and never be implemented, and that Britain and America would never give it their full backing? Does he agree that the terrorists will defeat the peacemakers every time, and that the key is to encourage the Israelis, the Palestinian Authority and the Arab neighbours to work together to dismantle the organisations of terror that are trying to break the road map at the moment?

I agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said. In particular, there was a high level of cynicism, which I always thought was completely misplaced, about whether President Bush was committed to this exercise. He has shown not only by his words but by his deeds that he regards it as his highest foreign policy priority.

Death Penalty (United States)


What recent representations he has made to the US Government regarding British citizens facing the death penalty in the United States. [117949]

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

In the last year, Ministers and officials have made representations to the United States Government on behalf of three British nationals charged with death penalty-eligible offences and one facing execution. The three facing charges have now been told that they will not face the death penalty. The British national awaiting execution was executed on 4 February.

The Minister will acknowledge that Britain is a leading member of the Council of Europe and that its 45 members have abolished the death penalty. Britain has also engaged in dialogue with the United States where there is considerable unease about miscarriages of justice relating to people on death row. There is particular concern about Scots-born Kenny Richey who has spent 16 years on death row although there is disputed evidence in the case against him. Additionally, nine British citizens and three minors in Guantanamo Bay face at least the possibility of trial by a military court and the death penalty, which would be executed without the right of appeal. That would be contrary to any human rights legislation that the Government and this country have ever supported. Does the Minister accept that the situation is a major obstacle to good relations between Europe and the United States?

We clearly have a fundamental disagreement with the United States on the death penalty. Our overriding objective is to avoid the execution of any British nationals. We will express our opposition to the death penalty and its use on a British national at whatever stage and level is judged appropriate after the moment when the imposition of a death penalty on a British national becomes a possibility. We do not differentiate among types of British nationals when making those representations.

I confirm that we have been closely involved with the case of Mr. Richey, who recently became a British national and now has dual UK-US nationality. In line with our policy, we have been making representations both on his case and on the hon. Gentleman's points about Guantanamo Bay. We always make it clear that if there is any possibility that a death penalty might be considered, we will make representations. I repeat that we do not differentiate among those who are charged.

When the British visited my constituent Feroz Abbasi in Guantanamo Bay, he said nothing for an entire hour. What assessment has the Foreign Office made of my constituent's mental health, especially given that he is housed in a cage that is 2 m by 2 m, gets only 15 minutes exercise twice a week compared with the hour norm by internal standards and is deprived of much of his family mail? When will there be a proper assessment and support for his human rights, and when will he be charged or else returned to Britain to his family home in Croydon?

We continue to hold discussions with the United States on resolving the issue of Mr. Abassi and other detainees in Guantanamo Bay. We have made it clear that we expect international standards on the way in which individuals are detained to be applied, especially if they are British nationals. We have also made it clear that the matter has dragged on for a long time and that it is time for the United States to find a way of bringing matters to a conclusion and resolving the anomalous situation faced by the Guantanamo detainees.

Will my hon. Friend tell us the United States' reply to those representations? There is great concern about not only British citizens, but EU citizens and all people who are held in Guantanamo Bay in conditions that seem to defy the Geneva conventions and international norms. It is just not good enough. If we are the great ally of the United States and it listens to us carefully about such things, surely it should have something more positive to say about those representations, especially given that press reports this week suggest that the United States has just constructed an execution chamber at Guantanamo Bay.

Our discussions with the United States have been extensive, especially during recent weeks and months. We hope that it will find a way to take the matter forward but the issue is very difficult. I am speaking not only about the nine British detainees in Guantanamo Bay but about the generality of people who are detained there when I say that productive and useful intelligence information is still being received from detainees. However, we have made it clear that we hope that the United States will be able to resolve the matter as soon as possible.

North Korea


If he will make a statement on bilateral relations with North Korea. [117950]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Bill Rammell)

The UK established diplomatic relations with the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea in December 2000 and opened an embassy in Pyongyang in July 2001. We believe that this provides a useful channel of communication to impress directly on the DPRK regime that it has to desist from developing nuclear weapons and must re-engage with the international community through multilateral dialogue.

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Does he agree that although engaging in any constructive dialogue with North Korea is extremely difficult, it is vital in the interests of regional and global security to keep the channels of communication open? Will he join me in welcoming the recent statements by China and Russia and the G8 summit on North Korea's nuclear ambitions? What role is the UK playing in developing and supporting the international partnership of North Korea's closest neighbours?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. It is certainly the case that pursuing diplomatic negotiations with the DPRK regime is a challenging task to undertake. Nevertheless, it is crucial that we do so and we remain engaged with all the key international partners. That is certainly the case in respect of China and Russia, and I have had detailed discussions about the issue with my counterparts in those countries.

I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the initiative of the Chinese Government in calling for and hosting the recent trilateral talks in Beijing. That was a very helpful and positive step forward. Additionally, we remain engaged and in contact with South Korea and Japan. It is crucial that North Korea comes back to the negotiating table and agrees to give up its nuclear weapons programme so that we can move forward.