With permission, Mr. Speaker, I want to make a statement about the G8 summit, which took place between 15 and 17 July in St. Petersburg. I pay tribute to President Putin’s chairmanship and the Russian Government’s handling of the summit.
The whole summit was understandably overshadowed by the tragic and terrible events in Israel, Palestine and Lebanon. For days, we have seen the innocent killed by terrorism as a deliberate act by Hezbollah, civilians killed in the course of military retaliation by Israel, and the disintegration of our hopes for stability in this, the most fraught area of dispute in the world.
More than 1,600 rockets and mortars have fallen on northern Israel in an arc from Haifa to Tiberias, deliberately targeting civilians. In Lebanon, more than 230 people have been killed, the vast majority of them civilians. Houses, roads, essential infrastructure, factories and Lebanese army facilities have been damaged. Once again, we urge that account is taken of the humanitarian situation and that military action by Israel is proportionate. We grieve for the innocent Israelis and innocent Lebanese civilians who are dead, for their families that mourn and for their countries that are caught up in the spiral of escalating confrontation.
There are more than 10,000 registered British nationals in Lebanon, and there are probably many more, including a significant number of dual Lebanese-British nationals. We are working as hard and as quickly as we can to ensure that we can evacuate all those who want to leave. Teams of consular, military and medical officials have been deployed to Beirut, Cyprus and Damascus. We evacuated 63 of the most vulnerable British nationals from Beirut by air yesterday, but the safest way to evacuate large numbers of civilians is by sea. We have six ships in the region or heading for the region—the York and the Gloucester are now offshore, and the Illustrious, Bulwark, St. Albans and RFA Victoria Fort are heading there. The first evacuation by ship is taking place today, and further evacuations will follow. The advice to British nationals is to stay put and remain in contact with the British embassy.
We should be in no doubt about the immediate cause of this situation. It started with the kidnap of an Israeli soldier in Gaza and then action by Israel targeting Hamas on the Palestinian side. Then, without provocation, Hezbollah crossed the blue line established by United Nations resolutions, killed eight Israeli soldiers and kidnapped two more. Israel then again retaliated with air strikes against targets in Beirut. This situation therefore began with acts of extremism by militant groups that were, as the G8 said unanimously, without any justification and were, of course, designed to provoke the very response that followed.
In the communiqué issued by the G8, we refer to and condemn the activities of the extremist groups and, more elliptically, as we say, “those that support them”. For most of us at the G8, we can be less elliptical. Hezbollah is supported by Iran and Syria: by the former in weapons, which incidentally are very similar, if not identical, to those used against British troops in Basra, by the latter, in many different ways; and by both of them financially.
What is at stake therefore could not be more stark. On the one side, there is Lebanon, a remarkable democratic achievement from the days when Lebanon was a by-word for instability and conflict. I have once again given Prime Minister Siniora my solidarity and support in the immense difficulties he now faces. There are also of course those in Israel and in Palestine desperate to see progress towards the only solution that will ever work there, namely, two states—Israel and Palestine, both democratic, both independent and both at peace. But on the other side are those who want no compromise and who cannot see that terrorism is not the route to a solution, but a malign, fundamental obstacle to it. They persist in terrorism, knowing that its impact there is the same the world over—to divide, to create hatred and to drive out negotiation. That is the purpose of it.
So what can be done? I know that many wanted the G8 to call for an immediate ceasefire by Israel. Of course, we all want all violence to stop, and to stop immediately, but we recognise that the only realistic way to achieve such a ceasefire is to address the underlying reasons why this violence has broken out.
In respect of Lebanon, the G8 proposed rapid work on inserting an international security presence in southern Lebanon to stabilise the situation, to ensure that the terrorism from the Lebanese side ends and, most importantly, to provide conditions in which the Lebanese armed forces can take control and assist them in doing so. Meanwhile, the United Nations Secretary-General’s special envoys are in the region and will report to the Security Council later this week. We welcome these and other efforts to calm the situation.
We also encouraged dialogue between the Lebanese and Israeli Governments, and we pledged at the G8 further economic support to Lebanon. And, of course, we demanded the return of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers. Only in that way can United Nations Security resolutions 1559 and 1680 in respect of Lebanon be implemented.
On Gaza, we made it clear that our goal was an immediate end to the violence, and again we put forward the measures necessary—release of the Israeli soldiers and of the Palestinian Ministers and parliamentarians; an end to attacks on Israel; resumption of security co-operation between Israel and Palestine; restarting political contacts between Israeli and Palestinian officials; and an end to Israeli military operations and the withdrawal of Israeli forces.
However, let us be plain. We can and must stabilise the existing situation in Lebanon and in Gaza. We must then use such stabilisation to help Lebanon rebuild and eventually to re-begin negotiations between Israel and Palestine. But at root, we need to recognise the fundamental nature of the struggle in this region, which has far-reaching consequence—consequences far beyond that region and consequences even in countries such as our own. All over the middle east, there are those who want to modernise their nations and who believe, as we do, in democracy and liberty and tolerance, but ranged against them are extremists who believe the opposite—who believe in fundamentalist states and are at war not against Israel’s actions, but against its existence. In virtually every country of the region, including on the streets of Baghdad, such a struggle is being played out. When this current crisis abates, that is the issue to which we must return, in the way that the G8 outlined two years ago but has not so far put fully into effect.
Let me turn to the other issues that were raised at the G8. On Africa, we made modest but important progress in taking forward the commitments of last year, including: scaling up action on HIV/AIDS through replenishing the global fund in 2006 and 2007; new initiatives on vaccines for malaria and pneumococcus; and fully funding the education fast-track initiative. We agreed to review progress on Africa again at the G8 summit in 2007. I have asked the International Development Secretary to set out the key milestones for the coming 12 months in his next report to Parliament. Those will include, for us, supporting 10 African countries, developing long-term education plans and getting the debts cancelled for five more African countries. Kofi Annan will also convene the Africa progress panel to monitor progress on the commitments given.
I also discussed Sudan with several G8 leaders and Kofi Annan. We agreed that the situation in Darfur continues to be unacceptable and that we need a quick deployment of the UN force.
On trade, at the final session it was at last agreed by all to empower their negotiators to go further. The cost of the failure of that trade round for the world’s poor, global growth and multilateralism would be high. Presidents Bush, Barroso, Lula and Mbeki, Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Singh of India all agreed to show flexibility. Pascal Lamy has been tasked immediately with convening trade negotiators to turn that clear commitment into action, which must deliver real cuts in agricultural tariffs and subsidies and progress on non-agricultural market access. I do not minimise the substantial obstacles that remain, but at least the renewed commitment from the United States, the European Union and the G20 countries was immensely welcome. We also agreed a strong package for poor countries, including $4 billion a year aid for trade and action on rules of origin. We remain fully committed to ensuring that, in any event, it would be utterly wrong for there to be no agreement in this round on a full development package for the poorest nations.
There was also a fascinating debate on energy—of direct relevance to this country—at the summit. There was virtual consensus, in fact, on the following matters: first, energy prices will continue to rise, with a predicted increase of about 50 per cent. in energy demand by 2030. Secondly, climate change is now universally accepted as happening, including by the United States, and there is therefore an urgent necessity to make future economic growth sustainable. Thirdly, countries will need to have balanced energy policies, in which clean coal technology, carbon sequestration, renewables and nuclear power have to play a part. Our energy review was therefore absolutely in line with that consensus.
On nuclear, it was interesting to note the statement by China that it intends to develop nuclear power, by India that it regarded it as indispensable, and by many of the main oil producers, including Kazakhstan, that they would balance their reliance on their oil and gas with nuclear. That was also the conclusion of the J8—the young people from around the world who debated the issue.
The G8 also agreed on the need to accelerate discussions on an inclusive dialogue for a post-2012 climate change framework and, importantly, that that framework should include the United States, China and India. The G8 supported the need for a goal to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations. The Gleneagles dialogue meeting in Mexico will be the next step in taking that work forward. Finally, we agreed several other texts, which have been placed in the Library.
The summit was held in circumstances that none of us could have foreseen. It was obviously dominated by the middle east. However, its conclusions on Africa, trade and energy will, I hope, stand the test of time. I commend the conclusions to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. It is a deeply troubling time. The citizens of Israel and Lebanon are suffering, many British citizens are caught up in the conflict and there is a real danger that the conflict will escalate. Everyone has been watching as the world’s most powerful leaders met in St. Petersburg while a vital region descended into war. They want and expect concerted action.
The Prime Minister spoke in his statement about creating the conditions for implementing a ceasefire. He is right that they must include the release of Israeli hostages, the end of rocket attacks on Israel and a future for Lebanon without armed militias. Is not it the case that we will achieve lasting peace only by addressing the underlying causes of the crisis? I have some questions about the immediate crisis and the longer-term issues, and wider questions about progress on the Gleneagles agenda.
The Prime Minister spoke about the differing emphasis in the G8 and the varying degrees of ellipticality, if I may put it like that. Despite that, will there be an intense, co-ordinated and powerful effort to bring about a resolution to the crisis in the coming days? We know that the Prime Minister is considering visiting the middle east. What part will he play in the process and how will it fit in with the role of other countries? He mentioned a UN force to act as a security presence. Can he tell us what its mandate would be, which countries have, so far, shown willingness to contribute and, given John Bolton’s remarks, does it have the full support of the United States?
Stability requires the Lebanese Government to exercise full control over their country and to disband the militias. Does not that mean that United Nations Security Council resolution 1559 needs to be implemented in full? As the Prime Minister said, it is now clear for all to see that the involvement of Iran and Syria in Hamas and Hezbollah is deeply destructive and needs to be addressed.
The whole House will be concerned about the safety of British citizens in the middle east. The Minister for the Middle East, the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), said yesterday that this was potentially the biggest British evacuation since Dunkirk. What clear advice is being given to British citizens? Will the Prime Minister tell us what arrangements have been put in place to ensure that the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office work together as one in a co-ordinated way? The Prime Minister mentioned the warships that have been sent to the eastern Mediterranean. Is he confident that there is sufficient capacity to evacuate everyone for whom we are responsible and to accommodate them in Cyprus?
Tackling the long-term causes will involve restarting the road map, tackling Iran’s nuclear ambitions and ending Syrian involvement in Lebanon. The US has offered to have direct talks with Iran, should enrichment activity be fully suspended. Does the Prime Minister agree that there is no longer any excuse for Iranian intransigence? With these significant developments in this strategically vital part of the world, and with so many British citizens—constituents of ours—caught up in the crisis, does the Prime Minister agree that we need a full-scale foreign affairs debate before Parliament rises for the summer recess?
On Gleneagles, I welcome what the Prime Minister said about the progress that has been made over the past year. On the target for HIV treatments by 2010, it is vital that interim targets be set, as we suggested. Were those targets backed specifically by the G8? A successful trade round will do more than anything to alleviate poverty. The Prime Minister said that, at the end of the G8, leaders were empowered to show flexibility. Should we be concerned that the list of leaders that he read out did not include President Chirac of France?
Time is running out. Is not this one of those moments that represents a genuine test for the G8, for the short and long term? There is a vital need for a trade deal, and today, as hundreds of innocent civilians are dying in Israel and Lebanon and thousands of British citizens remain trapped in the conflict, is there not an urgent need for concerted action to deal with the crisis?
I agree in essence with what the right hon. Gentleman has said. Let me just respond to some of the points that he raised. First, there will of course be an intense effort at Thursday’s meeting of the United Nations Security Council to talk about this issue. The question of a stabilisation force or a security presence will be debated there. That proposal was supported by all the G8 countries. Of course, it will take time to build up such a force, and we will need the circumstances to be conducive to its going into southern Lebanon. I have said constantly over the past few days that even if we manage to stabilise the existing situation and to calm it down, there will still be a risk of a recrudescence of what has happened recently unless a force is put in there. If we are able to stabilise the situation, it will be important that we put in place mechanisms that will allow Lebanon to take more control of its own future.
That leads me to the important point that the United Nations Security Council resolution 1559 in respect of Lebanon was passed 20 months ago. People sometimes forget that. It called for the disbanding of all the militias in southern Lebanon and for an end to all the support being given to them. It also called for the Lebanese forces to be able to take control of the whole country. So it is not as though we have never been able to predict the possibility of such circumstances arising. It is therefore important to recognise that we will have to ensure that that resolution is implemented. It will be very difficult to do that, however, given the state of the Lebanese Government and the Lebanese nation at the present time.
That leads me on to the next point, which has to do with Iran and Syria as they effectively support Hezbollah, financially and with weapons. That is why we will of course keep up the diplomatic pressure on Iran to comply with its international obligations, and we urge Syria to take the action that it could take in relation to Hezbollah if it wanted to do so.
We believe that by the end of the week, as the Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence said, we can evacuate about 5,000 British citizens and dual nationals. The first ship is docking today; another ship will take even more people tomorrow, and we are making progress on that as rapidly as possible.
We did agree again with the G8 targets on Africa and, yes, I did choose reasonably carefully those people I listed as being in favour of flexibility at the World Trade Organisation. It is important to recognise that each of the main actors has to determine their position by reference to somebody else: President Bush makes reference to Congress; the G20 nations meet as a collective; Brazil and India cannot simply take the decision on their own; and, of course, the European Union has its own procedures and has to agree a position. What was good was the virtually unanimous view around the table that we need to make progress at the WTO, and a very strong statement from the UN Secretary-General to that effect. It was very much as a result of what was said by us and other countries that Pascal Lamy was able to attend the summit. I hope that the talks will make progress. If they do not, it will be a very great failure, and the right hon. Gentleman is right to imply that such a failure is the last thing we need at this moment. We need to show multilateral institutions succeeding, and it is for that reason, among many others, that I hope that the WTO talks succeed.
It is clear that there was much constructive work done at the G8 in relation to Africa, the Doha round and energy, but it was inevitable, as today has already demonstrated, that the concentration would be on the middle east. We can agree that the recent events constitute a threat to the stability of the whole region. We can also agree that we will be able to rely on the professionalism of our armed forces to effect the necessary evacuation of British citizens. However, will the Government, on Thursday in New York, press for the Security Council to call for an unconditional and immediate ceasefire? How will it be possible to insert an international force unless there is a ceasefire? Such a force could hardly fight its way in.
We must all accept that the indiscriminate firing of rockets and missiles into Israel by Hezbollah is unacceptable, but so too is the targeted and systematic destruction of the infrastructure of Lebanon. What would happen if the Lebanese Government, already weakened, were to fall? What, indeed, will happen if the prediction of the Israeli Chief of Staff—that Lebanon will go back to what it was 20 years ago—comes about? Who will fill the vacuum that will be caused as a result? How will that be in the interests of long-term stability and peace in the region?
We must all accept that Israel has a moral and a legal right to live in peace within recognised and secure borders, but does the Prime Minister accept that that right does not legitimise action that is disproportionate and amounts to collective punishment, both in Lebanon and in Gaza?
I agree that we want a ceasefire and an end to hostilities, but that will happen only if it happens on all sides. As I said in my statement, it is important that action by Israel is proportionate, but we have to understand how this began and the underlying reasons for its beginning. Those reasons are that there are groups that have decided to take these steps at this moment. They are completely disregarding the welfare of Lebanon and, indeed, of Palestinians in Gaza. They have decided to take action that means that Israel will, of course, defend itself because, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman rightly says, it has a moral and legal right to do so.
The only way that we are going to get a solution—because whatever our nuances, we are all essentially in the same place—is, first, to put in place a strategy to calm the situation, and secondly, to deal with those deep underlying causes. That is why it is important to discuss the stabilisation force. It cannot, of course, fight its way in, but if we end up with the conditions negotiated for a cessation of hostilities, we at least need to consider having some sort of buffer force between Lebanon and Israel to allow us to create a situation in which the same problem does not break out again.
In the end, it depends on what one believes about why this happened. One can take two views. One can take the view that it was a spontaneous occurrence as a result of what was happening in Gaza. Alternatively, one can take the view, as I am afraid I do, that it was not spontaneous, but was a deliberate act of strategy to ensure that the conflict was widened. If one takes the latter view, that means that those who began the conflict in Lebanon will not give up easily. Israel will defend itself, and it is therefore important for the international community to find the means of enforcing a cessation of hostilities on both sides. We can rest assured that unless the Israeli soldiers are released and the rockets—1,500 of which have come over to the Israeli side—are stopped, Israel will carry on defending itself. A cessation of hostilities is needed on both sides, and measures need to be taken to try to prevent this from happening again while we work on the underlying problems in that region, which, increasingly in my view, are directly connected in an arc from Iran right across the middle east.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred to the need for an international security presence. He knows that there has been an international presence in Lebanon for many years. Can he clarify the implication of the current proposal? Will any force be under the United Nations? Will it be under chapter VI or chapter VII? How will it be deployed, and under what rules of engagement? Can he also emphasise what is being done to ensure that the conflict is not widened, which is a great danger? He has referred to Syria and Iran and their support for Hezbollah. What is being done by the G8 to ensure that Syria does not get involved and that the conflagration does not widen throughout the whole region?
As my hon. Friend rightly implies, we must put every pressure on Syria. In a sense, the most important point is that the conflict has already been widened—that was the purpose of the incursion into northern Israel. It is therefore important to ensure that we now back off the situation. He is right that the United Nations interim force in Lebanon, which is about 1,600 to 1,800 strong, has been there for many years. If we put in a stabilisation force, it must be of a different order of magnitude, with a proper chapter VII resolution and with serious rules of engagement. Those matters will be discussed over the days and no doubt weeks to come, and if there is a better idea I would like to hear it. However, I do not see how we get this stopped and remove the danger of it starting again unless some objective measure is taken, by way of force, to prevent Hezbollah beginning such action again when those behind it decide that it is strategically advantageous to do so.
The Prime Minister failed to respond to the Leader of the Opposition’s request for an urgent debate on the middle east. Will he now confirm that that debate will take place, because our constituents will not understand if the House rises next week without such a debate?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the most ominous aspect of the current crisis is Iranian and Syrian support for the terrorist organisations, Hezbollah and Hamas, which are both pledged to destroy Israel? Does he agree that it is proportionate for Israel to defend itself against unwarranted aggression from organisations that pledge that country’s destruction?
Of course it is important for Israel to defend itself, and I am sure my hon. Friend agrees that it should do so in a proportionate way that minimises the dangers of civilian casualties. She is, however, right to say that the root of the problem is support for groups that do not want a peaceful solution to the problems of the region. The tragedy of the situation is that Lebanon has made so much progress over the past few years, and now that progress is being put at risk—but it is being put at risk as a result of a deliberate strategy to destabilise the country.
During his rather charmingly self-depreciative luncheon conversation with President Bush at St. Petersburg about Syria and sweaters, did the Prime Minister—after he had switched off the microphone—make any attempt to explain to the President that one of the root causes of the spread of chaos in the middle east has been the failure, over 40 years, of successive American Administrations to persuade Israel to accept United Nations resolution 242, which requires it to return to its legal frontiers of 1967? That failure has caused an inevitable degree of bitterness, which has led to the creation and sustaining of various guerrilla militias which are now increasingly regarded as part of an Islamic jihad.
If it were merely that the cause of all this was the failure to abide by resolution 242, which we support—but there must be a better explanation for the rejection of the agreement that President Clinton reached with the Israeli Prime Minister at the time, Prime Minister Barak, and the offer that was made to the Palestinian Authority then. There must be a better explanation for what happened with the road map, which provides a perfectly sensible way through this. We had to battle very hard to get America and Israel to agree to the road map, but the defaulting in respect of that was not on the Israeli side. There must be a better explanation as to why it cannot now be agreed on the Palestinian side that if there is to be a two-state solution, that means recognising Israel’s right to exist.
I do not say that mistakes have not been made in relation to this, through America, through ourselves, and through others over the years, but I think that the issue is now far more fundamental. The fact is that America would take this forward and deliver a two-state solution for the Palestinian people—I am sure of that—if we could secure the simple acceptance that only through non-violent, democratic negotiation can such a solution be found.
Of course Israel has the right to self-defence against terrorism, but surely what is going on now in Lebanon and Gaza goes far beyond any legitimate self-defence. Must not the world community make it clear that if it is unacceptable, as it obviously is, for Hezbollah and Hamas to fire rockets at civilian targets in Israel, it is also unacceptable for Israel to target civilians and civilian infrastructure in Lebanon? The world must say that clearly, or it will encourage those in Israel and those on the other side of the conflict who want to provoke further action leading to further military conflict on a wider scale throughout the region.
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern that the reaction of Israel has been disproportionate. It is a difficult situation. We can imagine how it would be in our own democracy if we were faced with such a situation—if our own citizens were being killed through hostile action. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis are now in shelter, having been evacuated from their homes, and their soldiers have been killed in such a brutal way.
I do not want to repeat myself, but there is only one way in which we can change the situation. People can go this way or that in terms of whom they wish to condemn, but, as I know my hon. Friend would accept, this began with an unprovoked attack by Hezbollah on Israel, and I do not think that one can really be surprised at the response.
May I switch the subject to what was a backdrop to the G8 summit—the position of President Putin and his attitude to the use of energy almost as a weapon of diplomacy? Did the Prime Minister have time to talk to President Putin about what is going on in Russia, and about what Russia’s ambitions are in the “near area”, as he calls it? That is particularly relevant, given that the need for this country to invest in nuclear power is partly due to our need for a sense of assurance about our sources of energy, because of the threat that Russia may one day use our need for energy against us.
We did discuss that, and the Russians gave a clear assurance that they would abide by the charter on energy that we drew up and promulgated at the summit. I expressed my view, as I always do, that the only way to make progress in Russia or elsewhere is by adherence to democratic principles. To be fair, the Russian President made it very clear that he understands people’s anxieties about security of supply, which was the reason why he felt it right to adopt and agree to the charter that we all signed. The hon. Gentleman is right that one of the reasons why it is so important to have a balanced energy policy is to ensure that we are not too reliant on any one source.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the ongoing escalation of violence over the last eight years has continued because of the targeted nature of the Israeli response to the extreme groups within Gaza, Palestine and Lebanon, which deliberately attempts to inflame the situation? The unprecedented response of the Israelis, involving the killing of children and civilians and the targeting of infrastructure, is an attempt to weaken the forces of the Palestinian Authority and the Lebanese army and there is no way that that will support their cause. I support the idea of having an international stabilisation force, not just in Lebanon, but in Gaza and Palestine, in order to cessate the forces that are continually launching attacks on Israel and to secure the necessary protection.
I would simply say that I entirely understand my hon. Friend’s concern, but the trouble is that, in the end, the purpose of terrorism is to provoke retaliation, which then provokes further bloodshed and misery. That is why we have to go back to the root cause of the terrorism.
Would the Prime Minister accept that I strongly believe that it would be a great mistake to try to beef up UNIFIL? Such an international force would have to be very substantial if it were to command the ground; otherwise it would be basebound, in fear of its life against Hezbollah suicide bombers—they saw off MNF-II in 1983 and would do it again. I agree with the Prime Minister’s analysis, but I urge him to acknowledge that what matters most is to get the two-state talks going again and fully to engage the United States of America and the European Union together towards that end. After all, it was the Americans and the French who saw off the Syrians. This is not a lost cause and I urge the Prime Minister to proceed with all possible speed.
Essentially, I agree with what the hon. Gentleman is saying. I agree in respect of UNIFIL that it would have to be a completely different type of force, but its purpose would be to provide security for the time that it takes for the Lebanese forces to come down. After all, that was what was supposed to happen with resolution 1559: the militias were supposed to be cleared out and the Lebanese forces were supposed to come in. The truth is that that has never happened.
May I associate myself with my right hon. Friend’s remarks on the middle east crisis, which clearly overshadowed the summit, and particularly on the need for a proportionate response? I also thank him for his positive response to the statement from the G8 plus 5 group of legislators organised by GLOBE UK, the Global Legislators’ Organisation for a Balanced Environment. I congratulate the Prime Minister on his success in including some of those objectives, such as the need to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions and the need for an inclusive framework, but can he assure me that the other G8 leaders recognise the other aspect of the statement—the urgency of the need to tackle climate change and the question whether Germany will continue that process under its presidency?
I thank my hon. Friend for his work in that area. Had it not been for the fact that the middle east so much overshadowed the summit, I would have spent quite a long time on the energy conclusions, which are—as he says—interesting and positive. There is an agreement to take the G8 plus 5 dialogue forward. There is also an agreement to ensure that we have a framework that stabilises greenhouse gas emissions and the US has also signed up to that. Round the table, it was interesting that every single person accepted the urgency of the issue and the need to develop the right framework very quickly to make progress, so that the private sector in particular, but also countries, are incentivised to develop the science and technology necessary to deal with it. Again, I thank my hon. Friend for his input into that.
The Prime Minister very fairly said that progress on Africa was modest. With regard to the G8 sanctioning initiatives to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa, when shall we have practical decisions and not just declarations on the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the urgently needed programmes to bring education to the 100 million poor children in Africa?
Actually, substantial sums of money have been pledged to the global health fund—hundreds of millions, if not several billion dollars. In respect of malaria, a plan is in place and the funding is being built up for it. Education is an important part of the discussion and this country has pledged £8.5 billion over the next 10 years for education in the poorest parts of the world in Africa. Although there is a lot more to do on education, there was a very strong recommitment to the funding and the principles of action that were set out at Gleneagles last year.
Could my right hon. Friend say a little more about his talks on the security of energy supply? He predicts an increase in energy demand of 50 per cent. by 2030, but given that we need to ensure, in our national interests, that we have security of supply, does he think that our energy review has paid sufficient attention to how much energy we will need to produce in our own country?
That is a very good point. Although we have pushed this to its furthest extent on renewables, energy efficiency and replacing nuclear power stations, my hon. Friend is right in that we will go from virtual self-sufficiency in oil and gas to 80 to 90 per cent. dependency on imports. A third of our generating capacity will close in the next 15 or 20 years and energy prices are set to rise. But that is the most that we believe we can achieve in this energy review at present. In years to come, people will have to look at how they can drive the process even faster forward.
May I return the Prime Minister to what, in conversation with President Bush, he referred to as “the trade thingy” and, in particular, the serious situation facing the Doha trade liberalisation round? As we do not have our own trade policy in this country, will he talk urgently to Commissioner Mandelson, who does control our trade policy, and ask him to face down the forces of protectionism in Europe and table a more generous offer? The price of failure will not be paid by us or other member states, but by the poorest people in the poorest countries in the world.
At the risk of shocking us both, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman on that. I would point out only that the statement made by Commissioner Mandelson was very strong on that point. If a whole series of fresh offers are laid on the table, there will definitely be a battle in many different parts of the world over whether they can be implemented. It is worth pointing out that everything that is on the table at the moment is conditional on everything else being agreed. But if people even did what they have offered now, this trade round would be two or three times more effective than the last trade round. The trouble is that until everything is agreed, nothing is agreed. That is the purpose of the more generous offers.
As deadly violence again convulses the middle east, is the lesson for that region that peoples will find stability not in being secure against each other, but in being secure with each other, including against terrorism? The Prime Minister has been less elliptical about Syria and Iran: can he also be less elliptical about the proportionality of Israel’s offensive response? Can he also be less elliptical about the prospects for trade justice? Does the statement that
“we remain fully committed to ensuring that in any event it would be utterly wrong for there not to be a full development package for the poorest”
mean that there will definitely be such a package? If so, of what order and in what time scale?
I accept the implied rebuke of my syntax. The answer is that I think—it has to be agreed—that there will be, in any event, an agreement on a development package. We have a far better chance of getting a development package if there is an overall agreement on the trade round. My hon. Friend, from the process in which he is engaged, will find it interesting to think that 10 years ago, it looked as though the Palestinian peace process was in better shape than that in Northern Ireland. The lesson of the last 10 years is that, unless people are put into a process that ensures continual dialogue, the danger is that the extremes take over, because there is a political vacuum there.
Accepting entirely the good sense of the G8 statement on the middle east and both what the Prime Minister said today and what the Minister for the Middle East so admirably said yesterday, will the Prime Minister tell the House precisely what the United Kingdom and the United States are doing to bring home this message in Tehran, in Damascus and, on the subject of disproportionality, in Jerusalem?
We are doing absolutely everything that we can in the contacts that we have had with the Israeli Government—myself with the Prime Minister—and obviously with the other Governments in the region. In respect of Iran, as well, it is partly, I would say, as a result of the efforts of this country that we can put before Iran, and in a sense flush out a response, a very sensible and generous offer by the international community—plus the offer by the United States of America, for the first time in 20 years, that it would talk directly to the Iranians. All that has come about in part because of the efforts of this country. My belief is that the only ultimate security in that region is the spread of democracy and liberty. When that happens, we will find that, as I am sure would happen if the Iranians were given a proper free election, there would be perfectly sensible people who would govern their country and who would want to live in peace with their neighbours.
When it comes to the middle east, does not the international community also need to examine its own conscience somewhat? We rightly required Israel to withdraw from southern Lebanon, but then we failed to provide the policing resources to make sure that there was a secure border there. We failed to stand up as an international community to Israeli land grabs and we failed to make sure that Iran and Syria stopped supplying Hezbollah. We failed to provide an honest broker in the international community. Is it not time that we put the United Nations fairly and squarely in the driving seat, rather than messing around with other organisations, and is it not time to make sure that we get a proper policing force not only into southern Lebanon, but into Gaza?
What my hon. Friend says is very fair and very right. I was just looking at resolution 1559, passed almost two years ago in September 2004, which said that the UN was:
“Gravely concerned at the continued presence of armed militias in Lebanon”.
It called for
“the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias”,
“the extension of the control of the Government of Lebanon over all Lebanese territory”.
That was after the withdrawal in the year 2000. He is absolutely right: the fact is that we did not commit significant enough resources to make sure that that was implemented.
Returning to energy, what confidence can we have in the ability of political leaders to predict that energy prices will continue to rise for the next 25 years, and to base their policies on that, when exactly the same prediction made 25 years ago in response to the last energy shock proved to be comprehensively wrong?
I think that what we can say with certainty is that there is no certainty for the future. However—[Interruption.] Well, just consider what would happen if the prediction was right, which must at least be a possibility. If we actually had a 50 per cent. increase in demand by 2030, people would look askance at the policy makers today—since we need to provide for the long term—if we failed at least to take the right precautionary measures to make sure that we had a balanced energy supply. That is what I am saying. What is different between the prediction now and that of 30 years ago is that it is now certain that China and India will consume a far larger part of the world’s energy supply. What is not certain is the way in which the world might deal with that. The growth of China and India is driving the current situation, and it will continue to do so.
I welcome the comments that the Prime Minister made a few moments ago about the regime in Iran and the need for democracy there. We should bear in mind his carefully crafted and measured remarks in paragraph 6 of his statement. He drew the House’s attention to the fact that Hezbollah is getting weapons from Iran. He also said that by an amazing coincidence, the same weapons are being used against our troops in Basra. He needs to amplify that point. Does he agree that although we recognise the delicate nature of the situation and its gravity, some of us feel that we have been too soft on Iran and have not said what we mean, and meant what we say, and accused it of being the arch-exporter of terrorism?
My hon. Friend is right that there is no doubt at all that it is supporting terrorist activity around the region, which is precisely one of the reasons why people are extremely alarmed by the prospect of a nuclear Iran. I have heard several people say in the past few days that if Iran is prepared to encourage and support action that destabilises a region such as Lebanon, think how much more dangerous it would be if we had Iran with a nuclear weapon.
What action is the United Nations immediately taking to try to get parties around the table to bring this awful violence to an end in the middle east? Is its plan to exclude or include representatives of the terrorist groups in such talks?
The UN envoys are out in the region now. I am not answering questions for them, and to whom they talk is up to them, but I would imagine that they would talk to representatives of everyone there, including Hezbollah. However the parties come around the table, it is perfectly obvious that the only solution is to rewind the things that have happened, including by ensuring that the soldiers are released and the rocket attacks are stopped. Rocket and mortar attacks of more than 1,500 or 1,600 represent a substantial bombardment on any basis.
While I agree with much of what the Prime Minister says, especially about the release of the Israeli soldiers and an end to all attacks on civilians, does he understand that given the history of bloody-mindedness on both sides in the middle east and our own heavy commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no public support in this country for this country to be involved in any extended conflict with Iran and Syria?
My hon. Friend said that he agreed with much of what I said, which I shall accept gratefully. No one wants conflict with Iran or Syria. The problem is raised in a very acute way by the offer that has been made by the European Three—France, Germany and the UK—and America, Russia and China. We have put forward an offer to Iran that essentially protects its ability to develop civil nuclear power but restrains its ability to develop a nuclear weapon. The offer is on the table. It could talk to America and the whole of the relationship could be changed. The problem is that I remember being told time after time, “If only we got America to talk to us, things would be different,” but it is done, and then things are not different. At some point one must ask whether there is sincerity on Iran’s part or not. There is no plan whatever to take such action against Iran. I am willing to consider any form of diplomacy that brings about a change, but if there is not some give on the Iranian part at some point, we are left with some fairly stark choices.
Could the Prime Minister develop his answer to that question and to the question by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay)? He said that he had spoken to many people at the G8, pointing out how dangerous, given Iran’s actions in support of Hezbollah, a nuclear Iran would be. Did he detect at the G8 summit greater resolution on the part of all his colleagues on the international stage to bring Iran to the table and force a resolution to that nuclear crisis?
I did notice that. The fact that the G8 statement was agreed, albeit in elliptical terms, made it clear that we were sure about where this began. That was an important step forward in itself. As for Iran, time and again it must be reminded of the fact that the world has no aggressive intent towards it, but if it exports aggression, it is very hard for us not to confront that reality. Underneath it is the wider issue that I have talked about, but the fact that the G8 statement was agreed and that the G8 plus 5 in effect endorsed it was significant.
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend would agree that if there is to be long-term stability in the middle east, something that must change is the position of Lebanon. That state has been enfeebled by its neighbours, Syria and Israel, for their own misguided purposes, which prevents a long-term solution. What can be done to strengthen the Government in Beirut to make sure that Lebanon can deal with the problem of Hezbollah?
The point that my right hon. Friend is making is exactly the reason for resolution 1559. The only way, in the end, in which a state makes sure that it is in charge is for it to be in charge of force within the country. The problem is that Hezbollah militias are a constant thorn in the side of Lebanon, preventing that situation from being realised, which is why the resolution was passed. This time, we must make sure that it is implemented.
The Prime Minister has made some unequivocal statements this afternoon about Syria. Is he contemplating the recall of our ambassador to London for consultation, and will he use his much improved relations with the regime in Libya to urge Colonel Gaddafi to use his influence on Hezbollah to rein in its forces?
We have no plans to recall our ambassador, but yes, we are using our relationships with all the different Arab countries to make sure that pressure is put on Syria and Iran. It was interesting to see the statements that emanated from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries, including, I think, Egypt, as they were surprisingly firm in their intent towards what those two countries are doing.
There is no doubt that the present crisis started with the illegal kidnap of one Israeli soldier, but many Members on both sides of the House believe that the Israeli response, which took out electric and water supplies for tens of thousands of people in Gaza, was an act of disproportionality that led events to spiral out of control. The Palestinian Authority is not in a position readily to restore those services, so can my right hon. Friend talk to President Abbas about ways in which we could help to restore electricity and water supplies, as their absence endangers the health and lives of many thousands of people? Can we redouble our political commitment to ensure that those supplies are never destroyed again?
Of course, we put a big reconstruction effort into the Palestinian Authority. My hon. Friend is right to say that it is terrible when infrastructure is destroyed in that way. The problem in the end is that when the disengagement from Gaza took place, my idea—others had it too—was that the international community would move in behind a Palestinian Authority that was growing in effectiveness, with increasing control over its own security forces, thus creating the conditions in which private investment could be made. Indeed, a series of people were lined up, waiting to go in and invest. It is not what happened. Once the immediate situation calms, we must go back and work out with the Palestinian Authority a proper plan that allows that Authority to take charge of its own destiny. Rather as with Lebanon but on a much greater scale, there are people who are operating outside the proper control of the authority, whose purpose is often to disrupt the very progress that we want to make.
The Prime Minister said that there would be a review of progress on Africa at the G8 summit in 2007. Can we make it clear to our G8 colleagues that the test of progress in 2007 is the extent to which G8 members have delivered on the promises that they made at Gleneagles in 2005? Unless we hold to that process, the danger is that after the modest indications at this summit, Africa will slip off the agenda altogether?
Obviously that is a danger, but I do not think it will happen. Germany has made it clear that for next year’s summit Africa will be a major topic, and Germany will review the progress again. We will set out the milestones for the next year. There is sufficient strength in civic society for us to keep people up to the mark, and we intend to use all our efforts to do so.
Yes, in the conclusions there is discussion about nuclear safety and what can be done in relation to it. It was agreed that we need to co-operate not just on safety, but on the decommissioning of nuclear waste and the development of the new generation of nuclear power stations.
Given that much sympathy has been expressed for the Government of Lebanon as being helpless to control Hezbollah, does the Prime Minister have any indication that the Government of Lebanon have asked for assistance from the international community to help them to do so?
I have spoken to the Prime Minister of Lebanon. I think Lebanon is looking for international help. The precise way in which that is used and the implications for its own armed forces are matters for debate. I believe the Prime Minister of Lebanon wants to do the right thing. The people around him are desperate for some stability in their country and they feel very angry that they are caught in the present situation. We should be helping them in any way we can.
I welcome the news about the education for Africa initiative. On the middle east, we learned yesterday that the intention of Israel is to create an unmanned buffer zone in southern Lebanon. Will that do anything other than bring more problems to that region? Will my right hon. Friend please make a case for not doing that?
Members across the House will welcome the report from the Prime Minister that the G8 recognise the need for a goal to help stabilise climate change emissions. Can the Prime Minister give us some idea when he hopes that will be concluded—he mentioned that progress would go ahead in Mexico—and what type of goal he would like to see?
I agree with my right hon. Friend that there is neither excuse nor justification for rocket attacks, whether on Ashkelon or Haifa, but I find his comment that Israel has not defaulted on its road map obligations astonishing. Surely he is aware that long before Hamas was elected, and while Hamas was on ceasefire for the best part of a year, Israel was building a wall in Palestinian territory and expanding illegal settlements. What is that, if not defaulting on its road map obligations?
I understand exactly why my hon. Friend says that, but the whole purpose of the road map was to create a series of mutual obligations. On settlements, he is absolutely right and we have made our position clear on them all the time. In the end, settlements can be a block to the eventual resolution of this dispute. But the reason why we were not on the road map was that people kept coming in—into the territory of Israel—and killing innocent Israeli civilians. So what I say to my hon. Friend, as I would say to others, is that the only way that this situation will be unwound is by getting back to the mutual obligations that exist for both sides in the road map.
I am not sure that a personal conversation between me and President Assad will do a great deal of good, if I may respectfully say so. I think that Syria knows perfectly well what is required of it, and the only question is whether it wants to do it.
We all obviously regret all the violence that is taking place in the region. The Prime Minister conceded that the Israeli actions in Lebanon and Gaza were disproportionate; if Israel carries on destroying the airport, roads, water supplies, electricity plant and a lot of civilian infrastructure—and killing civilians fleeing for their lives—what sanctions does he think should be applied against Israel to persuade it to desist from the expansionist intentions that it seems to be pursuing?