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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 451: debated on Tuesday 31 October 2006


The Secretary of State was asked—

European Union Constitutional Treaty

There is no current consensus on the way forward for the constitutional treaty. The June European Council agreed that the German presidency will present a report to the European Council in 2007, based on extensive consultations with the member states. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe will make a statement shortly on the broad principles underpinning our approach.

The EU is often critical of other countries that act in an undemocratic way. Given that the constitutional treaty is dead in the water after being torpedoed by France and Holland, what is the justification for the Commission pressing on regardless with the external action service—the EU’s diplomatic service, which also has its own embassies—and the External Borders Agency? What is the legal basis for those budget lines?

I understand the desire among Conservative Members to see this issue dead and buried, but a number of member states have ratified the treaty. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that two member states have rejected it after referendums, and that is a difficulty. All member states are considering the way forward.

Yesterday, hon. Members across the Chamber welcomed the Stern report, one of whose conclusions was that action at European level was needed to tackle climate change. Does that not emphasise the need for the sort of reform and streamlining of European procedures and institutions that will allow us to meet that urgent task?

The two legitimate and equally good points that my hon. Friend makes are not necessarily related. Like him, I welcome yesterday’s report and discussions but the EU has played a leading role in matters to do with climate change without changing its structures or how it operates. I am confident that the EU, whatever its structures, will continue to play a positive role in a matter in which, as a group of member states, it has a deserved reputation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill) has just said that the European constitution was dead in the water, so does the Foreign Secretary agree that any European court that refers to the charter of fundamental rights would be acting ultra vires—beyond its legal powers?

I am not a lawyer, so I am always cautious about a phrase like “refers to”. Although the hon. Gentleman is right that the charter does not have force, the question whether anyone would be allowed to refer to it is quite another matter.

I want to raise another technical point with my right hon. Friend. As I understand it, under the existing treaties, the present Commission has to be reduced to 15 after 2009. [Interruption.] The lights are going out in England. [Hon. Members: “Next!”] I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, I shall try and switch myself off. After 2009, in addition to losing the services of Mr. Peter Mandelson, which I know that the whole House will regret, we may find that we are not able to nominate a Commissioner from the UK. In other words, we will have no representation on the Commission. This is a technical, juridical point, so I realise that my right hon. Friend may not be able to answer today, but will she write to me and place a copy of the letter in the Library? This is a very important matter, as we may need a new treaty.

I always prefer to write to hon. Members about technical and juridical matters, but I think that my right hon. Friend is leaping several steps ahead. Existing treaties do require us to take another look at the Commission’s size after Bulgaria and Romania join the EU, but I am sure that he will find that all member states will take a keen interest in how many Commissioners there will be after then, and what their responsibilities will be.

The Foreign Secretary says that there is no consensus about the future of the constitution, but two weeks ago she told EU Foreign Ministers that it was a grandiose project that had failed. If she was prepared to say that to them, why will she not repeat it in this House? Will she tell us what she believes, and make it clear whether the Government intend to proceed with ratifying the treaty?

There is no intention to proceed with that at the moment because, as I said, there is no consensus. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is drawing on press reports, but he is not entirely correct, as I made those remarks to the media and not to EU Foreign Ministers. [Interruption.] I am about to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question. I was being asked whether the UK believed that the treaty was completely dead, and so on—the sort of questions that are raised continually in this House. I said that one of the EU’s perceived weaknesses, across a range of matters, was that people involved in it sometimes had grandiose projects, and that those projects fail when they become too elaborate. However, I was not speaking specifically about the constitutional treaty.


The political situation in northern Uganda remains fragile. We welcome the progress made so far at the Juba talks. The Lord’s Resistance Army—the LRA—and the Government of Uganda must now maintain their commitment, show restraint, and implement agreements reached to date. Only then will there be a solution that brings long overdue peace and justice to the people of northern Uganda.

I thank my hon. Friend for that response. What is the Government’s view on the representation of the Acholi people in those talks? Are the Government prepared to fund technical assistance, or give other support, to ensure that community voices are heard during those discussions?

Yes. Up to 2 million Acholi people are still in dreadful displaced people’s camps because they will not go home until the Lord’s Resistance Army stops killing them and abducting their children. Uganda has a plan for such a moment, but it has not been tested yet. We shall certainly do everything that we can to assist in that peace process.

I welcome the Minister’s comments that the British Government will do all that they can to assist the peace process. However, does he acknowledge that, if we manage to secure peace in northern Uganda, aid will still be required to redevelop and re-establish the land, so we need to ensure that the international community, which is currently putting in $200 million a year in aid, redirects that money for development, and that it goes to northern Uganda and is not diverted elsewhere?

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s analysis. The situation in northern Uganda is so desperate that, even though there are very worthy potential recipients of any aid in southern and eastern Uganda, all the money that is set aside must end up going on trying to reconcile the situation in the north, and on redeveloping and rebuilding the infrastructure, because it is badly in need of that.

I welcome the Government’s response to what are truly dreadful circumstances in northern Uganda. In view of the belief of some commentators that the threat of International Criminal Court action is delaying the peace process, what does my hon. Friend envisage in terms of reconciliation and those people who have perpetrated what are probably some of the worst acts of this century? Does he see a role for that in attempting to bring the two sides together in the near future?

I certainly agree that the way forward is reconciliation. There will not be a military solution. We must try to bring all sides together. However, we as a Government cannot resile from the position that we have taken, which is that there must be no impunity for the war criminals. That is absolutely vital; the crimes that they have committed are horrendous. I also do not believe for one minute that we would have seen any progress if there had not been the threat that international action would be taken in the ICC against the leading individuals in the Lord’s Resistance Army.

North Korea

I have spoken to the US Secretary of State on a number of occasions over the past few months on the handling of North Korea, including in the wake of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s claimed nuclear test. We agreed that the test was a clear threat to international peace and security, and that there must be—as there has been—a robust response from the United Nations Security Council. I am delighted to be able to tell the House that it has just been announced that the DPRK will return to the six-party talks.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that response, but given that there is a long and well-documented history of North Korea illicitly obtaining nuclear material and exporting weapons systems that it has developed, can she give us further information on what will be done to enforce the embargo requirements of the United Nations resolution if North Korea does not come up to scratch at the talks? In particular, what will be the United Kingdom’s role? Will any Royal Navy assets be involved, for example?

We are not at present in a position to answer that—and especially the last part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, as he will appreciate. Obviously, everyone will now have to assess what the new position is, but I think that the whole House will take some comfort and reassurance from the fact that North Korea has decided to return to the six-party talks.

When the Foreign Secretary next meets the US Secretary of State, will she ask what contribution it is thought is made to peace and stability by the flotilla of US nuclear-armed warships in the waters around Korea? Does she agree that a non-nuclear and reunified Korea is in the interests of all the people of that part of the world, and should not the US and other Governments withdraw troops and weapons at a very early date from the Korean peninsula?

It is the wish of the international community to see de-nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. Although I understand the legitimate concern that lies behind my hon. Friend’s question, we should recognise that it was pressure from the whole international community on North Korea that brought about this result.

I am sure that the Foreign Secretary was very pleased to hear the news from North Korea, and that the whole House hopes that it proves to be the case. But given that North Korea signed an armistice at the end of the Korean war with the United Nations, not the Republic of Korea, and that Great Britain holds the deputy command of the UN forces in South Korea, can the Foreign Secretary assure the House that, following her discussions with the US Secretary of State, there will be no withdrawal of Britain’s commitment to UN forces in South Korea as part of that role, which some in the Ministry of Defence would like to see happen?

If I may say so, the hon. Gentleman raises a rather different issue, but in the aftermath of the decision that has just been announced, everyone will be reassessing their involvement and addressing the question—properly raised by the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill)—of where we go from here. But let us take at least a brief moment to say thank goodness that the six-party talks are on again.

Is the Secretary of State aware that, despite China’s public lack of enthusiasm for sanctions, it has privately refused to sell a single tonne of crude oil to North Korea in the month of September and sold all its available crude oil to the United States? As that may have had a very impressive impact on Kim Jong Il, will she encourage China to continue that policy not just until North Korea returns to the talks, but until it abandons its nuclear aspirations?

I am indeed aware of this issue and I have had a number of conversations with the Chinese Foreign Minister on exactly that. He has always assured me not only that China takes this issue just as seriously as the rest of us, but that it was doing everything that it could to put and maintain pressure on North Korea. We should all welcome China’s behaviour in this respect as a member of the international community—sharing and exerting its responsibilities.


4. When she next plans to meet the Foreign Ministers of Bulgaria and Romania to discuss EU enlargement. (98351)

Both my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe and I have met the Bulgarian and Romanian Foreign Ministers on a number of occasions; indeed, I met the latter only yesterday. We expect next to meet them during normal EU business at Council meetings.

How much damage to Britain’s reputation as a champion of enlargement has been done by the Home Office’s decision to impose restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians when they join the European Union? I appreciate that both the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe are reported as being opposed to the proposals, which are unworkable, unmanageable and unnecessary. How long after 1 January 2007 will those proposals be reviewed?

I discussed this issue at some length with the Romanian Foreign Minister yesterday. He told me that although there was naturally some concern, Britain’s reputation as a partner and friend of Romania is so strong—as a result of the efforts of successive Ministers in my Department over many years—that this issue is not enough to make a difference, and that it remains the case that Romania views Britain as one of its strongest allies and closest friends. It has been decided that the labour market will be opened gradually, and that the proposals announced by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary a day or so ago will be reviewed after a year. I cannot give my right hon. Friend a precise date now, but I can assure him that that review will be very careful and thorough, as the House would wish.

I wonder whether the Foreign Secretary discussed with the Romanian Foreign Secretary the hideous activities of the criminal gangs that work in Romania and Bulgaria and traffic human beings out of those countries and into western Europe. What steps can she or the Government take to help Romania and Bulgaria to stop the waves of people coming over from Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova, as well as Turkey, into this country? The trafficking of human beings is a major problem and I should like to hear what she has to say.

The hon. Gentleman is entirely right that it is a major problem, and we are giving a great deal of assistance, support and advice to both Romania and Bulgaria in tackling those issues; but as he knows, successive Governments have taken the view that one of the merits of enlargement is to raise standards in the applicant countries, and then as they become new-member countries, in a way that will begin to tackle some of the problems at source. I do not dispute the hon. Gentleman’s remarks; it is still a serious issue, but I can assure him that the authorities in Bulgaria and Romania are striving to tackle it and are doing so with help from us.

Everyone’s Child—Romania is a charity based in my constituency that does wonderful work supporting 70 children with HIV/AIDS in that country. Will my right hon. Friend give the House a progress report on how Romania is reforming its child care services as a condition of joining the European Union?

I cannot volunteer at this moment to give my right hon. Friend a great many details, but I can certainly assure him that we judge that Romania is indeed moving towards making progress on protecting the rights of children, and also with living conditions, and that it is now in line with UN texts. That work will continue and the improvement will, I believe, continue as Romania moves into full membership of the EU. I share my right hon. Friend’s view that that is extremely important.

Will the Foreign Secretary remind the Foreign Ministers of Bulgaria and Romania that under regulations passed by the House on 30 April all citizens of those countries will have unrestricted right of residence in this country from 1 January, so the only people who will be inconvenienced by the Government’s proposed worker registration scheme are those who want openly to register as employees and pay tax? So why are the Government creating maximum ill will in those two applicant countries to minimum effect?

I do not accept that we are creating maximum ill will, as I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) a moment ago. Indeed, I can tell the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) that the Foreign Minister of Romania was clear yesterday that it is his opinion that there is not likely to be much flow of people into this country—[Interruption.] I can only tell the House that that is his opinion; he based it on people movement and labour movement flows over recent years. However, the position is one that we shall continue to monitor, which is the reason for the proposals made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary a few days ago.

Following the outrageous and intemperate attack on Government policy by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz)—uncharacteristically—will the Secretary of State make sure that the Bulgarian and Romania Governments recognise that the restrictions on labour market entry are due to the pressures on many of our communities caused by unrestrained immigration? Constituencies such as mine where unemployment has risen by 8 per cent. over the last year have to be given some time to adjust to the influx of eastern European labour.

I can only say to my hon. Friend that I understand the concerns that he expresses on behalf of his constituents. It is not my understanding that there has been a substantial impact everywhere of the work force flows that we have seen hitherto, but certainly it is the case that the Government have taken a decision to observe and monitor this transition and to review the position next year.


5. What recent assessment she has made of the political situation in Iran; and if she will make a statement. (98352)

We remain deeply concerned about the political situation in Iran. Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms continues to deteriorate, and Iran is increasingly isolated as a result of its support for terrorist groups, its attitude towards Israel and its role in Iraq and Lebanon. The regime is thus preventing Iranians from enjoying the political and economic benefits that would flow from an improved relationship with the European Union and the rest of the international community.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that reply, but we have of course all seen the reports that the United States of America may be seeking Iran’s co-operation in the next stage of the operation in Iraq. Does the right hon. Lady think that there is any contradiction between such an approach on one hand and, on the other, attempts to isolate and censure Iran both for serious breaches of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and for human rights abuses?

No one is trying to. In so far as Iran is isolated, Iran is isolating itself. In particular, with regard to breaches on the nuclear file, the international community has bent over backwards to offer Iran what it says that it wants: access to modern civil nuclear power. I do not think that there is any inconsistency. We recognise that Iran is a major player in the world and the region, and that it could play a very positive role, and we would like to see it do so.

Following that question, may I say to my right hon. Friend that I thought that her interview on the radio some weeks ago about the position in Iraq and how it relates to Iran was admirable? It showed clear and forward thinking. Does she believe that, for a future constitutional settlement in Iraq that was stable and that allowed the withdrawal of British and American troops, there would need to be an understanding on that constitutional position that had at least a large measure of support from the Iranian Government and also the Syrian Government? If she does believe that that has to be taken into account, will she indicate to the House what kind of initiatives she might be willing to take?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks, but I hope and believe that we are a long way from considering a different kind of constitutional settlement in Iraq. There is a great deal still to be done in Iraq—I do not want to pre-empt the debate later and I know that you would not wish me to do so, Mr. Speaker—but we remain of the view that it is in the interests of the people of Iraq for the country to be united and to remain united, and for the Government to be united and to work on the security and services issues that are of such concern to their people.

My hon. Friend makes an important and serious point about the influence that either Iran or Syria can have in the region, but all that I would say is that I know that he will forgive me if I tread with considerable caution, because, after all, it is the people of Iraq in whose hands the future of their country must lie. I am in no doubt at all from conversations that I have had with members of that country’s Government that there would be great resentment if it were believed that other countries were trying to run theirs.

May I ask the Foreign Secretary, for whom I have great regard and respect, how we can improve our relationship with Iran? She indicated in an earlier reply that she believes that Iran is highly influential in its particular region of the world. Like her, I believe that perhaps Iran is the linchpin of a peaceful settlement in the middle east. What can be done by our Government, and the House through the Inter-Parliamentary Union, to improve our relationship with Iran and its current leadership?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. I know that he is well aware that I return his regard and respect, due to the exchanges that we have had in the House over many years. [Interruption.] It is all right, we are moving on. However, the question that he is asking is one of the most difficult in present-day foreign policy and one that everyone is mulling over in their minds. How is it possible to improve a relationship with a country that, on the one hand, says that it wishes for that improved relationship, but, on the other, does not engage, even in the most favourable circumstances, in constructive dialogue with the rest of the international community? For example, we continue to offer Iran a way out of the dispute over the nuclear file. The door remains open on those negotiations and we would be willing to undo any steps that were taken, if Iran were to come into compliance with the International Atomic Energy Agency advice.

With regard to the role played by organisations such as the IPU, I share the hon. Gentleman’s view that that kind of parliamentarian-to-parliamentarian relationship can be of merit and value and I would welcome any steps taken in that regard.

How much more difficult is the Secretary of State’s task of protecting and promoting United Kingdom interests in relation to Iran and persuading Iran to comply with the International Atomic Energy Agency when a leading Opposition spokesperson writes in The Daily Telegraph that he thinks that Iran should be allowed to have a nuclear weapon? I am referring to the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson), who I understand aspires to be in government, as a member of the shadow Cabinet. Given that that is also read in Iran, does it make the situation more difficult?

I share my hon. Friend’s view that that is extremely unhelpful. One can only hope that in Iran they are as aware of the reputation of the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) as a jokester as people are here.

Not dissenting entirely from the Foreign Secretary’s last comment, may I ask whether she shares the legitimate concern that in the nine months since Iran was referred to the Security Council, no concrete measure to curtail its pursuit of nuclear weapons has been agreed—not for want of trying by the British Government, I recognise? Will she be redoubling the Government’s efforts in the coming days to ensure that a strong Security Council resolution on weapons programmes, arms sales, visa bans and asset freezes will be agreed so that the united resolve that has been shown over North Korea can also be shown over Iran?

The discussion as to the content of any such Security Council resolution is quite difficult. We said in Vienna during some of the earliest talks that we had—certainly during my tenure in this office—that we wished to proceed incrementally precisely so that we could ratchet up pressure, but be ready to reduce that if it appeared to be having an effect and causing Iran to move. That is what we really want. No one wants to implement sanctions; we want to get into negotiations on the basis of Iranian agreement. We will keep up the pressure. Indeed, I can tell the right hon. Gentleman and the House that I was having conversations on exactly that matter with the relevant people only this morning.


6. What recent discussions she has had about the continuation of the African Union force in Darfur; and if she will make a statement. (98354)

The African Union force plays a vital role. It is imperative, as an interim step, that the force stays and is strengthened until a United Nations force arrives. We were the first country to finance the African Union force and we will continue supporting it until a UN force deploys. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development discussed the force when visiting Darfur on 16 October.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that considered reply. Given that the United Nations has been no more effective at protecting life in Darfur than it was in Srebrenica or Rwanda more than a decade ago, does he agree that the time has now come for the international community unambiguously to accept the responsibility to protect, to ignore the posturing by the Sudanese Government, and to set about enforcing the no-fly zone over Darfur so that the African Union force can at least have some cover when it is offering invaluable protection to vulnerable civilians?

The hon. Gentleman has made some very sensible suggestions. This test for the United Nations is as great as any that it has faced over the past 20 years. If we do not step up to the mark, if nations do not realise that the situation is desperate—we are trying to alter it through diplomacy—and if we cannot step up our action, I fear that we will live to shame our behaviour on Darfur.

My hon. Friend will be aware that Salva Kiir, the vice-president of Sudan, is visiting London. I and other hon. Members had the opportunity to meet him yesterday. The message from Salva Kiir is that the comprehensive peace agreement will come under enormous strain until and unless the Darfur situation is sorted out. Cleary there is a split in the Government in Khartoum, and, in the meantime, there has to be some bolstering of the AU forces. Does my hon. Friend agree that the sands of time will run out unless action is taken to bolster those forces and that this Government have a great stake in making sure that that happens?

I agree very much. Ministers and senior officials are engaging international partners to ensure that there is unified pressure on the Sudanese Government to accept a UN force, agree to a ceasefire and commit to a renewed political settlement with the rebels. We have a team of diplomats working in Darfur with parties to the Darfur peace agreement to bring non-signatories into the political process. We are assisting the African Union to implement the Darfur peace agreement.

The United Kingdom has not been mean in its financial assistance to the African Union. We have pledged a total of £52 million in financial assistance to AMIS, including £20 million pledged in this financial year. We are the second biggest bilateral humanitarian donor to the Darfur crisis, and since April 2004 we have contributed over £190 million in humanitarian assistance to Sudan. As the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) just told us, however, we have to do a lot more, and that means galvanising the opinion of UN member states to take much tougher and more focused action.

The whole House is united in its horror and disgust at the killings and suffering in Darfur, the scale of which was underlined by the expelled UN envoy Jan Pronk, when he said that the Sudanese armed forces

“are trampling all over”


“and are still trying to gain a military victory.”

Further to the question by the hon. Member for Buckingham, will the Minister tell us whether enforcement of the no-fly zone is actively being considered?

On the broader issues in Darfur, does the Minister agree that China and Russia hold the key to the credibility of the United Nations in this instance, and that they must robustly ensure that the resolution is implemented in full?

It is difficult to understand, in diplomatic terms anyway, why Russia, China and, of course, Qatar abstained in the crucial vote on Sudan, although we are glad that they abstained rather than trying to veto any movement on this issue. We have to consider all means of trying to put pressure on the Sudanese Government to make progress on this issue, and there is a range of options that we can look at, including sanctions and proper monitoring of military activity. We must do everything that we can to try to enforce the African Union mission force so that it becomes more, not less, effective. However, we must remember that its remit runs out on 31 December, and our aim must be to get a UN force in there to do what it, and no one else, can do.

I am very heartened by the Minister’s statement that the UN force is on the way out there. The remark by the hon. Member for Buckingham comparing this situation with Rwanda is very telling. I spent time in Rwanda during the summer and read extensively on that and Darfur; the similarities are incredible. People are talking about civil war when what we are watching is genocide committed by a Muslim-Arab Government on a non-Muslim and prominently Christian population of Africans. To do the job properly, we need the forces to have not only the necessary numbers, but the right rules of engagement. What will be the rules of engagement for the UN force which will make the mission effective and stop this genocide now before it is just like Rwanda—something for which we will apologise for the rest of this century?

The UN force will be operating primarily under chapter 6 but partially under chapter 7, which gives it the right to take action against armed groups who are blocking the peace process. That will be a step forward.

I know that my hon. Friend has done a lot of work on this dreadful situation, but I have to say to him that there are many hundreds of thousands of Muslims who are being put under the hammer by the Sudanese Government forces, the Janjaweed and so on. We must not assume that this is a religious war. Elements of it are an attempt by the Khartoum Government to hit opposition of all sorts. We must be careful to recognise that a great many Muslims are suffering at the same time.

It is reported in the press this morning that the Vice-President of Sudan will be seeing the Prime Minister this afternoon. Can the Minister give the House an indication of what those talks might contain? The humanitarian situation, which was described by the UN as being the worst in the world, the number of people killed, the 2 million displaced people and now the increasing tide of refugees into Chad, which is destabilising that country, are totally unacceptable. Will the Prime Minister tell the Vice-President that if he does not allow the UN force into Sudan by 31 December, the British Government will go back to the United Nations to seek a renewed mandate under chapter 7, so that a force can go in by force to improve the situation?

As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, the United Kingdom cannot do that alone. We must try to persuade other Security Council members to act with the same determination as this country to bring peace to that region and to put pressure on the Sudanese Government. Everything the hon. Gentleman says about that dreadful situation is true, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be repeating that to a Sudanese politician who has done a great deal to try to bring about reconciliation, especially in the south of Sudan, and who should be congratulated on that.


The Government and the international security assistance force—ISAF—recognise the importance of engaging with local communities to help deliver security and as a key element of the work of provincial reconstruction teams—PRTs—which are helping to deliver better governance and support reconstruction and development. The United Kingdom, through its military personnel and civilians based in its PRT in Helmand, regularly engages with local community leaders.

I thank the Minister for that constructive answer. Does he acknowledge that working with the traditional tribal structures is as important as working with the Government in Kabul in order to secure a lasting peace? I have recent e-mails from a paramount chief in Afghanistan, who calls for massive development work and also for direct negotiations with tribal chiefs to bring peace and weaken the Taliban’s grip. Will the Minister comment on that, please?

After many trips to Afghanistan, it is clear to me that there will not be some kind of military victory in Afghanistan in one day or in the future; there must be political engagement. For that to be successful, all parties must recognise the structure and the culture of Afghan society. That means engaging with tribal jirgas and understanding the importance of that tribal culture. In some parts of Afghanistan, it determines what happens on a day-to-day basis, so if we ignore it, we do so at our peril.

If my hon. Friend engages in talks with tribal leaders, will he ensure that justice for women is on the agenda? Although we all applaud the progress made by women in education and in democratic elections, violence against women, particularly honour killings, is on the rise. Human rights workers—Afghan women—have been killed, and there is a high rate of child marriages and abduction of young women. In our dealings with Afghanistan, will my hon. Friend ensure that Security Council resolution 1325 is fully implemented?

Yes, indeed. My hon. Friend is right to highlight those matters. It is written into the Afghan constitution that women’s rights are equal to men’s rights, and that they should have equal protection and enjoy every opportunity that men do. That does not happen, of course. In reply to the question from the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh), I noted that in many places Afghanistan still has a profoundly tribal culture, which means that we must take those issues on as well. That means working with the new Parliament, which has a high percentage of women Members, in order to fight for the changes that my hon. Friend has defended so often in so many venues. We stand by her. Those are some of the most important issues facing the new Afghan Parliament, and we will do everything we can to support it.

Does the Minister recall that the chairman of the House international relations committee in the United States has called on the US Administration to alter their strategy against opium production in Afghanistan, describing the poppy eradication programme as “a failure”? I recognise the immense difficulties in that area, but opium cultivation in Afghanistan has increased by 59 per cent. this year. Are the Government considering changing their strategy? Is there full agreement between the UK, US and Afghan Governments on the most effective way forward, and what is it?

We confer regularly—day by day and week by week—with the Afghan Government and the other allies in Afghanistan about that question. The right hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the increase in the opium crop in the past 12 months, which is shocking and disappointing. He should examine the UN Office on Drugs and Crime report—I know that the executive summary only has been published, but I hope that the full report will be published shortly. In some provinces, the remit of the democratically elected Government has been extended and means something—for example, improvements in infrastructure. However, that remit has hardly touched other areas, such as Helmand province, which we have just moved into, and such provinces are where the greatest increases in opium poppy production have occurred. We must learn a lesson from that. It is possible, and it has been seen to be possible in more stable regions such as Mazar-i-Sharif, to see a decline in opium production, where it is clear to farmers that they can grow something else because there are other markets such as those for fruit and wheat. It will be a long haul, and we were all too optimistic about the possibility of decreasing opium production.


Iran has not taken the steps required in Security Council resolution 1696 and the International Atomic Energy Agency board resolutions, which would allow talks to begin on the basis of the generous proposals presented by Javier Solana on behalf of the E3+3 in June. I chaired a meeting of E3+3 Foreign Ministers in London on 6 October, and we agreed that there is now no option but to seek a new Security Council resolution imposing sanctions. We have begun consultations with partners.

I went on the Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation to Iran in June, when I was able to eyeball parliamentarians. Is the Foreign Secretary aware that the Iranian economy is in a fragile state and is haemorrhaging money in order to subsidise basic supplies to keep the masses placated? Until recently, the Guardian Council consistently vetoed legislation on money laundering in a country through which the bulk of the heroin trade passes and which has given large sums of money to terrorist organisations. Given that the US Administration have taken steps to isolate the Iranian regime financially by blocking the access of Iranian banks, what steps is the Foreign Secretary taking to encourage UK financial institutions to follow suit and to work with her European counterparts to isolate the Ahmadinejad regime financially and in terms of trade?

We have led the way in trying to persuade people to help to counteract money laundering. As I said in reply to an earlier question, we remain in close contact with our EU colleagues and our Russian, Chinese and American colleagues on the most effective way to deal with the position in Iran. We are anxious to try to maintain the balance between exerting firm and clear pressure on Iran to come to the negotiating table and not giving those who want to call off the negotiations the excuse to do so.

Middle East

9. What recent assessment she has made of prospects for peace in the middle east; and if she will make a statement. (98357)

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister visited the region from 9 to 11 September and met key leaders. We welcomed the commitment by Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas to meet without conditions. The Government remain fully engaged and continue to call on the Palestinians and Israelis to make progress on the road map, to which both President Abbas and the Israeli Government remain committed.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the important building blocks of any durable peace is that the democratic rights of all people in the region are respected and upheld? In that context, is he aware that the Inter-Parliamentary Union, at its 115th assembly, expressed its deep concern at the continuing detention of more than 30 elected Palestinian parliamentarians? Has he made representations to the Israeli Government about their being either released or charged, and what has been the Israeli Government’s response?

My hon. Friend is right. This does not help the peace process in any way whatsoever, nor does it set a good example of how a democracy should be treated. We might not agree with the Hamas Government—we certainly disagree with them about many things—but those parliamentarians have been elected by the Palestinian people and they should be released. At the European General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting of 17 to 18 July, we continued to support the EU position that those parliamentarians should be released forthwith.

Do the Government believe that there is any prospect of Hezbollah disarming if the Shebaa Farms area is not surrendered by Israel to the United Nations or directly to Lebanon?

Shebaa Farms must be a central feature of the post-conflict discussions that take place between all parties in the region. The hon. Gentleman, who is extremely interested in this subject, knows as well as I do that there is also a dispute as to who Shebaa Farms belongs to. Is it Syrian? Is it Lebanese? Is it to be regarded and negotiated on as part of the Golan heights package? It is a difficult one. It is clear to me from the discussions that I had in Beirut in the middle of the bombardment in July that Shebaa Farms is a central issue that must be addressed if we are serious about getting a permanent peaceful settlement in Lebanon.

Does my hon. Friend consider Iran’s repeated threat to wipe Israel off the map as a serious threat to the renewal of the peace process given Iran’s continuing support for terrorism and its policy of acquiring nuclear weapons?

It is difficult to understand why Iran makes these threats. It is interesting that when I speak with the Iranian ambassador, he tries to tell me that it is a rhetorical device that I should not take any more seriously than I take anything else that is said. I do not think that that is what international diplomacy can afford to be about these days, especially not from a country that is hell-bent, as far as I can read it, on developing a nuclear bomb. President Ahmadinejad has difficulties enough at home in trying to meet the election pledge that got him elected after that cooked-up election with a list of candidates personally picked by a kind of fascist theocracy. Instead of threatening another sovereign state, he ought to be concentrating on trying to tap the enormous potential in Iran—great natural resources, a huge population, and a great culture—to make that country wealthier in line with his election promises.

Does the Minister agree that in any two-state solution there can be no stable Palestinian state without the exclusively democratic participation of Hamas, and no secure peaceful Israel without an agreed and permanent ceasefire from Hezbollah? In that regard, what discussions are the Government having, if not with the Government of Iran, at least with the Government of Syria?

Certainly, we must step up our discussions with all the parties in the area, which will unquestionably include the Syrians. We are beginning to understand that there is a way out. The war in the Lebanon was horrendous and a lesson to us all. It could easily have spilled over into other areas. We must intensify all the negotiations, which must be region-wide, to reach an all-middle east settlement. I hope that not only the nations named by the right hon. and learned Gentleman but the states of the Gulf become more involved in determining that middle east peace process. If that happens, we can begin to make progress.

I am sure that you will be concerned to know, Mr. Speaker, that among the 35 Members of Parliament properly elected by the Palestinian people who are in jail in Israel is the Deputy Speaker of the Palestinian legislative council. There can be no excuse for keeping those people in prison. Will my hon. Friend make every attempt to get them either released forthwith or properly charged with a criminal offence?

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I know that she has done a great deal of work to try to bring that about. I hope that she continues that work, as there are few Members who have such a reputation in the middle east, as well as in the House. We rely very much on her analysis of such extremely difficult situations. This, however, is a relatively simple question. Those imprisoned are important parliamentarians, with whom we may not agree—we may be vociferously opposed to what they stand for—but who have nevertheless been elected by the Palestinian people and must be able to speak on their behalf.


10. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of United Nations policy and the resolutions of the UN Security Council on Darfur. (98358)

The UN is playing a critical role in efforts to resolve the appalling conflict. Successive Security Council resolutions have offered significant UN assistance, imposed sanctions, referred the situation to the International Criminal Court and underlined the consequences of non-compliance. Resolution 1706 mandating a UN force demonstrates the UN’s continued commitment to Darfur. We are pressing Sudan to accept the UN deployment, which remains the best opportunity to secure lasting peace.

In the late 1930s, the failure to take effective action against the Italian invasion of Abyssinia led to a complete loss of credibility for the League of Nations. The awful, complex situation in Sudan and Darfur is not the same, but what can the UK Government do, as a permanent member of the Security Council, to ensure that the UN, the only truly international peacekeeping show in town, maintains its credibility?

This is a test at least as pointed and severe as Rwanda and Srebrenica. We cannot afford another Srebrenica or Rwanda. The hon. Gentleman is therefore right. It seems to me that the challenge is not just to focus the eyes of the Security Council, although it would be good if all its permanent members were focused on resolving the issue, but to provide an example to the world of how the United Nations can act under difficult circumstances to rescue huge numbers of people from the most dreadful fate.

What discussions have we had with the Chinese Government about Darfur? Are not they the key to breaking the deadlock?

I would not agree with my hon. Friend that the Chinese Government are the single key, but there is no doubt that they are an important interlocutor. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and other Ministers have spoken frequently to the Chinese about the matter, and we will continue to do so. The Chinese play a very important role, and not just, incidentally, in relation to the amount of oil that they buy from Sudan, which is nevertheless an important variable in the equation.


12. What recent discussions she has had with the Government of Pakistan on security issues; and if she will make a statement. (98360)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met the Pakistani Foreign Minister, Khurshid Kasuri, at the margins of the UN General Assembly on 19 September. They had a comprehensive exchange of views on security issues.

Does the Minister agree that it is easier for Britain to co-operate on security with Pakistan if the latter observes basic human rights? What assessment has he made of the recent Amnesty report, which says that elements in Pakistan’s security forces are responsible for large-scale disappearances, illegal detention, rendition and torture?

Human rights are certainly at the centre of our relationship with Pakistan. There are great problems in Pakistan—there is no question about that—but President Musharraf has made a number of extremely brave decisions, and has taken initiatives to try to reinforce human rights in a country that suffers hugely from terrorist problems, from Balochistan right up to the north-west frontier. We must do all that we can to encourage, in the most constructive way, the case for enhanced human rights in Pakistan, but we should understand, too, that President Musharraf has made great strides in bringing that country into a more civilised and democratic state.

Even given what the Minister has just said, does he have any evidence whatever that Pakistan’s intelligence and security officers are involved in supporting terrorist activity—and not only terrorist activity in Afghanistan, but terrorist activity aimed, indirectly, at the interests of this country?

We have many worries about the infiltration of terrorists and weapons across the borders, especially the borders of Helmand, Kandahar and perhaps Nimruz provinces with Balochistan in Pakistan. President Musharraf has tried to reassure us that he has complete control of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency in Pakistan. I really believe that he has been trying to bring elements of the ISI firmly under Government control, because it does his Government no good in the eyes of the international community to be seen to be helping, or even just to be suspected of helping, in any way the terrorists who are killing British, American, Dutch and Canadian soldiers on just the other side of the border.