Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The Secretary of State was asked—
Turkey’s recent parliamentary and presidential elections have delivered a strong popular mandate to the AK party to continue with a programme of reform and economic development in that country. That has sent out a strong signal about Turkey’s commitment to democracy both in Turkey and elsewhere in the Muslim world. When I went to Turkey on 5 September I made it clear that the UK remains committed to supporting Turkey’s modernisation and its EU accession. I am confident that the new Turkish Government will be positive partners for the UK and the EU.
I am happy to confirm that the British Council is active in Ankara and across Turkey; when I was there, I participated in a seminar that it organised. I think that the school twinning is now supported by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, which has a special website for international twinning operations. The increasing engagement of Turkish business with business across the EU and indeed globally is a positive sign. I might add in parentheses that Turkey’s commitment to helping to support the development of a stable and peaceful Iraq is also an important indication of the way in which Turkey wants to fulfil its international responsibilities.
Will the Secretary of State bear in mind that one of the many reasons for not invading southern Iraq was that it was likely to precipitate a Turkish invasion of the Kurdish north? As that may be imminent, are we strongly advising Turkey not to do it?
I find that a peculiar question, given that we have just been through a referendum—[Laughter.] That is the next question. We have just been through an election campaign in Turkey—[Interruption.] I do not want hon. Members to use their best lines before a later question. We have just been through an election campaign in Turkey, in which PKK terrorism was a serious threat to southern Turkey, and the governing party’s restraint in refusing to undertake the sort of activities to which the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell) referred was a marked feature of that campaign. Although he talks about the imminence of some sort of Turkish invasion of northern Iraq, it would be better to commend the Turkish Government on their restraint and say that we want to work with them, and that we want the Iraqi Government to work with them and to make sure that we crack down on that dangerous terrorism in northern Iraq.
Does the Secretary of State share the concern felt by many people in the Republic of Cyprus about the fact that the new Turkish Government have still not kept to their undertaking that once they had secured the opening of EU accession negotiations, they would lift their embargo on ships from Cyprus entering Turkish ports?
Obviously, I discussed relations with Cyprus when I was in Turkey. The fairest thing to say is that there are responsibilities on both sides. My hon. Friend rightly refers to the embargo, but it is important that we emphasise that there are responsibilities on both sides. The 8 July UN process that has now been started needs to be followed through, with responsibilities on both the Turkish and Cypriot sides.
The Secretary of State will be aware that on the sixth anniversary of the 11 September bombing, a large bomb was intercepted in Ankara. It is likely that it was to be detonated with a device in Germany. Has he any comment to make on the political implications of that for Turkey?
When I was in Turkey I talked with the Turkish Government about the terrorism that they face; we all know about the Istanbul bombing, which claimed many lives. The political implications are twofold. First, we need enhanced security co-operation, including with the Turks, and that is taking place. Secondly, we need to send out a very strong message that those who would seek to plant bombs anywhere in Europe will affect people of all religions and none, and that is why it is in all our interests to make sure that we work together against them.
The Government do not promote investment in Iran. UK Trade and Investment’s advice to business makes it clear that potential investors should be aware of the implications of existing and future sanctions before investing in Iran. Any company or individual considering investment in Iran should contact officials in UKTI, who will be able to inform them of the legal constraints and considerable commercial and political risks that they would face.
I am sorry to tell the Minister that that is a very misleading answer. The UK Trade and Investment website says:
“Iran has the potential for significant growth…How can we help you?”
Is the Minister aware that Iran is exporting terror, threatening to wipe Israel off the map, manufacturing nuclear weapons and manufacturing bombs to kill our troops? He is using taxpayers’ money to support the economy that has paid for that. Does he accept that that is nothing short of a policy of appeasement, and will he stop it?
Unusually, the hon. Gentleman gives good advice from a sedentary position. There is a sentence that needs to be changed, and I have spoken to the chief executive of UKTI about that. However, many British and European companies in Iran are trading within the law imposed by sanctions. UKTI gives them advice and tries to help them to ensure that they do not encroach beyond the law, which is an important function. I quite agree, however, that the regime in Tehran is obnoxious, and we must do everything that we can to put pressure on it to ensure that it changes those policies.
I agree with my hon. Friend that it is not a very nice regime in Iran, but is it not time that we started new initiatives and a new dialogue with Iran? Is it not about time that we distanced ourselves from the United States and showed Iran that we want to talk to it? Is that not the way to persuade it to change its ways?
We have always maintained diplomatic relations with Iran, unlike the United States. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has met the Iranian Foreign Minister, and we have had many discussions with the Iranians. The E3 plus 3 has made offers to Iran which, by any definition, are very generous and sensible. We have offered, for example, to help them with a civil nuclear programme, but they have rejected those offers. They have constantly played for time, and they are developing—as far as I believe on the intelligence that we have been given—a nuclear bomb programme. They have enriched uranium with that in view, which is something that we cannot ignore—it is extremely important. In my view, it is one of the most serious difficulties that the world faces at the moment, because if the Iranians develop a nuclear bomb, there will be proliferation across the world, as others will want to develop nuclear bombs.
How does the Minister explain recent reports that the British Government are resisting pressure from France and the United States to accelerate further EU sanctions against Iran? Given his very strong criticism of the Iranian regime, will he commit the Government today to press urgently for action to deny Iranian banks access to European financial systems and to impose restrictions on European investment in Iranian gas and oilfields?
Yes, I can give the hon. Gentleman those assurances and tell him that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will argue at the appropriate EU meetings next week that we should tighten sanctions across Europe against the Iranian regime. I am very confident that that is exactly what we will do.
EU Reform Treaty
The mandate for the reform treaty agreed by all 27 Heads of Government makes it clear that the constitutional concept has been abandoned. The reform treaty reforms the EU institutions just as previous amending treaties have done. In line with these precedents, ratification should be a matter for Parliament.
Given that today’s European Scrutiny Committee report describes the new treaty as “substantially equivalent” to the EU constitution, does the Foreign Secretary not accept that the British people should have a right to vote on that in a referendum? Does he not remember that that was his pledge at the last election?
I am sorry, but I think that the hon. Gentleman must have listened to the “Today” programme rather than read the document from the important Committee. Let me read to him exactly what it says. It says that the reform treaty is “substantially equivalent” to the constitutional treaty
“for those countries which have not requested derogations or opt outs from the full range of agreements in the Treaty”.
Whatever the shadow Minister shouts out, that is in the section of the Committee’s report labelled, “Conclusion”—which, I think, is rather important in this respect. The framework referred to earlier does not supersede the conclusion of the report, and I suggest he reads it more carefully.
I, too, have been reading the European Scrutiny Committee’s report, from which I quote, for the benefit of the Foreign Secretary. It states that
“references to abandoning a ‘constitutional concept’”
“likely to be misleading in so far as they might suggest the Reform Treaty is of lesser significance than the Constitutional Treaty”,
so will the Foreign Secretary ensure that he and his junior Ministers abandon that bogus argument, which has fallen apart under detailed examination?
We know the hon. Gentleman’s position. He says that leaving the EU would be a positive step. I suggest that he reads the legal draft that came out on Friday, which was put in the Library and given to the Clerks of the Committees of the House. It makes absolutely clear the direction in which Europe is moving, which is to respect the red lines that the United Kingdom has asked for. I commend to him the words of the chairman of his own party’s democracy taskforce, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who said that if Parliament cannot decide this sort of thing, Parliament is worthless. Parliament should not be worthless.
The treaty makes it clear that if it goes through, Britain will increase the number of votes that it has in the Council. In other words, it will increase our power to make decisions in Europe. It also makes sure that the French, who for years have been trying to prevent the liberalisation of their energy policy, to the detriment of British consumers, will have to comply with European policy. Would it not make sense for us to ratify the treaty as fast as possible, in the interests of the British?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the new treaty gives the European Union the opportunity to put behind us procedural arguments about the changes required for enlargement, and instead gives us the opportunity to concentrate on the really urgent challenges that we face, notably climate change?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. If she has read, as I have, the report of the Dutch council of state, which is the only independent legal body to have looked at the treaty, she will know that it considers that
“these changes are aimed, as far as possible, at purging the Constitutional Treaty of those elements which could have formed starting points for a development of the EU in a more explicitly centralised or federal direction”.
In other words, it does indeed lay the basis for us to ensure that the EU gets on with its proper business, which is about climate change, jobs, crime and immigration.
As a member of the Select Committee that produced the report, I condemn the remarks made by the Foreign Secretary. He is coming to see us on 16 October and he will not have quite such an easy ride in front of the Committee as he may try and get away with on the Floor of the House. The document is substantially equivalent to the treaty and requires a referendum. The Foreign Secretary said the other day that we are a parliamentary democracy and that we therefore make such decisions in Parliament. The Referendum Act 1975 was passed by Harold Wilson and a Labour Government. It specifically returned, as it should, the right of the British people, through their representatives, to make a decision by referendum to enable the people of this country on an impartial question to come to a decision about a matter of massive importance to their future—
The fairest thing to say for the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) is that he has been consistent on the issue. When the Maastricht treaty came before the House, dozens of Back Benchers who are still in the House, and Front Benchers, voted against a referendum. He voted in favour of a referendum. I look forward to talking with him and his Committee next week. He cannot deny that the quotes that I have given from his report are accurate.
Although some of us on this side of the House will take no lessons about referendums from the Conservative party because of its failure to hold one on the single market and on Maastricht, we still feel that this is a manifesto commitment. If anything, a referendum gives significant authority to the Foreign Secretary when he goes to talk about the red lines in respect of ensuring that at least those red lines are kept and that we seek further improvements. Will he stick to his guns and go for a referendum?
I will certainly stick to my guns, but that involves saying that the decision should be taken in this House. My hon. Friend is right to say that we still have a couple of months before the treaty is finally signed in December. We shall work right up until that final agreement to ensure that the red lines are properly respected. The Prime Minister said that yesterday and I am determined to repeat it today. I look forward to taking on the discussion with my hon. Friend, because it will become clear that Europe and the Heads of Government have rejected a centralised or federalist future. We have the opportunity to make the European Union work for people and I think that that is what unites the two of us.
On the question of the treaty being substantially equivalent to the constitution, should not the Foreign Secretary have read on to paragraph 45 of the Committee report? It states:
“Even with the ‘opt-in’ provisions on police and judicial cooperation…and the Protocol on the Charter, we are not convinced that the same conclusion does not apply to the position of the UK”.
Given that the report says that his central argument on the treaty’s constitutional characteristics is not helpful and is even likely to be misleading, should he not now drop this specious line of argument? Is he not simply padding along in the footsteps of the Prime Minister at the weekend and trying to treat the people of this country like fools?
The Committee’s report was written and printed before the legal text was published on Friday. I am happy to go through the detailed arguments about justice and home affairs, and other issues raised by the Committee with it—I shall do so next week—because I think that if one examined the treaty, one would see that the red lines are being respected.
No one believes the Foreign Secretary any more when he argues that this is not the EU constitution. When the Prime Minister met the Irish Prime Minister on 17 July, even he referred to it as the European constitution. Do we not now have an extraordinary double of a Government who are too scared to hold a general election that they had planned and too scared to hold a referendum that they had solemnly promised the people of this country? Is it not time that the Foreign Secretary summoned up the courage that his predecessor but one showed to the previous Prime Minister and told the Prime Minister that he needed a democratic mandate for such a far-reaching treaty, rather than colluded in this cynical betrayal of the promises made to the country?
I am very pleased that the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned predecessors, because he has recently recruited Lady Thatcher back to his campaign team. I suggest that he listens to what she said:
“Perhaps the late Lord Attlee was right when he said that the referendum was a device of dictators and demagogues.”
The right hon. Gentleman will never be a dictator; how does it feel to be a demagogue?
In my reply to the three constituents who have written to me about this matter, I made it clear that it is the historic role of this Parliament to scrutinise and consider in detail treaties with other nations. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be a profound abrogation of responsibility on the part of this House to set that detailed scrutiny aside in favour of a ludicrous tick-box referendum?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I do not wish to damn his or my political career by saying that we agree with the chairman of the Conservative democracy taskforce but it is the role of this Parliament to undertake that work. I point out to Conservative Members that every previous amending treaty, Labour or Tory, has been presented to and passed by Parliament. That is our job and we should get on with it.
At the centre of this debate is the status of the charter of fundamental rights. The timely and useful report from the European Scrutiny Committee raises a number of issues about it. In particular, it highlights the potential imbalance between the general obligation on the Court of Justice to ensure the uniform application of union law and the protocol secured by the Government, which seeks to ensure that the charter does not extend the ability of the court to find that UK law is inconsistent with the charter. On reflection, does the Foreign Secretary believe that the current text is robust enough? Will he ensure that we get a stronger set of words before the final treaty is developed?
The hon. Gentleman approached this issue in a serious way and he deserves a serious answer to his question. [Hon. Members: “A boring approach.”] Conservative Members describe a serious approach as being boring; that says a lot about the modern Tory party.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about article 1 of the protocol, and it is significant to consider it because the protocol is legally binding. It says:
“The Charter does not extend the ability of the Court of Justice, or any court or tribunal…to find that the laws, regulations or administrative provisions, practices or action…are inconsistent with the fundamental rights, freedoms and principles that it reaffirms.”
In other words, it is for these islands, and for this Parliament, to set their own laws in respect of the issues covered by the charter. We shall certainly see that through in our negotiations.
Recognising that any change to a European treaty is, in effect, a constitutional change, does my right hon. Friend agree that deciding how to deal with such a change is a matter of balance and, perhaps more importantly, workability? I urge him to stand firm and act against some of the hypocrisy we have heard this afternoon from colleagues who argued that there was no need for a referendum on the Maastricht treaty, which retained far more power for the European Union than the current treaty. I urge my right hon. Friend to stand firm.
My hon. Friend will be amused to know that a number of the Opposition Members chuntering away during his question were actually there in 1992, voting against a referendum. One of the things we shall be able to do as the debate proceeds is to ask them how they could be against a referendum in 1992 and in favour of one in 2007. I am sure that my hon. Friend, as a former Minister for Europe, will ensure that his historical experience is brought to bear on this debate.
The situation in Zimbabwe gives grave cause for concern. That is why the Prime Minister has stated he will not attend the EU-Africa Summit if President Mugabe is present. It is also why we are working for change by maintaining international pressure on the regime; supporting those working in Zimbabwe working for democratic change; and giving up to £40 million in humanitarian aid every year.
In 2003, the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs suggested revoking Robert Mugabe’s knighthood. In July this year, Lord Malloch-Brown said in a letter to me that his Department will continue to keep the issue under close review. When will the Foreign Office stop dithering and take some action on this issue?
I understand the cause of those who wish to see the knighthood removed, and as my noble Friend said, we are currently reviewing the matter. However, let us clear about this: the situation in Zimbabwe demands a great deal more than that, and removing President Mugabe’s knighthood might detract from that focus and give him more publicity. We need to concentrate on the real problems faced by the people of Zimbabwe.
Following on from the Prime Minister’s welcome statement that neither he nor any of his senior Ministers will attend any summit between the European Union and the African Union, and the agreement of the Foreign Office last week not to allow Peter Chingoka, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, into this country, would the Foreign Office consider taking up the suggestion of Lord Morris, the former Transport and General Workers Union general secretary, that we consider co-ordinating with Australia a wider sporting boycott on Zimbabwe?
It must be right for the Prime Minister to follow our advice and say that he will not attend the EU-Africa summit if Mugabe is there. Will the Under-Secretary confirm that if any of Mugabe’s senior henchmen are there, the Prime Minister will not attend? Otherwise, we will send a bad message to Zimbabwe.
My hon. Friend knows that the German Chancellor has repeated the Portuguese Government’s mistake of suggesting that Robert Mugabe should attend the EU-Africa summit later this year. Will she make representations to not only our German colleagues but other EU countries to try to ensure that the embargo on Robert Mugabe is maintained?
I assure my hon. Friend that we are in discussion with our EU partners on the matter. Chancellor Merkel was clear that all African countries should be invited to the summit, and we agree. However, we have always said that Zimbabwe should be represented, but not by President Mugabe.
We welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and I am glad that we have moved on from our debate in July, when the Under-Secretary was unable to give us the guarantee that the Prime Minister would not go to the EU-Africa conference. Following the comments of the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) about Chancellor Merkel, do the Government believe that we need to generate additional EU sanctions against Zimbabwe? In particular, does she believe that the EU could go much further and home in on some of the more obnoxious members of the Zimbabwean regime, such as Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono, who is a leading friend of President Mugabe and helps finance the regime? Does she agree that it is disgraceful that he can still travel abroad and that we cannot impose sanctions on him?
It is important to examine sanctions carefully. European Union targeted measures are there precisely to ensure that they do not further hurt ordinary Zimbabweans. On the specific issues that the hon. Gentleman raises, we have already argued for Gideon Gono to be added to the EU list. We will continue to do that, and the Home Secretary has excluded him from the United Kingdom.
Discussions are fine but action is needed. The sooner action is taken, the better. The whole country has been razed to the ground. I have met groups from Bulawayo and they cannot accept that everyone seems simply to be talking. They need action now. I urge the Government not to wait any longer, please.
I agree with my hon. Friend, but the situation ultimately needs an African solution. Since July, when we had our debate here, the UK has committed a further £8 million to the World Food Programme and we have ensured that Zimbabwe is discussed at the United Nations Security Council. We in the EU have put pressure on Zimbabwe at the UN Human Rights Council. We are clear that action needs to be taken, but the UK cannot do that alone; we need to work with other people. African countries in particular need to act on the matter.
Middle East Peace Process
The Government believe that the UK must be involved in seeking genuine progress on the middle east peace process. With the combination of the continuing dialogue between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas, Tony Blair’s engagement, an international meeting scheduled for November and a rejuvenated Arab peace initiative, the prospect of progress appears more promising than it did at the start of the summer. We will continue to work with international partners to move us closer to a two-state solution.
I thank the Minister for that answer and his robust attitude to the matter. What plans do the Government have for convening a formal meeting of the Quartet and arranging for former Prime Minister Blair to brief Members of the House of Commons on his actions?
I certainly think it is a very good idea for former Prime Minister Blair to come to the Commons to brief an all-party meeting on the issue. I shall certainly put that to him and I hope that he will do so. As for a Quartet meeting, there are of course regular such meetings. There will be one in the run-up to the November conference that is being organised in the United States. It ought to be an important conference and we are pinning a lot of hope on it.
May I tell my hon. Friend that last month I discussed with businessmen in the north of Gaza their plans just to export like businessmen in any other part of the world, but that their ability to do so is being strangled by the Israelis’ continuing blockade of the Karni crossing? The blockade does not affect the firing of rockets from Gaza, but does collectively punish the innocent people of Gaza. What are the Government doing to ensure that the excuses are put on one side and that the Karni crossing is opened as it should be?
I assure my hon. Friend that, along with my right hon. Friends, I have been pressing the Israeli Government to open the Karni crossing. He is quite right and has great experience of the issue. It is interesting to hear that he has held discussions about the issue in northern Gaza, because it is one of the most crucial issues. I cannot for the life of me understand how Israel believes it can have an economic basket case on its border, because there is no more potent way of generating violence and opposition to the idea of a two-state solution than strangling the economy of one’s neighbour.
The Minister is entirely right in what he has just said. However, is he also aware that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency is unable to get necessary supplies into Gaza because of what is effectively a blockade and that it is thus unable to help to build temporary accommodation for the many refugees who are in Gaza? The situation in Gaza is getting more difficult as a result and encouraging the sort of behaviour that none of us wants to see.
Yes, we have been very worried that that reading of the situation in Gaza is going to make things worse. We recently gave £1 million extra to the International Committee of the Red Cross to meet some of the extreme humanitarian problems inside Gaza. We are glad to see that UNRWA is now lobbying widely, in Europe and the rest of the world, to make people aware of just how acute the difficulties are inside Gaza. That is something on which we shall continue to lobby, as it is a very important issue.
How does my hon. Friend assess the impact of Iran’s actions on current attempts to reach peace in the middle east, particularly following the statement by Iran’s judiciary chief on 5 October, when he described the rallies in Tehran as a good start to the destruction of Israel?
Iran is playing a mischievous role. The Iranians’ support for the extreme elements of Hamas and for Hezbollah in Lebanon is an indication that they do not want a two-state solution. They want to destroy Israel, and as far as they are concerned, the quicker the better.
May I associate myself with the comments of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden)? I was with him in northern Gaza last month, when we met the businessmen whom he described. Will the Minister stress to the Israeli Government that closure of the borders is now creating a burgeoning humanitarian crisis that will not wait until November to be resolved? It is hurting the ordinary people in the Gaza strip, not the Hamas Administration. We should not confuse one with the other.
Yes, I take that point clearly. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman managed to get into northern Gaza and hold those discussions. We do not want to hurt the ordinary people of Gaza. Nobody wants to do that; indeed, I do not believe that opinion inside Israel is in favour of that. The Israelis have had long experience of suffering as a consequence of the terrorism that has been generated inside Gaza and other areas where such difficulties have occurred.
At the same time, there must be pressure on Palestinian and Israeli neighbours to do their utmost to ensure that the supply of rockets and weapons to Hamas militants and jihadists inside Gaza is also curtailed and that those people are not firing rockets into Israel, because that does not help the argument either. However, the hon. Gentleman is quite right. The issue is immensely important and I agree with him entirely.
To follow up on the points that colleagues have made about the importance of the economy of Palestine, does my hon. Friend recognise that the Balls and Cunliffe report made it clear that there is high and growing unemployment among the Palestinian people and that that is increasingly speedily making the situation worse? What can the British Government do to help to tackle that crisis?
The British Government, led by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, have worked very hard to try to raise international consciousness of the need to provide employment and housing for so many people in Gaza. There is a new generation of young people there now who will not have jobs, and of even younger people who will not have an education. It is extremely important that we pay attention to that, and I think that we have a good record of trying to do so. However, we can introduce any plan for economic reconstruction that we like, but if we cannot get the politics fixed, we will never build a house or a road in Gaza, or do any of the things for the infrastructure that we want to do. We have to get the politics right, and that is why these international agreements and the other work that we are doing on the middle east peace process are so important. That is absolutely crucial if we are to take forward my hon. Friend’s agenda for economic reconstruction.
EU Intergovernmental Conference
The legal group producing the draft treaty finished its work on 3 October. The United Kingdom has set out our red lines and we are determined that they will be delivered. We will continue to press, right up until the December European Council, to ensure that they are met.
The Government’s case relies almost entirely on the effectiveness of the red lines, but today’s report from the European Scrutiny Committee makes it clear that there may well be an argument that the charter of fundamental rights will apply to the UK. In those circumstances, and if there were a dispute—the report makes it clear that there might well be—can the Minister confirm that it would be the European Court of Justice, not Parliament, that would decide whether the charter applied in the UK?
The Foreign Secretary has already made it clear today that the constitutional approach has been abandoned. On the hon. Gentleman’s specific point about the legally binding protocol and the charter of fundamental rights, it is absolutely clear that the protocol has the same legal force as European treaties. That is a very strong legal protection indeed.
Sorry about that, but my point of order related to the fact that the documents to which I referred were not in the Vote Office yesterday, and they were not there before Prayers today. They should be available so that we can quiz the Foreign Secretary tomorrow afternoon, not only in the Chamber but in the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Will the Minister ensure that the legislation on this is not so narrowly drawn and crafted that we cannot table an amendment that is acceptable to the Table Office relating to the ability to have a referendum? We want an assurance that the legislation will be drafted so as to leave that scope open to Parliament. What say you?
On the specific point about publications and paperwork being available, it is certainly my understanding, and that of the Foreign Secretary, that that material was placed in the Libraries of the House of Commons and the House of Lords on Friday last week, when it became available. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that, throughout this process in recent months, we have shared with his Committee and others all the material as it became available. On his wider point about the breadth of the Bill, the House has a long tradition of enabling European Bills to be amended in relation to calls for a referendum. After all, one third of those currently on the Conservative Front Bench voted against such a referendum on Maastricht. As I have said before, and am happy to say again, it would certainly be our intention—with your permission, of course, Mr. Speaker; it is entirely a matter for your discretion—to craft the Bill widely enough so that an amendment calling for a referendum on the reform treaty could take place.
The Minister has clearly looked at the scrutiny report and will have read its paragraph 71, where the Committee characterises the drafting process as
“essentially secret…conducted by the Presidency, with texts produced at the last moment”.
It goes on to say:
“The compressed timetable now proposed, having regard to the sitting terms of national parliaments, could not have been better designed to marginalise their role.”
Do the Government agree with that view?
Not at all. At every opportunity, the Foreign Secretary and I have sought to be available to the Select Committees of this House. I believe that I have given evidence on five separate occasions to such Committees, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has also spoken in glowing terms of his anticipation of appearing before Select Committees. The fact is that the reform treaty gives greater powers to national Parliaments, and it remains the case that it is this House and the other place that will ultimately take a view on whether or not to ratify that reform treaty.
The Foreign Secretary seemed to suggest in an earlier answer that the draft of the document now available since 3 October is so different that it invalidates the findings and some of the conclusions of the European Scrutiny Committee. He suggested that the conclusions were drawn before the Committee had sight of the 3 October document, which implies that there have been significant changes. Will the Minister for Europe indicate just two or three changes in the document of 3 October that were not present in the earlier version?
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was recording a statement of fact. The Select Committee report was drafted and went to publication before the legal text was available. That was my right hon. Friend’s point. The differences between the old constitutional treaty and the reform treaty are very clear. Every member state has moved away from the old constitutional approach and it is quite clear that it is the end for those who had a federalist dream or a federalist vision for Europe. It is equally clear that of all the member states of the European Union, the United Kingdom has moved furthest away from the old constitution.
What is clear is that it has hardly changed at all. Yesterday’s press release on the Downing street website said that if the red lines were not met
“there will either be a veto or there will be a referendum”.
Given that the European Scrutiny Committee has now cast very serious doubt about the Government’s red lines and its Chairman told the BBC this morning that they would “leak like a sieve”, will Ministers now admit that they are morally bound to offer the British people the referendum that they themselves promised them in the first place?
Not at all. It is absolutely clear that the legally binding protocol and the charter of fundamental rights offer very strong protection indeed. That is acknowledged by other member states and other prominent politicians. As the president of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering—[Interruption.] The shadow Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), scoffs at him, but the president of the European Parliament is a gentleman and a Conservative. In other places, those things are not mutually exclusive. The president said:
“Since making the Charter legally binding and extending Community competence to JHA were two of the most important features of the original constitution, the deal struck by Tony Blair in June means that—for better or worse—much of its substance will simply not apply in Britain.”
Iran has every right to be a secure, rich country. However, it does not have the right to set off a nuclear arms race in the middle east. That is why we deplore its continued enrichment of uranium in defiance of three UN Security Council resolutions. We will continue to work with our E3 plus 3 partners—France, Germany, Russia, the US and China—and with our EU colleagues to persuade Iran to suspend all reprocessing and enrichment-related activities and return to negotiations on the basis of the far-reaching proposals that we presented in June 2006.
Obviously I have spoken to the Iranian Foreign Minister himself. I talked to him about the risks that he was taking, not just for his own country but for the region and the wider world. In discussions with Egyptian, Saudi and other Foreign Ministers and ambassadors, I have emphasised our concern for the non-proliferation treaty to be respected, and for Iran not to play the proliferating role that is so dangerous in the current circumstances.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that if military action against Iran is to be discouraged, it is crucial for there to be a robust and effective alternative that cannot be scuppered by Russian or Chinese vetoes? As President Sarkozy of France—along with the United States—is enthusiastically calling for financial and banking sanctions against Iran, and as Deutsche Bank, UBS, HBSC and other banks are already responding, will the Foreign Secretary do all in his power to encourage other European Union countries, particularly Germany, Italy and Spain, to support such a policy?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman’s general point about the importance of the diplomatic route having proper teeth is absolutely correct. He could have added Standard Chartered to the list of banks that he mentioned.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be interested to know that in the year to May 2007, EU trade with Iran fell by 34 per cent., which constitutes a significant tightening of the sanctions. We are exploring all avenues. I will of course discuss the matter with EU colleagues next week, and will continue to monitor it at an international level.
Iran is almost certainly in breach of its undertaking on the non-proliferation treaty, given that it is a signatory. It is our duty to ensure that the treaty is enforced: it has maintained a very good record over many years. However, the policy lacks some coherence when we are prepared to tolerate the development of nuclear weapons in Pakistan and India—and, indeed, welcome it, as the Americans did recently. We really must have a coherent and comprehensive policy if we expect to make real progress on the Iranian problem.
I understand my hon. Friend’s point, but I think he will agree that the present situation in regard to India and Pakistan is far preferable to that which existed in 2002, when people were extremely worried about relations between the two countries. I think that the efforts by the Governments of both countries to lower the temperature in the region should be recognised, notwithstanding my hon. Friend’s point about nuclear weapons.
Does the Foreign Secretary believe that prospects for the development of nuclear weapons by Iran would be strengthened or weakened if the British Government lifted its illegal prohibition and proscription of the People’s Mujaheddin Organisation of Iran and the National Council of Resistance of Iran?
As I have said—and as representatives of the United States Administration right up to the top have said on every occasion—we are 100 per cent. focused on the diplomatic process, and on making the diplomatic route work. That is what we will continue to argue and urge in all forums.
The United Nations Secretary-General is clear that the UN has a significant role. We welcome the appointment of a new special representative: he has our full support in implementing the UN's role under Security Council resolution 1770.
The EU is committed to developing its engagement and supporting the UN. We welcome the recent high-profile visits by the Swedish and French Foreign Ministers, and the discussion stimulated within the EU.
I welcome the Minister’s response. Will he join me in welcoming the recent statements by the French Government and the EU High Representative, Javier Solana, on the need to help and to co-ordinate the reconstruction work of the Iraqi Government and indeed their allies in projects such as Operation Sinbad, which has recently ended in Basra? Will he expand on the success of that project?
That is an important question. The effect of Operation Sinbad on employment levels, for example, in Basra has been significant. There is a long way to go, though. Basra is still suffering greatly. There is an enormous amount of work to do on infrastructure. It will be helped if EU nations and wealthy nations of the west realise that that reconstruction helps everyone, not just the people of Basra and Iraq. It will help to prove that a democracy can function well in the middle east, ensuring that people are employed, children are educated and the health system works. It will become a model for the rest of the region.
The Minister will be well aware that there are possibly as many as 2 million internally displaced Iraqis and that possibly as many as 2 million people have fled to a place of safety in neighbouring countries. What support is being offered to Jordan and Syria to cope with that very large influx of desperate people? What is being done to support the people who have been displaced within Iraq, who are living in desperate poverty, without any support or services whatever?
My hon. Friend has asked an important question. This Government have given a great deal of financial support to try to help to improve the humanitarian situation. We know that the Governments of Syria and Jordan especially require a lot more help. We have been lobbying to ensure that our partners in Europe give some money for humanitarian support as well and, even more importantly, that the very wealthy neighbours of Iraq, Jordan and Syria, especially the oil Governments of the Gulf, realise that they have a role to play too and that they could alleviate that suffering significantly.
EU Treaty (Climate Change)
In response to the question tabled by my hon. Friend, I make it clear that the EU can be effective in tackling climate change. That process began with the targets agreed at the spring European Council this year. The move to QMV under the reform treaty will help by removing the veto of any one country on the liberalisation of energy markets and steps to improve energy diversity.
I am sorry; I was put off earlier by the unusual applause, to which I am not accustomed.
Is it not clear that, if we in the EU are going to make our contribution to meeting the challenge of global warming and to achieve our high, demanding and necessary targets for reductions in carbon emissions, we need to get the necessary implementing legislation through in a timely fashion and unambiguously and that, for that purpose, we need to have QMV in a Union of 27 members? Therefore, is there not evidently more than the usual degree of confusion in the minds of those on the Opposition Benches who claim—[Interruption.]
My hon. Friend is giving yet another reminder of why he left the Opposition Benches and joined us. Opposition Members scowl and dismiss. Euroscepticism is now a mainstream ideology for the Conservative party. The reform treaty provides, for the first time, an opportunity to unblock decision making. It will give the United Kingdom and the European Union the capacity to deliver change and effective improvements on one of the biggest issues facing the EU. That is one of the important parts of the reform treaty. It is one of the reasons why Labour Members support it so wholeheartedly.
We are not aware of any British citizens under 18 who have been detained by the Pakistani authorities in the last five years while custody issues are considered. We have, however, provided consular assistance to many British parents involved in custody disputes and child abduction cases in Pakistan. When providing such assistance, we take care that our actions do not contravene Pakistan law and any determination by the Pakistan courts.
I thank the Minister for that answer. I am sure that she is aware of the case of my constituent, Asma Akhtar, who is currently involved in a child custody case in the Pakistan High Court. Such cases are covered by a protocol. In view of the difficulties Asma is experiencing, will the Minister undertake to review the operation of that protocol?
The UK-Pakistan protocol is in place to enable us to come to decisions on children’s welfare in such custody disputes regardless of whether the child is in Pakistan or the UK, and it is operating. We need to keep it under review, and next year we will have an international child abduction conference in Islamabad to promote greater awareness of that protocol on children’s matters and how it can assist in reducing the number of child abduction cases.”