House of Commons
Tuesday 11 November 2008
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The Secretary of State was asked—
The Annapolis process has been a first step in restoring trust between the parties. We should try to build on it to create a process that can deliver a broader peace, in which all exercise their rights and fulfil their responsibilities. That would be a true settlement between Israel and all Arab states. I hope that it will be given new momentum from the beginning of the new Administration in the United States.
Following the Syrian Foreign Minister’s recent visit to London, how will the Foreign Secretary develop that specific relationship, especially in encouraging the Syria-Israel dialogue, which Turkey brokered?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. First, we will seek to continue to say to the Syrians that they have important responsibilities in the middle east, notably in respect of relations with Iraq and with Lebanon, as well as with Israel, but that they also have much to gain from a comprehensive settlement—the Arab peace initiative provides an important basis for that.
Secondly, I met the Turkish Foreign Minister last Friday. Turkey has brokered the four rounds of peace talks between Syria and Israel, and I urged him to continue his important work. When I am in Israel next week, I shall also urge the Israelis to continue that important track in the peace process.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that, today, at a rally in Ramallah, President Abbas told the thousands of people gathered there:
“The ways of the shahids”—
“Arafat, Abu Jihad, George Habash and even Sheikh Ahmed Yasin—are the ways we recognise. These are the ways in which we are meant to preserve the national interest of the Palestinian people.”
I have not seen that quotation. As soon as Question Time is over, I will try to find out the details. I believe that hon. Members of all parties have felt that President Abbas is, in the words of the Israeli Prime Minister, “a soldier in the army of peace.” My hon. Friend has given a striking quotation, and I will investigate it as soon as I am back in the office.
Does the Foreign Secretary genuinely believe that, in the two-state solution, it is possible to negotiate a viable and autonomous Palestine, without involving all the representative elements of the Palestinian people, including Hamas, which has recently said that it envisages a Palestinian state existing alongside an Israel based on the 1967 borders?
The Palestinian people need to be represented by a single authority and a single elected leader, and that is President Abbas, about whom we have just been talking. Hamas has the opportunity to join reconciliation talks under Egyptian auspices. The position that President Abbas outlined is an important signal, but it needs to be followed through. That is the basis on which the Palestinians will get the state that they deserve and need, and that the whole region needs.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if we are to get a satisfactory outcome in the middle east, we must engage our European colleagues more energetically? The new Minister for Europe is an energetic colleague. Could not she be sent around Europe banging heads together to get greater involvement on the issue that we are considering and other issues?
My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe is many things, but a head banger is not the first phrase that comes to mind. I assure my hon. Friend that she has already toured the capitals of Europe, notably, Prague, Sofia and Paris, and I am sure that the middle east was on her agenda. My hon. Friend is right that the European Union has an important role to play. It already supports humanitarian efforts for the Palestinians and plays an important role in training Palestinian security forces, which are vital if a Palestinian state is to come into being alongside a secure Israel.
May I say to the Foreign Secretary that it would be helpful if he could impress on his Israeli counterparts that the behaviour of the Israeli military courts in Gaza is damaging Israel’s reputation and makes the prospect of a peace settlement yet more remote?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman raises an important point. I will certainly discuss the situation in Gaza with the Israeli Government. We have discussed the situation of the Gazan MPs in the House before, and I will certainly raise that, too. We have discussed the humanitarian situation in Gaza, which will also be on the agenda. I will take up and look into the point that the right hon. and learned Gentleman raises.
Given that only last night the Prime Minister described Iran’s nuclear ambitions as the greatest challenge to non-proliferation in the middle east and indeed the world, could the Foreign Secretary say why, a year after the Prime Minister promised further European sanctions, those sanctions are still not in place and why Iran is not even on the agenda for the EU Foreign Ministers meeting due on 11 and 12 December?
There certainly are further sanctions than there were a year ago, notably those exercised through Security Council resolution 1803, which has been put into practice by the European Union, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman was referring to oil and gas sanctions, which are important. He and I agree that we need to ensure that financial measures in the oil and gas sector are taken forward, and we continue to have that dialogue. We are trying to achieve unanimity across the E3 plus 3, because it is the basis on which to confront Iran. However, I assure him that the European Union is fulfilling its responsibilities. I do not know which forthcoming meeting the hon. Gentleman was referring to. The General Affairs Council met this week and I am happy to tell him that Iran is a regular topic of discussion. Indeed, I can assure him that it is certainly not suffering from a lack of focus.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
We strongly support the regional initiative of Presidents Kikwete of Tanzania and Kibaki of Kenya. It has allowed countries in the region to discuss co-operation to end the humanitarian crisis and injected new momentum into achieving full implementation of the Nairobi communiqué and the Goma accords, which we will now take forward with President Obasanjo, the UN special envy, and ex-Tanzanian President Mkapa. My noble Friend Lord Malloch-Brown will be in the region next week to take that forward.
The whole House will remember what happened in 1994, when up to 800,000 people were killed in neighbouring Rwanda, after which 2 million people fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that peacekeeping forces on the ground can take the necessary action to stop the same disaster happening again?
The United Kingdom was proud to support the biggest UN operation ever, the 17,000-strong United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—or MONUC—force, which is in the DRC. As the hon. Gentleman knows, however, we need political action, from both the DRC Government and President Kagame in Rwanda. That was the purpose of my trip to the region 10 days ago and it is the purpose of the African Union intervention, which is so significant.
What scope is there for the AU and the EU to work together and use their joint influence on the Congolese and Rwandan Governments? In particular, is there any scope for co-operation in responding to the request by the head of MONUC to boost UN troops, so that there are sufficient forces in the right places to deal with the insurgents and rebels, who are causing so much havoc and terror in the area?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about AU-EU collaboration. That was the purpose of my visit to Dar es Salaam, and the work of Commissioner Michel is taking the issue forward. The EU has an important role in monitoring the implementation of the Nairobi and Goma accords, as well as on the humanitarian side. It is right that the fighting force is a UN force. I do not think that we want a rival EU force. What we need is for all countries, including European countries, to think how they can contribute to the MONUC force. We are waiting for a Security Council discussion later today. The first priority is the proper and effective deployment of MONUC forces, but if it is reported that more troops are needed, different countries will have to decide how they build that up. The decision of the African Union to involve itself and say that African troops will be the first port of call for extra forces is important in that respect.
Eleven hundred FDLR—Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda—troops have been disarmed and repatriated to Rwanda. That is an important step forward, but everybody who meets President Kabila emphasises that it is only that—a first step. When we talk of his fulfilling his responsibilities under the Nairobi agreement, it is precisely the disarmament and repatriation of the FDLR that is at the heart of his responsibility.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his efforts in the Congo. He will be aware that there have been more than 4 million excess deaths there in the past 10 years because of the chronic instability and fighting, and more than 250,000 people have now been driven from their homes. What can he do to put an end to the sexual violence, in particular, and the recruitment of child soldiers? As in all wars, it is the women and children who suffer the most.
My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to one of the more shocking aspects of this conflict. The conflict in the Congo has cost more lives than any other since the second world war; I think that the total is now 5 million. The best thing we can do is to have a proper ceasefire, because that is the only basis on which the rights she is talking about can be properly adhered to.
With time being of the essence, surely it must be right for the European Union to support the United Nations and the African Union with military assistance. Is Oxfam not right to say that European
“inaction has very human consequences… How many more must suffer before Europe will take effective action?”?
I do not accept that Europe is taking no action, and I do not just mean on the humanitarian side, where Europe is the largest donor to the DRC. European countries do have troops in the DRC, and we have a small number of officers helping to command the MONUC brigades there. What is important is that the UN takes a grip on this, and that the UN is the right place in which to take this forward. I hope that the hon. Gentleman would also agree that, rather than repeat the mistakes of the 1990s, when neighbours of the DRC got involved in the war instead of preventing it, it is right that a range of African countries should be the first port of call for extra troops.
The problem with having African solutions to African problems—desirable though that is—is that, in the short term, it is going to lead to the deaths of many thousands of people. As we have seen in Darfur, the African Union lacks the capacity to intervene effectively. If intervention is to come, it will have to come from elsewhere—either through reinforcing MONUC, as my right hon. Friend has said, or through some form of EU intervention along the lines of the French Operation Artemis five years ago.
I think that we are looking at a rather longer-term problem than Operation Artemis. That was a time-limited, three-month operation, as my hon. Friend will know, as a distinguished former Minister for Africa. In our view, MONUC is the right place in which to situate the command structures. We do not want competing command structures, and we need to ensure that, if commanders on the ground report that they need more troops, those troops can be found.
Why is the Foreign Secretary so against an EU force, given that France, Belgium and the Netherlands have said that they are prepared to send forces, and that an EU deployment would be possible under the lead nation concept? Given the urgency of the situation, and the improbability of any immediate reinforcements coming from within the African Union, is not the Foreign Secretary indulging in dangerous wishful thinking by putting the burden of responsibility entirely on African troops?
I am not seeking to put any gloss on the situation: no one who has been there could fail to realise the gravity of it. There is nothing to prevent European nations from contributing to the UN MONUC force; that is the right place to do it. However, I do not think that the Foreign Ministers of some of the countries that the hon. Gentleman cites as being keen to send forces are in quite the position he believes them to be in, but let us leave that to one side. It must be right that, rather than having two fighting forces from outside, we have one, under a single UN command structure, that can deliver. That is what we are trying to do.
When my right hon. Friend visited Rwanda, was he able to impress upon President Kagame his view that a political solution was absolutely vital and that, just as we expect President Kabila of the DRC to play his part, President Kagame must now insist that Rwanda should be on the side of peace, not of war?
Yes, it is evident that Rwanda has important responsibilities in this respect, and Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Minister, and I certainly impressed that on President Kagame, who made it clear that he and his country would fulfil their responsibilities. That is the significance of the regional process that has now been started.
The Foreign Secretary has emphasised what must happen in the medium to long term, but many hon. Members on both sides of the House have highlighted the catastrophic nature of what is happening in the short term. Many of us believe that, although there are 17,000 UN troops there, they do not have a proper, effective command structure; nor are they a deterrent to General Nkunda, who has now said that, in the event of the troops bringing pressure to bear on him, he would take military action against them. In the short term, what kind of effective military deterrent can we put in place to prevent Nkunda and the others from carrying out what is effectively genocide?
First, it is most important to reinforce the ceasefire and, secondly, to ensure that MONUC troops are properly deployed in the areas threatened by General Nkunda. There are 5,500 troops in the north Kivu province and 76 IDP—internally displaced persons—camps there, which makes the scale of the problem evident. Thirdly, all those with links to General Nkunda need to make it absolutely clear that they will not tolerate further activities of the sort that went on last week and in previous weeks.
The Prime Minister spoke to President-elect Obama last Thursday and offered him his warmest congratulations on his historic campaign and victory. We look forward to working with the new Administration further to develop the uniquely comprehensive relationship between our two countries. At the top of our agenda will be the international economic crisis, the middle east peace process, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and climate change.
Following the hugely encouraging victory of Senator Obama—and, above all, in view of Armistice day, when we remember the sacrifice of so many people from this country and our allies—what will the Government do to ensure that the new Administration promote not only good relationships between this country and the USA, but better relationships between the Presidents and people of the USA and Russia, our two great wartime allies?
I think that US-Russia relations are, in the first instance, a matter for the US and for Russia, but we can contribute by engaging Russia in debates about the future of the international system, of which it forms an important part. Secondly, we can ensure that nuclear non-proliferation remains at the heart of a shared agenda with Russia. Thirdly, we need to continue to give help—through the G8, for example—to the disarmament that Russia continues to take forward. There are obviously responsibilities on Russia as well: the President of Russia says that he does not want a new cold war, although the speech he gave last week was an odd way of showing it. It is important that Russia fulfils its responsibilities to the international system.
Are we not becoming enmeshed in American missile defence—without the debate promised by former Prime Minister Blair? Given President-elect Obama’s express doubts about missile defence and given that it is grossly expensive, hugely ineffective and extremely destabilising for Europe, should it not be a priority of our Government, working with the new American Administration, to look for a more constructive collective approach to security concerns?
In tandem with the new Administration, we will certainly look into a whole range of nuclear proliferation issues, including ballistic missile defence. I would say to my hon. Friend, however, that the countries in central and eastern Europe that are siting those missiles are taking sovereign decisions about their own security and defence. Furthermore, the current Administration in Washington offered to run the ballistic missile defence system jointly with the Russians, so it is a pity that the Russians did not take up that offer.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that an urgent priority for the Obama presidency—and, indeed, for that matter, for the British Government—is to ensure that we do not extend NATO membership to countries unless we are prepared ultimately to go to war in their defence? As there is not the slightest possibility of either the United States or the countries of western Europe going to war over countries such as Georgia or those like it whose territorial integrity might be threatened, will the right hon. Gentleman discuss with the American Administration other ways of enhancing the security of Georgia—by accelerating its membership of the EU, for example, as well as through other initiatives?
Yes, we will discuss a whole range of ways in which Russia’s neighbouring countries can give greater security and support—political and economic, including through the EU, as well as on the security front. We should certainly not welcome people into NATO unless they are willing to live up to all the obligations. I would say, however, that when the three Baltic countries joined NATO 10 years ago, many people asked whether they could ever be properly bound into a western security architecture, yet they have been—and they are far more secure for it. I absolutely assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the Georgian and Ukrainian cases will be decided on the basis of their merits, their capacity and the determination of their population to join. These countries must want to join; it is not just a matter of whether we allow them to.
President-elect Obama made absolutely clear his condemnation of the assassination of trade unionists in Columbia in Latin America. Does not that condemnation provide the opportunity to reposition ourselves in Columbia? If any assistance we gave went not to the military but to the social partners, the trade unionists, in Columbia, would we not at last be on the right side of the argument in that country?
I can say that, publicly and privately, we have been condemning the killing of trade unionists in Colombia for a long time, and will continue to do so. I can also say that the only military aid that we give to Colombia is for de-mining and human rights training; there is no question of the money leaking into other activities. We will certainly continue to press for reform in Colombia, because it is greatly needed.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the election of President-elect Obama offers a golden opportunity for a fresh start in the middle east? Will he and the Government, and Tony Blair in his role with the Quartet, seek to persuade the President-elect not to lose sight of the actions that are needed so urgently in the middle east as he concentrates on sorting out the domestic problems in the United States?
Yes. We have already addressed that issue once today, and I addressed it on election day, but we need the engagement of the American Administration from day one. If there is any lesson to be learnt from the Annapolis process, it is that it is not possible to wait until year seven to become fully engaged with the middle east.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is an appropriate time to encourage the American Administration to become more positively involved in international development issues, including conflict prevention and the implementation of the millennium development goals?
I do think it is important that America becomes fully engaged with development issues, and the size of its economy gives it a unique capacity to do so. Let me say to my right hon. Friend—I hope that he will still talk to me when I have said this—that of all the things the Bush Administration did, one of the most significant was their work on health issues. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] It would be nice to see a few of my hon. Friends expressing agreement as well. I am trying to persuade them.
May I draw to my right hon. Friend’s attention—in the nicest possible way, and without asking him to sign up to anything else—the significance of the $5 billion PETFAR health programme? Perhaps the best way of doing that is to point out that it provides an excellent basis on which the Obama Administration can build in strong and dramatic ways.
One of the foreign policy challenges that the United States Administration will face is the deteriorating situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the European Union and the new Administration should work together to prevent Bosnia from sliding back into crisis? Can he assure the House that the Office of the High Representative will remain open, and that there will be no question of withdrawing EU troops from Bosnia until genuine stability is returned and reforms are under way?
The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that the message of support for the five objectives and two conditions was at the heart of my visit to Bosnia yesterday. In meetings with leaders of all six political parties, I made absolutely clear our determination to follow up the letter that I composed jointly with the Czech Foreign Minister in July about the importance of the EU focusing on the Bosnia issue and the importance of sticking to the conditions that we have outlined for the future of the Office of the High Representative. I also spent two hours on the plane with the High Representative himself, discussing how he could work with the EU to ensure that his mandate was properly fulfilled.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was glad to join my right hon. Friend in meeting members of the Somaliland community in Cardiff last month to discuss links between the community and Somaliland. We are keen to encourage further links with the community, and are planning further meetings with officials.
I am sure that the whole House will wish to send its sympathy to the people of Somaliland following the recent suicide bombings that disrupted the peace and development of democratic institutions which had continued for the past 18 years. When our right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary visited Cardiff recently, he met leaders of the Somali community. I was particularly proud of the young Somali women from Fitzalan high school and the young Somali men from Butetown and Grangetown who said that they wanted to help build links back into the Somaliland community. Will Ministers encourage the diaspora to become involved particularly in work with schools in Somaliland, and will my hon. Friend join me in considering the possibility of internet links to help build pupil-to-pupil and teacher-to-teacher contacts between us and Somaliland?
We also condemn the appalling bombings, and I join my right hon. Friend in offering condolences and sympathy to all those affected. I also commend my right hon. Friend for the work he does in support of Somaliland, and I share his view that fostering links between young people is crucial. I am glad that, under the Department for International Development global schools partnership programmes, four primary schools in Somaliland are linked with primary schools in Cardiff, involving some 4,000 children in Somaliland. We also need to have virtual links between schools, so I am glad that the British Council is developing the online element of its connecting classrooms programme, to enable links to be made between parts of the world, particularly those areas where travel is dangerous.
Further to that question, what specifically are the Government doing to find a way forward in resolving the conflict in Somalia, which has real strategic implications not only for the horn of Africa, but beyond that for east Africa as well?
My hon. Friend is right to express that concern, and the UK is keen to help Somaliland continue to make progress. That is difficult, particularly where there are setbacks, such as on human rights. A political solution is what is needed, and we work with all our international partners to get that, and we seek the support of the African Union to ensure that Somalia and Somaliland find the correct political solution in the interests of all their people.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has discussed UK-Pakistan relations with Foreign Minister Qureshi on a number of occasions, and with President Zardari during the Friends of Pakistan meeting in September. We have a broad range of common interests, including the international financial crisis and the need to combat the threat from violent extremism.
The Minister will be aware that there is a significant Ahmadiyya community across this country, which is based in Southfields in my constituency. Is he raising the issue of the persecution of that community in Pakistan? If so, is he aware that recently two members of that community were brutally murdered in Pakistan? However, that is just the extreme end of a broader pattern of persecution that takes place daily. Will he raise this specific issue with the Pakistan Government to find out what pressure can be brought to bear to deal with this problem?
I agree with the hon. Lady: we are concerned about the two recent murders in the Ahmadiyya community. We fundamentally support religious freedom, and with our European Union partners we regularly raise concerns about the treatment of minority groups with the Government of Pakistan, and have stressed the fundamental interplay that exists between long-term security, a stable democracy and the importance of guaranteeing the rights and political participation of all Pakistani citizens. We will continue to make that argument.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the British embassy in Islamabad has stopped taking applications from Mirpur, which has made it extremely difficult for people there to have applications processed, as the nearest places at present are Lahore or the United Arab Emirates? Since there have been no terrorist activities in Mirpur, that situation should not continue.
I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns, and I know he has expressed them on a number of occasions. There is a balance to be struck. There are logistical and security concerns about the issuing of visas. We keep matters under review, but the current situation is as it stands.
Is the Minister aware that last week 14 new members of the Pakistan National Assembly were here in our Parliament under the auspices of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK branch? They were particularly interested in the development and evolution of parliamentary democracy in their country. They were also interested to know why in the past we supported in Pakistan an individual who certainly did not support parliamentary democracy. Is it our view that we can develop with the Government of Pakistan an improvement in parliamentary democracy in that country?
I am sure that my hon. Friend will be interested to know that several Pakistani MPs attended an Inter-Parliamentary Union human rights conference in Geneva last week. They thanked the IPU for the role that it had played in trying to help President Zardari, who had spent all those long years in jail, to get a fair trial. They singled out the IPU in particular, because they said that no other organisation gave assistance in the same way. What news does my hon. Friend have about the reinstatement of the judges in Pakistan, because it was of considerable concern to this country when, under emergency rule, they were all dismissed?
I share my right hon. Friend’s regard for the IPU’s work, not only in Pakistan but across the world. During the coalition discussions to resolve the issue of the restoration of the judiciary we certainly reiterated our position of attaching great importance to respect for the independence of the judiciary as a cornerstone of the rule of law. We supported the efforts of coalition leaders to find a solution. That remains our position, and we are pushing that argument forward very strongly.
Has the Minister had an opportunity to discuss with his Pakistani counterparts the effect of recent US military strikes on Pakistan? Could he tell us the Government’s view of military action that takes place in Pakistan that is not authorised or approved by its Government?
That is an operational matter—[Hon. Members: “It is not.”] It is an operational matter that should be, and is, discussed between the Pakistani authorities and the United States. The Government of Pakistan are making great efforts to control security in the border area, and it is very important that both we and the United States work closely with the Pakistani authorities in support of that.
Stability in Pakistan will be difficult to achieve while the Kashmir conundrum continues. Does the Minister welcome President-elect Obama’s underlining of Kashmir as an issue that America will have to address? Does the Minister also agree that the presence of half a million Indian troops in Kashmir means that Pakistan keeps most of its military on its eastern flank, instead of focusing on its western flank and helping us in Afghanistan?
Ministers in all three Departments regularly discuss and co-ordinate our strategy and policies on Afghanistan. To complement ministerial-level working, the cross-departmental Afghanistan senior officials group and the Afghanistan strategy group also meet regularly.
In reviewing the co-ordination efforts, will the Minister examine the US model, in which the army is able to undertake aid and reconstruction efforts? Military victories become hearts and minds victories, because local people can see positive evidence on the ground that a victory means that they get something worth while in the way of aid and reconstruction.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s underlying comment that there needs to be a multifaceted approach in Afghanistan. Although that has a military component, it also contains political, economic, aid and other elements. There needs to be a follow-on from military activities, and we are very much engaged in that area.
When the Foreign Secretary meets President Karzai, will he take the opportunity to address the issue of the number of people in Afghanistan awaiting the death sentence? I understand that the judges have dramatically increased that number, to 125 or so. Can he make specific approaches to Afghanistan not to go down a route that would bring such international opprobrium?
I know that my hon. Friend takes a real interest in these issues, and we have been consistent in articulating our policy on the death penalty. We have also raised specific concerns, for example about the case of the journalists, and we will continue to put forward our view to President Karzai and other members of his Government.
Let me be clear: we need greater burden-sharing by all our partners and allies and we are not anticipating further British troop commitments at the moment. Part of the longer term solution is the development of capacity in the Afghan national army, and therefore the recent agreement by the Afghan Government to expand the army’s capacity from 80,000 to 122,000 troops is very welcome.
As I recall, the most recent United Nations survey shows a reduction of roughly 19 per cent. reduction in poppy cultivation, and the number of poppy-free provinces has increased from 13 to 18. I do not deny that we and the Afghan authorities continue to face a significant challenge, but it is fundamentally in our national interest to address it, given that 95 per cent. of the heroin that ends up on British streets derives from Afghanistan.
Following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), is it not extraordinary that the EU is making grants and encouraging people to grow poppies in this country when we are bearing down on people growing poppies in Afghanistan? Is that not most illogical?
The Foreign Secretary met his Russian opposite number on 25 September to discuss Iran. He also took part in a meeting of E3 plus 3 Foreign Ministers on 26 September. Political directors from the E3 plus 3 last met on 19 September and are scheduled to meet again on 13 November. An official from our embassy in Moscow most recently discussed Iran with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 16 October.
Over the past few years, Russia has used energy as a weapon to bully other countries. Is it therefore a credible option to offer the Iranians Russian fuel as a way out of the nuclear impasse? Is it not about time that the United States and the west went their own way with some imaginative thinking in trying to solve the Iranian problem, rather than waiting for an ever more totalitarian Russia and an ambivalent China?
Part of the resolution of that problem has to be to ensure the meeting of the legitimate civilian nuclear needs of Iran, and Russia can be helpful in that regard. However, we should be in no doubt that significant concerns remain about the willingness of the Iranian Government to engage with safeguard provision. We need to press them through sanctions and other measures. A significant offer is on the table from the E3 plus 3 process and we have to push internationally for Iran to engage with that process.
Russian has supported all five UN Security Council resolutions in respect of Iran’s nuclear obligations. It remains the case that we expect all our partners in the E3 plus 3 process to do everything possible to fulfil their commitments to stop Iran generating and developing nuclear capability.
On the nuclear issue, yes, I believe that that is the case. On five occasions at the Security Council Russia has voted with us in respect of those resolutions, urging Iran to engage. We expect all our partners to fulfil their commitments to stop Iran getting that nuclear capability, and we believe that they will work with us.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if we want to build better co-operation with Russia on the subject of Iran and the nuclear issue, the strident anti-Russian remarks of the likes of the shadow Foreign Secretary are not at all helpful?
Today, I led a service of remembrance in the Foreign Office for those members of the diplomatic service who have lost their lives while serving the country. I am sure that the whole House will want to express its support for the families who bear a lifetime’s burden from that loss.
Yesterday, the General Affairs and External Relations Council of the European Union discussed Bosnia and Herzegovina, following which I visited Sarajevo, where I relayed the European Union’s deep concern at the pace of reform and the domestic political climate. The Government are committed to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s European perspective, but Bosnian politicians must find a constructive way forward within the Dayton framework.
Today of all days, as we remember all those who have fallen in the past 90 years, will the Foreign Secretary renew with the President-elect of the United States his commitment to insist on maintaining a fair share of the burden of troops in Afghanistan and other theatres of war? Will he also take this opportunity to ensure that other European Union countries maintain their fair share of the burden?
It is not just the military burden that needs to be fairly shared, but the economic and political burden, too. There are 42 countries contributing militarily to the coalition and it is vital that we all play an appropriate role. President-elect Obama’s plans on the military side have received more coverage than his plans on the economic and political side, but they are equally important. We certainly propose to continue to fulfil our responsibilities.
My hon. Friend makes the very important point that climate change is now seen as a foreign policy and security issue, not merely an environmental issue. The first step is obviously for the European Union to agree a strong climate package in December, but we will be working with the new Administration to ensure that the efforts of American states, cities and businesses are brought together nationally and joined with European efforts.
At the previous Foreign Office questions, the Foreign Secretary confirmed that the criteria for the resumption of the EU-Russia partnership talks included Russian compliance with all six points of the ceasefire agreement and the return of ethnic Georgian refugees to their homes. Russia remains in clear breach of the ceasefire agreement, because Russian troops have not withdrawn to their pre-war positions. EU ceasefire monitors are still denied entry to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Georgian refugees have not been able to return home, yet the Government have now agreed to the resumption of the EU partnership talks with Russia. Will the Foreign Secretary explain the consistency between his remarks in the House last month and his actions this month?
I rightly referred to a range of criteria that we would use, the most important of which was whether we would be able to pursue our aims in respect of the territorial integrity of Georgia through the negotiations. The current partnership and co-operation agreement—PCA—includes no mention of the territorial integrity of Georgia, whereas the mandate for the PCA negotiations states clearly that the Council and the Commission will pursue a settlement of the frozen conflicts in the Republic of Moldova and Georgia, respecting the principle of territorial integrity. That means that the PCA gives us the chance to take forward those principles, and that is what we will do.
I think that that answer means that the Foreign Secretary will make no attempt to explain any inconsistency between his remarks last month and his actions this month. What he said last month was in line with the EU summit of 1 September, which said that the implementation of the ceasefire agreement “has to be complete”. I realise that in the past couple of weeks he has probably been overruled by the Prime Minister—or, more alarmingly, by the Business Secretary—but does it not show extraordinary weakness for the Government and the EU to be unable to stick to a firm position for even three months on an agreement that the EU itself sponsored and negotiated? What sort of message does that send to Russia about the future? In our dealings with Russia, do we not need to demonstrate consistency and strategic patience, and does not what he has agreed make this country and our partners look incapable of either?
No. The right hon. Gentleman is kidding himself if he thinks that the continued suspension of the talks would punish Russia. It would not: instead, it would isolate him and, if he were standing on this side of the House, Britain. I spoke to the President of Georgia both last night and last week, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe met Georgia’s Foreign Minister yesterday. They did not object to the recommencement of the PCA talks, but they made it clear that they wanted economic, political and security support for Georgia’s territorial integrity. That is what we have offered: frankly, if that is good enough for them, it should be good enough for him.
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I know that she takes this matter very seriously and that she has constituents who have great concerns about the situation in Sri Lanka. The European Commissioner for External Relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, and the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Louis Michel, have expressed concern about the situation in Sri Lanka. Both have appealed to the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to ensure human rights and security, in line with international humanitarian law. They are also looking at whether the funding from the EU has been accompanied by the commitment to human rights that is expected when such funding is received. I shall be happy to write to her with a further update on the matter.
I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with more detail on the issues that he has raised. My understanding is that part of what the World Service is doing is to look at where people access the service most. One thing that it is considering is expanding the service through the internet, as it has found that many more people in Russia want to access the service through that medium than want to use the radio service. These are BBC decisions, but we want to make sure that services are well provided and in a way that is in tune with the sort of media that younger people in particular use today.
I met the Egyptian Foreign Minister in Marseilles last Monday at the EU Mediterranean summit. It is fair to say that at that stage he was still working very hard to ensure that the reconciliation meeting happened over the weekend just gone. It did not happen because Hamas pulled out, which is obviously regrettable. I think that it is important that the Egyptian Government are given every encouragement for their work in supporting the elected leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and in uniting the Palestinian people under his leadership.
The Foreign Secretary has said that the No. 1 priority for discussion with the new American Administration will be the international economic crisis. When he and the Prime Minister engage with the Administration, may I caution them not to repeat that the crisis was entirely born in the United States? Otherwise, it will bring about the very proper retort that Her Majesty’s Government have rather more than their fair share of blame.
With the greatest respect, I think that is a rather foolish thing to say, as President-elect Obama has spent the last 22 months saying that the economic crisis was born in Washington DC and New York, at the hands of the current Administration. So I do not think that we will have any problems at all forging a strong partnership with the new Administration.
I am happy to confirm that we are determined to see properly implemented the 2005 agreement between Israel and the European Union governing products from the occupied territories. It is certainly our intention to see that the agreement is properly implemented.
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. It is because we must not lose the focus on, or recognition of, the importance of Darfur and Sudan that I met the Vice-President of Sudan in New York on 26 September. I discussed with him the importance not just of the elections in 2009, but of the referendum plan for 2011 and preparation for it. Obviously, it is vital that the north-south track is maintained under the comprehensive peace agreement, that the situation in Darfur remains at the heart of the humanitarian effort, and that proper relations with Chad are not forgotten.
May I return to the subject of Bosnia and Herzegovina? Is the Foreign Secretary satisfied that Serbia is playing a constructive part in talking to the Serbian population within Bosnia to try to bring about a realistic solution?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, which I discussed last Tuesday and Wednesday in Serbia. I discussed it again this morning with the Serbian Foreign Minister, and I discussed it with the Serbian President and Foreign Minister last week. Serbia has an important role to play. The Serbian Government said to me very clearly that they want to exercise a stabilising and responsible role in the region, and we certainly plan to work with them to deliver on that.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend. We regard all settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories as illegal under international law, and settlement construction is a serious obstacle in the peace process. In a very real sense, Israel is already under an obligation not to expand settlements. However, I do not agree with him on a chapter VII resolution. Such a resolution would imply that all the movement is necessary on one side, whereas in reality we all know that we need movement on both sides.
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. It is absolutely vital that all those who live in Bosnia and Herzegovina feel that they have a stake in their future. That is what we are attempting to ensure, in co-operation with other EU partners and the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, whom I was pleased to meet last week. We have to make sure that we can focus on the big picture, which is security and prosperity for all who live in that country, but security for that part of the Balkans is also an important factor.
Will the Secretary of State look at the situation facing the Tibetan community in Nepal? Following anti-Chinese demonstrations, a number of Tibetans face extradition to China, and have been denied entry to India. Considering Britain’s relationships with Nepal, our history and relations with India and the fact that Britain occupied Tibet for the best part of 40 years at the beginning of the last century, what can the Secretary of State do for the Tibetan community there?
I am aware of the concerns that the hon. Gentleman has expressed. We are, through our embassy, discussing those matters, and the recent change to our policy on Tibet means that we are now in a position to focus forcefully on the issue of human rights and the need in the Chinese constitution for greater regional autonomy. We are now in a position to push those issues very strongly.
I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend, but it is not for the Government to comment on the monetary policy of the central bank of the eurozone, not only because the UK is not a member of the eurozone but because it is absolutely right that monetary policy should be set independently, which is why we gave the Bank of England independence in 1997. However, I am pleased that the European Investment Bank is providing €30 billion, which is available to small businesses, to support them in the months ahead. That clearly demonstrates that there is a role for the EU to add value to what national Governments can do, and I am pleased that, as a Government, we can play a constructive part in making sure that that happens.
Given that the Government of Burma continue to practise some of the most bestial human rights abuses to be witnessed anywhere on the face of the planet, will the Foreign Secretary tell the House what steps he has taken to work with his counterparts in the United Nations Security Council to try to bring about a binding resolution that will bring the regime to book and offer the people of Burma the freedom and justice that we have so long enjoyed and which they have so long been denied?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question, and I pay tribute to the work that he does on that subject. The situation in Burma remains one of our highest priorities. If the UN Secretary-General visits later this year, that visit would have our full support. Indeed, I hope in the next couple of days to discuss that matter in New York at the United Nations. The junta’s road-map process and the elections planned for 2010 lack all credibility, and that is a message that we need to send out loud and clear.
My constituents were appalled to read in the British press of a 13-year-old girl in Somalia who was gang-raped. When the authorities heard of the gang rape, they sentenced her to be stoned to death as punishment. What steps have the British Government taken to send a clear message to the Government of Somalia that that is certainly not the sort of behaviour that we condone, and can we take that up at international level? If women and children cannot be protected, what hope have we of a peaceful world?
I share my hon. Friend’s outrage, and we, too, utterly condemn that barbaric practice. That tragic incident occurred in the city of Kismayo, which is under the control of radical Islamic insurgents. The Somali Government have no control in that area, and international agencies are unable to act. We deplore that horrific incident, and call on those responsible to act with restraint and in accordance with the peaceful tenets of Islam.
Remembrance day bank holiday
Mr. Frank Field, presented a Bill to designate 11th November as an annual public holiday in the United Kingdom; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 21 November, and to be printed. [Bill 162].
Police (Justice Commissioners)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the replacement of police authorities with elected justice commissioners; to make provisions regarding the duties and powers of justice commissioners; and for connected purposes.
Louise Casey, the Government’s Home Office adviser, is right: there has indeed been a collapse in trust in the criminal justice system. The Government’s former respect tsar is right to be concerned about surveys that show that only one third of people still have great confidence in the police. Louise Casey is not alone in recognising that public confidence in the administration of public justice is beginning to break down. The Secretary of State for Justice said recently that the justice system needed to “get tough” with criminals, and there has been no shortage of Home Secretaries and Ministers talking about the need to make the criminal justice system work, or of Westminster insiders talking about the need to get tough on crime. The trouble is that that is all it is—just talk.
Politicians are largely powerless to fight crime, and they are not able to make the criminal justice system work for those who elect them. We might fight elections with lots of talk about fighting crime, but policing today is almost entirely outside democratic control, and no one, least of all those in this Chamber, likes to admit it. At election time, national or local, the candidates of all major parties wearily pledge to “put more bobbies on the beat”, but they promise something that it is not in their gift to deliver. The deployment of police personnel is wholly at the discretion of chief constables, and the only voice that elected representatives have is as a minority on police authorities, which is perhaps one of the many reasons why voters, hearing the ritualistic promise of more police but never seeing much change, have increasingly given up on the whole charade.
Today, I propose a different approach. Let us imagine that local people, not Home Office officials, determined the priorities of the police where we lived. What if we, as local residents, could hold our local chief constable directly to account for fighting crime? Let us suppose that the justice commissioners we elected to our county or city decided how to deploy resources, and had to decide whether to spend their budgets on more patrols or on more speed cameras, and then stood for re-election on the basis of their record.
The link between police and the public was a founding principle of the police force. Sir Robert Peel said:
“The police are the public and the public are the police,”
and, indeed, lip service is still paid to that notion. The Metropolitan Police Service’s expensive logo at Scotland Yard proclaims: “Working together for a safer London”. But behind that façade sit thousands of police officers doing anything but working together with the community. We do not need more top-down crime and disorder reduction partnerships, more Whitehall initiatives, or more community safety plans imposed on local communities; we need recognition that the tripartite system established under the Police Act 1964 is broken. Chief constables are much more accountable to Home Office target-setters than to local people, and through targets, funding streams, audit and inspection, the Home Office has imposed de facto national control over police forces.
Police authorities, which are supposedly the third pillar of tripartite accountability, are not up to the job, because they fail to hold chief constables effectively to account, and they do a poor job representing local people. Police authorities are largely appointed, and some are quangos with local worthies but without democratic verve. Too often, the authorities see it as their job to defend “their” chief constable against attacks on his or her performance; instead, they should hold the chief constable to account. Few people know that police authorities exist, and even fewer know who sits on them.
My Bill would abolish police authorities. Instead, a simple, effective and transparent system of local accountability should be introduced: directly elected individual justice commissioners. Justice commissioners would appoint and dismiss chief constables, set targets for the force, make their own policing plans and control their own budgets, which would be allocated as a block grant. Initially, there would be one commissioner for every one of the 43 police forces in England and Wales, but, in time, it would make sense to bring the forces into line with local government boundaries. My Bill would enshrine in law the operational independence of chief constables. It is possible to have policing that is both democratically accountable and operationally independent of untoward interference. Where there was a directly elected mayor whose jurisdiction was congruent with a police force area—a situation that currently occurs only in London—the mayor would exercise the function of the justice commissioner.
The criminal justice system is not, however, simply about chasing criminals through the streets. Criminal justice is about pursuing wrongdoers through the courts, determining their guilt or innocence and managing offenders justly. People are losing confidence in the criminal justice system not merely because of failures of policing, but because of failures further downstream. Some have argued that we need a measure of justice commissioner involvement in prosecution, although it is not included in my Bill. Similarly, there is a case to be made—I stress that I am not making it today—for a joined-up system of criminal justice that allows the justice commissioner some involvement in probation. That might give greater local legitimacy to some of the more compassionate and just forms of offender management that we now need.
Throughout the ages, those opposed to greater democracy have argued that things are best left to the experts—so, too, with those opposed to democratic policing. They say that it is too technical, too difficult and too sensitive and that it is far better left to qualified professionals rather than elected populists. Really? Are they thinking of the same qualified professionals who presided over one of the highest per capita crime rates in the western world, or of the legal system that sends a seventh-conviction burglar to prison for an average of 21 months?
Is there perhaps a danger that a rabid populist might take charge of local policing? Not at all. The police would remain entirely operationally independent. The law would still be the law, and it would continue to be enforced without fear or favour. As for populist politicians, we might well end up with a Rudy Giuliani or a Ray Mallon in every town.
However, better that we have a Rudy Giuliani or a Ray Mallon—or a Sarah Palin—than another Sir Ian Blair.
Others oppose the idea on the grounds that it would lead to postcode lottery policing, but that is nonsense. Postcode lottery policing is precisely what we have today. If random chance meant that people happened to have a chief constable who thought it was okay to smoke cannabis, what could they do about it? If luck had it that a person’s chief of police believed that speed cameras were a good thing and that person did not, there would be little point in their complaining. Localism in policing means accepting that there would be local asymmetries, but there would be nothing random—no lottery—about it. Differences would be shaped consciously by local choices. For example, the justice commissioner of Essex might well endorse a zero-tolerance attitude to drunken public disorder behaviour problems, whereas the justice commissioner for Suffolk favoured toleration. One of two things would then happen: either Essex stag parties would flood across the county border in such numbers that the people of Suffolk would elect a tougher justice commissioner, or the good people of Essex would demand a justice commissioner who took a more relaxed approach to boisterous nights out. We Westminster politicians do not know what people would choose, and that is the essence of localism.
When I published a book calling for direct democratic policing in 2002, a Member of Parliament told me that my proposal was profoundly unConservative. Indeed it is—and so, in a sense, am I. We can do better than the status quo. Members from both sides of the House are sponsoring this Bill and I hope that hon. Members from all parties will now back it.
I shall speak only briefly, but I really think that this is an awful lot of populist claptrap. The best remark of all came originally not from me but from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), who is sitting in front of me and was the first to make the remark about Sarah Palin; I gladly attribute it to a splendid colleague.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Carswell) destroyed his own case in his last few remarks about the differences that there could be between police forces in Essex and Suffolk. They were nonsense. At the moment, we are working hard in the United Kingdom to have the closest possible cross-border co-operation between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Garda Siochana in the Republic of Ireland. I was in Northern Ireland talking to police leaders only a couple of weeks ago. Sir Hugh Orde appeared before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee only last week, and it makes complete sense to have that sort of co-ordination. To politicise the police in the way that has been suggested—[Interruption.] Of course it would politicise the police; people would stand for election on party tickets and for populist policies. Frankly, the Bill is a prescription for anarchy and disaster, and I cannot support it.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Douglas Carswell, Mr. Frank Field, Mrs. Nadine Dorries, Mr. Mark Field, Mr. Philip Hollobone, Mr. Richard Shepherd, Mr. Peter Bone, Mr. Charles Walker, Mr. Graham Allen, Mr. Stephen Crabb and Daniel Kawczynski.
Police (Justice Commissioners)
Mr. Douglas Carswell accordingly presented a Bill to provide for the replacement of police authorities with elected justice commissioners; to make provisions regarding the duties and powers of justice commissioners; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 21 November, and to be printed [Bill 161].
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of adding capacity to Heathrow.
I am grateful to the House and to the business managers for agreeing to this debate. I very much welcome this opportunity to discuss the issues surrounding the future development of Heathrow airport. It is of course not the first debate on this subject in the House, but it is the first time that I have had the opportunity of taking part as Secretary of State for Transport. I am looking forward to hearing the views of right hon. and hon. Members. I know that many here today have particular points that they wish to make about Heathrow; indeed, some have previously asked to meet me personally. However, with the consultation on Heathrow now closed, it would have been extremely difficult for me to meet particular individuals or interested parties without invoking criticism that they were being given undue influence. That is why I asked for this debate to take place. The great benefit of today’s proceedings is that they are on the record and give all Members an equal opportunity to have their say before any final decisions are taken.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly) informed the House in her written ministerial statement on 8 July, I hope to announce my decision on whether, and if so how, additional capacity might be added at Heathrow before the end of the year. It is right that we bring this period of uncertainty to an end as soon as practically possible for the benefit of the people directly affected and for the country as a whole. However, it is also right that we carefully and thoroughly review all the available evidence before reaching our conclusions. That is precisely what we are doing.
The House will be aware that the Government completed a very extensive consultation on the future development of Heathrow earlier this year. I am acutely aware that airport development in general, and the future of Heathrow in particular, arouses strong feelings. Indeed, we received almost 70,000 responses to the consultation from individuals and organisations across a whole spectrum of views. It is worth emphasising at this stage that this consultation was not about the need for new capacity at Heathrow. The Government made clear their views in the 2003 White Paper “The Future of Air Transport”, which supported the case for future development of Heathrow, including a further new runway and additional terminal capacity.
If I could make a little more progress, I will give way in due course.
We recognised at the time that this would have implications for people around Heathrow, which is why we have made that commitment subject to meeting stringent local environmental conditions. Let me remind the House of what those conditions are. First, we must meet our European obligations with regard to local air quality. That means that pollution from particulates and nitrogen dioxide must be within prescribed limits by the time any capacity changes are implemented.
In a moment.
Secondly, there is a commitment not to increase the size of the area significantly affected by aircraft noise. We measure this by reference to the 57 dB noise contour, which is a measure of the average exposure to aircraft noise over a typical 16-hour day. We take as our benchmark the size of that area in 2002—the latest data available before publication of the 2003 White Paper—which was 127 sq km. Thirdly, there is an expectation that any airport development should be accompanied by measures to improve public transport access to the airport, particularly by rail.
I undertook to give way in a moment. If the hon. Lady will wait, I shall set the scene and set out the principles. It is important that the House should have this opportunity. I will certainly give way when we get on to the detail.
We have since undertaken a three-year programme of technical analysis to assess whether these conditions can be met for a new runway given the construction time frame, as well as for the other options we set out for adding capacity at the airport. I will return to these conditions in more detail later in my speech.
After that work had concluded, the consultation launched in November last year invited views on three different options: first, a third runway with a new terminal around 2020; secondly, mixed-mode landing and take-off patterns within existing capacity around 2010 and a third runway with a new terminal around 2020; and, thirdly, mixed-mode within existing capacity around 2010, full mixed-mode around 2015 and a third runway with a new terminal around 2020. The mixed-mode process involves using each runway for both landings and landings and take-offs—the kind of operation that happens now at any single-runway airport such as Gatwick or Stansted. At Heathrow, however, it would mean aircraft arriving and departing on both runways, in contrast to the current practice of runway alternation, whereby aircraft normally arrive on one runway and depart from the other. Mixed-mode operations could provide additional runway capacity in the period before a third runway could be operational.
In two seconds, if the hon. Lady will be patient.
That could also bring an added degree of resilience to the airport, even without increasing traffic levels, as it would provide greater flexibility in the use of the two runways and an improved ability to manage air traffic during periods of congestion or bad weather.
How does the Secretary of State reconcile his repeated statements that he is in favour of a third runway at Heathrow—statements echoed repeatedly by the Prime Minister—with the fact that the consultation has only just closed? Surely the consultation that they have carried out has been a complete sham, because his mind is made up, and has been for a long time—as has the Prime Minister’s.
In a sense, I am sorry to have given way. I set out the position very precisely for the hon. Lady. It is set out in the White Paper: it is that the Government supported the expansion of Heathrow on the basis of capacity in the 2003 White Paper, subject to the clear environmental conditions—the local environmental conditions—that have to be met. I have just set out the answer—
I am going to make a little progress. I will give way in a moment.
The question of capacity—this is important, and I hope that the hon. Lady pays better attention—is not a new one for Heathrow. The need for new runway capacity in the south-east has been under review in one form or another since 1990, including a runway capacity study that ran for 3 years from 1990 to 1993 and regional air studies from 1999 to 2003.
I will give way in a second.
Indeed, the need for new capacity was recognised by the Opposition when they were in government. As recently as 1995, my predecessor, the noble Lord Mawhinney, told this House that he recognised there was
“a strong case for additional runway capacity in the south-east”.—[Official Report, 2 February 1995; Vol. 253, c. 859W.]
In a second.
There are now more than 1 million flights a year. That is what has changed—the need for new capacity has got greater. And in response, the Opposition have collapsed into incoherence on the issue. Airport capacity throughout the United Kingdom was fully explored in the run-up to the 2003 White Paper. At the time, that was the largest transport policy consultation we had ever undertaken, attracting around half a million responses. The scale of the consultations to date clearly illustrates how important aviation is to the country and to the lives of the many people it touches directly or indirectly. It also highlights the vital need for the Government to take long-term, strategic approaches to future UK airport capacity. These are not questions that can be fudged for politically expedient reasons.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that what has changed is that we now understand the threat of climate change? A Climate Change Bill is passing through Parliament, and his right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change has said that unless Britain plays its part in the coming Copenhagen meeting, there will be no solution. To have a consultation that excludes the wider environmental issues is a sham. We are talking not about narrow, party political or local issues, but the future of Britain and the world.
The right hon. Gentleman has an extremely distinguished record on such matters and has consistently argued his case on environmental protection. Sadly, he has rarely influenced his Front Benchers, either in government or since the Conservatives have been in opposition. [Interruption.] Conservative Front Benchers scoff, but the right hon. Gentleman has consistently and rightly argued for European and international co-operation on protecting the environment. Conservative Front Benchers have singularly failed to address those matters. Unless they deal with the need for European co-operation to protect the environment, their policies amount to nothing other than “cheap, populist clap-trap”, to quote the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack).
I am shocked that the Secretary of State refers to the Conservative party’s stance as “cheap, populist clap-trap”. It is not cheap, populist clap-trap to want to stand up for the quality of life of millions of people who live around Heathrow. It is not cheap, populist clap-trap to care about the way we deliver the 80 per cent. cuts in carbon emissions that the Government signed up to only weeks ago.
The hon. Lady is a distinguished former Member of the European Parliament. In those days, I know that she valued European co-operation—she sought to be elected to the European Parliament. Somehow, she appears to have abandoned her commitment to Europe since then.
I came into the Chamber and heard the hon. Gentleman use the phrase “populist clap-trap” in describing the proposals made by one of his colleagues. I apologise unreservedly for applying it to a different colleague—though the effect is the same.
The 2003 White Paper sought to provide a strategic framework for the development of aviation in the United Kingdom over the next 30 years. It offered a measured and balanced approach to the question of forecast growth, while dealing with the impact of aviation on our environment, including its effect on climate change.
After careful consideration, the Government decided to support the provision of just two new runways in the south-east, for which the overall case was strongest, and we also supported the development of the United Kingdom’s regional airports.
My hon. Friend is right, and I will deal with that shortly. Notwithstanding the bluster from those on the Opposition Front Bench, the Government have led the way in arguing the case for including aviation and shipping in the European emissions trading scheme, and we have succeeded in those negotiations.
My right hon. Friend spoke about a strategy for developing aviation. Would not any half-decent strategy include economic factors? Should not those economic factors include, for example, the £9 billion that the aviation industry gains from its tax-free status for fuel and freedom from VAT? Why do we not factor in the costs of community destruction and climate change, noise and air pollution, as the White Paper did not? It is not too late to do so now.
That is the precise approach for which Stern argued in his report. He said that there was an economic cost to pollution. I assure my hon. Friend that that is built into our assessments.
I want to deal with the wider context because aviation has enjoyed remarkable growth in recent decades. The increase in the number of flights and of worldwide destinations that can be reached from UK airports has greatly benefited British business, offering faster and more convenient connections to global markets. That is crucial for a trading nation in a global economy.
Just as important—this is sometimes forgotten in debates about airport development—is the fact that the growth of aviation has helped to democratise air travel. More people than ever can now travel abroad at lower cost. At our regional airports, such as East Midlands airport, the destination board looks positively exotic, with regular flights to everywhere from Goa in India to Dalaman in Turkey to Banjul in The Gambia. Previous generations of ordinary hard-working families would not have imagined such mobility and freedom possible.
In a second.
Today, international travel is no longer the preserve of the wealthy, although it is fair to say that the better-off are taking advantage of far more flights than even they might have made in the past. However, the real point is that everyone is benefiting. The number of international flights taken by UK residents more than trebled between 1986 and 2006. That meant that in 2006, UK residents made on average one international flight a year, whereas in 1986 that figure was one flight between three people. In the past 12 months, more than half the population took at least two flights.
To illustrate what that means in practice for our constituents, let me take an example chosen not entirely at random. The latest census data show that the leafy north London seat of Chipping Barnet has a population of 103,000 people. Using those UK averages, we can calculate that more than 50,000 constituents of the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) took at least two flights in the past 12 months. Of course it is also important to bear in mind the fact that some 50 per cent. of the hon. Lady’s constituents are in managerial occupations and so tend to use air travel even more.
I hope that the hon. Lady will be explicit to her constituents about the implications of her party’s position: less frequent, less reliable and more expensive flights. Moreover, she will have to explain to her constituents that if she gets her way, instead of making the 25-mile journey to Heathrow, they will have to get used to flying to Paris or Schiphol for a connecting flight. The number of passengers passing through UK airports has also grown rapidly, from 32 million in 1970 to 241 million in 2007, a rise of around 650 per cent.
That is of course the case, but the reality is that there is enormous demand for flights from Heathrow that has not been satisfied in recent years. That is precisely why the right hon. Gentleman’s former colleague, the noble Lord Mawhinney, made the statement to which I referred earlier. The right hon. Gentleman’s Government—the Government whom he consistently supported—were looking at capacity in the south-east in the early 1990s. He knows that full well. Therefore, as a distinguished Member of the House, he ought to be able to explain rather more effectively than those now on his Front Bench why his party’s policy has changed so dramatically on the basis of a massive increase in the number of flights, albeit without any explanation of how that capacity will arise.
Our policy has not changed as a matter of fact, but may I draw the Secretary of State back to the 2003 White Paper, on which he has predicated so much of his speech today? Does he not accept that the world has moved on significantly since 2003, both for the reasons that the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) gave and because of the potential for high-speed rail and the developments in transport elsewhere? It is simply unwise to rely on a 2003 White Paper to work out what should happen to aviation in 2008. Will he therefore revisit the major concerns, rather than concentrating this debate solely on the environmental consequences, important though they are, for the communities around Heathrow?
If the hon. Gentleman has studied the White Paper as carefully as I hope he has, he will have noticed that we are talking about the requirements for this country’s aviation to 2030. As I have referred to the previous Conservative Government looking into capacity in the early 1990s and concluding by 1995 that Heathrow was already full in a practical sense, let me make it clear that even if we decided to go ahead today, which clearly we will not, it would be at least 2020 before a further runway was available and a further terminal constructed. That means that some 30 years would have elapsed on a decision that was being considered by the previous Conservative Government in the early 1990s.
It is therefore wrong to suggest that the issue can be determined on the basis of this year’s or next year’s forecast. We are talking about a strategic decision. It is disappointing that the Conservative Opposition have, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying so, simply adopted the rather short-term approach that is characteristic of the Liberal Democrats.
I am not giving way; I am going to make some progress.
In part, the changes that I have outlined are a function of cheaper travel, but they are also a reflection of how the world is changing and getting smaller. Family and friends are travelling between countries more easily, but they are also staying in touch by coming back home from time to time. People visiting friends and relatives account for some 23 per cent. of total air travel today, compared with 15 per cent. in 1995. We may be entering difficult economic times, but it is important to remember, as I have already mentioned to the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), that we are talking about a long-term strategic issue. The air transport White Paper is a 30-year plan and forecasts must be seen in a similar light.
My right hon. Friend is talking about the real impact that is felt by our constituents of the developments at Heathrow and the fact that people are travelling more. My constituents supported terminal 5. At the public inquiry, we were promised a cap of 480,000 flights and told that there would be no third runway. We are now experiencing the consequences of travel to Heathrow along the M4 and inadequate surface transport infrastructure. He has not suggested any plans to deal with that. We cannot contemplate a third runway when we are operating the M4 at 105 per cent. of capacity today.
I will come to the question of public transport and the third test that was set out in the White Paper, so if my hon. Friend can be patient, I will deal with her point in due course.
It is important that we are not planning for this winter or next summer. What Heathrow needs and this country deserves is a long-term, strategic plan for aviation in the United Kingdom.
I will give way in a second.
We remain confident in the robustness of our forecasts. Indeed, only last year, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) argued that
“it’s unrealistic to think aviation is not going to grow”.
I would welcome any indication from the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet that she agrees with that. If she does, she needs to say where the growth will take place. She rejected any expansion at Stansted and Heathrow, so where does the Conservative party believe that expansion is going to take place? This is not only about greater personal freedom.
The Secretary of State has repeated that he is interested in a long-term, strategic solution to the problems of British aviation. He is as aware as anyone that the constraint imposed by the Heathrow site—it is surrounded by residential communities and all flight paths have to go over them—means that there must be a limit to its expansion. There cannot simply be more runways and terminals as the years go by. Will he give some thought to, for example, a feasibility study for a Thames estuary airport or some equivalent? Aviation will doubtless grow. Such a study would enable us to feel that, in the long term, there could be a solution that could enable it to grow without causing untold misery for all the communities that are currently affected by it.
I will deal with the proposals for an estuary airport in due course, but may I make clear to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that some 400 different sites were considered in the run-up to the production of the 2003 White Paper? That included a significant number of potential sites in the estuary as well as others close by, on the land abutting the estuary. He is not able to say with any accuracy that the Government have failed thoroughly to consider that, because it was thoroughly considered in the run-up to the 2003 White Paper.
I am going to make a little more progress before I give way again.
I have been describing the expansion in the demand for aviation. It is not only about greater personal freedom and keeping in touch with far-flung friends and family. Aviation in general continues to make a significant contribution to the UK economy. It brings in around £11 billion a year, and it supports 200,000 jobs directly, and many more indirectly.
As one distinguished commentator from The Times has said:
“If we’re going to remain competitive in the future, then of course we’re going to have to ensure that we have the capacity to allow goods and individuals to move freely into and out of this country”.
Who am I to argue with the insight and wisdom of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) on this matter? It is therefore crucial that we continue to protect Britain’s position and plan for the long term. To those who propose that we sit on our hands and do nothing, I ask: what are the alternatives? Are we to ration flights? Are we to go back to a situation in which only the rich can travel abroad, a policy that many Opposition Members actually favour? The practical consequence of their policy would be to export jobs to the continent. That is what would happen if the Conservative party got its way. Those are the real questions for this debate which the Conservative party must address and answer.
The right hon. Gentleman referred earlier to the Government’s consideration in the 2003 White Paper of the possibility of a Thames estuary airport. Does he accept that the Government did not consider those proposals with anything like the enthusiasm they are now showing for the Heathrow proposals, and that there has not been any serious consideration of a Thames estuary proposal since the Roskill commission in the early 1970s? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me the name of the engineering consultancy employed by the Government to consider those proposals, for example?
The hon. Gentleman knows full well that proposals for constructing a major hub airport in the Thames estuary have been made every decade for the past three decades. The proposals have been considered, examined and, unfortunately, found wanting. They were given proper and serious consideration, but I accept that the issue will come up again and again; I shall return to it later.
What worries me—I was an aviation Minister for 18 undistinguished months—is that my right hon. Friend’s argument seems to presume unlimited expansion. If I learned one thing in my 18 undistinguished months, it was that the aviation industry had plans for unlimited expansion. After we were elected, the industry inserted the word “sustainable” before its plans but went on to repeat all the same demands. Sooner or later, politicians are going to have to say no. Should we not be looking into ways of managing demand rather than predicting and providing for it?
I assure my hon. Friend that we are not predicting and providing, but he must recognise that we are having this debate because his constituents, my constituents and those of every right hon. and hon. Member in the House want to travel by plane—and have had the opportunity to do so in recent years. I accept some constraints on their ability to do so, not least because of the issues raised in the debate so far, but we all have to face up to the fact that it is our constituents who are demanding that capacity. Without such demand, the airlines and airport operators would not have responded as they have.
The right hon. Gentleman talks a lot about the consideration that the Government are giving to our constituents, so let me tell him that my constituents want the Government to consider the impact of a third runway at Heathrow on their quality of life. If it goes ahead or if the Government abandon runway alternation, the quality of my constituents’ life—not only those living close to Heathrow in Maidenhead or Cookham, but those further afield in Wargrave, Twyford and north Woodley—will deteriorate significantly. There is particular concern about night flights, so will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to guarantee that, whatever the Government do about capacity at Heathrow, there will be no increase in night flights?
We have not consulted on that matter and it is not a decision that we have to take. [Interruption.] Let me make it clear to the right hon. Lady that that is not the issue. If she wants to appear in the local paper, scaremongering in the manner that she does, that is fine, but we are dealing with the serious matters that are the subject of consultation today. The right hon. Lady needs to think about the fact that more than half of her constituents—probably considerably more than half, given the demographic profile that she represents—will use Heathrow and other British airports pretty regularly.
I shall deal further with the issue of Heathrow acting as a hub in a few moments, but the logical consequence of Conservative party policy is clear: more and more constituents who want to use Heathrow will be told that the only way of getting the connecting flight they want is to go to Schiphol, Paris or Frankfurt. [Interruption.] I see that the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet shakes her head, but that is already happening. The number of British citizens who have to take connecting flights to travel to the continent, simply because the capacity at Heathrow is not available, has increased significantly. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady still shakes her head, but she needs to look carefully at the statistics.
Heathrow has a unique position in British aviation. It is the United Kingdom’s only hub airport, and it has seen dramatic growth in recent decades. It serves two thirds of all our long-haul routes, and operates the United Kingdom’s only direct air links to world cities such as Mumbai, Shanghai, Beijing and Sao Paulo. It serves some unique destinations from the United Kingdom, including San Francisco, Mumbai—which I mentioned a moment ago—Miami, Tokyo and Sydney. That is possible only because Heathrow is a hub airport. As such, it caters for a mix of short-haul and long-haul services to a wide range of destinations, attracting large numbers of passengers connecting from one flight to another.
I will when I have finished making this point.
The existence of those connecting passengers means that airlines can operate routes that might not otherwise be viable. It also means that operators can offer greater choice and more frequent services than they could if they relied only on meeting local demand or providing “point to point” services. Without the connecting passengers, we could lose flights from Heathrow to destinations such as Seattle, Bangalore and Riyadh.
Heathrow also serves crucial domestic markets. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet is muttering away. If she listens she will understand the argument, but it is quite important for her to listen first of all.
There are 10 United Kingdom airports served by Heathrow, including cities that are vital to the regional economies of this country such as Aberdeen, Belfast, Newcastle and Glasgow. Links to Heathrow are essential to enable passengers from those airports to connect with the rest of the world. Unfortunately, however, Heathrow is already losing its ability to serve its many customers across the country as a result of capacity constraints. The number of destinations served by it has fallen by 20 per cent. since 1990. Services to places such as Inverness, Newquay, Plymouth, Prestwick, Guernsey and the Isle of Man have all ceased to operate. Heathrow now serves around 184 destinations compared with Amsterdam’s 233, Paris’s 244 and Frankfurt’s 289, and without additional capacity its position will be eroded even further.
If I had to highlight one statistic that underlines Heathrow’s importance to the United Kingdom’s economy, it would be the statistic that more than 70 per cent. of foreign companies moving to the United Kingdom for the first time choose a location within an hour’s journey of Heathrow.
The problem is that Heathrow’s runways are already full. The airport is operating at around 99 per cent. capacity, compared to between 70 and 75 per cent. at airports such as Charles de Gaulle, Schiphol and Frankfurt, whose spare capacity provides an attractive alternative for any future business if the United Kingdom cannot provide it. That will mean the steady erosion of Heathrow’s position and the loss of British jobs, which will be exported to continental airport hubs following the long-haul flights.
I thank the Secretary of State for noticing me. If he looks at his own technical documents, attached to the consultation, he will find that leisure demand is driven primarily by fares, and specifically by cheap fares. We have cheap fares because aviation is so heavily subsidised. If it were properly priced, the demand that the Secretary of State has just claimed to be the basis for Heathrow would not exist. As for business demand, if he talks to firms he will find that they require a sufficiency of destinations. They do not require the ability to travel to every destination on the globe. That is why, although the number of destinations has fallen, business in London has increased at exactly the same time.
I am not at all surprised by the Liberal Democrats’ propensity to damage British business. What disappoints me deeply is that an Opposition party that aspires to government should want to damage business so irrevocably. The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet shakes her head, but I have a stream of quotations from senior business people who are appalled at the position that the Conservative party has taken, and cannot understand why the interests of British business are being so seriously damaged by a policy that the hon. Lady has advocated.
I agree with my right hon. Friend about the importance of capacity to United Kingdom airlines, and about the importance of international links. Does he accept that one of the constraints on flights from many of the international destinations that he has described—which are in different time zones—is the restriction on night flights that must inevitably apply on a site such as Heathrow, which is surrounded by a large resident population? Does he also accept that that constraint could be overcome only through unacceptable noise nuisance, which would have an horrendous impact on the lives of people living around the airport? That is the argument for considering an alternative site, for example in the Thames estuary, which would not be so constrained.
I will do so shortly.
It is important that we answer the question of how we can improve the United Kingdom’s competitive position in aviation. We will need to continue to invest in public transport to and from Heathrow. A good proportion of Heathrow’s passengers already access the airport by public transport; about 38 per cent. do so, which compares well with many airports, but we want to see that increased. BAA plc has already taken concerted action to improve public transport links at Heathrow with the Heathrow Express and Heathrow Connect services from Paddington, and now the £16 billion Crossrail project will join Heathrow to the City and Canary Wharf. That link will provide much-improved access to Heathrow for thousands of passengers and airport workers. When it is complete in 2017, Crossrail will carry four trains an hour into Heathrow for most of the day, cutting journey times across London and the south-east, strengthening international links and tourism, and supporting the economy. We have committed more than £5 billion to deliver Crossrail, and last week BAA confirmed a £230 million funding package for the scheme, representing a major step forward in its delivery.
This is not the only step that is necessary, however. We are also looking to the London Underground public-private partnership to deliver important enhancements to Piccadilly line services, with an increase of up to 25 per cent. in capacity from 2014. We are looking, too, at new rail links, such as Airtrack, which would provide direct rail access from terminal 5 to the rail network south-west of the airport and Waterloo, Guildford and Reading, as well as the potential for new high-speed lines.