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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 492: debated on Tuesday 19 May 2009

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Secretary of State was asked—


1. What assessment he has made of recent progress in reaching international agreement on the governance of Cyprus. (276064)

Mr. Speaker, the whole House will respect your wish that we proceed with our business today. We shall make our tributes at a later date.

The current negotiations represent the best opportunity for Cypriots to reunify Cyprus. We fully support the courageous efforts of the two leaders; their joint commitment is a key strength of the process. They have made steady progress, but it is important that momentum is increased. A settlement will deliver major economic, social and political benefits for all Cypriots.

Would the Foreign Secretary care to join me in paying the warmest possible tribute to you, Mr. Speaker, and in thanking you for your service—a very honourable service—to this House and this country over many years? [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] And I thank you personally, Mr. Speaker.

Recent research shows that the majority of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots want their respective leaders to reach a mutually acceptable settlement through the current peace process. What can the Foreign Secretary do to help them succeed? Such a settlement would not only be in the interests of everybody on the island; it would also be very much in the interests of Turkey, particularly given its ambitions to join the European Union.

I fear that some of what I said at the beginning may have been lost in the hubbub.

Mr. Speaker, I am sure that the House will fully respect your wish that we save our tributes for a future date and that we proceed with our business today.

The hon. Gentleman is right that the spirit of dedication to solving the Cyprus problem, a spirit that has been evident in the 28 meetings between the two leaders, represents precisely the sort of determination that we need. There will need to be compromises on all sides, and in my meeting with the Cypriot Foreign Minister later today, I will take forward the Government’s determination to help promote a solution.

Mr. Speaker, may I add my tribute to those that have already been expressed?

As the Foreign Secretary will know, one of the abiding problems in Cyprus is the issue of property rights and property ownership. In the light of April’s European Court of Justice judgment on the case brought by Mr. Apostolides, will the Foreign Secretary consider, if he has not done so already, revising information on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website to ensure that anyone contemplating buying property in northern Cyprus realises that there are dangers in doing that? They might well be buying what many would consider stolen property.

The Foreign Office guidance speaks to the unique circumstances that exist in Cyprus at the moment. It sets out all the issues at stake for anyone interested in property in the area.

The so-called Orams judgment is now going to the Court of Appeal, so it is important that we politicians are careful about what we say on the subject. I can say, however, that all the developments point to the need for leaders from both communities to get to grips with the need for a political settlement, including on the vital property issue. I will be urging that point on all players in this important question.

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the European Union made a historic mistake in accepting Cyprus as a member while the island remained deeply divided between its Greek and Turkish communities? Did that not help the Greek Cypriots in their decision to reject the Annan peace plan in 2004? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that lessons have to be learned from that with regard to any future membership applications from countries such as Kosovo, Bosnia or the republics in the Caucasus?

I certainly believe that lessons should be learned from previous enlargement. The biggest lesson is that enlargement has made the European Union stronger, not weaker. As we look at the cases of Kosovo and the other countries mentioned by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, it is important that we should remember the force of the European Union as a power for stability as well as for democracy on its eastern borders. I also recognise that it is vital that the European Union should play its role in ensuring that all understand that now is the best opportunity since the 1970s for a proper settlement in Cyprus. That is certainly what we are dedicated to, and I believe that the rest of the European Union is as well.

Given that, as the Foreign Secretary says, there is now the best prospect of a solution because both sides are willing to continue the talks, does he accept that neither side should be deflected by any interpretation of the election results in the north of the island or the local elections on the mainland of Turkey? Can he assure us that the European Union and the UN will make that the priority, which does not appear to have been the case in recent years?

It is important, if I may say so, to go beyond what the hon. Gentleman has said. There needs to be new and extra momentum in the drive for a settlement, precisely because this is the year when a settlement needs to be made. The UN special representative—a former Foreign Minister of Australia, Alexander Downer—reported to the Security Council on 30 April. The message that went out very clearly from that meeting, from all members of the Security Council, was that all sides needed to recognise their responsibility to ensure that the second round of talks, which are just about to restart, really engage the spirit of compromise that will be essential if this opportunity is to be grasped. That is not to be interfered with by election results in any part of that region. The statements from Turkey, as well as from Mr. Talat, speak to that point.

My right hon. Friend will know that one of the big issues is the presence of Turkish troops in Cyprus. Is he aware that UNFICYP—the United Nations Peace-Keeping Force in Cyprus—has estimated the true number of Turkish troops at below 20,000, not in the high 30,000s as estimated, or pronounced, by both sides? Does he agree that one of the best things would be for Turkey to come clean about the actual number of troops, which is far lower than it claims, as that is one of the measures that are desperately needed on the island to build and maintain confidence while the news blackout on the talks proceeds?

It is certainly the case that there needs to be proper transparency on all sides. I discussed that with the Turkish European Union negotiator when he visited London two weeks ago. It is important that we keep the rhetoric down, that we keep asserting that we want to facilitate and support a settlement that is agreed on by the communities in Cyprus, and that all the regional powers make their contribution. Transparency and clarity will be vital at every stage.

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that it is necessary to apply all possible assistance to this process, because it is important not only for the people of Cyprus but for the people of Turkey and Greece, both of which we need in NATO, and for countries such as Macedonia and the other Balkan states, which are pursuing resolutions of ancient conflicts?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. The continued conflict is not just a problem for the residents of Cyprus. It blocks the sort of co-operation that will be essential not only in NATO but in the EU—an EU that I believe, and the Government believe, needs to include Turkey; I think that that is also the position of the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats. That is a good reason to dedicate ourselves very strongly to this process. However, there is a further important reason: the status quo is not sustainable as a basis for a long-term resolution; that must be based on the sort of political settlement that hon. Members in all parts of the House recognise is absolutely essential.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments. I agree with everything that he says about the need for a solution in Cyprus, and I hear what he says about talking to the Turkish Foreign Minister. Does he agree that although the solution must come through direct negotiations between the two sides in Cyprus—Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot—the real key to the solution is in Ankara? What is he doing actively to persuade Turkey that it must use its influence, or stop using its influence negatively and use it positively, to effect a solution in Cyprus?

My hon. Friend speaks with a lot of experience and expertise on this question. I think that the fairest thing to say is that it takes two to tango. It will need not only Turkish Cypriots and the Turkish Government, but Greek Cypriots and the Greek Government, to support this outcome. All our diplomatic efforts—my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe has visited Cyprus twice, and I will be visiting Turkey and Greece at the end of this month—are dedicated to ensuring that there is genuine compromise, because that is the only way in which the problem will be resolved. No one wants a repeat of the 2004 referendum result in the south of the island; that is why we are working for a solution.

Lisbon Treaty

2. What his most recent assessment is of progress in the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty; and if he will make a statement. (276066)

3. What recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on the date of entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. (276067)

4. What recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty. (276068)

The Czech Senate voted in favour of ratification of the Lisbon treaty on 6 May. That means that 26 European Union member states have now completed their parliamentary stages of ratification. All EU countries have agreed that the aim is to complete ratification and bring the Lisbon treaty into force this year.

The Lisbon treaty clearly sets out that the treaty shall enter into force on the first day of the month following the deposit of the instrument of ratification by the last member state. That is in article 357. The treaty can come into force only if all 27 member states have ratified it. Discussions on implementation of the Lisbon treaty have not restarted in Brussels.

Does the Minister agree with the former Member for Halifax, Alice Mahon? One of her main reasons for leaving the Labour party was the fact that she thought that it had broken its solemn promise to give the British people their say in a referendum on the Lisbon treaty.

I do not agree with my hon. Friend the former Member for Halifax. The Government said that we would have a referendum when the EU was proposing a constitution. That was then dumped when the French and Dutch voted against it. This is a treaty, and neither Tory nor Labour Governments have ever had a referendum on treaties of this nature. Maastricht is one good example. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the comments of his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who in comparing the Lisbon treaty with the Maastricht treaty said that it was a “far less important” document than Maastricht.

Can the Minister confirm categorically that any changes to the Lisbon treaty for any country would mean that the treaty needed to be re-ratified? Would the Government then hold a referendum on this matter?

With the possible exception of you, Mr. Speaker, virtually every Member of this House was elected on a solemn pledge to put the European constitution to a referendum. If some Members have abrogated that promise on the spurious grounds that the treaty is not the constitution, does the Minister think the electorate will ever trust them again?

It is not a constitution, it is a treaty. It is about ensuring that the European Union is fit for purpose with 27 member states. It is to streamline and make more effective the way in which the European Union works. I would have thought that that was something that right hon. and hon. Members of all parties would agree with.

Now that the Czech Senate and Polish Parliament have both voted to ratify this treaty, and now that we are in such a position that the parties that are in alliance with putative far-right, demagogic, emotionally anti-homosexual or racist parties in Europe are also voting for the Lisbon treaty, does not that make a mockery of the policies of the Conservative party?

I very much welcome the fact that the ratification of the treaty through the parliamentary measures in the Czech Republic has taken place. To respond to my hon. Friend’s point, I think that the shadow Foreign Secretary, in hunting around Europe for allies, is in danger of becoming a Willy-no-mates.

May I say to my right hon. Friend that if the policies that have been argued for by some Opposition Members, and their antics, were ever implemented as the policy of this nation, not only would Britain be completely isolated in Europe and beyond, but the economic, foreign and defence policy of this country would be undermined by those silly schoolboys?

I agree with my hon. Friend. There has never been a more important time to realise the added value that we get from being part of the European Union. Whether on the economic crisis that we all face, climate change or our future security, the Opposition’s policies would lead us only to isolation. Those are not just my words, but those of leaders of their own—

Notwithstanding the fact that I disagree with my party about holding a referendum, has the Minister taken legal advice? Once the treaty is ratified, surely any promise to hold a post-ratification referendum in this country is meaningless.

I appreciate my hon. Friend’s question. My understanding is that, should the Conservative party be in a position to try to leave, it would have to renegotiate its relationship with the European Union. That would be a disaster for families and businesses in the United Kingdom and for our future security prospects, as well as for the other ways in which we benefit from our co-operation and negotiating stance at the European Union table.

Does the Minister understand that, although we are waiting on the Irish, Czech and Polish Presidents as far as the Lisbon treaty is concerned, and we can continue to wait, the key issue is that is that Europe needs to be more organised, not less, in our uncertain world? It needs more cohesive action on foreign affairs, the environment and energy. It needs to work much more closely together for a common security policy, and it needs a common approach to countries such as Russia and to the middle east. Will she try to get that message across to the British people?

The hon. Gentleman is welcome to join us in getting that message across. He is right that it is important that the European Union can reform itself to be better equipped to deal with the issues of the day. When the EU is focused on the issues that matter to families and businesses, and looks outwards instead of engaging in navel gazing, it can deliver for not only British families but other families throughout the European Union. That is the message that I will endeavour to get out, and I hope that we can have a more mature debate about added value. No institution is perfect—this one is not and the European Union is not—but we must have a mature debate about what it delivers. That delivery is real, tangible and positively affects the lives of Britons throughout the United Kingdom.

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the remarks of the Swedish Prime Minister, who said, “You need friends in Europe and strong support; you can’t do it on your own”?

He is right. We can add to that the remarks of Angela Merkel, who said:

“We refuse to extend our hand to those who reject the Lisbon treaty… and who at the same time speak of enlargement.”

She is talking about her sister party for now—the Tory party.

As someone who has voted constantly for referendums, including on Maastricht—it was a great mistake of those on my side not to grant one, but that is neither here nor there—may I remind the right hon. Lady that the Government have constantly talked about Europe and the European Union being made up of nation states, which have their own authority within this construct? Does she therefore think that it is right that, just because the Irish voted the wrong way—according to Europe—they should be bullied into voting the right way?

Absolutely no bullying of the Irish is taking place. The Irish Government decided of their own accord to go back to the European Council with their road map of how they wanted to handle the situation. That is a matter for them. Ultimately, ratification of the Lisbon treaty requires the agreement of all 27 member states. Twenty-six have gone through their parliamentary procedures, and the Irish have still to make progress and resolve the matter. They are getting on with that, and we are getting on with what we have to do—focus on the big issues to which Europe has to attend, such as climate change and the economy.

I understand that the cost of a referendum would be approximately that of a general election—around £70 million to £80 million.

The Minister needs to have a word with the Prime Minister, because he has referred in public to the Lisbon treaty as the European constitution, so if he can admit it, why can she not do so? We know that the whole House needs to reconnect with the British people. Would an important way of encouraging that process be for the Government now finally to grant a referendum on the European constitution, which is what all three parties solemnly promised in their 2005 general election manifestos?

I am not going to repeat what I have said about the fact that we are talking about a treaty, not a constitution. Parliament spent many, many days discussing the different aspects of that and it came to an agreed position. However, we should also think about how we use our energy and time to promote what the European Union delivers. I have had the good fortune to go around the country and see people who have real jobs and real opportunities as a result of that membership. There are some positive stories to tell that make a difference to families and businesses. The approach of the hon. Gentleman and his party is narrow and blinkered and is not in the best interests of families and businesses in Britain.


5. What recent reports he has received on numbers of civilians allegedly killed out of combat by paramilitary forces in Colombia in 2007 and 2008. (276069)

9. What recent reports he has received of the number of civilians allegedly killed out of combat by paramilitary forces in Colombia in 2007 and 2008. (276074)

The 2008 report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights highlighted murders of civilians by illegal armed groups, including regrouping paramilitaries. The problem of impunity makes it difficult for the UN—or, indeed, any other organisation—to identify exact numbers of civilian deaths or those responsible for such crimes. That is why we have made tackling impunity a new priority for our work in Colombia.

On a recent trip to Colombia by parliamentarians, trade unionists and human rights activists, we saw tangible evidence of young men being killed by paramilitaries and those in the military on the pretext that they were terrorists. Young men were being taken from their homes and killed, and dressed up in terrorist uniforms, in order for paramilitaries and those in the military to be given a bonus—a grotesque practice—for killing terrorists. We saw the evidence with our own eyes. Given the fact that that is being done with British taxpayers’ money, is it not time that we reviewed the military aid that we give to that country?

First, I am aware of the recent visit that my hon. Friend and others made to Colombia, but let me put it on record that British taxpayers’ money is not being used for the situation that has been described, which is to be condemned. Indeed, it never has been used in that way. I assure my hon. Friend and the House that we repeatedly call on the Colombian Government to address the threat from all illegal armed groups, including paramilitaries, in accordance with international humanitarian law. Perhaps I could also remind the House that on 30 March, a written ministerial statement was issued that explained that we would be ceasing our bilateral human rights project with the Colombian defence forces, the reason being that we had achieved our aim of setting out a strategy, so it is now down to them to implement it. However, I would be glad to receive any of the evidence to which he referred.

Does the Minister agree that it is important that there are organisations that can look into extra-judicial murders? Is she aware that representatives of the Colombian Government seek to stigmatise and demonise such organisations, including the foreign non-governmental organisation Justice for Colombia and the British MPs and trade unionists who visited recently? Does she agree that that does not speak of a Government who understand the need for civil society and legitimate opposition in a democratic society?

I am visiting Colombia, and I am due to arrive tomorrow. A main part of my message will be that civil society is indeed part of the answer to Colombia’s challenges, not part of the problem. I can assure my hon. Friend that, as I am sure she is aware, we visit those in danger, speak out in support of civil society and fund projects, for example, working with journalists to encourage free media. Indeed, the new work on tackling impunity on which we are embarking is focused on bringing to justice those who commit crimes against people such as trade unionists, those in civil society and indigenous people, and we will continue to do that.

Given that many of the drugs that find their way into the United Kingdom from across the Atlantic and through west Africa emanate from Colombia, may I encourage the Minister to continue her Government’s work of engagement with the Colombian Government to try to bring about better governance in that country? I appreciate that such work is full of difficulties and challenges; none the less, it is crucial to every citizen in the United Kingdom.

I certainly share the hon. Gentleman’s views. My constituents, and those of every hon. Member, want to see less drug availability on the streets, and I am glad to say that the Serious Organised Crime Agency announced figures last week that showed considerable progress on seizure and on preventing drugs, including cocaine, from coming into the country. We now know that less cocaine is available on our streets, that is has become more expensive and that its purity has declined. However, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, the battle goes on and we will continue to make our very best efforts, working with all partners, including the Colombian Government.

While there is room for improvements in human rights in Colombia, does the Minister agree that the Government of President Uribe have made some progress? Indeed, the number of kidnappings, killings and extrajudicial killings has gone down considerably over the past 12 months alone. On her forthcoming trip, will the Minister pay tribute to the work of the courts in bringing the killers of many people to justice? I wish her every success on her visit.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his generous remarks. This country will certainly continue to help. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has said that

“it is vital that the international community continues to help”,

and we will indeed do so, along with other countries and with our partners in civil society. As hon. Members have said, human rights are fundamental to security and to good governance, and we will continue to make progress. It is true that we are seeing less influence by groups such as FARC in the urban areas, and there has been a commitment by the Colombian Government. However, the other truth is that implementation on the ground is weak and there are still very serious human rights challenges, but we will continue to press ahead and to work with the Colombian Government and others to improve the situation.

When the Minister goes to Colombia, will she speak to representatives of British companies there to ensure that they are abiding by the highest standards of labour relations and, in particular, that they are willing to recognise and work with trade unions?

I shall be very happy to meet my hon. Friend, and other hon. Members, on my return to discuss such matters. I can tell him that I shall be meeting the representative body of the trade unions in Colombia, CUT. Our work with British companies in Colombia—and in other countries across the world—is of the highest importance, and we seek to ensure the highest possible standards.

Russia-Georgia Relations

6. What recent assessment he has made of the implications for UK policy of the state of relations between Russia and Georgia. (276070)

Relations remain tense following the August 2008 war. Russia has not complied with all its August and September commitments, and it has blocked consensus on renewal of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe mission. Russia and Georgia should work to intensify the Geneva talks and refrain from taking destabilising action. We will engage with Russia when that is in our interests, and continue to support Georgia’s economic and political reform.

The near collapse of the talks in Geneva yesterday highlights the extent to which the status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia remains an impediment to the improvement of relations between Georgia and Russia. Does the Minister agree that in the circumstances, it is essential that there should remain an international presence on the ground in Georgia? Will she tell us what representations the Government are making to the Russian authorities to ensure that the OSCE mission to Georgia remains after the end of June?

The hon. Gentleman is right to refer to the concern about the breakdown of the talks yesterday. We were very disappointed that the Russian and South Ossetian delegates pulled out of the afternoon sessions of the Geneva talks on Monday 18 May, and that Abkhazia did not participate at all. Positively, however, we are encouraged that the co-chairs worked overnight to reconvene the talks, and that all participants have attended this morning’s meetings. We will continue to press our Russian colleagues on their involvement in this process, and on the importance of the international missions. The European Union mission has played an important role in this regard. I was also pleased to meet the Prime Minister of Georgia last week. We had discussions on a number of issues, including this one.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of passing through Gori in the centre of Georgia, where the last great statue of Stalin stands, and of going up to Tskhinvali, where the Russian flag flies and where Russia is creating a new frontier deep in the heart of Georgia.

Russian policy from Moscow is quite simple: “Russia up; America down; and Europe out”—and I am not sure that that is not also Conservative party policy. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that she will seek to speak with her European colleagues with one voice on Russia? Does Russia not need to be told firmly and clearly that it no longer has the right to occupy a UN and Council of Europe member state and that its flag should be flying in the land of Russia, not in the heart of another sovereign country?

We shall continue to press our Russian colleagues on meeting the terms of the Medvedev-Sarkozy agreement of last summer. I was very pleased to see a successful launch of the Eastern Partnership, of which Georgia is one of the six participating countries, as this will further add to the EU’s ability to strengthen its relationship both with Georgia itself and the other five partnership countries.

I want to press the Minister further on her answer to the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane). Russia is installing border guards within Abkhazia and South Ossetia—within the internationally recognised borders of a sovereign Georgia. Does she not agree that that action amounts to a clear violation of the ceasefire terms agreed last year? Will she state plainly today that the British Government will assert a policy that there should be no new partnership between the EU and Russia until Russia meets those obligations in full?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that in respect of the partnership and co-operation agreement with Russia and talks about the issues around it, the tone and pace of the discussions will be determined, as both I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have said before, by Russia’s engagement in dealing with its relationship with Georgia. We absolutely share the hon. Gentleman’s concern that Russia has not fully complied with the Sarkozy-Medvedev agreement and we are very concerned about Russian plans further to militarise the separatist regions, which contradicts Russia’s commitments, so in tandem with our EU partners we will continue to press Russia to comply fully as soon as possible. As I said, the Geneva talks were one way of trying to keep discussions continuing, but there is clearly more to be done. If there are any other levers at our disposal, we will use them.

Following on from that exchange, is it not vital for the EU to begin to show some unity of purpose? If we want effective pressure to be brought to bear on Moscow in respect of Georgia and other aspects of EU-Russia relations, we need to remember that in the past the EU has not spoken with one voice but on the basis of individual self-interest, which has been disastrous. We must have unity of purpose so that we can speak with a single voice.

Yes, I agree absolutely. This case provides a good example—an unfortunate one, in the sense that we wish we did not have the problem—of where the EU has come together in a solid way to make its position known. I pay tribute to the rapid deployment of the EU monitoring mission, which shows that the EU is capable of deploying civilians and the military at short notice in order to tackle emerging crises. The monitoring mission is playing a really valuable role in defusing tension. In view of the discussions about the OSCE role, thank goodness that we have the EU monitoring mission.

Does the Minister accept that there is instability in too many parts of the world, and that we do not want to add to it? Would it not be better to seek to develop and improve our relationship with Russia—historically, over many decades, we have had a good relationship—in order to ensure that we do our best to help the country in its relationship with Georgia? I am worried that we appear to be backing one side rather than seeking to be a genuine peacemaker and to understand both sides of the equation.

It is certainly not the case that we are sticking to one side. We can disagree with the Russians on certain issues, but at the same time we can recognise where we have good bilateral links—trade being just one example. Our involvement and that of the EU is not intended to isolate Russia, but to draw attention to the fact when we think it is wrong, as we do in this case. The best thing Russia can do is to come to the table, allow the situation to be resolved and move on. I agree that there are too many conflicts in the world and we cannot always deal with them as individual nation states, which is why we work in partnership with others. I am glad that, on this particular issue, the EU—with us making an important contribution—is playing a constructive role.

I hear what my right hon. Friend says, but will she give me an assurance that if any company from this country, or indeed from the wider European Union, trades in Georgia and the Russians engage in any retaliatory action, we will take a very dim view of it?

Carbon Reduction

7. What recent progress has been made on his Department’s goal of working with other countries and international institutions to shift rapidly towards a lower carbon world. (276071)

All our efforts are dedicated to bilateral and multilateral contributions to a successful Copenhagen summit in December. The G20 commitment to

“build an inclusive, green, and sustainable recovery”

was welcome. The European Union’s decision to ring-fence €9 billion to build 12 carbon capture and storage plants around Europe was also important. Our work has been much helped by the constructive approach of the new United States Administration, and we continue to work with them and others towards an ambitious deal in December.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his reply, and particularly for his words about the vital importance of a good deal at Copenhagen in December. However, given that the March meeting of EU leaders ended in a refusal to commit financial support to the world’s poorest countries to help them to adapt to climate change and limit their emissions, and given that that refusal could seriously undermine progress in international negotiations, will he tell us what diplomatic efforts his Department is undertaking to persuade our EU counterparts to change their position at next month’s summit?

I think that the hon. Lady is being a little unfair. The March European summit agreed that both the Mexican and the Norwegian proposals for the raising of carbon finance were particularly important and needed to be explored, and the European Union is at the forefront of ideas for the generation of finance for both mitigation and adaptation.

As it happens, the hon. Lady and I take exactly the same stance on this issue. We agree that the advanced industrialised countries need to show real leadership, that they need to generate funds in innovative ways, and that incentives are needed for the achievement of the kind of low-carbon transition in developing countries that the industrialised world failed to achieve in the 20th century.

In pursuing an agenda that will reach out to the developing nations, will the Foreign Secretary pay particular attention to the need to draw in and draw upon current experiences in China? As he will know, China is responsible for 20 per cent. of the world’s production of photovoltaic panels, and is currently increasing its production by 50 per cent. a year to deliver full electrification of its rural areas by 2015. Will he return to the House at some stage to explain what the implications would be for jobs and skills in the United Kingdom and Europe were we to commit ourselves to the same sort of transformation to renewable forms of energy?

My hon. Friend, who follows these matters carefully, has made an important point about the technology that is being developed in developing countries. Much of the talk about technology transfer neglects the fact that developing countries have a head start in a number of areas. As for reporting to the House, I must be particularly careful not to trample on the rights of the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Edward Miliband). However, I will have a fraternal word with him, and we will divide the labour between us and ensure that proper discussion takes place in the House.


8. What role his Department will have in monitoring the conduct of the forthcoming presidential elections in Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement. (276072)

The United Kingdom is committed to supporting a credible, Afghan-led electoral process, and that includes supporting international election observation. We are working with EU partners to encourage and support an EU elections observation mission. United Kingdom officials in Afghanistan will be involved in in-country observation efforts undertaken by diplomatic missions and provincial reconstruction teams.

Given the levels of violence in Afghanistan, does the Minister think there are sufficient troops to perform the difficult task of supporting and monitoring the forthcoming elections?

Yes, I do. The key, overriding responsibility rests with the Afghan-led security forces themselves. The whole strategy has been based on capacity building so that they can take on that task. The recent commitment to a significant expansion in those forces is welcome, but of course they will be backed up by the international security assistance force.

I think my hon. Friend will agree that the success of our strategy for Afghanistan is dependent on a credible election—credible to the people of Afghanistan, that is. Does he also agree that one simple thing we can do to ensure that they receive the message that we support credible elections in Afghanistan is repeatedly to say—and encourage the American Administration to say—that our support for democracy constitutes support for the institutions of democracy in Afghanistan and not for any individual candidates?

That is emphatically the case. It is important and, with the will of the international community, the Afghan Administration and the independent electoral commission, we need to ensure that, as was the case in 2004-05, these election results represent the will of the Afghan people, regardless of which candidates eventually succeed.

Many outside observers—and, indeed, people inside Afghanistan—have been very concerned not only about the level of violence, but about the level of corruption. Has the Foreign Office laid down its own set of criteria by which the election outcome can be judged? This matter is very important, because if there are any questions in people’s minds that the new President has been elected, or re-elected, largely on a corrupt agenda, that will undermine all the efforts we and our allies are putting in.

It was the case that the 2004-05 election results were credible and that they represented the will of the Afghan people. I think that, with the support of the international community, that can be the case again, but it is clearly incumbent on all the candidates to focus in their election platforms on ensuring governance, security and development; they need to be at the forefront of their efforts as they move towards an election.

Topical Questions

The results of the Indian elections represent a resounding reaffirmation of the health of the world’s largest democracy. The Congress party and its allies now have a strong mandate and India has the prospect of another five years of stable, progressive government. This is a particular tribute to the work of Prime Minister Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. We look forward to continuing to work closely with the new Indian Government to address the many urgent global and regional challenges we face.

Speaking of regional challenges, I recognise the great efforts of the United Kingdom Government in Sri Lanka in past months. It has been very difficult. What prospects are there of a process of reconciliation in Sri Lanka now?

My hon. Friend raises a particularly important point. Obviously, we are very focused, as is the whole international community, on the humanitarian situation, but equally important now that the fighting and territorial conflict seem to be over is having a genuine political process towards an inclusive political settlement for all the Sri Lankan people. President Rajapaksa’s speech today to the Sri Lankan Parliament is very important. It sets out some commitments in respect of the equal rights of all Sri Lankans. It is vital that the international community works with the Sri Lankan Government to ensure that that is finally fulfilled.

Further to the earlier question of the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne) about Colombia, will the Foreign Secretary or the Under-Secretary of State say a little more about the particular categories of civilians being singled out for abduction, torture and slaughter? Reference was made by a number of hon. Members to trade unions, but am I not right in thinking that also very prominent on the list, as one would expect from an odious regime, are journalists?

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to raise that issue. This is why one of the projects we are undertaking and funding is to do with establishing a free media. It is also true that it is not only journalists—and trade unionists—who have difficulty in speaking out; so, too, do other members of civil society and, indeed, indigenous people. The truth is that for as long as any one of those groups is unable to speak out without fear, there will always be difficulty, and that is not in the interests of a free and fair Colombia.

Further to the Secretary of State’s response to the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), may I tell the Secretary of State that my constituent Dr. Omar Mangoush and three medical colleagues have been detained since last Friday at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Palestine? Will he accept a representation from me to see what we can do to persuade the Egyptian Government to release this group of people bent on a humanitarian mission?

Certainly, and I am pleased to report to my hon. Friend that the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Bill Rammell), will be travelling to Egypt today and will be able to take with him—

No, the trip was organised before the question, but I am pleased that the Minister of State will be able to take the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) directly to the people who matter, and we will certainly get the details from him before the Minister departs.

The Foreign Secretary spoke rightly a few moments ago about the importance of reconciliation and reconstruction in Sri Lanka—a process that must be as big a test for its Government as the military conflict that is coming to an end. In that regard, will he consider the proposal put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), the shadow Defence Secretary, when he was in Sri Lanka two months ago, for an internationally managed development fund to channel relief aid to the north of the country? Would that not be a mechanism that the international Tamil diaspora could constructively support and that would be seen as independent and impartial? Will the Government join us in putting forward such a proposal—or will they put forward their own equivalent—as well as saying to the Sri Lankan Government that it is time to engage all ethnic groups in a genuine political process, so that this military victory does not turn into a renewed insurgency?

We have been discussing all options for the delivery of funding to Sri Lanka. It is important to say that until now the focus has been on humanitarian help, for reasons that I imagine the right hon. Gentleman will understand.

When it comes to reconstruction, a wide range of funds will be delivered to Sri Lanka. The country has a bid in for International Monetary Fund funding and there has been discussion in this House over the past two months about the appropriateness of such funding, but I assure him that nothing has been ruled out. The crucial issues for us will be: first, to ensure that there is genuine international support; secondly, to ensure that the money reaches the right people; and thirdly, and obviously, to ensure that it is properly meshed with the arrangements being made by the Government of Sri Lanka. One particular on which work is under way is demining, because the areas that have been “cleared” and now need to be repopulated include those that had a lot of mines laid by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam—the LTTE. That is a particular issue where I know that there is a need for help and we want to ensure that it reaches the right place.

I very much accept what the Foreign Secretary says, but will he examine this already worked-up proposal? He has done a lot, although he has often been checked at the United Nations, to focus international attention on the crisis in Sri Lanka, and I hope he will take the message from across this House that we support his calls for unfettered access for international agencies to what have been the conflict zones and to internally displaced persons camps.

Finally, on the question of support, given widespread reports that the Foreign Secretary is about to be replaced by Lord Mandelson, may I invite him to agree that in the 21st century the appointment by an unelected Prime Minister of an unelected Foreign Secretary in an unelected House would be a very good argument for an immediate general election?

I shall take that as warm good wishes from the right hon. Gentleman. Whether or not they are good for my prospects is an open question, but suffice it to say that I look forward to at least another year of the jousting that we have had across the Dispatch Box.

T4. My right hon. Friend will know that more than 250,000 Tamils are in refugee camps in the northern region of Sri Lanka and that no independent monitors or journalists are allowed into that region. Given that situation, the fear of reprisals and the fears about the removal of evidence of atrocities, will he do everything he can to inform the Sri Lankan Government that they will never win the peace unless they allow the United Nations monitors in at the earliest possible opportunity? (276092)

It is right to recognise that my hon. Friend has been a doughty, principled and passionate advocate of not only her constituents but all civilians in Sri Lanka. Her call for the maximum transparency and the maximum access is in the interests of not only the people of Sri Lanka who have suffered, but all those committed to Sri Lanka’s future, because it is precisely the sort of access and transparency that she advocates that will be essential for any kind of reconciliation or political settlement to take place. I said in this House two weeks ago that a war without witness was being fought in the north of the country and, in many ways, that is the most dangerous kind of war, because it makes winning the peace that much more difficult. I assure her that the commitments to openness and access that were reflected in my written ministerial statement today will be followed up by the Government at all levels.

T2. Following the totally unjustified actions by the Burmese authorities in moving Aung San Suu Kyi and five of her supporters to jail, and as the authorities in Burma spent more than 50 per cent. of their budget on arms and armed forces in order to suppress their own people and prop up their rotten Government, will the Foreign Secretary undertake a new initiative with the United Nations to see what further sanctions can be applied to Burma, including a worldwide arms ban? (276090)

We have been at the forefront of the case for sanctions against the Burmese regime. We recently saw the rollover of EU sanctions. The recent actions have been reprehensible—the Prime Minister led the way internationally last week in condemning them—and the re-arrest last week suggests that the Burmese regime was intent on finding any pretext, no matter how tenuous, to extend Aung San Suu Kyi’s unlawful detention. While thousands of political prisoners are still locked up in jail, including Aung San Suu Kyi, there cannot be credible elections in Burma next year.

T3. Is not the lesson from Northern Ireland for the middle east peace process that all parties need to be involved? What steps is the Foreign Secretary taking to ensure that Hamas is involved in the forthcoming peace talks? (276091)

One can debate long and hard the lessons of Northern Ireland, but one lesson is that all sides need to renounce violence. That will be the basis for a political settlement in the middle east.

T6. Our foreign policy towards Cuba is that Ministers will not visit Cuba. The Minister will be aware that this month the Canadians sent their Foreign Minister, thus meaning that the Heads of State or Ministers of 16 countries have visited Cuba. Would the Minister be willing to meet a group of us who think that our current policy is wrong for the Cuban people and wrong for Britain, too? (276094)

I will be very happy to meet my hon. Friend and other hon. Members to discuss our policy on Cuba. Our policy is continually to develop good relations with Cuba, which we have. On the issue of ministerial visits, my hon. Friend knows that I would be delighted to visit Cuba, but the difficulty is that the Cuban authorities indicate that, regrettably, they feel it would not be appropriate for British Ministers to meet the Opposition. I hope the hon. Gentleman understands. Perhaps he could assist me with this, as we need to see some change in that situation to allow me or other British Ministers to visit Cuba, in line with the EU common position.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement today on Sri Lanka, for his emphasis on humanitarian aid and for his comments in answer to other hon. Members about the importance of transparency and UN monitors as well as the need for President Rajapaksa to reach out to the wider Tamil community to get a wider political solution. However, is not the key lesson from this horrific suffering that the international community has reduced influence when countries such as China prevent a united international position? May I prevail on the Foreign Secretary, in a week in which he has lauded the emergence of China as a major power, to urge his Chinese counterparts not to shirk their responsibilities as a major power but to deliver the same message to the Government of Sri Lanka as Britain and the EU?

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that disunity in the international community terribly undermines any sort of effectiveness in it. He will know that in Beijing in February 2008 I argued for responsibility from all powers, not just to their own citizens but to the international system, too. That obviously applies to China as an important member of the UN Security Council, and I hope that our increased engagement with the Chinese authorities means that we will be able to find more common ground of the sort that he describes. Whether in the case of Sri Lanka, Iran or any of the great major conflicts that we face, disunity breeds impotence and it is vital that that is overcome.

T7. Many opponents of the European Union are telling people that as much as 75 per cent. of the legislation debated in the House comes from Europe. What assessment has my right hon. Friend’s Department made of that assertion and can she give us some more information? (276095)

It is absolutely rubbish to say that 75 per cent. of legislation comes from Brussels. In fact, the House of Commons Library produced an independent research paper demonstrating that between 1998 and 2005 only 9 per cent. of statutory instruments were actually about implementing European legislation. The other important point to remember is that often when we have domestic laws other European countries are mindful of them, so we do not have to implement anything because we are able to negotiate a position that reflects our current situation. That is about having influence—about having people listen to us—and I am pleased that we have more friends and allies in Europe in 2009 than we inherited in 1997.

T5. With regard to point 9 of the 2008 UK action plan, which gives to the countries of origin joint responsibility for preventing the trafficking of human beings, will the Minister meet the Foreign Secretary of China and tell him exactly how human trafficking actually works from China? Young people, mostly children, are trafficked across from China and when they are on the plane they either swallow their passport or put it down the loo. Having come to Gatwick, they claim not as trafficked humans but as asylum seekers. They are brought to a care home just outside Gatwick and within two hours they have disappeared: their trafficker rings them on a mobile and off they go, and are lost for ever. Is the Minister aware of that and will he talk about it to the Foreign Secretary in China? (276093)

I know the hon. Gentleman has taken a keen interest in these issues and I pay tribute to that. We have an important bilateral relationship with China, and one of the key elements of that relationship is seeing greater co-operation and improvement in both migration and trafficking. We take those issues up on a regular basis, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to talk to me about them privately, I shall happily take that further.

T8. On a recent visit to Washington, I was very impressed by all that the Obama Administration are doing to try to rebuild trust and faith in the American presidency and Administration across the world, in stark contrast to the President’s predecessor. Given how closely our Government were associated with the Bush regime, I wonder what my right hon. Friend is doing to back the Obama Administration so that we too can help to rebuild trust across the world. (276096)

We want to build trust across the world on the basis of what we do, and what we do with our allies, and our long-standing relationship with the United States stands us in very good stead. The Obama Administration share not only priorities but values with the UK Government. In respect of the new American President’s outreach to the Islamic world and in respect of issues such as climate change, and also in his determination to get to grips with the middle east process, he has made a flying start in the past 120 days. He has made a start that is rebuilding America’s reputation around the world.