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Human Rights

14. Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): In pursuing an ethical foreign policy what regard Her Majesty's Government have to a country's internal human rights record; and if he will make a statement. [108544]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Hain): We consistently promote British interests and pursue British values in our foreign policy by supporting democracy and human rights wherever we can and however we can.

Mr. Llwyd: I thank the Minister for that reply, but in the light of the Government's ethical foreign policy, why are they so supportive of Turkey, given its disgraceful human rights record in relation to the Kurdish people? Why is it thought ethical and proper that the British taxpayer should stump up £220 million to sponsor the Ilisu dam project? Is that ethical and proper when 20,000 to 60,000 Kurds will be displaced by that awful state?

Mr. Hain: We have not made any decision on the Ilisu dam project. We have consistently raised human rights

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matters with Turkey and, indeed, securing advances on human rights is one of the conditions it has to meet as a basis for admission to the European Union.

Angela Smith (Basildon): Although I accept my hon. Friend's comments that we need to have good relations with other countries to promote human rights, will he consider one country with which we have a special relationship--the United States? It is still that country's practice to keep minors on death row until they are old enough to be executed. Can he assure me that he will make strong representations to representatives of the US Government about that?

Mr. Hain: Unlike the previous Government, we have played a leading role in opposing the death penalty wherever it is used, and we will continue to do so in the various international forums in which we have an opportunity to raise the matter. I answer my hon. Friend's question in that context.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): What is ethical about selling jet parts to Zimbabwe so that President Mugabe can bomb the Congo for private gain?

Mr. Hain: I find questions like that very interesting from the party which sold arms to Iraq, as the Scott report exposed, and whose Ministers misled the House over the matter. As I said earlier, we were fulfilling a contractual obligation on Hawk jets sold by a Conservative Government, including two Hawk jets operating in the Congo and a few spares for them. We have also made it clear that we have tightened our policy on arms exports to such countries as Zimbabwe which are involved in the Congo conflict--a policy that the Conservative Government never got anywhere near adopting--and we deserve praise and credit for that.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): Does my hon. Friend agree that there are circumstances in which constructive engagement can encourage a country that has a poor record on human rights to improve that record? Does he agree that an example of that is Iran, where Britain's funding, bilaterally and through the United Nations International Drug Control Programme, for Iran's drug control agencies has helped to show the benefits of engagement with the west and has strengthened the more progressive forces in Iran, which is especially important given the upcoming election there?

Mr. Hain: Yes. There is no point in having a detailed dialogue with some countries--for example, Burma, Iraq and the Yugoslav Republic--because there is no opportunity to do so. As my hon. Friend pointed out, we have recently had critical dialogue with Iran about, for example, the Jewish detainees and other issues. It is because we have supported the reform programme of President Khatami that we have had an audience on those issues and have been able to put our points of view. We have seen some results from that, and critical dialogue is a policy that we have successfully adopted and will continue to use with many countries with which we do not agree about every aspect of their government, policies or constitution.

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15. Mr. Robert Syms (Poole): If he will make a statement on the UK's relationship with Burma. [108545]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. John Battle): The Government are appalled by the human rights violations and lack of democracy in Burma, and we are at the forefront of international action on Burma. Our bilateral relations with the military regime reflect this. We take every opportunity to condemn the regime's disregard of human rights and to urge the regime to enter into dialogue with democratic leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi--who was elected in 1990 with the National League for Democracy--and other ethnic minority leaders.

Mr. Syms: There is no doubt that the Burmese regime is nasty. Apart from what it does to its own people, Burma

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is the world's largest producer of illicit opium. Following the failure of the EU mission in July and the extension of sanctions in October, should not we this year redouble our efforts with the EU, the Americans and the Japanese to apply pressure for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, to start Burma on the process towards the proper democracy that its people deserve?

Mr. Battle: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We are at the forefront of support for the European Union common position that was put in place, co-sponsoring United Nations resolutions on action in the International Labour Organisation, to combat forced labour. We do not encourage trade investment or tourism with Burma. It was this Government who announced on 19 June 1997 that we would not encourage United Kingdom companies to trade or invest in Burma. We will work within the European Union to do what we can to toughen the position and make it plain to the Burmese junta that it should enter into democratic negotiations with the democratically elected leadership.

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Intergovernmental Conference White Paper

3.30 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): With permission, Madam Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the Government's support for the enlargement of the European Union and our approach to the intergovernmental conference, which is necessary to prepare the European Union for almost double the present number of member states.

I am today publishing the White Paper "Reform for Enlargement", which sets out in detail the steps that the European Union must take to get ready for enlargement.

Today in Brussels, the Portuguese presidency is opening negotiations with six more countries. That brings to a total of 12 the countries currently in negotiation for entry into the European Union.

Throughout central and eastern Europe, countries that have only recently emerged from a centralised state and a command economy are making heroic efforts and taking painful decisions to prepare themselves for membership of the European Union. It is in their own interests to do so. The reforms that they need to compete successfully within the single market are also the changes that they need to give their people a prosperous economy. It is also in our interest that they face up to the conditions of membership, not only because they will be better trading partners for British exporters and investors, but because the reforms that they have to make are of direct benefit to us. For example, three separate countries, as a condition of membership, are now committed to the early closure of nuclear reactors that do not meet our standards of safety.

There is no better way in which we can guarantee security and stability throughout central Europe than by providing its countries with a clear perspective of membership of the European Union. Given the difficult and courageous decisions that the candidate countries have taken to prepare for entry, the European Union owes it to them to show the same determination to make the reforms necessary for enlargement.

It is because we recognise the importance of the European Union to Britain that we want it reformed in order that it may do its job better. We have long argued for a Commission that is run on merit, not on influence. We lobbied for Neil Kinnock to have responsibility for reform, and we strongly support the package of measures that he has produced, which fully confirms our confidence in him. It provides welcome steps to measure performance against targets, to improve financial management and contract procedures, and to ensure that staff are recruited and promoted on merit, not on national quotas.

Europe must also embrace economic reform to meet the challenge of competitiveness in a global age. Next month's special summit in Lisbon will be an important staging post in the process of creating in Europe a knowledge-based economy which promotes opportunities for innovation. Britain will be pressing at that summit for commitments to remove obstacles to electronic commerce, to set targets for lifelong learning, and to match the lowest world prices for access to the internet.

We welcome the opportunity of enlargement for institutional reform. For the United Kingdom, the most pressing of these reforms is to increase the share of our

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vote in the Council of Ministers. France, Germany and Britain contain a majority of the population of the European Union, but together have only a minority of the votes in the Council. After enlargement, they will not even be a blocking minority. We will be seeking a fairer voting system in the Council of Ministers that gives more democratic recognition to the population of Britain.

The second institutional reform required by enlargement is a limit on the growth of the Commission. If all 12 countries were to join the European Union under the present rules, we would have more than 30 commissioners. It would be a challenge for such a large Commission to function efficiently as a single cohesive body--nor is it easy to see what jobs they could all do.

As a first step in containing the size of the Commission, we are prepared to consider that the larger countries should retain only one commissioner. That would enable the smaller countries to retain their own commissioners, at least through the first wave of enlargement. However, I stress that we see these two measures as a package. The larger member states cannot be expected to give up their second commissioners if they are not given a larger weight of votes in the Council of Ministers.

The third area for institutional reform is the balance between unanimity and majority voting. There will be double the risk of decisions being blocked if there are twice as many countries round the table with a veto. Those decisions that are blocked may well be in Britain's national interest and may concern matters on which we want agreement.

The White Paper repeats our commitment that unanimity must remain in cases such as treaty amendments, border controls, taxation, social security, defence and revenue-raising. More than 80 per cent. of legislative decisions in the Council of Ministers are already outside the veto as a result of the massive expansion of majority voting under the previous Government. There is therefore little room for further expansion of majority voting, but we are prepared to consider it in cases in which it might be in Britain's interest. For instance, it would be in our interest to reform the sluggish procedures of the European Court of Justice, but it would not be in our interest if any other country round the table could veto reform of its rules of procedure.

I do not underrate the difficult decisions and tough negotiations that will be essential before we can complete enlargement of the European Union. But the prize is great. It is the final burying of the division of Europe between east and west, which has scarred the continent for half a century. The prize is the reunion of Europe. The result will be an EU that stretches from Portugal to Poland. We will have a single market of 500 million consumers with a combined gross domestic product of £5,000 billion--the largest single market anywhere in the world.

That prospect offers exciting opportunities for our country. Those who would put at risk Britain's standing in such a powerful union are a danger to our national interests. We have no doubt that, faced with the prospect of a wider united Europe, Britain's place is playing a leading part in it and shaping its direction. The Government understand how important it is for Britain to make a success of our membership of the European Union. It is crucial to our trade, prosperity and quality of life. The majority of our exports go to existing members of the European Union. [Interruption.] The right

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hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and the hon. Members for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) do not want to hear the facts about why Europe is important to their constituents. That is why their constituents will not entrust the Opposition with office.

Some 100,000 people in Britain work at any given time in Europe, where their professional skills are recognised. In the past year alone, more than 40,000 new jobs were created in Britain by inward investors, who came here because they could sell from here to the whole of Europe. Those are the gains to the people of Britain of membership of the European Union. The gains will be even greater in the wider Europe created by enlargement. At some time over the next few years, each of the 12 applicant countries will become members of the European Union. The Government want them to remember Britain as an advocate of enlargement, and want to be regarded as their natural ally when those 12 new members join us at the Council tables of Europe.

That is why the Government recognise that it is in the national interest of Britain to be both a leading advocate of enlargement and a leading partner in a reformed and reunited Europe.

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