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Telecommunications (Gibraltar)

3. Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): If he will make a statement on telecommunications in Gibraltar. [135162]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Keith Vaz): As we made clear in our response on 31 October to the Foreign Affairs Committee report on Gibraltar, we have stayed in close contact with the European Commission, emphasising the urgency of the situation and our expectation that the Commission will uphold Gibraltar's rights in the European Union. We have informed the Commission that we consider the complaints made by operators in Gibraltar to be well founded. In consultation with the Government of Gibraltar, we are continuing our efforts with the Spanish Government and the Commission to resolve this important issue.

Mr. Hoyle: I am sure that my hon. Friend shares my concern at the fact that Spain still refuses to recognise the international code for Gibraltar and that businesses in Gibraltar are being held back by the lack of available telephone numbers. That has been highlighted recently by the failure of the Spanish Minister of Defence to telephone the Chief Minister over a visit to the submarine HMS Tireless. We are all aware of the difficulties, and I look forward to an early resolution of them.

Mr. Vaz: My hon. Friend is right. I know of his great interest in these matters as a member of the Gibraltar parliamentary group and owing to his many visits to the country. The issue is important. As he knows, 30,000 telephone numbers have been allocated through the Cadiz exchange, and they will run out next year. Therefore, for the people of Gibraltar, the issue is very serious. I have discussed the matter with Chief Minister Caruana, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle). I spoke yesterday afternoon to the Governor of Gibraltar. I assure my hon. Friend that we have raised the concerns with the Commission and expect it to do something positive to resolve the situation; otherwise, my hon. Friend will not be able to ring his friends in Gibraltar and they will not be able to ring out.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): These soothing bromides simply will not do. What is the precise nature of the renewed efforts to which, in their response to the recent Foreign Affairs Committee report, the Government committed themselves? Did the Prime Minister raise the matter at the Anglo-Spanish talks last month? What exactly was the result?

Mr. Vaz: I shall not rise to the challenge to appoint the hon. Gentleman as our special envoy to sort out the problem because it requires very careful dialogue.

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That dialogue has continued over the past few months. Of course the matters have been raised. The Prime Minister raises issues concerned with Gibraltar on every occasion when he meets the Spanish Prime Minister; my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has done so with the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs; and I have done so. We will continue to work carefully and appropriately in order to resolve the issue. That is a better approach than that suggested by the hon. Gentleman.


4. Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby): If he will make a statement on the situation in Kosovo. [135163]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Keith Vaz): We welcome the successful and peaceful conduct of the local elections in Kosovo on 28 October. It sends a clear message that Kosovo is making further progress towards democracy and tolerance. We look forward to working with the newly elected members of the municipal authorities in tackling the many tasks ahead.

Mr. Wareing: The Defence Committee has reported that 98 per cent. of the unguided bombs dropped by the Royal Air Force on Kosovo and the rest of Yugoslavia during the recent conflict missed their target. Would it therefore be an appropriate gesture at this time for Her Majesty's Government to send an apology to President Kostunica and to offer compensation? How many times has the Minister visited Kosovo and other Balkan countries?

Mr. Vaz: I am surprised at my hon. Friend. Here is a golden opportunity to welcome the elections and to look forward to a period of peace, democracy and stability in the Balkans. We are not in this House to be apologists for Milosevic. We believe firmly that the people of Kosovo deserve our support--not empty gestures, but practical support, such as that the Government have put into KFOR and UNMIK. We shall continue to provide the people of Kosovo with such support, so that there is real peace and stability in the region. I would have thought that my hon. Friend would support that process.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): What progress is being made with the Balkan stability pact, with special reference to Albania, Kosovo's neighbour?

Mr. Vaz: My right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister will continue to work with the stability pact. The Government have a duty to ensure that it is a success. We receive reports from time to time at the General Affairs Council and will continue to support the work of the pact. It is not just a matter of individual countries in the region. The pact is intended to bring peace and stability to the whole region, and to make sure that the people of the Balkans, and Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia, have a stable future.

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Mr. Ben Bradshaw (Exeter): What would be the impact on the delicate situation in Kosovo, were George W. Bush ever to have the opportunity of carrying out his threat to withdraw United States forces from the Balkans?

Mr. Vaz: I do not have a vote in the election today. I understand that the report has been denied.

Sir Peter Emery (East Devon): Does the Minister realise that on the ground in Kosovo there is considerable concern about the apparent lack of co-operation between certain of the military forces and, even worse, as I tried to expound in the defence debate last week, there is uncertainty about where and how the United Nations is carrying out its mandate? Will the Minister look into that? The last thing that we want is to let the people down by not ensuring that what we are doing is helpful to them.

Mr. Vaz: The right hon. Gentleman is an experienced parliamentarian. He will know that that is an agonisingly difficult problem. We give full support to the work that is being undertaken by UNMIK, which is there to implement resolution 1244 and bring communities together. There are 4,200 civilian police officers trying to keep the peace between the communities and rebuild the confidence that was destroyed by Milosevic. It will take time, but the way forward is to make a contribution and to support the work of KFOR and UNMIK, which the Government will continue to do, following the work of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary and the initiatives that they have taken.

International Criminal Court

5. Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): If he will make a statement about progress on the establishment of an international criminal court. [135164]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Hain): Good progress is being made. Twenty-two countries have already ratified the treaty, out of the 60 needed for establishing the international criminal court.

Mr. Edwards: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that a Bill in the Queen's Speech to ratify the international criminal court would have cross-party support? Does he also agree that whoever is the new President of the United States, that country should take a greater role and ensure that those who commit crimes against humanity are brought to justice?

Mr. Hain: We would, indeed, like to see the US sign up to the treaty and give the international criminal court its agreement, as its participation would be important. My hon. Friend would not expect me to comment on the contents of the Queen's Speech, but I hope that when the Bill is introduced into Parliament, which we hope to achieve as soon as possible, it will receive all-party support. I hope that the official Opposition, and in particular those on the Front Bench, will not obstruct the

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Bill, but will allow it a quick passage, so that Britain can become one of the first 60 countries to ratify the treaty and bring it into force.

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds): Given that the Minister believes in an ethical foreign policy, can he tell the House what active steps he has taken to encourage Libya and China to sign up to the international criminal court?

Mr. Hain: We encourage all countries, including Libya and China, to sign up to the international criminal court. In our bilateral diplomacy with all countries in the world, we consistently pressure them to do so. We are committed to the court. It is a way of catching war criminals and ending the situation whereby the Pol Pots, Pinochets and all the dictators of the world continue to act with impunity. It is part of our agenda for human rights, of which we are proud. Our record is a proud one.

Mr. Desmond Browne (Kilmarnock and Loudoun): In common with many other hon. Members, I welcome the publication of the Bill to ratify the Rome statute and look forward with optimism to its inclusion in the Queen's Speech. Does my hon. Friend accept that as long as the Bill remains silent on the issue of state immunity, there will remain a potential legal loophole through which past and serving Ministers who may seek refuge in this country may be able to escape?

Mr. Hain: I sympathise with my hon. Friend's point. We have listened closely to representations made to us during the consultation period on the draft Bill. I think that he will be encouraged by the response when he sees the Bill published in its final form.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): May I endorse everything that the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) set out in his main question? When the war crimes tribunals sit, there should be retribution for the past and a deterrent to obscene atrocity in future. I express some concern that it is taking as long as it is for Britain to ratify the process and to get it under way.

Mr. Hain: We are committed to achieve ratification as quickly as possible. I am delighted that we shall have the hon. Gentleman's support. It is a unique experience for me, but I am delighted to agree with virtually everything that he said.

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