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Single European Market

14. Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): When he next plans to meet the German Chancellor to discuss the European single market; and if he will make a statement. [99957]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Keith Vaz): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has no plans to meet the German Chancellor to discuss the single market.

The single market has created a wider market for United Kingdom goods, comprising 380 million consumers and constituting 40 per cent. of world trade. Such a huge market gives consumers greater choice, and the greater competition and liberalisation of the single market has helped to achieve lower prices. The single market provides for better consumer protection; gives United Kingdom citizens the right to work, study or retire in all the other member states; and has significantly reduced export bureaucracy for business.

The Government have provided significant input into the Commission's new single market strategy, which is due to be endorsed by the Helsinki summit. The strategy reflects United Kingdom priorities for the single market, including utilities legislation.

Mr. Forth: I welcome the Minister back to Westminster from his bus trip, with his funny friend,

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to try to stir up Euro-fanaticism among the excited population. However, why has the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs chosen not to have any discussions with the German Chancellor on the single market? On the face of it, it seems that German companies are rightly free to come here and, when the market thinks it appropriate, to take over British companies, whereas the German Chancellor seems perversely to take the view that United Kingdom companies should have no reciprocal right to take over, or merge with, German companies. Does the Minister think that that is not only a bit peculiar and unbalanced, but a direct violation of the single market which he has just been so lavishly praising?

Mr. Vaz: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind comments about my bus. I am sorry that he was not able to join us--some Conservative party members were on the Eurobus with us, and it was an enormous success. His comments on the single market dealt with commercial matters, and decisions on them will have to be made commercially between companies. The Government have no intention of interfering in those commercial decisions.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): I have listened carefully to my hon. Friend's comments. However, in my constituency, the reality is that a number of major German companies have taken over the largest employers, including Rolls-Royce motors. That could be said to be a commercial matter, and there were no political objections to it, but some of us might have liked to have seen rather more effort going into objections. However, that did not happen. Is my hon. Friend aware that that is not the case in the response of German Ministers?

Mr. Vaz: I can assure my hon. Friend that the United Kingdom benefits enormously from being part of the single market. There are 700,000 British businesses in the European Union. It is also very important that we should understand that 3.5 million jobs are dependent on us being involved and being part of the single market and the European Union, and that we shall continue to prosper for being part of it.

Iran

16. Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): What plans his Department has to improve Britain's relations with Iran; and if he will make a statement. [99960]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Hain): Our policy is to encourage the reforms already under way in Iran while pressing for

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improvements in those Iranian policies that are of concern. We hope that the Iranian Foreign Minister, Dr. Kharazzi, will visit in the new year, and that the Foreign Secretary will visit Iran in the spring. The permanent under-secretary for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office visited Tehran on 28 November.

Mr. Brake: I thank the Minister for his response. When he is having discussions with the Iranian authorities, will he consider the fate of the 13 members of the Jewish community who are detained in Iran? Will he also perhaps raise some very specific issues--such as whether the prisoners are in fact being given access to their families and to kosher food; whether the prisoners will have access to adequate legal representation, if there is a trial; and whether international observers will be allowed at any trial?

Mr. Hain: Those points are very well made, and taken. We are very concerned about the plight of the 13 Jewish detainees. We do not want them to be scapegoats, and they must experience fair and open proceedings, preferably with international observers. We have repeatedly raised that issue with the Iranian Government. We feel that the reform programme that President Khatami has initiated, and the diplomatic engagement with the Iranians with which we are now proceeding, will allow those points to be taken on board. I certainly hope that, whatever proceedings take place affecting the detainees, there are no severe punishments for anyone concerned and certainly no executions.

Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West): Many of my constituents are members of the Baha'i community. They regularly raise with me their anxieties about the Iranian Government's persecution of, and discrimination against, members of the Baha'i faith in Iran. Will the Minister give an assurance that, during the visits that he announced for early next year, the concerns and human rights of members of the Baha'i community in Iran are raised at the highest level, and that the Iranian Government are urged to treat them fairly and equally?

Mr. Hain: I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. We have already raised those matters with the Iranian Government at the highest level. It is important that those of us in the west who have had difficult relations with Iran in the past encourage the process of change and reform that President Khatami is leading. It is in the interests of the Iranian people and of regional stability--and, indeed, that of the world--for the reform programme to succeed. I am sure that respect for the human rights of the Baha'is and others will help the success of that programme.

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Chechnya

21. Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): What discussions he has had with the Government of Russia concerning the war in Chechnya. [99966]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): The Russian ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Office this morning. The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), asked him to convey to Moscow the alarm and dismay of the United Kingdom and its partners at the recent turn of events in Chechnya.

I wholeheartedly condemn yesterday's ultimatum to the residents of Grozny to flee or be destroyed. We have, with our partners, repeatedly recorded our concern at the effect of the military offensive on the civilian population. We would deplore any action to intensify rather than limit that military offensive.

I spoke to the Russian Foreign Minister last Friday, when I pressed him for an early date for a visit to the region by the chairman-in-office of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. I was pleased that, over the weekend, Mr. Ivanov agreed that the visit could take place next week, but it is harder to envisage positive prospects for the OSCE's attempt to establish a political process if the military violence continues to escalate.

We have sought a closer working relationship through dialogue with Russia. It is in Europe's interest that we should help create a democratic and stable Russia that is engaged with the outside world. That must remain the right strategic goal for our policy on Russia, but we cannot continue to assist Russia if Russia does not respect basic humanitarian norms.

If Russia proceeds with its threat to Grozny on Saturday, we will expect the Helsinki Council to consider the future of the assistance to Russia under the TACIS programme, which provides technical and financial help for the modernisation of the society and the economy in Russia.

Yesterday, the International Monetary Fund management decided not to recommend disbursement of the next £400 million tranche to Russia. In the current circumstances, I welcome that decision.

Britain understands that Russia has legitimate concerns about terrorism and violent crime in Chechnya, but we cannot understand how Russia imagines that it can root out terrorism by attacking a whole population. We appeal to Russia not to escalate its military campaign in a way that will further undermine its relations with the outside world and further damage its own national interests.

Mr. Robertson: I thank the Foreign Secretary for that reply. However, does he share my alarm at the deterioration of the situation since he spoke to Foreign Minister Ivanov? There has been further aggression, and there are predictions that the war could last for many months. The citizens of Grozny have been told to leave by Saturday. The Foreign Secretary acknowledged that that was unacceptable, and I am sure that he knows that many people in Grozny cannot leave--many are old or sick, or terrified of leaving the city in case they are caught up in the bombing. The Russian authorities' promise of a safe corridor is worthless. Will he convey to the Russian

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authorities in even stronger terms--such as those that he used to the authorities in Kosovo--the seriousness of the situation?


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