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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Hain): We and our European Union partners have taken every appropriate opportunity to raise our concerns about the unsatisfactory nature of the case, which I last raised with the Iranian ambassador when I met him on 19 October. While noting the reductions in sentence of between two and six years on appeal, we hope that the Iranian judiciary will now show clemency.
Mr. Thomas: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his reply and for his hard work on this issue. Does he recall that those people have been in prison since March last year on what most, if not all, independent observers recognise were trumped-up charges, and that the only reason for their imprisonment is that they are Jewish? Does he also recall the series of assurances we had from representatives of the Iranian authorities, who said that there would be a fair and open trail? In fact, there was little more than a show trial. Will he continue to press directly and through our allies for the sentences to be commuted and for the early release of those innocent people?
Mr. Hain: I acknowledge my hon. Friend's interest in this case. That is right and proper, because it has caused widespread distress among his constituents and throughout Britain. This case does Iran no credit.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): What intelligence can the Minister offer the House about the treatment of those prisoners while they are incarcerated? Does he accept that in calling for justice and clemency, he is much strengthened by the knowledge that public opinion in Iran strongly favours reform of that country's political system?
Mr. Hain: I welcome the hon. Gentleman's point, because it highlights one of the central problems for progress on this matter. The Government have sought to engage constructively with the Government of President Khatami, who are reforming Iran with the mass support of the people. The Iranian Government are facing resistance not least among the judiciary, which is under the control of reactionary forces. These persecuted Jewish residents of Iran have found themselves stuck in the middle. That has prevented a satisfactory resolution to the problem, but we are still hopeful that the Iranian Government will understand international concern and act accordingly.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): It is extremely helpful to have a clear statement from the Minister, and we welcome his constant support. Does he accept that only pressure will make it clear to the Iranian authorities that if they want to be accepted internationally, this is not the way to go, and that the sooner these people are either tried honestly and openly or released the better it will be for the Iranian people?
Mr. Hain: I hope that the Iranian ambassador, with whom I have discussed this case recently, listens to my hon. Friend's point. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has consistently raised the issue at the highest level, as I have. It is in Iran's interest, and certainly in the Iranian Government's interest, for clemency to be shown in this case, which is an appalling stain on Iran's recent record at a time when much progress is being made that we should support.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Keith Vaz): RAXEN, the European racism and xenophobia information network, is an information- sharing network established by the European Union's monitoring centre on racism and xenophobia. European Union Ministers agreed the programme in 1997. The Government are committed to combating racism and promoting diversity in Britain and across Europe. We will continue to support RAXEN and the European monitoring centre in any way that we can.
Mr. Vaz: I know that the hon. Gentleman was a member of the Freedom Association, but I thought that his views might have matured since he joined the House of Commons. RAXEN and the monitoring centre do excellent work. He may have prepared his supplementary question before he realised that this was not a question about the rapid reaction force. It is about an effective organisation that is doing very good work. It is right that we should celebrate the diversity of cultures in the European Union. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman and Conservative Members do not support that work. I suggest that he uses one of his visits as a Member of Parliament to go to Austria and see those people, and then he will know what excellent work they do.
The outcome secured Britain's strategic objectives. It opens the door to enlargement by agreeing the necessary reforms to the Council of Ministers, the Commission and the European Parliament. It provides Britain with the first-ever increase in its vote. It removes the veto of other countries in some areas where Britain wants progress, such as tougher management of the Community budget, but it respects Britain's red lines by preserving unanimity on both tax and social security. It is a good deal for Britain. It is also a good deal for the candidate countries, which have widely welcomed agreement to the treaty and want to see it ratified.
Despite the Opposition's scaremongering about, for instance, increasing qualified majority voting, the reweighting of votes, the possible loss of vetoes and possible further integration, is it not a fact that the British Government negotiated successfully? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the outcome of the Nice summit paves the way for further enlargement? [Interruption.]
Yesterday, the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) and many others tried to claim that we had never been under any pressure on tax. I hope that this morning they heard the statement by President Chirac and Pierre Moscovici, the French European Minister, stressing how hard they had worked and how much they regretted the fact that we had not moved. We were only able to maintain those red lines because we remained firm over four days, and because of the brilliant case put by the Prime Minister.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): The Prime Minister told us yesterday that he had--as indeed he has--increased the United Kingdom's voting share in the Council of Ministers; but will the Foreign Secretary now tell us exactly what the percentage increase is? According to figures that I have been given, it has risen from 11.49 per cent. to 12.4 per cent. Is that the greatest diplomatic triumph since the treaty of Berlin?
Mr. Cook: Yes--it is much better than anything we got under 18 years of Conservative government. As a matter of fact, our share steadily shrank: with every additional enlargement, the British share of the vote went down. We have now secured a significant increase, which will see us through the joining of the first six countries. During that time, we shall see no net reduction of any significance in the current British share.
We have protected Britain's strength. We have a stronger Britain, in what can now become a wider Europe. I would expect the Opposition--who keep saying that they believe in Britain, and believe in standing up for Britain--to welcome Britain's obtaining more clout in Europe.
Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham): Will the Foreign Secretary tell us in how many areas it was agreed that the national veto should be given up? Was it 23, as the Commission has said, or 39, as the right hon. Gentleman's own officials have apparently said? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with us that the mainstream majority of the public here want to see a real process of
Mr. Cook: I am not quite sure to what extent the Opposition have been observing what happened at Nice. For four hours over Sunday night and Monday, we argued with one particular country. That is not evidence of a superstate; that is evidence of substantial--[Interruption.] I am answering the question. It is evidence of the way in which the European Union pays respect to the views of one country.
The treaty of Nice provides for qualified majority voting in 31 articles. Ten are articles from which Britain is already exempt because we are not part of Schengen. Three relate to the appointment and pensions of officials, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister pointed out yesterday. The remainder are substantial changes. I do not diminish them. They are substantial changes that we wanted because we wanted to get rid of the veto of other countries on tougher management of the Community budget; because we wanted to ensure that we have tight rules on structural funds, so that they cannot be mismanaged; and because we wanted to ensure that we can change the rules and procedure of the European Court of Justice, so that Britain can get its cases heard faster and more fairly. Those are gains for Britain.
The treaty is also a gain for Europe. Every hon. Member, including the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), has received a letter from the Federation of Poles in Great Britain urging--[Interruption.] Yes, the right hon. Gentleman has received it. The letter asks the House to be the first to ratify a treaty in the interests of central Europe. I would like to know what answer the right hon. Gentleman proposes to give the federation.
Mr. Maude: I will give the answer now--we would ratify tomorrow a treaty that was genuinely about enlargement. We would agree tomorrow the matters in the treaty that were genuinely about enlargement, reweighting of votes and the size of the Commission. We will not agree to ratify the relentless march towards full political union to which the Foreign Secretary has agreed.
I return to the question that we put to the right hon. Gentleman. He is plainly saying that he will say no to the Polish federation; to the Polish Prime Minister, who described the decision at Nice as "exceptionally favourable"; to the Foreign Minister of Estonia, who said that the agreement was "historic"; and to the Foreign Minister of Lithuania, who said:
Mr. Maude: Will the Foreign Secretary answer the question that he has been asked? Does he believe that Secretary Cohen is fundamentally dishonest, to use his casual phrase? Secretary Cohen said that the arrangements should be put together, so that there was no separate operational planning, and that:
Mr. Cook: There is no operational planning capacity in the proposals for European security. What the documents say is that we have a guaranteed permanent access to NATO's operational planning capacity. It is that which we will use in any exercise.
Mr. Cook: I have indeed read all the documents. That is why I know that there is no provision for an operational planning capacity. The day after the speech from which the right hon. Gentleman quoted, Secretary Cohen said that he was in complete agreement with the British position.
I return to my earlier point. The right hon. Gentleman has just suggested that this is all about one man's vanity. The fact is that 30 different countries took part in the capabilities conference two weeks ago. There were 30 different countries. The matter has been driven not by one man's vanity, but by those countries combined desire