Previous SectionIndexHome Page


7. Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries): What plans he has to develop links between the UK and Ukraine. [69583]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mike O'Brien): As part of our effort to support and encourage Ukraine's transformation to a democratic state, the UK is building on established links to enhance bilateral and multilateral engagement with Ukraine.

23 Jul 2002 : Column 837

Mr. Brown: I thank my hon. Friend for his response. He may be aware that Ukraine recently established a consulate in Edinburgh and that the intention is to establish a Scotland-Ukraine foundation. People are looking to Ukraine for support, advice and guidance on agriculture, farming—particularly fish farming—and forestry. Does my hon. Friend see a role for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in helping to establish and strengthen such a foundation?

Mr. O'Brien: Yes, we very much welcomed the opening of a Ukrainian consulate in Edinburgh in February 2002. A Scottish-Ukrainian foundation or society would, we feel, help to develop UK-Ukrainian bilateral links. I shall ask our new ambassador at Kiev to see what he can do to help launch a Scottish-Ukrainian society or foundation, perhaps by holding an inaugural reception, for example.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): In view of the enlargement of Europe, which we all welcome and endorse, will the Foreign Secretary ensure that Ukraine is not left out of the equation, that we will not create a new iron curtain along the Polish border and that we will recognise that communities in Belarus and Ukraine need access to their fellow kinsmen and women in Poland as well as the commerce and trade on which they depend? I am concerned that we will cut these people off if the map of Europe does not include Ukraine or Belarus.

Mr. O'Brien: We certainly do want to ensure that there are no more iron curtains. Europe has had enough of that and is well rid of it. We want to ensure that Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova—especially Belarus—all have a record on human rights and democratic values that is to some extent better than it is today. A debate on Belarus in Westminster Hall today certainly showed that that country has a very long way to go before we can say that it would be part of the European Union, or indeed Europe in a broader sense.

Ukraine is developing more democratic values, but we still need to have a critical engagement with it on the way forward to ensure that we can perform our close economic and political ties with Ukraine.


8. Mr. David Drew (Stroud): What recent discussions he has had with the Government of Sudan on the renewed fighting in the Sudan, with specific reference to conflict around the oil fields. [69584]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Denis MacShane): I am happy to welcome the agreement on the Sudan peace process announced at Machakos on 20 July, which addressed the main points made in my hon. Friend's question. I shall place a copy of the text of the framework agreement in the Library.

Mr. Drew: I thank my hon. Friend. In this rather depressing world, with all these conflicts, that is some of the best news that those of us who take an interest in Sudan could possibly hear, given that it is the world's longest-lasting conflict. As we move towards the way in which self-determination will be allowed for in the south

23 Jul 2002 : Column 838

as part of the peace formula, does my hon. Friend agree that it is even more necessary to try to get a ceasefire in the area around the oilfields, in the western upper Nile, and will the Government continue to take a leading role in trying to bring the parties together so that we end this conflict once and for all?

Mr. MacShane: It is indeed good news, but my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that this is the first major step forward in the framework agreement; there is much more to be done. The United Kingdom, together with our partners—America, Norway and Italy—will be taking an active interest. I pay tribute to Alan Goulty, the Foreign Office official who has been the Prime Minister's envoy in Sudan. British diplomacy has been shown to work, and this shows the importance of engaging with Africa.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): I join the Minister in welcoming recent developments in Sudan and join him wholeheartedly in paying tribute to American efforts in the region and those of Alan Goulty and his team from our own Foreign Office.

A second round of talks is due to start on 12 August. The talks are designed to pick up the recent framework agreement and, for instance, add some constitutional arrangements that might better define relations between north and south. What prospects are there for a comprehensive ceasefire, not just around the oil fields but everywhere, between the Government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army, and what is the Minister's assessment of the next steps that can be taken to achieve one?

Mr. MacShane: I do not have time to read out the text of the agreement, but there are references to the people of south Sudan, which I know will be of interest to the hon. Gentleman, who has taken a very direct personal interest in Sudanese affairs. They have the right to control and govern affairs in their region and participate equitably in the national government. They have the right to self-determination, inter alia through a referendum to determine their future status. For those hon. Members interested in Sudan, I recommend a thorough reading of the detail of this agreement. It shows that good news—really good news—can come out of Africa.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): I welcome the tremendous news and the remarkable and assiduous diplomacy of the members of the Sudan unit, but does my hon. Friend accept that perhaps the key to this whole process and to the breakthrough has been the inclusion in the agreement of a decision to hold a referendum after a six-year interim period, which would include an option for secession, as well as an option for unity of the country? In pursuing the hard work that needs to be undertaken in the next few weeks and months, will my hon. Friend ensure that humanitarian access to the whole country is prominent in discussions?

Mr. MacShane: That is important to a number of hon. Members who participated in a Westminster Hall debate on the subject. My hon. Friend is right about the six-year time frame. I hope that the two interested groups in Sudan will agree that it is better to keep the country together, in line with the agreed text on state and religion. Part of that

23 Jul 2002 : Column 839

process is continuing the aid—£8 million is coming from the United Kingdom alone this year—and my hon. Friends at the Department for International Development are engaged in that. We should mention the role of President Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya, whose statesmanship helped to bring the agreement to fruition.


9. Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): What recent representations he has made to the Government of the People's Republic of China with respect to the practitioners of Falun Gong; and if he will make a statement. [69585]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Denis MacShane): We regularly raise our concerns about Falun Gong with the Chinese, both in bilateral meetings and at the UK-China human rights dialogue. Last Monday, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary did so in his meeting in Beijing with the Chinese Foreign Minister, Mr. Tang.

Dr. Ladyman: My hon. Friend's concern for the practitioners of Falun Gong is welcome. Does he agree that what is happening to Falun Gong and other religious minorities in China is extremely worrying, but that the forthcoming Olympic games provide a real opportunity for the entire international community to put pressure on the People's Republic of China to improve its human rights record and to free practitioners of Falun Gong?

Mr. MacShane: My hon. Friend is right; I welcome his commitment to, and involvement in, this issue. Many of his arguments were raised in an excellent debate last week in Westminster Hall on the persecution of Christians in Asia. The Olympic games are an enormous opportunity for all of us to engage in every sense with China on political democracy, human rights and economic opening. The two previous Olympic games that took place in Asia—Japan in 1964 and South Korea in 1988—helped to accelerate the process of modernisation and reform and the transition from a more authoritarian form of society in those countries. I hope that the 2008 Olympic games will do the same for China.


10. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): If he will make a statement on Government policy on arms sales to Israel via a third country. [69586]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): All export licence applications for items to be exported to Israel via an intermediate country are assessed on a case-by-case basis against the consolidated European Union and national arms export licensing criteria in the light of the circumstances prevailing at the time and taking account of other relevant factors. Licence applications for goods where it is understood that they are to be incorporated

23 Jul 2002 : Column 840

into products for onward export are assessed as described in my written reply of 8 July to my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping).

Ann Clwyd: Given that the Israeli defence force has admitted using more weapons and munitions against the Palestinians in the month of April alone than it did in the whole of the previous 10 years, what possible justification can there be for selling any more arms to Israel?

Mr. Straw: While I understand my hon. Friend's point of view, I do not share it. All countries have a right to defend themselves and that is made explicit by the European Union and national criteria. These are extremely difficult decisions. I had to think long and hard, as did my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Defence and for Trade and Industry, who are also involved in making the decisions. They are difficult, but I am satisfied that the decisions that we made are consistent with the EU and national criteria.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Following the killing of children in a targeted attack yesterday, will the Foreign Secretary summon the Israeli ambassador and tell him that he believes that that uncivilised conduct does nothing but harm to a country that many of us hold in real affection and high regard, which we want to see survive as a thriving, prosperous, independent, protected nation, but which is not conducting itself quite as we expect it to at the moment?

Mr. Straw: I am making arrangements for the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), to speak to the ambassador this afternoon. I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman's views, which I think that the whole House shares, about the unjustified and disproportionate nature of the attack and its consequences are conveyed to the ambassador and, through him, to the Israeli Government.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): Does the Foreign Secretary accept that Israel is entitled to defend itself from attack and that it has a specific right to defend its citizens, at least 1 million of whom are currently at threat from rockets supplied by Iran through Syria, which are ready to be fired from Israel's northern borders on its civilian population?

Mr. Straw: As I said a moment ago, I accept the right of any country, under the UN charter, to act in self-defence. Such self-defence has to be proportionate and to take account of other circumstances. That goes without saying. On the specific issue of arms exports, I say again that if my right hon. and hon. Friends and other hon. Members read the criteria, they will see that they are a complex matrix of criteria that seek to balance some very difficult and often conflicting issues.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): Might I ask the Foreign Secretary to consider a specific instance? If the pilot of the F-16 that fired the missile which did such terrible damage and caused so many casualties in Gaza yesterday had been using, as he may be able to in 2003, a head-up display manufactured by a British company and

23 Jul 2002 : Column 841

licensed for export by the United Kingdom Government, would the Foreign Secretary have considered the export of that component to be consistent with Government policy?

Mr. Straw: We are still getting further information about, as it were, which F-16 was used in the attack, but the contract between British Aerospace and Lockheed Martin for the supply of head-up displays is of long standing. So it is perfectly possible—I do not happen to know—that such equipment, licensed by previous Administrations or indeed by this Administration, was incorporated in that equipment.

Of course, I share the belief around the whole House about the unacceptable nature of the attack, but there are other issues involved in the licensing decisions that we have to make, particularly when there is incorporation into a third country's products. Particularly over the past five years, all defence industries have become much more transnational—in our case, transatlantic—and what we are doing is part of a transatlantic assembly line.

Other EU countries face exactly the same dilemma. So far as we have been able to ascertain—their information is confidential on the whole, while ours is fully public—they have acted in a very similar way. At heart, there is on the one hand concern to avoid the kind of thing that happened this morning. On the other, countries have a clear right in international law to act in self-defence, not only against other nation states but against terrorism. In addition, we as a nation have taken a strategic decision to have a defence industry. It necessarily follows that, in properly controlled circumstances, that defence industry must be allowed to export.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield): When a 150 sq m, two-storey apartment block is hit by a missile from an F-16 killing 15 people and nine children, how is it acceptable that British equipment could be supplied for that through a third party, whereas it would not be acceptable if we did it directly?

Mr. Straw: The issue is more complicated than that. The equipment appears to have been misused in this case, but if my hon. Friend looks carefully at the criteria, he will find, first, that we have applied the criteria and, secondly, that the criteria seek to take account, under criterion 7, of

It so happens that the Quadripartite Committee itself said that the United States' conventional arms transfer policy

Although in a particular instance the United States may come to a slightly different decision from us or the EU, the fact is that its arms control policy and the exercise of it are, on any basis, at least as transparent and as effective as the United Kingdom's, and certainly more transparent than that of almost all of our European Union partners.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): Given that, last year, direct arms sales to Israel almost doubled from £12.5 million to £22.5 million, and in the light of atrocities such as that which occurred yesterday, how can

23 Jul 2002 : Column 842

the right hon. Gentleman, sincere as he no doubt is, be expected to be taken as an honest broker in the middle east peace process?

Mr. Straw: Interestingly enough—although, of course, this is a matter of grave concern—the suggestion that we do not have a role to play in the middle east because we supply arms is not one that has been raised with me by any interlocutor in the middle east. On the issue of arms sales to Israel, it is true that the number of licences has increased, but so has the number of refusals. While, altogether, there were six refusals of specific licences in 2000, there were 31 refusals of specific licences last year.

Ms Christine Russell (City of Chester): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the recent proposal by the Israeli Government to deport forcibly the families of suspected Palestinian militants from the west bank to Gaza will result in further escalation of violence rather than improvement in peace and security?

Mr. Straw: What I would say is that violence is never justified, but I regard the threat of deportation, still more the reality, as wholly unjustified. Yesterday, I ensured that that word, "unjustified", was inserted into the General Affairs Council's conclusions when we discussed the middle east.

Next Section

IndexHome Page