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4. Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): What assessment he has made of the links between the Iraqi regime and terrorism in the middle east. [104462]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mike O'Brien): The Iraqi regime has supported, trained and financed the Mujaheddin-e Khalq Organisation terrorist group and encouraged terrorism in the middle east for years, including assisting the murderous Abu Nidal group, the Palestinian Liberation group and Hamas, as well as making payments to the families of suicide bombers.

Mrs. Ellman : Does my hon. Friend accept that Saddam Hussein's payments of about $25,000 to the families of every successful suicide bomber, in highly publicised ceremonies involving the Palestinian Authority, indicates that Saddam Hussein is part of the problem and not part of the solution? Will he be urging Abu Mazen to sever ties with similar groups sponsored by countries such as Iran and Syria, to give peace and the road map a chance?

Mr. O'Brien: On my hon. Friend's final point, the new Palestinian Prime Minister designate, Abu Mazen, needs to be very clear in his condemnation of terrorism,

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and I believe that he will be. As for my hon. Friend's overall point, payments to suicide bombers and their families, or any encouragement for suicide bombers, is reprehensible. The Iraqi regime is clearly part of the problem. The regime has been directly responsible for helping to fuel the conflict in the middle east. The removal of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and the restoration of a stable and democratic Iraq will benefit the whole region. We also need to pursue a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an equally important precondition for long-term peace in the region.

Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford): With potential terrorist attacks and also attacks by the Iraqi regime in the whole middle east region, will the Minister please urgently review the advice and support given to British citizens currently living in Kuwait? A constituent of mine has contacted me to say that the British embassy has failed to issue gas masks, while the French embassy has done so for its citizens. Could that matter be looked into?

Mr. O'Brien: We are giving clear advice to the various British citizens who are in the middle east. In terms of the use of various suits and gas masks, our view is that the best thing for citizens in the area who are concerned is either to leave the area or take other suitable precautions to put themselves in a place of safety. At this point there have been no chemical and biological weapons attacks, and we very much hope that there will be no such attacks.

Roma People

5. Bob Russell (Colchester): What recent representations he has made to applicant nations to the European Union about equal rights and safety for their Roma citizens. [104463]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): The problems of the Roma community are regularly raised by our embassies in the countries concerned and by the European Commission in its regular progress reports. The UK's EU action plans in the relevant countries include projects in the Roma communities, as do EU pre-accession programmes. Indeed, action plans for Slovakia and Romania were personally launched by the Foreign Secretary last year.

Bob Russell : I am grateful to the Minister for that encouraging response. Does he agree that it is somewhat ironic that the Roma communities across central and eastern Europe were protected under almost 50 years of communism, but now that those countries have become democracies, those people have tended to become second-class citizens? Particularly in the Slovak and Czech Republics, there is almost an indication that the state is allowing that state of affairs to pertain. May I encourage the Minister to ensure, and ask him to give an assurance, that further representations will be made, particularly to the Slovak and Czech Republics?

Mr. Rammell: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and, in doing so, recognise his long-standing interest in this issue, although, his recollection of the

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rights of Roma citizens under the former communist regimes does not bear any scrutiny or comparison with what actually happened. We will keep pressing the issue and we fund a number of human rights projects and will continue to do so. I also believe that the process of enlargement, adherence to the Copenhagen criteria and the increased economic opportunities that come with enlargement will address the factors that currently force Roma citizens to leave their countries.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East): Is not the Minister right to say that the enlargement process has had a very positive effect on the member designate countries, which have a better understanding of this country's concerns about the way in which Roma citizens are treated? In his discussions with my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Peter Hain), will he ensure that when the Convention on the Future of Europe is concluded, sufficient protection will be given to the rights of minority groups throughout Europe and, in particular, in the member designate countries?

Mr. Rammell: I believe that the accession process has already led to a significant improvement. Indeed, last year's regular report from the Commission not only highlighted progress that has been made in candidate countries, but, genuinely and legitimately, highlighted areas for further improvement. It is that issue on which we now need to focus. I shall ensure that my hon. Friend's comments about the Convention on the Future of Europe are passed to my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Peter Hain).

United Nations

6. Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): What recent discussions he has had about reform of the constitution of the United Nations. [104464]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): There are ongoing discussions at the United Nations and between member states about a number of UN reform issues. Reform of the United Nations charter requires approval by two thirds of the membership of the UN. Currently, agreement on that issue does not exist. Nevertheless, the UK supports reform of the Security Council to make it more representative of the modern world. In our view, that should include enlargement of both its permanent and non-permanent membership.

Mr. Edwards: Does my hon. Friend agree that many of the people who feel so disappointed that UN support for the current conflict was not achieved are also perplexed about the UN's processes, especially the composition of the Security Council and the use of the veto? Will he assure us that, when the conflict is over, there will be a review of the UN so that it can be reconstituted as a more effective body for resolving conflict in the 21st century?

Mr. Rammell: I share my hon. Friend's frustration at our inability to achieve consensus for a second resolution at the Security Council. We strongly believe that that would have created the best possible

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circumstances in which to maximise pressure on Saddam Hussein and achieve a peaceful resolution. Nevertheless, we need to examine such issues carefully. It is important to look forwards rather than backwards. We are therefore working for the strongest possible UN involvement in any post-conflict Iraq.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): The present UN constitution allows for both mandatory and non-mandatory Security Council resolutions. Do the Government accept the possibility that, at the end of the road map process, there will be a need for a mandatory Security Council resolution to impose a settlement in the middle east peace process?

Mr. Rammell: It is important not to rule out that option because it may be needed, depending on the progress that is made.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): My hon. Friend has just said that he seeks enlargement of the number of permanent members on the Security Council. That could lead to problems unless the veto procedure is changed at the same time. Will my hon. Friend outline any plans or proposals for changing the veto procedure if the number of permanent members on the Security Council is increased?

Mr. Rammell: It is important to expand the permanent membership of the Security Council so that it properly represents the modern world. However, were that to be agreed and implemented, we have no plans to change the number of nations that currently have the veto.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): If we are to be realistic about the UN's structure, it should reflect where power lies and try to combine that with a measure of consensus in its decision making. Will the Foreign Secretary and the Minister join me in strongly rejecting the view of those who have reacted with glee to the UN's problems in the past couple of months? Such gloating is thoroughly irresponsible and serves only to fragment world opinion further.

Will the Minister confirm that, in addition to discussing UN reform, its future and authority is best assured by all of us pressing for the implementation of existing resolutions in an even-handed way, especially in Gaza and the Palestinian west bank?

Mr. Rammell: I agree with the hon. Gentleman on the latter point. I also agree that no one should view with glee what has happened to the UN recently. The UN is not perfect: on several occasions in the past 50 years, we have failed to reach consensus on crucial issues. Nevertheless, it is the only institution within which it is possible to create consensus among peaceful nations to enhance our security. I therefore believe that we should look forwards, not backwards.

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