Previous SectionIndexHome Page


5. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): What research he has commissioned on future international relations consequent upon demand, supply, distribution and trade in oil; and if he will make a statement. [183358]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): The Foreign and Commonwealth Office White Paper entitled "UK International Priorities" identifies the security of UK and global energy supplies as a strategic challenge that, with our international partners, we intend to meet.

Harry Cohen: The Minister will be aware that current thought links energy security with industrialisation and modernity and that oil remains key to that despite its being a finite resource, but there is high demand for it, including from countries such as China, Brazil and India. Does he agree that it is a myth that such things can be controlled by the market and that, inevitably, military force will apply? Should not the Foreign Office commission a review now to seek some international order in oil supply and demand, rather than the current free-for-all, and to examine the United Kingdom's position, thus shifting us to more sustainable energy sources, less dependent on oil?

Mr. Rammell: If it comes to military action, we will certainly all be the losers in those circumstances. What we need is a comprehensive strategy that takes account of market conditions, whereby we seek to achieve greater political stability in energy-producing countries. We consider energy security, but we certainly consider sustainability. That is why our commitment to the Kyoto protocol and moving beyond that is particularly important, as is increasing our commitment to renewable energy, so our leadership in the renewable
13 Jul 2004 : Column 1245
energy and energy efficiency partnership internationally is a key component in what we are trying to take forward.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): Has the Minister considered the foreign policy implications of the fact that we are about to become a net importer of energy over the next couple of years, much of it gas from Russia? If, for example, we wanted to invade a middle east country to remove its weapons of mass destruction, unless countries such as Russia agreed with us, they would turn off the gas. Given that the Government's energy policy is for us to become 70 per cent. dependent on gas in the future, does that not leave us rather exposed?

Mr. Rammell: The reason why we are pursuing such a comprehensive strategy is that we will become dependent on oil imports, for example, from about 2010. Our relationship with Russia is especially important, which is why we need to consider the security of supply, and the situation explains why it is such a key partner to us. There is no one simple quick-fix solution. The issue is extraordinarily complicated, so we need to take things forward on a variety of fronts.

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East) (Lab): When my hon. Friend considers these matters, will he pay particular attention to the south Caucasus, given the presence of President Saakashvili in London today, and especially to the continuing tension between Azerbaijan and Armenia, given that Azerbaijan has oil and Armenia has none?

Mr. Rammell: We certainly will take account of those issues. When I was in Georgia last week, we examined specifically the matter of the pipeline, which can be a significant component of the diversification of energy supply within that area. That is something that we must take forward, and I am sure that the Foreign Secretary and I will discuss it with President Saakashvili this afternoon.

Constitutional Treaty

6. Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) (Lab): Whether he plans to discuss the constitutional treaty for the European Union with members of the Trades Union Congress. [183360]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): Yes, on Wednesday 21 July, when I shall meet the TUC executive committee.

Mr. Griffiths: Can my right hon. Friend confirm that he will encourage trade unionists to vote for the constitutional treaty when we have a referendum because it will provide a sound legal framework to enable trade unions to pursue their members' interests within the law in a beneficial manner?

Mr. Straw: Yes, indeed I will. That is one of the many reasons why I shall urge the TUC executive committee and the trade union movement more generally to support the constitution for the European Union when it is put forward in a referendum.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): Many thousands of workers in the onshore and offshore fisheries industries
13 Jul 2004 : Column 1246
are gravely concerned by the incorporation of the common fisheries policy as an exclusive competence of the European Union. Many of them are trade union members who are worried that we will see the continuing decline of our coastal communities. Will the Foreign Secretary tell them whether he believes that that failed policy will lead to more or fewer jobs in the fishery industry in the future?

Mr. Straw: I think that members of the fishing industry are more concerned about the unconvincing dissembling of members of the Scottish National party over the issue, for which it received a disastrous result in the European parliamentary elections in June. As the erstwhile leader of the Scottish National party admitted to me, it is quite wrong for it to pretend that the conservation of marine biological resources is, for the first time, to become an exclusive competence under the constitution. It has been an exclusive competence ever since the European Union was established. The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) knows that, and he needs to spell it out to Scottish fishermen.

Mr. Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool) (Lab): Would my right hon. Friend accept that many of us regard the Government's achievement on the constitutional treaty as a considerable political and diplomatic coup in British interests? In that context, it was right for the Government to apply belt and braces to the charter of fundamental rights, but does he accept that by doing so, they gave the impression of giving too little weight to the social dimension in Europe? I think that that is an impression rather than a fact but, none the less, the Government would do well to redress it in the coming weeks and months.

Mr. Straw: I accept the compliments that my right hon. Friend offered in the first part of his question, and I understand the point that he makes. During my discussions with the Trades Union Congress next Wednesday—and in many other ways—we will certainly emphasise the benefits to British people and British trade unionists that have arisen over the past seven years and more of a Labour Government as a result of signing up to the social chapter. We shall continue with the agenda of social Europe.

On the issue of the charter, a bit of belt and braces was necessary to ensure that it remained for the British Parliament to determine our industrial relations laws, not the European Union. We have done that, but British trade unionists, especially, celebrate all the benefits that they have received as a result of our decision to sign up to the social chapter, including proper guaranteed holidays and parental leave. The previous Conservative Government denied all such things—they would deny them again—and we will certainly emphasise those points in the campaign for a yes vote to the constitution.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk) (Con): Given that the charter of fundamental rights in the constitution will assuredly, according to legal counsel and the European Commission itself, lead to the European Court of Justice overriding our asylum laws and make it easier for trade unions to call strikes, why on earth do we need it?

Mr. Straw: Were it true, there would be cause for worry, but both points that the hon. Gentleman raises
13 Jul 2004 : Column 1247
are nonsense. He will be aware that, under an existing article of the treaties, issues concerning negotiation of pay and the right to strike are specifically excluded from the European Union's competence and are a matter for national Governments and Parliaments.

Tyrannical Regimes

7. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): What plans he has to take further steps to seek to amend (a) international law and (b) the structures of the UN to deal with tyrannical regimes. [183361]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): This Government have led the international debate on improving collective action against tyrannical regimes. International law and the role of UN bodies are continually evolving to meet new challenges. We therefore fully support further reforms that strengthen the capacity of the UN and other bodies to deal with such regimes.

Mr. Allen: Does my hon. Friend accept that progressive opinion both inside and outside this House will judge our tenure in the Foreign Office against the criteria of whether we have been able to tackle tyrannies globally, first by strengthening international law and secondly by boosting global institutions so that we can effectively tackle tyrannies? Will he therefore redouble his efforts to seek humanitarian-based criteria for intervention in tyrannical regimes and report to the House on the current state of play in the high-level panel created by the Secretary-General of the UN to bring these matters to a serious conclusion, hopefully before the next general election in this country?

Mr. Rammell: I thank my hon. Friend for that question and for his interest in this issue, which I know is long standing. We have already taken significant steps, such as through our commitment and support for the International Criminal Court, but much still needs to be done. We need to work on developing an international consensus through the United Nations in terms of the circumstances that should justify intervention in a variety of forms to meet a developing humanitarian crisis. We are very strongly putting that view forward, and I believe that that argument is increasingly gaining ground in the high-level panel.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): Does the Minister agree that there are two difficulties with this matter? First, tyrannical regimes do not tend to abide by the provisions of international law. Secondly, the United Nations is itself significantly populated by such regimes, which will define the criteria by which the law might be changed.

Mr. Rammell: In many respects, that is a counsel of despair. Historically, one of the biggest indictments of the whole international community and the United Nations was our failure to act in 1994 when genocide was taking place in Rwanda. I never want us internationally to face that situation again, which is why I believe that it is crucial that we take the agenda forward as positively as we can.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): I applaud the ministerial team for its efforts in taking this agenda
13 Jul 2004 : Column 1248
forward quite boldly, especially with the high-level panel, but what hopes does it hold that we can effectively have charter change and accomplish a two-thirds majority, so that we can seek intervention on humanitarian grounds in exceptional circumstances? When I held a panel of sixth-formers on Monday morning, many of them were opposed to intervention in Iraq, but would also support such action and are frustrated when they look at other parts of the world and see the failure of the international community to intervene in exceptional circumstances.

Mr. Rammell: There is a developing consensus and we would be prepared to consider charter change, although given the requirement for a two-thirds majority at the General Assembly, that is a significant hurdle that we would have to overcome. If one looks at the history of the development of the United Nations, one sees that it has often been through a process of evolution. What gives me confidence, however, is that across the board internationally, there is a growing acceptance that we need to move forward on this issue. We are at the forefront of those arguments.

Next Section IndexHome Page