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Concentration Camps (Liberation)

14. Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): What steps his Department is taking to commemorate the liberation of (a) Auschwitz and (b) Belsen. [199367]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): I am planning to attend the special commemorative events in Poland in January next year to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. A United Kingdom delegation and a group of UK schoolchildren will attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial to those who died and will join other international guests for a service at Auschwitz camp. That important anniversary will also be marked by the publication on 27 January of a special booklet by the Ministry of Defence, which will explain the history of all the camps, and contain accounts from holocaust survivors.

Mr. Dismore: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for indicating that the Government see the importance of marking those events. Will he say what he plans to do to commemorate the liberation of Belsen, which was, of course, carried out by UK troops? What can we do to ensure that those events are not forgotten by future generations? What will he do to make sure that those commemorations have a long-lasting effect on younger people?

Mr. Caplin: My hon. Friend is right. Belsen was liberated in April 1945. At the moment, I am not aware of any plans for a special commemoration, except to say that Belsen will be included in the booklet to which I have already referred. The object of taking schoolchildren to such an important occasion, which we did in Normandy, Cassino and Arnhem, is to ensure that we pass on the remembrance of those events to future generations.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): I welcome everything that the Minister has said today, but will he
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include one extra dimension in the booklet and commemorations to which he has referred? That extra dimension is the experiences of the allied troops who had to go in and liberate those extermination centres and camps. He will be well aware that many of those veterans suffered flashbacks and nightmares for many years—in some cases for the rest of their lives. He will also perhaps be aware that a member of the parliamentary delegation to Buchenwald was so affected by what she saw that she committed suicide shortly after her return. Will he pay tribute to the people who had to clear up the horrors that were perpetrated?

Mr. Caplin: I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to all the British forces in 1945 who had to carry out that job on behalf of our country.

Heroes Return

15. Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): If he will make a statement on progress with the heroes return initiative. [199368]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): The heroes return programme provides grants from the Big Lottery Fund to enable world war two veterans and their widows, spouses and carers to attend events abroad to commemorate their service. Since I launched the programme on 9 February, it has received 8,835 eligible applications and paid out more than £7 million, enabling nearly 20,000 people to travel to all the theatres which saw action in the second world war. The programme will remain open for applications until 31 March 2005, and I encourage veterans who have not yet made an application to do so.

Laura Moffatt: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he know that 21 of my constituents have made visits to important commemorations, using £6,000-worth of lottery funds? That is a very effective use of lottery funding. I well remember the many criticisms that were made of lottery funding, particularly by Her Majesty's Opposition. Given that few of us could argue that this is not the best way in which to use that funding, can my hon. Friend tell me whether there are any further plans to do so?

Mr. Caplin: We have a good and constructive relationship with the lottery fund, which we have developed over the past year. I am pleased that my hon. Friend's constituents in Crawley have been able to take advantage of the heroes return programme. We are in discussion with the lottery about future programmes. In particular, I draw the House's attention to home front recall, whereby a large fund of lottery money will be available for projects here in the United Kingdom next year, during the 60th anniversary celebrations.

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Middle East and Ukraine

3.30 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement on Ukraine and the Middle East. Let me deal first with Ukraine. The international election observer mission led by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe has concluded that the presidential elections held in Ukraine on 21 November were flawed. On that basis, we cannot accept that the process was either free or fair. The Ukrainian Parliament voted on Saturday by a two-thirds majority for the elections to be rerun. The Ukrainian Supreme Court has suspended official publication of the results and will begin its hearing of opposition challenges to them today.

Meanwhile, the situation in the country remains fragile, with large-scale protests, strikes, blockades of Government buildings and civil disobedience. We urge all parties, including the authorities, to continue to show restraint. Our ambassador in Kiev is seeing the Ukrainian Interior Minister this afternoon with a message to that effect. We are giving active backing to the efforts of the EU presidency, High Representative Javier Solana and the Presidents of Poland and Lithuania to resolve the situation. I spoke again to Dr. Solana this morning.

Let me make this clear. In any democratic election, the decision itself is one for the voters concerned, and for them alone. However, the international community has a clear right and responsibility—in this case, under obligations accepted by the Government of Ukraine—to ensure that the process is a fair one and that the outcome reflects the will of the people.

Let me turn now to Iran. Over the past two years, my French and German counterparts and I, working with the International Atomic Energy Agency, have led efforts to bring Iran into compliance with its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty. Breaches of those obligations, including significant failures to disclose details of Iran's activities, have led to widespread anxiety in the international community about Iran's real intentions. Iran does have the right to pursue a nuclear programme for peaceful purposes, but it is legally barred by the NPT from pursuing a nuclear weapons programme.

We three Foreign Ministers—the so-called E3—visited Tehran on 21 October last year. On 5 and 6 November this year, officials from the E3, the EU and Iran reached an agreement in Paris under which Iran would suspend all its activities related to the most sensitive nuclear technologies—that is, enrichment and reprocessing of nuclear fuel. It is those technologies that allow for the production of weapons-grade material. The suspension would mean that negotiations could begin on long-term arrangements for Iran's civil nuclear programme. The Paris agreement requires that those arrangements should include objective guarantees that Iran's purposes are exclusively peaceful. I have placed a copy of the agreement in the Library.

In parallel, under the agreement, negotiations would begin on areas where Europe and Iran could co-operate—including on technology and commercial co-operation—and on political and security issues of
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mutual interest. The EU and Iran would also resume negotiations on a trade and co-operation agreement, which had been held up because of European concerns on the nuclear issue.

I spoke to my Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharazi, last Tuesday, and to Dr. Hassan Rouhani, Iran's chief negotiator, by telephone last Friday. I stressed to both of them the importance of quickly implementing the Paris agreement in full. Following further talks in Vienna yesterday, Iran has written to the IAEA promising that 20 sets of centrifuge components, which Iran had sought to exclude from the suspension, should now be included. The agency's head, Dr. El-Baradei, is therefore able to state to the board today that suspension is being fully implemented. We tabled a resolution to the IAEA board yesterday evening and I learned before I came to the House that it has been agreed by consensus at the board in Vienna. Let me consider the conference on Iraq, which I attended last Monday and Tuesday in the Egyptian city of Sharm el-Sheikh. The conference brought together representatives from the Iraqi interim government and Iraq's neighbours, the G8, China and others including the United Nations, the Arab League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. I pay tribute to my colleague the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, for his skilful and effective preparation and chairmanship of the meeting. I am placing a copy of the final communiqué in the Library.

As the House knows, in the past two and a half years I have participated in many international discussions on Iraq in the United Nations and elsewhere. Many of those debates have been acrimonious and difficult. In contrast, the Sharm el-Sheikh conference marked a genuine break with that atmosphere. There was a determination by all concerned to put the past behind us. For example, not a single delegate proposed delaying the elections that are due on 30 January in Iraq. The conference sent a clear and unanimous signal of support for the political process in Iraq, based on UN Security Council resolution 1546, and specifically for those elections.

In my intervention at the conference, I explained that we would be working for successful elections in Iraq through three things: efficient election administration, on which the Iraqis and the UN are doing exceptional work in difficult circumstances; promoting full participation by all parts of Iraqi society, regardless of ethnic or sectarian background; and, of course, working for the best possible security.At the conference, Iraq's neighbours also agreed to intensify their co-operation to control their borders with Iraq, so as to stop infiltration by terrorists and insurgents. Interior Ministers will meet in Tehran tomorrow to pursue that.

Directly after the Iraq conference, I visited Israel and the occupied territories last Wednesday and Thursday. In Israel, I had several hours of highly constructive talks with my counterpart, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Leader of the Opposition Shimon Peres and a wide range of Israeli parliamentarians.
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In Ramallah, in the occupied territories, I laid a wreath on the grave of the late President Yasser Arafat. I saw Prime Minister Abu Ala', Chairman of the PLO Abu Mazen, and Ministers Nabil Sha'ath, Salam Fayyad and Sa'eb Erekat.

The past few years have been profoundly tragic and depressing for Israelis and Palestinians alike, with many deaths and injuries on both sides and a climate of fear and suspicion. For those in the region, most dawns in the recent past have proved false. However, I have to tell the House that the change of atmosphere for the better on both sides is now palpable.

Several factors have contributed to that: Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's courageous plan for disengagement from Gaza and the northern west bank; the opportunity of fresh elections in the Palestinian Authority and President Bush's explicit commitment, during my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's visit to Washington, to use America's political capital to give new impetus to the road map. Everywhere I went, there was a real appreciation for the Prime Minister's and all the UK's efforts to assist the peace process, as well as for our wider work in the region.

The immediate priority is the Palestinian Authority presidential elections on 9 January. The UK, both bilaterally and through the EU, will provide material support for those elections and participate in an EU observation mission.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told me that for those elections Israel would ensure freedom of movement and remove any other obstacles as far as security permitted and allow residents of east Jerusalem to vote. He confirmed that the Israeli Government would want to operate according to broadly the same arrangements as were agreed for the 1996 Palestinian elections, and said that Israel would accept international monitoring for the elections. I also discussed all those issues with members of the Palestinian election commission in Ramallah.

The Palestinian Ministers whom I met during my visit readily acknowledged the need to rise to the challenges presented by Israeli disengagement from Gaza and the northern west bank, and to exploit the opportunity for progress that we now have. They were conscious of the need for thoroughgoing reforms of Palestinian institutions, as a crucial step in building the conditions for a viable, democratic Palestinian state.

I was encouraged by the strong commitment on the part of the new Palestinian leadership to improving security arrangements in the occupied territories. They described this to me as a commitment to make a "100 per cent. effort" on security. And they recognised that such an effort is vital for dealing with the rejectionists and terrorists who may well seek to derail progress in future peace negotiations, and for maintaining order and security in the Palestinian territories themselves, particularly in the run-up to the elections.

I made clear our continuing strong support for Palestinian security reform. I visited the central operations room in Ramallah, which the United Kingdom has financed, and was able to observe the security effort that the Palestinians were putting in place.
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We in the international community, as friends of the Israelis and the Palestinians, now need to do all we can to help both sides to seize the opportunities for progress and to restart the peace process laid out in the road map and Security Council resolution 1397, leading to a secure state of Israel alongside a viable state of Palestine. I believe that the whole House agrees that ending this decades-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians would be a huge contribution to stability and peace not just in the region, but worldwide. For that reason, this is of the highest priority for the British Government.

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