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House of Commons

Tuesday 25 January 2005

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock

PRAYERS

[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH AFFAIRS

The Secretary of State was asked—

Israel

1. Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): What discussions he has had with his counterparts in the European Union regarding the recent violence in Israel. [210381]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): May I first pass on the Foreign Secretary's apologies for not being here today, as he is in Washington? I know that he has passed those on to you, Mr. Speaker, to the shadow Foreign Secretary and to the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore), who is leading for the Liberal Democrats today.

The Foreign Secretary has had recent discussions with a number of European colleagues on recent events in Israel and the occupied territories, and will hold further talks at the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 31 January. We and our European colleagues continue to condemn all violence and urge appropriate restraint by all parties.

Angela Watkinson: The recent election of Abu Mazen in Palestine and the willingness of Israel to co-operate give us the best opportunity that we have had for a long time to break the dreadful cycle of suicide attacks and reprisals. May I urge the Minister to redouble his discussions with the European Union to take best advantage of the situation, so that we can make progress before any more atrocities take place and that good will is lost?

Mr. Rammell: I wholly agree with the hon. Lady that we have a real opportunity. There is still too much death and hardship on both sides, but the election with a strong majority of Mr. Abu Mazen, who has a clear and unambiguous commitment against violence, is a positive step forward. We are looking forward to his visit here on 1 March so that we can show our political support for reform in the Palestinian Authority and take the process forward.
 
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David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde) (Lab): In 2004 alone, 232 Qassam rockets were fired from the Gaza strip into Israel, and there were 18 such attacks in the first two weeks of this year. Given Abu Mazen's recent welcome announcement on cracking down on terrorism in the Gaza strip, what help and assistance can the EU give to increase the security capacity of the Palestinian Authority, with specific reference to stopping the rockets being smuggled into Gaza through Egypt in the first place?

Mr. Rammell: My hon. Friend highlights a key concern. It is critical that the Palestinian Authority make it abundantly clear that it will step up its security efforts to tackle the challenge. We are doing everything that we can through aid and training to bolster and support the Palestinian Authority. A real effort in tackling terrorism at the same time as the Israeli Government are making efforts to ensure that they act proportionately and with due regard for civilian life, although we recognise their right to defend themselves, provide us with the best opportunity to move forward.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman recall that much equipment sent by the European Union over the past two or three years has been destroyed during incursions by Israelis into the west bank, for whatever reason? That has included computer, air traffic control and hospital equipment. Has he held discussions with his European counterparts about replacing that equipment, and if so, when does he expect replacements to be delivered?

Mr. Rammell: The contributions that both we and the European Union are making to bolster the security effort of the Palestinian Authority are ongoing, and we maintain that commitment. I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says, and such actions have been regrettable. Nevertheless, there are still significant resources in the Palestinian Authority, especially manpower, and it is crucial for it to use that, with our support, to tackle terrorism and beef up its security efforts.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): What action will be taken against Iran and Syria, which continue to back attacks on Israeli citizens, such as the rocket attack that killed a teenager in Sederot in Israel last week?

Mr. Rammell: We have consistently urged all neighbours in the region to desist from supporting terrorist attacks, and we will continue to make that abundantly clear. Both sides must make a real effort to tackle terrorism. The statements made thus far by Mr. Abu Mazen present a real opportunity, so it is crucial to take that forward.

Ukraine

2. Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): What meetings he has had with representatives of Ukraine since the recent presidential elections. [210382]
 
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The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): I represented the United Kingdom at the inauguration of President Yushchenko in Kiev last Sunday and had talks with senior officials who are expected to take up ministerial posts. I expressed our Government's support for the ambitious programme of President Yushchenko to develop Ukraine as a European democratic market economy under the rule of law.

Mr. Lazarowicz: A Vice-President of the European Commission was reported yesterday as saying that the idea of Ukraine's future membership of the EU was "realistic". Does my hon. Friend agree with that assessment?

Mr. MacShane: In broad terms—but let me quote President Yushchenko himself. In his policy statement, "The European choice for Ukraine", he said:

Yesterday, Javier Solana published an ambitious 10-point programme on how the EU can help Ukraine. I welcome the fact that Ukraine has chosen to direct its future towards Europe and developing European norms of a market economy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and cleaning up corruption. I only wish that more Members of this House were as enthusiastic about the EU.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham) (Con): Of course Ukraine's membership of the EU is not a matter for today, for tomorrow or for next year. Does the Minister recognise that Ukraine has been through an incredibly fraught period since the end of the Soviet Union? Now, it has made the difficult decision to lock itself into the path of the rule of law and market reform, as he says, and President Yushchenko deserves huge support in his efforts to accomplish that. Ukraine's directing itself toward eventual membership of the EU is very much in its interest and ours, and I hope that there will be no diplomatic timidity about encouraging that.

Mr. MacShane: There is certainly no diplomatic timidity on my part. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman's comments—he is right. I said all that on the record yesterday in Kiev. Regrettably, my support for Ukraine's European ambitions did not get the wide front-page coverage that I might have hoped for—but we live for the next day. I encourage all hon. Members with an interest in Ukraine to travel there; I want more tourism and more trade contacts with that country. Let us not underestimate the democratic revolution that occurred between mid-November and the inauguration on Sunday: to see hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians demanding a new country was a marvellous moment in European history, and we should celebrate it. I hope that Britain will be a strong friend of Ukraine in the coming years.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Few people would accuse the hon. Gentleman of ever being timid—or often being diplomatic. Does he agree that Ukraine has every bit as much right as Turkey to count itself a European nation?
 
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Mr. MacShane: Quite so—I leave diplomacy to diplomats. The Government have clearly expressed their support for Ukraine as an entirely European country, and for Kiev's position as one of the cradle cities of European civilisation. I hope that in the coming years, Britain will continue to give Ukraine every possible assistance in realising its European ambitions.


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