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The Minister for Trade and Investment (Mr. Douglas Alexander):
The transitional administrative law makes specific provision for the right of all Iraqis to join trade
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unions, and at least 12 national trade unions have already been established. We follow closely trade union issues in Iraq and are working with the TUC and other trade union organisations to support Iraqi trade unions.
John Mann: We have seen beatings, kidnappings, mortar attacks on the Transport and Communications Workers Union headquarters and the torture and murder of Hadi Saleh, one of the trade union leaders. What are the Government doing to let the British people know about the magnificent efforts of Iraqi trade unionistsnot least the rail workers of Basra, who are striking against the terroristsand Iraqi trade unions in the battle for democracy in Iraq?
Mr. Alexander: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's work in publicising such issues, and we condemn without reservation the atrocities that he has described. Only this morning, our ambassador in Baghdad gave an interview in which he made clear both our determination to continue to support the people of Iraq as they move through this difficult period immediately prior to the elections, and the scale and significance of what is at stake in Iraq. There is a clear choice between civil society, which my hon. Friend has described, with all the people of Iraq being given a true say in the future of their country, and a group of terrorists who are determined to deny them that opportunity.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) (Lab): I am deeply saddened by the recent torture and death of the well known trade unionist. Is not the truth, however, that the interim Government take their orders from America? We should all deplore the carnage in Falluja and the fact that this unnecessary war has claimed 100,000 victims. A support group has grown up around the Prime Minister, and it has singled out trade unionists as victims, which does the anti-war movement no good. Would it not be better to set a timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq and let the Iraqi people rule themselves after the election?
Mr. Alexander: Any deaths are to be regretted, but Prime Minister Allawi made a clear statement on Falluja: the insurgents were given the opportunity to lay down their arms and take part in the democratic elections. It is, of course, a matter for regret that the insurgents chose not to do so, but they should not be able to deny the Iraqi people the very civil rights that the prospect of democracy offers them.
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): I had the privilege of meeting the late Hadi Saleh, the former international secretary of the Iraqi Federation of Workers Trade Unions, when he came to the House and I chaired a meeting that he addressed. During his hideous murder, lists of members of the IFTU were stolen from his home by terrorists. What can be done to allow trade unions to exercise security over information so that they are not dealt with in that way?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's long-standing interest and work on behalf not only of trade unions in Iraq but of the people of Iraq. The United Kingdom, working as part of the multinational force, will stand with the Iraqi people and work closely
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with the interim Government to try to implement the necessary security measures to defend the Iraqi people against the insurgency. We are, of course, concerned about trade unionists, but we are concerned about all the people of Iraq, which is why we shall continue to work hard in the coming days to make sure that security is in place to allow them to have their say in free and fair elections.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Chris Mullin): The situation in the eastern DRC remains unstable, although fighting recently seems to have subsided. However, human rights abuses continue and the humanitarian situation remains critical for many displaced civilians. The UK is pressing all sides to calm the situation.
Mr. Blizzard: As my hon. Friend knows, some 3 million to 3.5 million people have been killed in that part of Africa in the past five or six years alone, which is, in a continent of disasters, perhaps the greatest disaster of all. As we rightly make Africa the priority in our chairmanship of the G8, we should urge the international community to focus on that particular part of Africa, support the work of the United Nations and do everything we can to bring international pressure to bear to achieve a political solution. We should also use our relationship with Rwanda to urge it to keep its troops out of the DRC and to play a more constructive role in bringing peace to that country.
We keep in close touch with Rwanda regarding its activities in the eastern DRC. There is no hard evidence of Rwandan troops having been there recently. As regards the international community, we and our main allies are well aware of the Congo's central significance to stability in Africa, and my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the scale of the catastrophe that has occurred there. MONUCthe United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congohas recently been strengthened and is the largest United Nations mission anywhere in the world. The international community is making a major effort because, like my hon. Friend, we recognise the possibilities there. It does, however, require political will on both sides of the argument, and that cannot necessarily be supplied by the international community. Nevertheless, we can encourage, and we do. We can also discourage people on the ground from doing bad things, and we do that too. The most important priorities in the Congo are these: first, to start to integrate the army and the various armed bands that exist there into a unified army and stop them preying on their own people; and secondly, to make progress towards an election, which is scheduled for June.
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The Minister for Trade and Investment (Mr. Douglas Alexander): I spoke to the British high commissioner yesterday to receive an update on the elections. The final results have not yet been announced because of a delay in polling on one of the islands. They are expected on Wednesday 26 January.
Mr. Amess: Does the Minister have concerns about the allegations of irregularities regarding those elections? It seems a little strange not to allow political parties. Will our Government do everything they can to assist the incoming Government with reconstruction, particularly as regards the tourism industry?
Mr. Alexander: Yes, we are concerned to assist the people of the Maldives as they try to respond to the terrible tsunami that affected that part of the world on 26 December. We are aware of the allegations of vote rigging and intimidation during the elections. That is why we await the outcome of the work being done on these matters by the Commonwealth Secretariat and by SAARCthe South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation. I look forward to sharing that information in due course if it would be helpful.
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): The Government strongly support Turkey's bid to join the EU. A stable, democratic and prosperous Turkey anchored in the EU would be a powerful demonstration that Islam, democracy and economic success are compatible. The Government therefore welcome the European Council's decision in December to open accession negotiations on 3 October this year.
Mr. Chapman: Does my hon. Friend accept that for the cultured Turkish nation, entry to Europe has effectively been work in progress since the time of Ataturk, and that accession is as important to existing members as it is to Turkey itself? However, does he also agree that taking that forward means finding a solution to the Cyprus issue? Does he recognise that the Turkish northern Cypriots, who voted for the Annan plan, find themselves in isolation as regards trade, sporting links and direct flights, while the Greek Cypriots, who voted against the plan, have full membership of the European Union? Will he ensure that the Turkish northern Cypriots get a fair deal as matters move forward?
My hon. Friend is right to set the matter in a broader context, and I recommend to all hon. Members a visit to the Royal Academy to see the wonderful exhibition on the roots of Turkish culture. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the plight
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of the inhabitants of northern Cyprus, principally the Turkish Cypriot community there. I have urged the Government of the Republic of Cyprusthe only Government of that republic when it was involved with Turkey in the events of 1974to accept that the time has come to allow all Cypriots to trade 360° around the compass. My hon. Friend is also right to say that normalisation and the resolution of the Cypriot question remains an important issue on the agenda. The Government hope that Ankara will take the necessary steps to find some solution as soon as possible.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): Many of our EU partners, most notably the German Chancellor, believe that change in the voting weights under the proposed constitution is necessary to accommodate Turkish membership. Would the British Government support such a change?
Mr. MacShane: Under the existing treaties and the new treaty, voting weights are for those who are already members of the European Union. Clearly, when and if Turkey joins, the exact number of Turkey's Members of the European Parliament, for example, would have to be discussed. Voting weights relate to the size of the population. None of us knows what our population size will be at the moment of Turkish accession. I hope that Britain's population will continue to grow, and I know that the hon. Gentleman, as the father of happy and handsome young children, is doing his best to help in the right direction.
Mr. MacShane: Very much so. Only five years ago, we would have been worried about the death penalty in Turkey, the number of Kurdish people in prison in Turkey, the journalists and writers in prison in Turkey, and the complete ban on the use of the Kurdish language. Many of those problems no longer exist. Rather than condemning, or demanding that Turkey adopt our levels of human rights from one day to the next, we should applaud the fact that the Turkish Parliament and Government have made more strides towards human rights in the past three or four years than at any time in the previous 300 years.
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (LD): As part of the support for Turkey's joining the EU, what will the Minister do to ensure that Turkey understands that it must withdraw its troops from Cyprus as part of a settlement to restore the integrity of Cyprus? What will we do to monitor human rights in Turkey so that there are guarantees that faith minorities, ethnic minorities and other minorities have full rights at all times throughout Turkey?
On the first point, under the Annan plan, the number of troops would have been reduced to the number contained in the 1960 treatyfrom some 25,000 or 30,000 today to fewer than 1,000. Unfortunately, the Greek Cypriot population voted massively to reject the Annan plan, which would have
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helped to solve that problem. The hon. Gentleman is right about the second point. I stress that we do raise the specific issue of different faiths in Turkey, especially different Christian faiths and the rights of their members to have their churches and seminaries. Under the EU's charter of fundamental rights, which is part of the new treaty, an absolute condition of EU membership is respect for everybody's right to manifest their religion. Again, that is a reason to support the new constitutional treaty. It is remarkable that the Turks want in to Europe, while the Tory party wants out.
Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that Turkey's accession and the attitude of the Greek Cypriots towards it might have been helped if Turkey had agreed to withdraw some of the 35,000 troops before 2019, as the Annan plan envisaged? Does he accept that recognition of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus is an absolute prerequisite of Turkey's accession to the EU?
Mr. MacShane: Again, my hon. Friend makes a fair point. I have gone on record as questioning whether the high number of Turkish troops stationed in northern Cyprus is justified by any legitimate concern for the security needs of the Turkish Cypriot people there. My hon. Friend is also right to say that, at the moment when Turkey joins the European Union, it must clearly have fully normal diplomatic relations with every other member of the Union. These points are well known; I have certainly made them both privately and on the record. It is important to allow all the inhabitants of Cyprus to trade, travel and operate freely, and I would encourage all sides to move forward in a more positive direction.
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