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House of Commons

Tuesday 1 March 2005

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


London Local Authorities and Transport for London Bill (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read. To be read a Second time on Tuesday 8 March.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—


1. Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) (Lab): Whether he plans to visit Tehran in the next two months to discuss with the Iranian Government their adherence to international treaties and conventions. [218392]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): I have no immediate plans to visit Tehran. The Government continue to urge Iran to comply with its international obligations. I discussed Iran's responsibilities under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty with Dr. Hassan Rouhani, the secretary-general of Iran's supreme national security council, on 13 December. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell), raised Iranian adherence to international human rights treaties with the Iranian ambassador on 7 February.

Mr. Griffiths: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, although I am disappointed that he is not going to visit Tehran before the general election. I remind him—he well knows this—that the Government's annual human rights report for 2004 shows continuing deterioration in the human rights conditions in Iran. The rights of religious minorities, especially the Baha'i, continue not to be respected.

The United Nations rapporteur's report on freedom of expression from more than a year ago has still not been implemented. The July visit of the UN rapporteur on enforced disappearance had been cancelled and no new time arranged. In 2003 there were more than 100 public executions—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The question is far too long.

Mr. Straw: I wonder if I could correct my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) in one respect:
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there is to be no general election in Iran in the near future, but there will be presidential elections on 17 June. It remains to be seen whether I can get there before then. I am sure that that was what he had in mind.

My hon. Friend raised an important and serious point about Iran's human rights record, which has been poor in a number of significant respects—it has gone backwards, not forwards. We continue to raise the issue in every way, including through negotiations following the Paris agreement in mid-November and the agreement between the three Foreign Ministers and Dr. Rouhani in mid-December.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): I am grateful for what the Foreign Secretary said about human rights issues. Can he confirm that although the Christian faiths enjoy recognition in Iran at least nominally—there is massive discrimination against Christian churches—the Baha'i faith enjoys no such recognition, with particularly important implications for access to higher education, for example. Will he raise that point with the Iranian ambassador?

Mr. Straw: I can confirm that I shall raise that point, not only with the Iranian ambassador but with the Iranian Foreign Minister when I next see him.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab): In a week when the new Iranian ambassador is going on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to Scotland, at the beginning of his ambassadorship, basically on good will, does the Foreign Secretary accept that in Scotland the Iranian ambassador will be warmly received by the university of Edinburgh and others, and that there are many people with connections with Iran who want better relations with Iran?

Mr. Straw: Yes, I do and I know—in fact, I have just learned and should have known before—that my hon. Friend is rector of one of the oldest universities in the United Kingdom. I appreciate the work of the new Iranian ambassador. We have diplomatic relations with Iran and we wish to see them improved. I hope that my hon. Friend and all those whom the new ambassador meets in Scotland will not only pass back, through His Excellency the ambassador, the United Kingdom's desire further to strengthen relations with Iran in every particular, but say that, in addition to the nuclear dossier, it is the Iranian regime's human rights record that is a serious bar to significant improvement in those relations.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): Would it not be easier for the Government to persuade the Iranians to go along with them if American troops were not providing protection for the Mujaheddin-e-Khalq terrorist organisation, at Camp Ashraf in Iraq? We should bear in mind that the MKO is a proscribed terrorist organisation with an appalling record of killing individuals in Iran.

Mr. Straw: The MEK is a proscribed organisation; indeed, as Home Secretary I proscribed it in the first batch of proscriptions following the Terrorism Act 2000. There are changes in the position of MEK and I should be happy to brief the hon. Gentleman in detail
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about that. There has been more co-operation, as I think he may have been informed, between the coalition forces in Iraq and the Government of Iran in respect of MEK, which is a nasty terrorist organisation that has to be contained.

European Constitution

2. Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): If he will make a statement on scope for the revision of the proposed constitutional treaty for the European Union. [218394]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): The text of the EU constitutional treaty has been agreed by the Heads of State and Government of all EU member states. It is now being approved, according to the constitutional requirements of each member state. The text of the treaty can be amended only by an intergovernmental conference. No such IGC is in prospect.

Mr. Brazier: Given that the Government have signed all six European Union asylum directives, will the common asylum policy prescribed by the treaty become mandatory for us, or will there still be scope for us to opt out of it?

Mr. MacShane: Of course we have an opt-out on the application of that part of the treaty. I believe that the directives to which the hon. Gentleman refers allow the United Kingdom, for the first time, to send so-called asylum shoppers back to other EU member states, and about 200 are being sent back each month. That is something achieved by this Government after the utter failure of the Conservative party, which left us with the whole problem of Sangatte. Without that co-operation in Europe, we would be much worse off.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): Do we not now have something of a pick-and-mix European Union? Would it not have been easier to disaggregate the treaty before now, specifically taking out all the components relating to the eurozone? Given that only a minority of member states belong to the eurozone, would that not have made my hon. Friend's campaign for a yes vote easier?

Mr. MacShane: My campaign to ensure that Britain does not isolate itself by repudiating the treaty would be made a lot easier if my hon. Friend supported me occasionally.

The treaty contains references to enhanced co-operation within a framework of rules. I thought that that was once the policy of the Conservatives, but they are now going so fanatically down the Rothermere road of rejecting Europe and reverting to the isolationism of the 1930s that there is no hope of support from them. I hope that my hon. Friend and I will be on the same platform when this big question is debated next year.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Does the Minister accept that at present, but only at present, it is open to Parliament to ensure that it retains its right to legislate
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on its own terms—subject, of course, to the question of a referendum? Does he accept that that is because the new treaty revokes all the existing treaties and laws and reapplies them under the primacy of the constitution and under a new jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice? Does he accept that that is not the original primacy of 1972, and that we now face a fundamental change? That is why the Government have now had to accept a referendum. The new primacy undermines the supremacy of Parliament, and is the real reason why a referendum became essential.

Mr. MacShane: I warmly welcome the hon. Gentleman's contribution. It is an important and refreshing change for him to admit that the primacy of the European Court of Justice was established in 1972, after a lengthy debate in the House. It is very helpful of him to reaffirm that.

I remind the hon. Gentleman—perhaps you could remind all Members, Mr. Speaker—that this House is supreme. We could leave Europe, and we could revoke treaties when we want to. I very much doubt that that would be good for Britain, for British business and for British jobs, but it will be tested in the general election, in the House when we finally debate the Bill, and of course in a referendum, when the British people will not follow the isolationist passions of the hon. Gentleman and his party.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): We know the real reason why the Government agreed to a referendum, and we know of the rather colourful advice that the Minister gave the Foreign Secretary, because he has put it on record elsewhere.

Last week the German Europe Minister described the EU constitution as the "birth certificate" of a united states of Europe. That contrasts starkly with the claim of Ministers here that it is a simple codification of existing treaties. Does the Minister understand that most British people now think the Government are being dishonest about the constitution? If he is serious about wanting a debate on Europe so that he can put his case, why has the European Union Bill had no Committee stage? Will there be a Committee stage before Easter, or was the Second Reading three weeks ago just a cynical ploy?

Mr. MacShane: The Conservatives insisted that we bring the treaty and the referendum to the House in the form of a Bill. We have discharged that duty; now what the Conservatives requested over a long period has become "a cynical ploy".

I read the account in the Daily Mail of the German Europe Minister's speech in the Bundestag. I was amused to read today that in the 1930s Lord Rothermere was writing letters to Adolf Hitler telling him to invade Romania and make one of his sons King of Hungary. At that time, the Daily Mail loved Nazi Germany; today, it hates democratic Germany. Mr. Bury has said time and again that he wants a Europe of states and citizens, and the idea that anyone in Germany wants to be run from Brussels any more than we do is ganz Unsinn—complete and utter nonsense.
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