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The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): NATO Foreign Ministers will discuss enhancing political dialogue in NATO and current operations, particularly those in Afghanistan and Kosovo. The NATO-Russia Council will focus on enhancing political dialogue and practical co-operation.
It took a somewhat mischievous question from me to elicit a clear and robust explanation of NATO's developing role, which I got from the British ambassador, rather than from the Secretary-General. Will the Ministeror whichever Minister is going to Vilniusmake it clear to the Secretary-General that we
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expect him to be a robust and clear defender of NATO's new role and particularly of the transatlantic link, including Canada as well as the United States?
Mr. MacShane: In my right hon. Friend's perhaps final contribution, he shows just how much the House will miss him. But he is a very young man and a great Scot, so perhaps there is a role for him in international activity; andwho knows?perhaps the post of Secretary-General of NATO might fall vacant. I will certainly vote for him.
The NATO alliance remains the guarantor of our collective defence, a key forum for transatlantic consultations and security, and an effective vehicle for crisis management, as we have seen in the Balkans and Afghanistan. It is also central to the development of stability and security beyond its borders, through partnerships in the middle east and central Asia. That is why I find it so distressing that the leader of the Conservative party is as unwelcome in Washington as he is unwanted in Europe. I hope that the people of Britain deliver a verdict on the Tories' cynical policy. In fact, the one party committed to NATO
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): The Government remain concerned about the situation in Chechnya. Ministers and officials, including the Secretary of State, frequently discuss our concerns with the Russian authorities and will carry on doing so. The Government will continue to work with the Russian authorities to identify further opportunities to support social and economic development in Chechnya and in the wider north Caucasus region.
Ann Clwyd: My hon. Friend will doubtless have read the latest Human Rights Watch report on Chechnya, which is extremely worrying. It shows that disappearances in that country are continuing and that, in the view of the HRW, they constitute a crime against humanity. Will he point out to the Russian ambassador that in 2002, the all-party group on human rights sent a delegation to Russia, backed by the Foreign Office, to ask about Chechnya, and that we met a high-level Russian group and were invited to visit Chechnya? That invitation has not been followed up, despite requests on our part. Will my hon. Friend ensure when he next meets the Russian ambassador that that invitation is honoured?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. There are genuine concerns in Chechnya about disappearances and abductions, and we do press these issues very strongly. We have been encouraged by recent indications that Russia is willing to collaborate
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with other states to improve the situation in Chechnya. It wants to work with them to bring positive improvements to the region, and we should respond in that regard.
In specific response to my hon. Friend's question about the all-party group, there are some genuine security concerns within Chechnya that would make such a visit exceedingly difficult at the moment. Nevertheless, I shall ensure in my discussions with the Russian ambassador that my hon. Friend's commitment and enthusiasm is communicated to him so that he can correspond directly with her.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): The arms embargo review announced by the December 2003 European Council is ongoing. In December 2004, the European Council concluded that any decision regarding embargo lift should not result in an increase of arms exports from EU member states to China. We continue to work with our partners on that issue. We recognise that the political environment has become more difficult in the light of the passing of the anti-secession law in China on 14 March. We are consulting widely and taking all relevant factors into account.
Miss McIntosh: I thank the Minister for that reply. What is the point of lifting the embargo if it is not going to increase arms sales, and what is the point of having an embargo when the Foreign Office is committed to an ethical foreign policy?
Mr. Rammell: It is clear that the vast bulk of arms sales blocked by the embargo would have been blocked by the EU code of conduct on arms sales. That is the element that provides us with protection and reassurance. Nevertheless, there is a debate across the EU about the issues and questions involved. I believe that it is important to take time to deal with those issues properly, so the process will take as long as it takes.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Notwithstanding the Minister's answer, is it not important to take note of the Amnesty International report today, which makes it clear that the death penalty is still very much alive in many parts of the world, particularly in China? Nearly half of all the death penalty executions last year occurred in China. Should we not also take human rights issues in China into account?
We take strong account of the human rights situation in China. Indeed, we have a twice-yearly human rights dialogue with China and one of the key issues that we consistently raise is the widespread resort to the death penalty. As my hon. Friend is aware, the death penalty applies, though we oppose it, in many parts of the world. We need to take the opportunity to put forward our concerns on human rights, but the process will take, as I said, as long as it takes for all the EU concerns to be addressed.
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Mr. Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness) (Con): There is a strong and growing alliance against lifting the EU embargo. All the informed regional playersthe United States, Japan, Australia, Russia and South Koreaare, for regional security reasons, all against lifting the ban.
In the context of China's anti-secession legislation, which talks about using non-peaceful means against Taiwan, is it not time that the UK Government stopped vacillating and that the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary took a principled stance on this issue?
Mr. Rammell: I seem to recall that the arms embargo was put in place in response to the events in Tiananmen square and that the first Government to visit Beijing after that event was the previous Conservative Government.
Let me deal with the hon. Gentleman's specific concerns. As the Foreign Secretary has made clear, he recognises that the political environment has become more difficult in the light of the passing of the anti-secession law in China on 14 March. Nevertheless, China is a major strategic partner in the international community and the hon. Gentleman needs to reflect on whether it is right to put China in the same basket as Burma and Zimbabwe. We do not believe that it is, and we are protected by the EU code of conduct. There are questions and concerns across the EU and we must deal with them effectively. As I said, that process will take as long as it takes.
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): The European Council of December last year agreed to open accession negotiations with Croatia on 17 March 2005, provided that there was full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. On 16 March, EU Foreign Ministers concluded that the conditions for opening negotiations had not been met and postponed their opening. We hope that the Croatians will meet those requirements as soon as possible.
Mr. David: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, and I am pleased that the Government are taking a strong line on this matter. Many of us agree wholeheartedly that the apprehension of war criminals is of the greatest importance. Will he pursue that policy well into the future?
When I was appointed four years ago, my first visit was to Zagreb, when I urged full co-operation with ICTY in respect of a gentleman called Gotovina. After serving in the French Foreign Legion, he was reported to have popped up in Guatemala and Argentina in the years of dictatorship in those countries, before returning to his native Croatia. He is wanted on very serious charges. I appeal to him to report to The Hague so that the barrier to Croatia starting negotiations for EU membership can be lifted. That membership is a policy goal that the Government fully support.
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