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9. Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): What progress has been made in negotiations between Pakistan and India on Kashmir and Jammu. [5703]

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): We welcome President Musharraf and Prime Minister Singh's recent declaration that the peace process is "irreversible".

Some confidence-building measures have already been taken, such as the provision of a bus service between the divided parts of Kashmir, and some political leaders from Indian-administered Kashmir have visited Pakistani-administered Kashmir and Pakistan. We welcome those and other steps to help find solutions to all outstanding issues between the two countries.

Paul Rowen: Does the Minister agree that lasting peace will come to the region only when those on both sides of the line of control are involved in the dialogue? Will he speak to the Indian Government, who I understand are not prepared to accept a reciprocal visit from Pakistan and Azad Kashmir?

Dr. Howells: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's wish to assist progress, but I do not think his suggestion is very helpful. We will not be partisan; we will allow those countries to do what they are already doing, which is making good progress, speaking to each other bilaterally and speaking to other interested parties.

Mr. Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the former Member of Parliament for Rochdale,. Lorna Fitzsimons, who has done a huge amount of work on Kashmir—especially during the last Session, when she chaired the all-party parliamentary Kashmir group? To advance the confidence-building measures, will he also declare that the people of Kashmir must be involved in discussions on both sides? The discussions must not involve just the Pakistani and Indian Governments.

Dr. Howells: I certainly join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the excellent work done by our former hon. Friend when she was in Parliament. She succeeded in another respect: she managed to get Kashmir and Jammu into our party's manifesto. The Liberal Democrats did not mention it once.

There can be no agreement without the involvement of the people of Kashmir. They must be tested and their opinions must be sought. That must contribute to the final resolution of this difficult issue.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): We welcome the bus route access that has been provided across the line of control for the first time since 1947. We also fully support the ongoing discussions between India and Pakistan. Is the Minister aware of his Government's
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commitment to calling for an end to external support for militants in Kashmir and an improvement in human rights there? What progress has been made on those two issues?

Dr. Howells: I congratulate the hon. Lady on her new position. It is good to see her there. There is no one sitting behind her at the moment, but no doubt shortly there will be a rush to fill the vacuum.

I entirely agree with the hon. Lady that we must at all times reiterate our belief that upholding human rights and exhorting all parties to respect them is central to any debate on this issue and to any progress that can possibly be made.

Saddam Hussein

10. Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the Government's policy on the trial of Saddam Hussein and the possibility that he may be sentenced to death. [5704]

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): The trial of Saddam Hussein is a matter for the Iraq special tribunal. We have provided training for the tribunal legal experts and we expect that they will give him a fair trial.

It would be wrong to speculate on the outcome of trials but our opposition to the use of the death penalty is well known. We have urged Iraq to abolish the death penalty on a number of occasions.

Gordon Banks: I thank the Minister for his answer but, recognising that there still exists in Iraq resistance to the current Iraqi Administration and to coalition troops, does he believe that, should the Iraqi Government seek the death penalty in the trial of Saddam Hussein, they risk making him a martyr, provoking the remaining insurgents and subsequently causing an increase in the number of attacks in Iraq?

Dr. Howells: I can only say to my hon. Friend that we will continue to make representations to the Government of Iraq, as we do to other countries and their elected Governments, that we oppose the death penalty. We do not see it as part of a modern civilised state.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): In answer to questions that I tabled last year, the Government told me that they would not assist the trial of Saddam Hussein because of the death penalty. Can the Minister confirm that that is right? If it is, can he explain the logic behind that? We went to war to depose a ghastly dictator who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, at a cost of billions of pounds and, more important, the lives of 80 British servicemen, thousands of Iraqis and thousands of Americans, yet we will not assist the trial of that dreadful man.

Dr. Howells: We are giving calibrated assistance—I believe that that is the technical term—and we shall certainly not oppose such a trial, but I reiterate that we are opposed to the death penalty. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will make such representations, too.
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European Union (Finances)

11. Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): If he will make a statement on the future finances of the European Union. [5705]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Douglas Alexander): Yesterday, the Prime Minister set out to the House the UK position during the European Council discussion on future financing last week. The UK has long argued that the negotiation to set the EU budget from 2007–13 is an opportunity to reform EU expenditure to provide an appropriate future financial framework. The proposal on the table last week manifestly failed to do that. The failure last week to reach agreement provides an opportunity to look again at the structure of EU spending in the light of the contemporary challenges facing the Union.

Stephen Hammond: Reading through the Prime Minister's statement yesterday, the House will have noticed that, in the decade to 2003, the UK paid a net contribution of €23.6 billion more than France, and without our rebate it would have been €30 billion more than that. In the House last week, the Prime Minister said that he was prepared to negotiate the rebate but not to negotiate it away. Can the Minister give some clarity about how much that rebate would have fallen by in the past decade had we been negotiating it away?

Mr. Alexander: I assure the House that those discussions took place in the context of the statements that we made prior to the Council, when we said first, that we believe the rebate to be fully justified, and secondly, that we were willing to use the veto if necessary and as appropriate to defend Britain's national interest. As it transpired, it was not necessary to exercise the veto as we were joined by a number of other countries in rejecting the proposal that was tabled by the EU presidency. However, we were clear in the negotiations on Thursday and Friday in Brussels about the need for there to be a clear and categorical link between the British rebate and the fundamental reform of expenditure across the European Union, which would, of course, include the issue of the common agricultural policy, which largely accounts for the very significant receipts received by France, to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): I thought that the Prime Minister's statement yesterday was a breath of fresh air in the long ongoing debate about European finances. If we can succeed in replacing the common agricultural policy, that will be beneficial not only to Europe but, more important, to poorer countries, particularly those that export agricultural products. Would they not also benefit if we replaced the European aid regime and repatriated aid? For a long time, the Department for International Development has felt that if aid were distributed through its own budget, it would be more efficient and well directed than it is through the EU budget.

Mr. Alexander: Before I heard his questions, I thought that my hon. Friend was going to offer his good wishes to the Prime Minister and inquire whether
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there were any positions for Parliamentary Private Secretaries in the Foreign Affairs team, but in light of his specific question I fear that I will have to disappoint him. The Council of International Development Ministers that took place just a couple of weeks ago in Brussels makes a powerful case for how the European Union can act as a catalyst and as a force for good in the world. We saw an increase in commitments from the EU from $40 billion to $80 billion by 2010. That shows the scale of commitment not just of the British Government—we have an honourable record in increasing the money spent on international aid—but of member states throughout the European Union. It also sets a very challenging and a rich opportunity that the G8 can develop at the meeting in Gleneagles on 6 to 8 July, and it shows powerfully that if we work together at EU level we can increase our influence and do good in the world.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): In the House yesterday, the Prime Minister told me that there was no reason why individual Governments could not subsidise agriculture. Given that such subsidising is impossible under current European rules, do his Government now intend to change the rules? Will he consider making the rebate once again the Government's responsibility, so that farmers get direct payments from the Government?

Mr. Alexander: The question rather anticipates further conversations that are needed at an EU level. In Brussels on Thursday and Friday, we were looking for a clear commitment to reform, not least given the fact that 40 per cent. of the EU budget—as many in the House are now aware—is spent on agriculture, which accounts for only 5 per cent. of the EU's population and about 2 per cent. of its output. We believe that there is a case for fundamental reform, but in the first instance we need to take forward discussions with our EU partners on how to achieve that, rather than offering particular solutions at this stage to particular member states' problems.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): Notwithstanding the intransigent view on the common agricultural policy adopted by the French President, is the Minister aware that French public opinion is not monolithic on this matter and that there is substantial support in France for reform of the CAP, not least from the Parti Socialiste? What steps are this Government taking to get their message across to European public opinion, in order to build support for financial reform across the EU?

Mr. Alexander: I am certainly aware that on this issue, as on so many others, neither the people of France nor people across the EU have a unified view or speak with a single voice. Public opinion clearly varies, depending on the individual circumstances of the country in question. I am also aware of the comments of the Parti Socialiste in France, following the European Council meeting. They clearly diverged from the position taken by the Elysée Palace and by others of different political persuasions in France.
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On advancing this debate, as Minister for Europe I have already sought to communicate our view on the future financial perspective, and I have written a number of articles for European newspapers in recent days. We of course rely on the excellent work being done by British diplomats in our posts across the EU, and I can assure my hon. Friend that that work will continue in the weeks and months ahead.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): The Government are rightly keen to cut back on aspects of EU expenditure that are not fit for purpose in the 21st century and to direct funds to the new member states instead. Does the Minister agree that perhaps the most obvious example of waste and extravagance in the EU is the maintenance of a duplicate Parliament in Strasbourg, which costs £120 million a year to run?

Mr. Alexander: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there are areas in which we would like the EU to secure greater efficiency. However, the tenor of his question reflects the fact that the best way to advance that case is not by allowing oneself to be discounted from the argument because of one's Euroscepticism, but by giving a clear and genuine commitment to the EU and to reform.

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