The Minister for Europe (Mr. Douglas Alexander): We welcome Ambassador Eide's report and, in particular, his recommendation that a final status process be launched in Kosovo. That should reinforce regional stability and strengthen democratic, multi-ethnic society in Kosovo. The international community will remain engaged throughout the process and in implementing any settlement. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will chair a discussion on Kosovo with EU colleagues on 7 November.
I had the opportunity on a recent visit to Kosovo not only to meet representatives of the Kosovan authorities but to visit the multi-ethnic village of Bablak, where I was able to meet villagers who told me of their own experience of trying to re-forge a multi-ethnic community in the circumstances that followed the difficulties of recent years.
Mike Gapes: The Eide report makes sobering reading. It states that considerable work needs to be done on standards, particularly in regard to corruption, policing and judicial systems. Will the Government assure us that they will proceed with caution towards the final status, ensuring that any solution takes full account of human rights and of the judicial and policing systems in Kosovo?
Mr. Alexander: I can give the House that assurance. I am also aware of the important work that the Foreign Affairs Committee has done on the western Balkans; it published a report earlier this year. Given the importance of the issues involved, we none the less welcome the ambassador's report. My hon. Friend is right to identify the fact that further progress on standards undoubtedly needs to be made. None the less, the conclusion of the ambassador's report was clear.
Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)
(Con): Does the Minister agree that an important partner in our discussions on the final status will be the Republic of Macedonia, in the light of its own success in establishing a multi-ethnic state? Does he also agree that, before a final status for Kosovo can be achieved, the situation regarding the border area around Debelde should be resolved?
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Mr. Alexander: The hon. Gentleman is correct to acknowledge that certain border issues need to be discussed as part of the final status process. He is also right to pay due compliments to the work that has been carried out in Macedonia. Macedonia should offer us a sense of possibility and optimism when we consider the challenges facing Kosovo, given the circumstances that afflicted Macedonia only a few years ago and the extent to which it has successfully managed to forge a multi-ethnic community in recent years.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Will the Minister confirm that self-determination would be wholly inconsistent with the policy of Her Majesty's Government when we intervened in Kosovo in 1999? Will he also confirm that the Government have learned the lessons of intervention without a clear exit strategy?
Mr. Alexander: I would be surprised if the hon. Gentleman was now arguing that we should have accepted ethnic cleansing being perpetrated on the borders of the neighbourhood that is the European Union. It is important to recognise that Kosovoalong with other partners in the processhas a responsibility towards the final status talks that are now taking place. It is not for me to pre-judge the outcome of the process at this time.
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend's approach, but surely, after six years, the time has come to say that we should let Kosovo be Kosovo. This bastard half-state is a child of the United Nations, without the authority of a state to pass laws or to accept the responsibility of developing good relations with its neighbours, and it cannot continue much longer. Belgrade cannot have a veto. There is a need for consultation with Kosovo's neighbours in Macedonia, and for infrastructure development to allow economic growth to take place. Another five or six years of this non-status for Kosovo will make matters far worse. The time has come to say that Kosovo should become independent and accept the responsibilities of independent statehood.
Mr. Alexander: I certainly recognise that the status quo needs to be taken forward. That is why, notwithstanding the challenges that were identified in Ambassador Eide's report, it is now right to take the final status process forward. Independence for Kosovo remains one of the options, and it is the one that 90 per cent. of Kosovan Albanians are keen to secure. However, it is not for the British Government to pre-judge the outcome of the final status talks.
Angus Robertson (Moray)
(SNP): Does the Minister agree that much good work has been done in Kosovo in recent years by the global conflict prevention pool, supported by the Foreign Office? That being the case, and with much work still to do in Kosovo, will he explain why the budget line for the Balkans has been slashed? While he is at it, will he also explain why the budget lines have been slashed for central and eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, India, Pakistan and Kashmir? The list goes on. Why is money being siphoned off from the global conflict prevention pool strategy to pay for the quagmire of Iraq?
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Mr. Alexander: This issue has already been the subject of some debate in the House. Indeed, I participated in such a debate with the hon. Gentleman only last week. If he does not believe that budgets should be reviewed in the light of changing circumstances, that is very revealing so far as the credibility of the Scottish nationalists is concerned.
4. Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): If he will make a statement on the steps that the United Kingdom has taken to investigate the circumstances surrounding the Andijan massacre in Uzbekistan on 13 May. 
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Douglas Alexander): We have been at the forefront of efforts to establish what happened in Andijan on 13 May. Our ambassador and his embassy team have visited the area, spoken to eyewitnesses and met NGOs. Our ambassador has spoken repeatedly to the Uzbek Government. We remain as convinced as ever of the need for a credible, external inquiry. That is why, under our presidency, the European Union has adopted a series of new measures against the Uzbek Government, including an arms embargo and a targeted visa ban.
Mr. Hands: I appreciate what the Minister says about the arms embargo, but is it not incongruous that his Government should support Uzbekistan's continued membership of the NATO partnership for peace programme?
Mr. Alexander: The NATO partnership for peace process relies not just on the will of one country, the United Kingdom, but on a number of other members of NATO. I respect the hon. Gentleman's point, but I think that we have taken what opportunities are available to us to register our profound concern at the failure to establish an independent inquiry and to take the practical measures that have been outlined through the European Union.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): It would appear from the various e-mails that the Uzbek embassy kindly sends me that it has already made up its mind about the relative guilt of those who were shot. Is it not about time that the international community took the Uzbek regime much more seriously and tried to do something about it, rather than showing it far too much leniency as it has done in the past?
Mr. Alexander: I assure my hon. Friend that we take extremely seriously both the monitoring of the trial and, more generally, the need for an independent inquiry into the events in Andijan. We have led the international efforts to co-ordinate monitoring of the trial on behalf of the European Union, and we expect verdicts on the 15 defendants in only a few days. I assure my hon. Friend that the matter will continue to be of concern to the British Government.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland)
(LD): Has there not already been a series of independent inquiries, organised by groups such as Human Rights
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Watch and the Institute for War & Peace Reporting? Have they not established that what happened in Andijan was at least as bad as what happened in Tiananmen square? Should we not now seek sanctions against the Uzbek Government, similar to those that were imposed on China after Tiananmen square?
As for the specific efforts made by the British Government, I have already mentioned the imposition of an arms embargo under the British leadership and presidency, and the visa restrictions imposed on those deemed to have been responsible for the disproportionate use of force in Andijan. All technical meetings have been suspended under the European Union's partnership and co-operation agreement. We will of course support the reorientation of the Commission's funding programme for Uzbekistan to promote an increased focus on poverty reduction along with democracy, human rights and civil societies. We have taken action, but the Council of the European Union has not ruled out additional steps if they prove necessary.