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St. Helena

6. Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): If he will make a statement on his policy in respect of St. Helena. [32393]

The Minister for Trade (Ian Pearson): The Government are firmly committed to the defence and security of St. Helena; and to working closely with its Government to ensure the highest standards of probity, law and order and good governance of the island. We want to see St. Helena develop socially, economically and in a sustainable way, to bring lasting benefit to the island while protecting the environment.

Norman Baker: The Minister will be aware that St. Helena has a unique environment—indeed, Charles Darwin referred to the "unique flora" on the island—and that therefore the proposal to build an airport is highly controversial on the island. Does he agree that before any airport is built there should be a full environmental impact assessment, which should conclude that the flora and fauna of the island will be properly protected? If so, can he explain why Clive    Warren, the Department for International Development's head of overseas territories, told a public meeting in St. Helena on 26 April that

Is that the Government's position?

Ian Pearson: I assure the hon. Gentleman that there will be a full and rigorous environmental impact assessment. That is ongoing and there has been extensive public consultation as a result of the inquiry.

We are not rushing headlong into anything. The first environmental analysis of airport options was carried out in 1999, and further environmental scoping studies were conducted in 2001 and 2004. We want to ensure that we can bring an airport to the island, but we want to do it in a sustainable way that does not damage the environment, and we shall continue to press forward with that objective in mind.

Middle East

8. Mr. Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the threat to peace and stability in the middle east region posed by Hezbollah. [32395]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): Hezbollah's stated aim of the elimination of the state of Israel is totally unacceptable, as are Hezbollah's military and terrorist activities, particularly along the blue line, in the occupied territories and in Iraq. We call on Hezbollah to contribute to peace and security in the middle east by
 
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renouncing violence, disarming in compliance with UN Security Council resolution 1559, and entering into the democratic process on an exclusively non-violent basis.

Mr. Wright: Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning the actions of Hezbollah, which attacked the Sheba'a farms in northern Israel last week, precipitating some of the worst violence on the border since Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000? I welcome the fact that Hezbollah is on the UK's proscribed terrorist list, but it is not on the EU's list. In the remaining weeks of the British presidency of the EU, will my right hon. Friend work to rectify that?

Mr. Straw: I do, and I have, condemned the attack by Hezbollah on the Sheba'a farms. I just point out that the Sheba'a farms are in Syria. They are not in Israel; nor are they, as Hezbollah claims, in Lebanon. They are unquestionably in Syria.

On the second point that my hon. Friend makes, we in the United Kingdom—I did this as Home Secretary—have proscribed, banned, the military wings of Hezbollah. We have not banned the whole organisation—the political wing. Discussions inside the EU continue about a wider ban, although I frankly do not anticipate that there will be any change on that by the end of our presidency.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): What distinction does the Foreign Secretary draw between Hezbollah and Hamas?

Mr. Straw: As the hon. Gentleman knows, they are two distinct organisations. Hezbollah is partly a terrorist organisation, and it is partly operating within Lebanese law, as a legitimate political party in Lebanon. It has one Minister in the Lebanese Cabinet and another Minister is associated with Hezbollah. In that respect, they are different. In other respects, they are similar: they are rejectionist terrorist organisations and the way in which they operate in the occupied territories and against Israel is very similar. Those who have been the victims of terrorism would not notice the difference if they had been killed or injured as a result of that violence. That is why we call on both those organisations and on Islamic Jihad to stop their terrorist activity. We also call on the state of Syria to take action to prevent those organisations from operating, as they do, in its territory.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): The Israelis are currently rehousing 1,000 settlers every month in the west bank—11,000 so far this year alone—which is greater than the number of settlers withdrawn from Gaza. Surely is that not also a threat to bringing peace between the two sides in the middle east?

Mr. Straw: We constantly make representations to the Government of Israel about their settlement policy, particularly where the settlements are on Palestinian land, and about the way in which some of the settlement activity is, in our view, intended to make unalterable facts on the ground and thereby restrict the opportunities available in final-status talks. That said,
 
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the quicker both parties get back to the road map and the current, more hopeful environment is pursued, the better it will be for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): The Foreign Secretary, Foreign Office Ministers and Foreign Office officials have pointed out to the British public that sophisticated munitions, probably supplied from Iran, have gone into southern Iraq thanks to Hezbollah and have caused death and injury to British troops. The Foreign Secretary has rightly, in a broad sense, condemned Hezbollah. He has obviously outlined that there are limits, perhaps outside the UK, on what the British Government can do, but the British public would be surprised to think that the political wing of Hezbollah is allowed to function in London, given the facts that the Foreign Secretary and his officials have produced. What practical measures does he intend to take against the political wing of Hezbollah?

Mr. Straw: I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman said, overall. However, all organisations operating in the United Kingdom must do so within the law. Some organisations, including those that he mentioned, are kept under close scrutiny by law enforcement agencies. If there is any evidence that they are transgressing and they thus become candidates for proscription under the Terrorism Act 2000, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary examines that evidence with great care. These are not just the usual warm words, because the matter is kept under continuous review.

Iran

9. Mr. David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): When he last met his EU counterparts to discuss Iran's nuclear programme. [32396]

12. Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): What discussions are taking place between the E3 and Iran concerning nuclear facilities. [32399]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): European Union Foreign Ministers and their senior officials are in close and continuous touch on the issue of Iran. I spoke to Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki last Tuesday—22 November. The issue was discussed at the EU General Affairs Council on Monday 21 November and at the International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors on Thursday last.

Mr. Hamilton: I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. Today, in a committee room at the CBI, the Prime Minister indicated that the possible expansion of nuclear power would be part of the review of Britain's energy requirements. What gives us the right to say that we can expand our nuclear energy, but at the same time tell other countries that they cannot have it?

Mr. Straw: I am glad that my hon. Friend asks that question because it highlights a popular misconception. Under article IV of the non-proliferation treaty, we are fully entitled to develop nuclear power, and so are the Government of Iran—we give them every support in doing so. However, under article II of the treaty, Iran,
 
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as a non-nuclear weapon state, which it has voluntarily declared that it is, has no rights whatever to use its nuclear power technology to develop nuclear weapons. It is on the latter point that the whole of the international attention is focused.

Dr. Starkey: To continue that point, will the Foreign Secretary explain what efforts are being made to involve Russia, China and India in those discussions with Iran, given that those three powers have strong interests in obtaining fuel from Iran and a common interest with us in not permitting Iran to become a nuclear military state?

Mr. Straw: I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that there has been increasing co-operation in recent months with India, Russia and China in respect of the Iran dossier before the IAEA board of governors. India helpfully voted with the E3 in the board of governors on 24 September, which meant that there was a significant majority, rather than a bare majority, when Iran was declared as non-compliant with its safeguards agreement under the non-proliferation treaty. We have been involved in intensive discussions with the Russian and Chinese Governments—at Head of State and Government level, as well as Foreign Minister and senior official level—and I believe that they are likely to bear significant fruit.

One of my concerns during the long-running saga inside the board of governors with my French and German colleagues on the Iran dossier has been to try to maintain effective international cohesion and solidarity, because that is the surest way in which we can bear down on those in Iran who are trying to use the nuclear power programme to develop nuclear weapons. If we are divided, we will end up in a position in which there are far too many opportunities for those in Iran to exploit the situation. That is why we work with such care. If and when we need to take tough decisions in the IAEA board of governors, I hope that India, China and Russia will actively support us.

Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con): Available evidence suggests that the Iranian regime is moving apace with the development of nuclear weapons and, equally importantly, the delivery vehicle, Shahab 5, which could well reach the channel coast. On the basis of the Foreign Secretary's last answer, will he tell us what specific plans he has to deal with a situation that the Israelis will call the doomsday situation in defence of this country's interests?

Mr. Straw: The fact that the Government of Iran are developing longer range missiles is incontrovertible, but whether they are using their nuclear power programme to develop nuclear weapons is not yet incontrovertible. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence that has raised significant anxieties in the minds of the international community. That evidence is published—it is not intelligence. I laid a significant amount of it before the House in January this year and am happy to do so again. We are taking steps through the IAEA, in which we, France and Germany have been in the lead for the past two and a half years. If we judge that Iran's non-compliance is continuing and is unacceptable, and if we have international support, it remains open to us to refer
 
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the matter to the Security Council, and we will do so. However, I believe that the approach by the three countries, now backed by a wider alliance, including Russia and China and, in terms of votes, the United States, is the best way forward in what is a very difficult situation.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) (Con): Very worryingly, at the IAEA meeting last week, Peter Jenkins, the British delegate but speaking for the European Union, said that the EU

Does not that make the case against Iran clearer?

Mr. Straw: It is my working belief that Iran is at the very least developing the options for a nuclear weapons programme. Given the beliefs that we had on the basis of some published information and some intelligence on Iraq, we have to look at the evidence with great caution and care. The evidence, which originally came from a document from AQ Khan Research Laboratories in Pakistan, tells us that the Iranians had in their possession information that could lead to the development of the hemispheres, which for certain have no purpose other than the development of nuclear weapons. What the evidence does not tell us for certain is what Iran intended to do with that. It is a piece of circumstantial evidence and we need to treat it as such. It is not incontrovertible evidence—it is not a smoking gun—that makes us certain that Iran has a nuclear weapon.

Dr. Fox: President Putin said that he is convinced that Iran is not trying to develop nuclear weapons, and we recently saw some to-ing and fro-ing on a potential deal between Iran and Russia. What contact has the Prime Minister had with President Putin on the subject? Will the Secretary of State guarantee that a potential deal between Iran and Russia, and the time taken to finalise that, will not be used as an excuse to delay or avoid referral to the UN Security Council of an increasingly dangerous state?

Mr. Straw: There have been a lot of discussions with the Russians at Foreign Minister level. I was also present at a detailed discussion on Iran between President Putin and our Prime Minister when the President was here a few weeks ago, and there have been many other discussions. I do not recall that comment by President Putin. I certainly recall his comments that he would be opposed to Iran developing a nuclear weapon. The Russians are very alive to the significant risks that would apply if Iran developed a nuclear weapon because it could destabilise not only the middle east, but the southern republics of the Russian Federation. It would be a serious development.

Russia is involved in the Bushehr refinery and in agreeing to supply the Iranians with a nuclear power plant, lock, stock and barrel, including the fuel. There are separate discussions on whether Russia, under international supervision, would be willing to enrich the uranium, which is converted in another facility in Iran.
 
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We are discussing that with the Russian Federation. It may be one way to provide what the Paris agreement described as the objective guarantees, which we are all seeking, that Iran's nuclear programme is entirely peaceful in its purpose.


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