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International Law

10. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): What progress has been made since the general election in implementing the proposals on international law and tyrannical regimes put forward by the UN's high level panel in November 2004. [65127]

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): The 2005 UN world summit affirmed that each individual state has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The international community also affirmed that it is prepared to take collective action, in certain circumstances, when national authorities fail to do so. We continue to work with partners to ensure that agreement on the responsibility to protect is translated into a willingness to act.

Mr. Allen: Does my hon. Friend accept that the work of the UN high level panel is one of the best hopes left to progress a structure of international law that may restrain tyranny in various countries? Will he tell the House what progress has been made since the general election and what he hopes to achieve over the next year in working closely with the panel?

Dr. Howells: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's work in this area. He has worked hard in this Parliament, in sister Parliaments and in the UN to explore how best to take the most recent—and very important—UN initiative forward. The endorsement by world leaders of the responsibility to protect at the 2005 UN world summit was the first time that the international community collectively signalled its unwillingness to tolerate genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing within states. That position was reached as a consequence of a great deal of hard work by our mission in New York and by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. We will continue to take that work forward, because it is enormously important.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Does the Minister accept that respect for, support for and support of the United Nations will be undermined unless some action is taken against the diabolical regime in Harare, Zimbabwe? Mr. Mugabe is practising everything that is condemned by the United Nations. With inflation out of control, people suffering from hunger and no civil rights, it must be time for the UN as an international organisation to co-ordinate action to restore democracy to the people of Zimbabwe, who crave it.

Dr. Howells: The hon. Gentleman knows Zimbabwe very well, and we share his sentiments entirely. The UN ought to take the matter much more seriously, and we are pressing it to do so. It is a crying shame that there has been so little activity, which is due in part to the reluctance of Zimbabwe's neighbours to get involved in its internal affairs. In many ways, his question goes to the heart of the need to protect the interests of people who clearly are not being properly served by their Government.
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Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Iraqi Government are in breach of international law by the way in which they have implemented decree 8750? They have also reinstated decree 150, which attacks the country's free and independent trade union movement. Trade union assets have been seized and public sector workers denied the right to join trade unions. Will he agree to meet Iraq's trade union representatives in this country to try and resolve these matters?

Dr. Howells: I have certainly met trade unionists from Iraq, and would be only too glad to meet them again. I am not aware of the case that my hon. Friend has presented to the House.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): Following on from the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), the UN has failed to root out corruption in the oil-for-food scandal and to prevent genocide in Darfur. It has also faced a severe test in Iraq and is doing so again in Iran. Given all that, is not it high time for the US and the UK—effectively the two largest contributors to the UN—to push reform up the political agenda and build on the reforms agreed at last year's summit meeting?

Dr. Howells: We have pushed reform very hard in the UN, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that we must keep the pot boiling. The Secretary-General's report was a very good basis for reform: we supported it wholeheartedly and want it to be taken forward. We have to work very hard in the General Assembly to overcome suspicions that we are trying to do things that will benefit the west but no one else. If we keep working at it, I hope very much that we can overcome those suspicions and that reform will be a reality.

EU Energy Policy

11. Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): What progress was made at the recent European Council on developing an EU-wide energy policy. [65128]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Douglas Alexander): The European Council welcomed the recent Commission Green Paper on a European energy strategy, following the proposals that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made last autumn at Hampton Court. Member states renewed their commitment to completing the energy single market, setting a deadline of June 2007. We also emphasised the importance of external energy relations and asked the Commission and the high representative to report back on this in June.

Miss Begg: Over recent months, it has become clear that security of supply for energy in Europe is not necessarily in the hands of individual member states or the EU as an organisation, but is often at the mercy of external factors. Have the Government or the EU had discussions with Russia about problems with the gas supply?

Mr. Alexander: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's close and long-standing interest in energy matters. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary may believe that
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Blackburn is the centre of the world, but Aberdeen is undoubtedly the European oil capital. I visited Moscow in February and had discussions with members of civil society, senior Government Ministers and business people about exactly the issues to which she refers. I made clear the importance that the UK and the EU attach to energy security, and I was candid about the reputational damage caused in the west by the dispute earlier this year with Ukraine.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Does the Minister accept that part of the Foreign Office's role is to ensure that this country does not become over-dependent on other countries for the security of our energy supplies? In that context, does he share my fear that growing dependence on Russian oil pipelines diminishes rather than increases the possibility of fulfilling that strategic aim?

Mr. Alexander: Of course I accept that energy security will be one of the emerging challenges of the decades ahead, and that we and our European partners must work in partnership to address three interlinked problems—energy security, the related issue of the diversity of supply, and the need to ensure a genuinely open market in energy supply in the EU. The EU's recently published strategy document refers to the problem of energy security, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that we continue to work on it right across Government.

EU Finance

12. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): If he will make a statement on future financing of the EU. [65129]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Douglas Alexander): The December European Council agreed a European Union budget for 2007 to 2013. The Government welcome the inter-institutional agreement—IIA—that the Council, the European Commission and Parliament have provisionally reached to give formal effect to the December agreement. The Council now needs formally to approve the IIA, but before then a debate on the agreement will of course take place on the Floor of the House.

David Taylor: Official EU priorities are fighting cross-border crime and terrorism and maintaining a strong and stable EU in the wider world, yet 70 per cent. of the
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budget agreed for the next seven years still goes towards farm support and regional aid. Does the Minister agree that at least the latter should be largely repatriated, as it is daft for a rich country such as ours to send cash to Brussels, which is posted back to Cornwall, Wales and elsewhere with vast road signs saying that the money comes from the EU? Is not a national debate on those issues overdue?

Hon. Members: Hear, hear.

Mr. Alexander: I sense a consensus emerging across the Floor of the House. There are two issues. First, a fundamental review of the Union's expenditure was agreed in December as part of the package and will take place between 2008 and 2009. It provides exactly the opportunity for the fundamental review of how the Union both raises and spends its money that we worked hard to secure during the British presidency.

Secondly, on structural cohesion funds and repatriation, I point out respectfully that approximately 75 per cent. of the economic development funds available in the United Kingdom are not passported through Brussels, but are actually domestic funds provided by the UK Government.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): In December, the Prime Minister admitted to surrendering £7 billion of Britain's EU rebate. Last week, the EU Budget Commissioner described the figures given at the time as not accurate and suggested that the cost to British taxpayers will be £2 billion higher than previously admitted. Does the Minister agree that taxpayers deserve complete openness and transparency regarding how much of their money is being spent on EU projects outside Britain, and will he give an accurate figure for the increase in Britain's net contributions to the EU under the new budget?

Mr. Alexander: I have already made it clear that there will be a debate on the IIA on the Floor of the House before final agreement is reached. On the headlines that accompanied the interview apparently given by the Budget Commissioner, my clear understanding and the advice of officials about how she reached those numbers was that there was confusion between, for example, funding for the European development fund, which has never been part of the main European budget, with the money agreed back in December.

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