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The Minister for Trade (Mr. Ian McCartney): The new Government of Nepal face major challenges in securing a fully functioning democracy and a permanent ceasefire, in which the Maoists abandon violence and rejoin the democratic mainstream. I met Nepal's Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister in Geneva last week. I am encouraged by the bold steps that have already been taken towards peace and reconciliation, and said so in my speech to the opening high-level session of the first week of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on 20 June. The United Kingdom stands ready to assist in any appropriate way to bring about democratic and peaceful reform in Nepal.
Dr. Kumar: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. After the riots and mass demonstrations, there is now a multi-party Government in Nepal, but there is no democracy and they will need help and support from our Government. What support are we giving to the political parties and other organisations so that Nepal can have a democratically elected Government, inclusive of ethnic minorities, Dalits and women?
Mr. McCartney: I discussed three key matters with the Nepalese Government last week. The first was securing a continuation of the United Nations Human Rights Council interest in Nepal, and the Nepalese have agreed to that. The second was ensuring that we could get discussions going on United Nations involvement in decommissioning arms from the Maoists and keeping the peace process goingthey have agreed to that, too. Thirdly, we discussed what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development is considering with other donors, namely, how best to respond to the new situation. We have been giving financial and technical support to the peace process through the global conflict prevention pool. It is too soon to make any formal commitments. In 2006-07, we gave only about £30 million through bilateral assistance, but we will have further talks with our colleagues in Nepal.
The Nepalese Minister was pleased with our discussions and I am pleased about their positive nature. What needs to happen now is the second stage of talks with the Maoists, for which the Nepalese are preparing, on how to progress out of conflict and on to the long road back to democracy.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): In the light of Chinas intervention in Tibet, what assurance does the Minister have that China is not looking with anxious eyes at events in Nepal, and what representations have we made to China that any intervention by the Chinese in Nepal would be totally unacceptable?
Mr. McCartney: All the Governments in the regionthe Governments of India, China and other countrieswant progress in Nepal. It is in nobodys interest that Nepal remains in an unstable state. During the general discussions in Geneva last week, the representatives of every country to whom I spoke all expressed a general acceptance of the need to move forward and to give support where possible. That is precisely what will happen. That is why the involvement of the United Nations is so important.
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): One of the factors driving the demand for political change in Nepal is the widespread existence in the country of casteismdiscrimination based on work or descent. What recent representations has my right hon. Friend made to the Government of Nepal on the abolition of that pernicious and unacceptable form of discrimination?
Mr. McCartney: I have not been involved in any detailed discussion of that subject, but it is an issue of human rights and their abuse that has to be dealt with, not only in Nepal but in other countries. It will probably form part of the work programme that we will agree over the next two meetings of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. It is one of the matters about which serious reservations have been expressed not only here and in Nepal, but in other countries. I assure my hon. Friend that the matter is one that the Foreign Office raises from time to time and that we will be involved with the international community in efforts to deal with it.
Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): Ever since the peace talks began, hundreds of women have been demonstrating outside Parliament because not a single woman is included in the draft constitution committee. Will my right hon. Friend use his best offices, in line with Security Council resolution 1325, to ensure that there is proper representation of women in the talks? Will he ask his officials in Kathmandu to meet with Lily Thapa, who leads a 14,000-strong organisation of widows, to see what assistance can be given to those women, who are traditionally shunned in Nepal and who are, after all, probably the most potent symbols of the conflict?
Mr. McCartney: I will write to my hon. Friend and will take up the issue that she raised. Over the past 10 years, more than 14,000 lives have been lost in the conflict. It is to be hoped that the long-term success of the peace agreement will reduce lives lost to nil. We have made it clear to the Nepalese Government, in a proactive and positive way, that their engagement in the new UN Human Rights Council, in which they want to participate, should be effective. I received a clear indication from them that there is nothing that they will not discuss with us. I offer my hon. Friend a meeting at the Foreign Office before I next have discussions with the Nepalese Government so that we can go through these matters to ensure that we get proper representation.
The UK presidency helped to set Europes future direction at the Hampton Court summit. We have made it clear that an effective EU means focusing on the issues that matter to Europes citizens, such as creating jobs, tackling terrorism and protecting our environment. I therefore welcome the conclusions of the recent European Council, which state that Europe should now focus on the delivery of practical results and the implementation of specific projects.
Andrew Rosindell: I listened to the answers given by the Foreign Secretary and by the Minister. Do the Government not realise how unwanted and how detested the European constitution is, not only among British people but throughout Europe? When will the Government do the right thing and concentrate on delivering an open, competitive and transparent Europe that is fully accountable to the nation states?
Mr. Hoon: That, of course, is precisely part of the Governments objective. To do that, it is also necessary to have effective contacts, discussions and relations with other Governments in other countries, not least those on the centre right. Of course, the hon. Gentlemans party boycotts such contacts and refuses to participate in important meetings that take place, for example, with the leadership of centre right Governments in both France and Germany.
Jane Kennedy (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab): My right hon. Friend [Interruption.] Mr. Deputy Speaker [Interruption.] I am sorry, Mr. Speaker; I am out of practice. Is the best way to secure a good outcome for Britain out of the discussions on the constitution to engage positively with our partners in Europe? Will my right hon. Friend say what role political parties in the House could play to ensure that Britains voice is heard?
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. She has made a serious point, and one that has been made to me repeatedly by Conservative Members of the European Parliament, namely, that Britains interests are diminished and that their partys interests are diminished if the misguided view of the leader of the Conservative party that they should withdraw from the European Peoples party is pursued.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Will the Minister for Europe within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office agree that it is important that any Government should be honest, open and honourable? Will the Minister therefore indicate why the current constitution is not dead, bearing in mind that if one country rejects it in a referendum, the particular treaty relating to the constitution is dead and buried? Will he admit that the constitution, as it stands, is dead and buried and that there should be no reflection, just an answer yes or no?
Mr. Hoon: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has already dealt with that question, but I am happy to repeat the point that she made. The reality is that this constitution cannot come into force without the unanimous ratification of all member states. With two founding members of the EUFrance and the Netherlandshaving rejected the situation by way of referendums, it is clearly important that we take account of the views that they have set out.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will know that the fact remains that next year, when Romania and Bulgaria join the European Union, it will be a Union of 27 members governed by rules for the Six. Is it not right that we should pursue the reform agenda to make some serious structural reforms to the way in which the EU operates, and that we should also pursue the economic reform agenda? At the same time, if there are issues on which we can move forward with our EU partners that are outside the scope of the constitution, should we not pursue them given that that would be in the best interests of Britain and Europe?
Mr. Hoon: Of course, there are still some issues that must be resolved before Romania and Bulgaria can join the European Union but, like my right hon. Friend, I anticipate that they will be determined, allowing those two countries to join an enlarged European Union. It is often overlooked by Opposition Members, but there has been a series of changes to the way in which the European Union makes decisionsmost of them enthusiastically supported by Conservative Governments and Members of Parliament. The reality is that there has been an evolution in decision making to reflect the welcome enlargement of the European Union, and I am confident that that process will continue.
Afghanistan has made significant political progress since 2001. Parliamentary and provincial elections were successfully held in September 2005, and Parliament went into session in December. Most Cabinet Ministers have been approved and the budget endorsed. Afghan Government influence is increasing throughout the country with assistance from the international security assistance force and the United Nations. As part of our efforts in southern Afghanistan, we are working to support Afghan-led reconstruction.
Mr. Harper: I thank the Minister for his answer. Given that the two soldiers who were tragically killed today were, according to the Secretary of State for Defence, taking part in Operation Enduring Freedom, is the Minister confident that our efforts to achieve reconstruction, opium eradication and the elimination of the Taliban are adequately co-ordinated? Is not the proposal made by my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary worthy not just of consideration, but of urgent consideration?
Mr. Hoon: The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) made a slightly different point about the need to co-ordinate the reconstruction and rebuilding effort, but I made it clear that it was worthy of consideration. The hon. Gentleman, however, is making a different argument about military co-ordination, and I am absolutely confident that there is effective co-ordination of the different kinds of military activity that take place in Afghanistan.
Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend accept that there cannot be a stable political resolution in Afghanistan without our dealing effectively with the production of opium? What can he do to eliminate that vile trade?
Mr. Hoon: I have made it clear that a determined effort is being made both to disrupt the activities of the criminal organisations that engage in the production and the smuggling of opium and to eliminate their sources of support. That work combines with an effort, primarily by officials from the Department for International Development, to offer alternative livelihoods and encourage the development of substitute crops. As my hon. Friend said, we accept that that should be central to our policy in Afghanistan, and we continue to pursue it vigorously.
The Minister for Trade (Mr. Ian McCartney): The proliferation of nuclear weapons is a serious threat to international peace and security wherever it may occur in the world. Last year, the United Kingdom, alongside our European Union partners, recognised the non-proliferation treaty as a unique and irreplaceable instrument for retaining and reinforcing international security. We agreed to work towards universal accession to the treaty, and we called on all states not party to it to make a commitment to non-proliferation and disarmament.
Mr. Hands: I thank the Minister for his answer. I am sure that he shares my concern about the prospective launch by North Korea of the Taepo-Dong II missile, which could carry a nuclear warhead as far as Alaska or Japan. Exactly a week ago, the US Secretary of State said that she would consult with allies about the situation. What suggestions has he made to her to resolve that potential crisis?
The international community, including the UK, has been proactive in speaking to North Korea and others to make sure that everyone is aware of the serious consequences if the North Koreans went ahead with that missile test launch. In
our discussion upstairs the other day, in which the hon. Gentleman played a prominent part, we made it clear that the six-party talks represent the best mechanism for progress towards the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. That remains the case, and we still believe that the North Koreans should rejoin the six-party talks. The message to the North Koreans is, Rejoin the six-party talks, because you gave a commitment to those talks. Fulfil your commitment. Through those talks, we can start to denuclearise the region and, hopefully, put off any attempt whatsoever by the Koreans to launch a test missile.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that the negotiations last year on the non-proliferation treaty, to which he has just referred, did not have a very successful outcome? Is not a big question mark now placed over the future of the non-proliferation regime, due not just to North Korea, but to the fact that there is significant disagreement internationally about the way forward? Can he give us an undertaking that the British Government will do all that they can to reinforce, maintain and strengthen the non-proliferation treaty?
Mr. McCartney: I give my hon. Friend that absolute assurance. Signing the treaty was the easy partthe second part is to get others to come forward to sign it and to deal with the nitty-gritty around the politics. I can give an absolute assurance that we will do exactly what my hon. Friend asks. No doubt from time to time his Committee will have me and other responsible Ministers before it to review progress.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Today the Attorney-General has made an oral statement to the House of Lords concerning the collapse of the Jubilee line trial. You will recall that that was a matter on which there was a written ministerial statement to this House on 22 March 2005. The report that has been published is critical of the Crown Prosecution Services handling of the case, points out that the use of the offence of conspiracy to defraud is greatly muddled and added length to the proceedings, which is a topical matter for this House, and stressed that the fact that a jury was present at the trial was irrelevant to its collapse, with which the Attorney-General only a few moments ago stated that he disagreed, despite the fact that he commissioned that report. In those circumstances, is it appropriate that a statement of this kind should be made only in the other place and that the House should not have the benefit of the presence of the Solicitor-General to make a similar statement?
Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has said that the Attorney-General made the statement in the other place not so long ago, so let me have a look at what the Attorney-General said. I urge the hon. Gentleman to look at that statement also and to work through the usual channels to see whether similar action can be taken in this House. I will get back to the hon. Gentleman.
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