Previous Section Index Home Page

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): I welcome the comments that the Prime Minister made a few moments ago about the regime in Iran and the need for democracy there. We should bear in mind his carefully crafted and measured remarks in paragraph 6 of his statement. He drew the House’s attention to the fact that Hezbollah is getting weapons from Iran. He also said that by an amazing coincidence, the same weapons are being used against our troops in Basra. He needs to amplify that point. Does he agree that although we recognise the delicate nature of the situation and its gravity, some of us feel that we have been too soft on
18 July 2006 : Column 165
Iran and have not said what we mean, and meant what we say, and accused it of being the arch-exporter of terrorism?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right that there is no doubt at all that it is supporting terrorist activity around the region, which is precisely one of the reasons why people are extremely alarmed by the prospect of a nuclear Iran. I have heard several people say in the past few days that if Iran is prepared to encourage and support action that destabilises a region such as Lebanon, think how much more dangerous it would be if we had Iran with a nuclear weapon.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): What action is the United Nations immediately taking to try to get parties around the table to bring this awful violence to an end in the middle east? Is its plan to exclude or include representatives of the terrorist groups in such talks?

The Prime Minister: The UN envoys are out in the region now. I am not answering questions for them, and to whom they talk is up to them, but I would imagine that they would talk to representatives of everyone there, including Hezbollah. However the parties come around the table, it is perfectly obvious that the only solution is to rewind the things that have happened, including by ensuring that the soldiers are released and the rocket attacks are stopped. Rocket and mortar attacks of more than 1,500 or 1,600 represent a substantial bombardment on any basis.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): While I agree with much of what the Prime Minister says, especially about the release of the Israeli soldiers and an end to all attacks on civilians, does he understand that given the history of bloody-mindedness on both sides in the middle east and our own heavy commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no public support in this country for this country to be involved in any extended conflict with Iran and Syria?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend said that he agreed with much of what I said, which I shall accept gratefully. No one wants conflict with Iran or Syria. The problem is raised in a very acute way by the offer that has been made by the European Three—France, Germany and the UK—and America, Russia and China. We have put forward an offer to Iran that essentially protects its ability to develop civil nuclear power but restrains its ability to develop a nuclear weapon. The offer is on the table. It could talk to America and the whole of the relationship could be changed. The problem is that I remember being told time after time, “If only we got America to talk to us, things would be different,” but it is done, and then things are not different. At some point one must ask whether there is sincerity on Iran’s part or not. There is no plan whatever to take such action against Iran. I am willing to consider any form of diplomacy that brings about a change, but if there is not some give on the Iranian part at some point, we are left with some fairly stark choices.

Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): Could the Prime Minister develop his answer to that question and
18 July 2006 : Column 166
to the question by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay)? He said that he had spoken to many people at the G8, pointing out how dangerous, given Iran’s actions in support of Hezbollah, a nuclear Iran would be. Did he detect at the G8 summit greater resolution on the part of all his colleagues on the international stage to bring Iran to the table and force a resolution to that nuclear crisis?

The Prime Minister: I did notice that. The fact that the G8 statement was agreed, albeit in elliptical terms, made it clear that we were sure about where this began. That was an important step forward in itself. As for Iran, time and again it must be reminded of the fact that the world has no aggressive intent towards it, but if it exports aggression, it is very hard for us not to confront that reality. Underneath it is the wider issue that I have talked about, but the fact that the G8 statement was agreed and that the G8 plus 5 in effect endorsed it was significant.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): I wonder whether my right hon. Friend would agree that if there is to be long-term stability in the middle east, something that must change is the position of Lebanon. That state has been enfeebled by its neighbours, Syria and Israel, for their own misguided purposes, which prevents a long-term solution. What can be done to strengthen the Government in Beirut to make sure that Lebanon can deal with the problem of Hezbollah?

The Prime Minister: The point that my right hon. Friend is making is exactly the reason for resolution 1559. The only way, in the end, in which a state makes sure that it is in charge is for it to be in charge of force within the country. The problem is that Hezbollah militias are a constant thorn in the side of Lebanon, preventing that situation from being realised, which is why the resolution was passed. This time, we must make sure that it is implemented.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): The Prime Minister has made some unequivocal statements this afternoon about Syria. Is he contemplating the recall of our ambassador to London for consultation, and will he use his much improved relations with the regime in Libya to urge Colonel Gaddafi to use his influence on Hezbollah to rein in its forces?

The Prime Minister: We have no plans to recall our ambassador, but yes, we are using our relationships with all the different Arab countries to make sure that pressure is put on Syria and Iran. It was interesting to see the statements that emanated from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries, including, I think, Egypt, as they were surprisingly firm in their intent towards what those two countries are doing.

Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): There is no doubt that the present crisis started with the illegal kidnap of one Israeli soldier, but many Members on both sides of the House believe that the Israeli response, which took out electric and water supplies for tens of thousands of people in Gaza, was an act of disproportionality that led events to spiral out of control. The Palestinian
18 July 2006 : Column 167
Authority is not in a position readily to restore those services, so can my right hon. Friend talk to President Abbas about ways in which we could help to restore electricity and water supplies, as their absence endangers the health and lives of many thousands of people? Can we redouble our political commitment to ensure that those supplies are never destroyed again?

The Prime Minister: Of course, we put a big reconstruction effort into the Palestinian Authority. My hon. Friend is right to say that it is terrible when infrastructure is destroyed in that way. The problem in the end is that when the disengagement from Gaza took place, my idea—others had it too—was that the international community would move in behind a Palestinian Authority that was growing in effectiveness, with increasing control over its own security forces, thus creating the conditions in which private investment could be made. Indeed, a series of people were lined up, waiting to go in and invest. It is not what happened. Once the immediate situation calms, we must go back and work out with the Palestinian Authority a proper plan that allows that Authority to take charge of its own destiny. Rather as with Lebanon but on a much greater scale, there are people who are operating outside the proper control of the authority, whose purpose is often to disrupt the very progress that we want to make.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): The Prime Minister said that there would be a review of progress on Africa at the G8 summit in 2007. Can we make it clear to our G8 colleagues that the test of progress in 2007 is the extent to which G8 members have delivered on the promises that they made at Gleneagles in 2005? Unless we hold to that process, the danger is that after the modest indications at this summit, Africa will slip off the agenda altogether?

The Prime Minister: Obviously that is a danger, but I do not think it will happen. Germany has made it clear that for next year’s summit Africa will be a major topic, and Germany will review the progress again. We will set out the milestones for the next year. There is sufficient strength in civic society for us to keep people up to the mark, and we intend to use all our efforts to do so.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I can call all the Members standing, but they must be brief.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): I will be brief. Twenty years after Chernobyl, was there any discussion of the report of the nuclear safety and security group, and what conclusions did the leaders reach?

The Prime Minister: Yes, in the conclusions there is discussion about nuclear safety and what can be done in relation to it. It was agreed that we need to co-operate not just on safety, but on the decommissioning of nuclear waste and the development of the new generation of nuclear power stations.

18 July 2006 : Column 168

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Given that much sympathy has been expressed for the Government of Lebanon as being helpless to control Hezbollah, does the Prime Minister have any indication that the Government of Lebanon have asked for assistance from the international community to help them to do so?

The Prime Minister: I have spoken to the Prime Minister of Lebanon. I think Lebanon is looking for international help. The precise way in which that is used and the implications for its own armed forces are matters for debate. I believe the Prime Minister of Lebanon wants to do the right thing. The people around him are desperate for some stability in their country and they feel very angry that they are caught in the present situation. We should be helping them in any way we can.

Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): I welcome the news about the education for Africa initiative. On the middle east, we learned yesterday that the intention of Israel is to create an unmanned buffer zone in southern Lebanon. Will that do anything other than bring more problems to that region? Will my right hon. Friend please make a case for not doing that?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend’s comments underline the need at least to debate seriously the idea of an international force there.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Members across the House will welcome the report from the Prime Minister that the G8 recognise the need for a goal to help stabilise climate change emissions. Can the Prime Minister give us some idea when he hopes that will be concluded—he mentioned that progress would go ahead in Mexico—and what type of goal he would like to see?

The Prime Minister: The goal should be a stabilisation of the world’s climate and temperature. I do not know how far the G8 plus 5 dialogue in Mexico will move us forward, but there is now agreement in principle that such a framework should be developed.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): I agree with my right hon. Friend that there is neither excuse nor justification for rocket attacks, whether on Ashkelon or Haifa, but I find his comment that Israel has not defaulted on its road map obligations astonishing. Surely he is aware that long before Hamas was elected, and while Hamas was on ceasefire for the best part of a year, Israel was building a wall in Palestinian territory and expanding illegal settlements. What is that, if not defaulting on its road map obligations?

The Prime Minister: I understand exactly why my hon. Friend says that, but the whole purpose of the road map was to create a series of mutual obligations. On settlements, he is absolutely right and we have made our position clear on them all the time. In the end, settlements can be a block to the eventual resolution of this dispute. But the reason why we were not on the road map was that people kept coming in—into the territory of Israel—and killing innocent Israeli
18 July 2006 : Column 169
civilians. So what I say to my hon. Friend, as I would say to others, is that the only way that this situation will be unwound is by getting back to the mutual obligations that exist for both sides in the road map.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Some moments ago, the Prime Minister said, “We are doing everything we can.” Has he had a personal conversation with President Assad of Syria, and if not, why not, given that the Government are doing everything they can?

The Prime Minister: I am not sure that a personal conversation between me and President Assad will do a great deal of good, if I may respectfully say so. I think that Syria knows perfectly well what is required of it, and the only question is whether it wants to do it.

18 July 2006 : Column 170

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): We all obviously regret all the violence that is taking place in the region. The Prime Minister conceded that the Israeli actions in Lebanon and Gaza were disproportionate; if Israel carries on destroying the airport, roads, water supplies, electricity plant and a lot of civilian infrastructure—and killing civilians fleeing for their lives—what sanctions does he think should be applied against Israel to persuade it to desist from the expansionist intentions that it seems to be pursuing?

The Prime Minister: The only way to stop what I want to see stopped—the killing of innocent civilians—is through the process that we describe in our statement. Honestly, that is the only realistic way that we will do that.

18 July 2006 : Column 171

Points of Order

4.36 pm

Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Outside the Palace of Westminster today there is a large delegation of my constituents, who have come to demonstrate their opposition to the closure of the Hemel Hempstead hospital. The temperature outside is more than 100 degrees, and with Westminster Hall closed there are few facilities within the Palace to allow them to come in from the excessive heat. Until the new visitor centre is open, can you advise me, Mr. Speaker, on how we can accommodate visitors to the Palace, such as my constituents, which is surely what we all want to do?

Mr. Speaker: Sorry, I did not pick up the hon. Gentleman’s last point; I was being advised. I believe that he was asking about visitors; did he mention the visitor centre?

Mike Penning: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. What I am trying to say is that until the visitor centre is complete, and with Westminster Hall completely out of action, what facilities are there for our constituents when they come to Parliament to perform their democratic right of lobbying this House against things that they are not happy about?

Mr. Speaker: I am afraid that we have a difficulty in that respect. The hon. Gentleman realises that the great hall of Westminster is like a building site. I visited it last week, and things are difficult for visitors at present.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned people who are demonstrating outside. They have the democratic right to come to Parliament and express their concerns to Members. The temperatures outside are exceptional; I have never experienced such temperatures in the 27 years that I have been coming to London every week—it was exceptionally warm when I was out at
18 July 2006 : Column 172
8 o’clock this morning. I will ask the Serjeant at Arms to look into the possibility of at least making available water facilities—bottled water or cool water, perhaps—because it is unreasonable to expect people to stand in such heat. I will instruct the Serjeant at Arms to see what we can do, at the very least to find water for visitors.

Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In a written statement issued today, the Minister for Housing and Planning made it clear that home condition reports—the central part of the Government’s proposed home information packs—will be withdrawn; they will no longer be made mandatory. A flagship element of the Government’s Housing Act 2004 has been scuttled by Ministers, and yet the Minister concerned has not come to the Dispatch Box to explain why she has retreated under fire. Is that not a gross discourtesy to the House?

Mr. Speaker: The good news is that that will be debated tomorrow.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You may recall that yesterday the Minister with responsibility for the police accused me of misleading my constituents on the subject of the cost of police mergers. Can you advise me on how I might reverse that outrageous slur made in this House?

Mr. Speaker: I was present then, and the Minister concerned did refer to the hon. Gentleman’s misleading his constituents outside Parliament. My problem is that I have enough to do here in Parliament, without worrying about the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I am sure that he will find a way to put the record right. The Minister concerned is a reasonable person and he will —[Interruption.] He is very reasonable. He comes from good Donegal stock, and he will listen to what the hon. Gentleman has to say.

18 July 2006 : Column 173

Food Labelling

4.40 pm

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): I beg to move,

Next Section Index Home Page