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Margaret Beckett: Lots of discussions have taken place with the Iraqi Government about a transfer of responsibility, but I have detected no interest in the Iraqi Government in finding a new international force. Perhaps I could remind my hon. Friend, as she seems to have forgotten, that the multinational forces that are there are under the authority of the United Nations. The Iraqi Government are not interested in getting in a fresh set of international troops, but there is certainly interest in taking over control of security themselves—that is a view that we strongly share.

Let me add that it is not the case that the presence of multinational forces is fuelling conflict in every part of Iraq—there are some areas where it may not be assisting and may even be adding to difficulties, but that is not so across Iraq. That is why the Iraqi Government are not asking for those forces simply to decamp.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): Given the pace of the policy reassessment going on in Washington, does the Foreign Secretary agree that it would be highly desirable for the Government to come to the House before the Christmas recess with a statement of policy on Iraq and on the prospects for our operations there? Will she describe the shape currently taken by any policy review going on in the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence or Downing street in parallel with the two reviews taking place in Washington? With or without that, what can she tell the House about the advice that the Prime Minister will give to President Bush when he travels to Washington tomorrow?

Margaret Beckett: The advice that the Prime Minister will give to President Bush is exactly the advice that he has shared with the House and, indeed, the country, on many occasions. It is on the need to give attention to supporting the Iraqi Government’s efforts to improve services and infrastructure, and to improve and take greater responsibility for security, as they can. Obviously, it is not entirely up to me how matters are reported to the House, but I certainly give the right hon. Gentleman an undertaking that if there is a change that seems to require fresh information to be given to the House, I will be happy to give it, in one way or another.

Mr. Hague: I am grateful for that answer, and of course I will pursue the matter. In the meantime, it is evident that military force alone will not resolve the current situation, and I know that the Foreign Secretary will agree that a broader political reconciliation in Iraq is indispensable to its future, but what does she think are the chances of arriving at such a situation in the next few months? Does she think that it is a good idea to establish an international contact group of countries that wish to help in such matters, and that have the influence to do so? Such a group could begin to provide the international framework to buttress any such agreement in the future.

Margaret Beckett: First, may I say that I strongly share the right hon. Gentleman’s view—a view thatwe have been expressing continually to the Iraqi Government—that political reconciliation is imperative in Iraq? We have encouraged and supported that
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Government in that work. I can tell him and the House that, two or three days ago, I had a long and very fruitful conversation with the Iraqi Foreign Minister, who told me how much better those efforts are proceeding, and how encouraged he is that people there are seeing some improvement in the situation. I very much hope that the next few months will bring the kind of improvements that he, and we, seek. On the issue of an international contact group, I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that for some time we have urged Iraq’s neighbours and its colleagues elsewhere—for example, in the Gulf and among the Arab states—both to join the international compact to support Iraq, and to be prepared to be engaged in a wider group helping to support and assist the Government of Iraq in their endeavours. We continue to make such representations, and I think that they are increasingly being taken seriously. Whether there will be a formal contact group is another matter, but support for the international compact will, I think, have the kind of effect that the right hon. Gentleman seeks.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary must be right to emphasise the importance of Iraq’s neighbours, who must be part of the solution, as regards the politics of Iraq. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is in Washington, will he tell the United States Administration unequivocally that we must now talk, however reluctantly, to the Syrians and the Iranians? They must be part of any solution; if not, they will be part of the problem.

Margaret Beckett: Those countries are part of the problem now. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will discuss with the President a whole range of matters, which will encompass the points rightly raised by my hon. Friend. It has long been clear—and, of late, we have made it explicitly clear—to, for example, the Syrians that people are prepared to talk to them, and that it is in their interests, and in the interests of Iran, and all of Iraq’s other neighbours, that there should be a stable Iraq in the future. They might think about that a little more fully than they seem to do at the moment. Of course, although people are prepared to engage in dialogue—I am pleased, for example, that the Syrians are opening an embassy in Baghdad—the degree and the nature of that dialogue will depend on whether or not action is taken by both Syria and Iran that shows good will, as opposed to ill will.

Middle East

7. Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): What discussions have taken place with the Israeli Government on the use of rubber bullets by the Israeli military against Palestinian protestors. [107311]

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): We last raised our concerns about the use of rubber bullets on 30 August.

Jo Swinson: A report in 2002 by a group of Israeli researchers, including the then chief physician of the Israeli police force, recommended that rubber bullets

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Despite that, on 4 August this year, my constituent, Margaret Pacetta, was shot in the back with a rubber bullet during a peaceful protest in the disputed village of Bilin, leaving her bruised and badly shaken. Will the Minister raise that issue again with the Israeli Government and ask them to follow the advice of the 2002 report?

Dr. Howells: The hon. Lady is rightly concerned about what happened to her constituent, but she will acknowledge that rubber bullets are a hell of a lot better than ordinary metal ammunition, which tends to kill people or blow their arms off. There is not a general prohibition on the use of rubber bullets under international law—she will recall that the United Kingdom used them regularly in Northern Ireland. We expect the Israelis to use them only when necessary with proper control because, as she said, they are sometimes lethal. Our embassy in Tel Aviv raised that particular case with the Israeli authorities on 13 June, and our ambassador wrote on 15 June. The embassy pursued the case with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 30 August, and it asked the Israeli Government to clarify whether plastic or rubber bullets were fired at demonstrators and whether the crowd was beaten with batons. If so, it asked them to explain why such force was necessary, but it is still awaiting a response.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Mr. Liberman, who is a Member of the Knesset, believes that all Palestinians should be cleared out, not only from the occupied territories but from Israel. What chance is there of establishing a Palestinian state when a Knesset Member with racist views is holding the coalition Government together in Israel?

Dr. Howells: I agree with my hon. Friend that it is an absurd situation, as that man holds views that are akin to those that prevailed under apartheid. He wants Palestinians to be driven out of Israel, but I am sure that that view is not held by most Israelis—it certainly is not held by most Palestinians. We should work wherever possible in our negotiations with the Israeli Government and generally in diplomacy to counteract such arguments.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): Will the Minister raise the issue of glass fibre shells, which have allegedly been used in Gaza, with the Israeli Government because, as doctors in the House will know, they leave small fragments that cannot be detected by X-ray?

Dr. Howells: I will certainly make inquiries, but it is the first that I have heard about such munitions being used. If that is the case, we would certainly deplore their use.

Ceasefire (Gaza)

9. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): If she will make a statement on the ceasefire in Gaza. [107313]

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): We welcome the mutual ceasefire in Gaza between the Palestinians and Israel. Like everyone else, we were
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concerned that in the early part of the ceasefire Qassam rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel, but we welcome the public commitments of Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas to make it work. All sides need to use this opportunity to take measures to restore confidence and return to the road map. A great deal of energy, commitment and continued effort is required from the international community to help to facilitate that.

Mr. Cunningham: I thank my hon. Friend for his answer, but does he not think that it is time that pressure was put on the American Government to make a concerted effort to sort out the middle east question, particularly the road map to peace?

Dr. Howells: My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister visited the region from 9 to 11 September and met key leaders. He believed that it was important to visit the region to exchange ideas and to start to identify a way forward for the parties, as that can lead to genuine dialogue through negotiations and a way back to the road map. I do not doubt that he will urge our American allies to devote more energy to that re-engagement in his impending visit to Washington.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) recently visited Sri Lanka, and he put his finger on an important issue in peace building and efforts to reinvigorate the procedure. He noted that it is not enough for the parties to be brought together once every six months in Geneva—it is something that must be worked at day and night, as was the case under Prime Minister Major. People must construct back channels, and explore ways to bring the sides together. It is about peace building, and those are not easy techniques to evolve. We should not assume that it is enough to hold the occasional grand meeting at which the great and the good are brought together and various resolutions are arrived at. We have to do much more, as it is about building peace from the bottom up.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): May I reinforce what the Minister has just said about peace building? It is essential that both sides get rapid benefit. In the absence of rapid benefit, there is never support for the process.

Dr. Howells: I agree entirely with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. As he knows as well as any of us, it should not be rocket science. I have met people who said that Egyptian contractors could be used to build 200,000 new houses in Gaza. Imagine what that would do for employment in the area. There are plenty of people with good intentions. There is no shortage of resources, but there is a shortage of political leadership and will to get on with it—and to get on with it quickly.

Cluster Munitions

10. Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab): Whether the UK will be represented at the conference on cluster munitions in Oslo in February 2007; and if she will make a statement. [107314]

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The Minister for Europe (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): Invitations to the conference on cluster munitions in Oslo in February have not yet been issued. We will carefully consider any such invitation, if and when it is received.

Chris McCafferty: Given that Kofi Annan has, among other things, called for a freeze pending the ban, and given that the expert-led urgent discussions will not report back to the review for a whole year, I urge the Government not only to attend the Oslo conference, but to take a lead part in discussions on a possible moratorium and, ultimately, a ban on these utterly abhorrent weapons.

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s suggestion, but I answered her question as I did because we have not yet received any invitation, so we are not in a position to say whether we can attend or not. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important to take forward a process, which is why we have taken the initiative and appointed a group of experts to look into the problem through the conference of the convention on certain conventional weapons in order to bring about the possibility of an international ban. I hope that my hon. Friend strongly supports that, which is precisely the process that Kofi Annan advocated.

Carbon Emissions

11. Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on international mechanisms to enforce the reduction of carbon emissions. [107315]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Margaret Beckett): I am in regular contact with the Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs on how best to deliver the UK’s climate objectives. I have made the joint pursuit of climate and energy security a strategic international priority for the UK. It is vital to our security and therefore a major focus of our diplomacy to achieve a rapid transition to a low-carbon global economy.

Andrew Selous: The Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs is committed to UK and EU cuts in carbon emissions, but only the United Nations has the authority to take a global view of this issue, so will the Foreign Secretary press the UN to make climate change a central purpose—naming and shaming recalcitrant countries, if necessary—rather than the peripheral concern that it is now?

Margaret Beckett: I think that the hon. Gentleman is being unfair to the UN in saying that it is a peripheral concern. Indeed, at the recent United Nations framework convention on climate change conference in Nairobi, the Secretary-General made a very strong statement about the importance of this issue. I certainly share the hon. Gentleman’s view that the matter should have even more prominence in UN discussions, which is something that we are urging on the new Secretary-General.

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Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): The Secretary of State knows that we share her strong commitment to international co-operation to achieve carbon emission reductions. Does she share our view—and the view expressed by the Minister for Europe on 26 October—that it can be achieved without any additional EU powers?

Margaret Beckett: We are rather a long way from the international agreement that we all seek in the longer term. In the shorter term, we certainly believe that one of the main instruments that can be used to make progress is the EU emissions trading scheme and extensions to it. As the hon. Gentleman knows, this country is, I believe, the only one to have had its national allocation plan proposals for the new scheme accepted. That does not, at present, require any new powers.

North Korea

13. Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): What recent discussions she has had with her Chinese counterparts on North Korea's nuclear programme. [107317]

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Ian McCartney): Immediately following North Korea’s nuclear test in October, the Foreign Secretary had telephone conversations with her counterparts, including Chinese Foreign Minister Li. I also called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea ambassador in London to the Foreign Office to make our views clear. On a previous visit to the region in July, I discussed the issues with interlocutors from China, as well as Japan and South Korea, and my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister had further talks during his visit in October. We remain in direct and regular contact with
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the Chinese Government on the issue, including through our ambassador in Beijing and via other high-level ministerial and official contacts. China has an instrumental role to play in the resumption of the six-party talks and in ensuring that North Korea complies with UN Security Council resolution 1718.

Mr. Hands: I thank the Minister for that answer. A few weeks ago, the Deputy Prime Minister told the House that he had had three hours of talks with the Chinese special envoy to North Korea at the end of October. Will the Minister tell us a little more about the content of those talks?

Mr. McCartney: I do not want to be awkward and say, “No, because I wasn’t in the room when the discussions took place.” I can tell the hon. Gentleman, however, that if the Deputy Prime Minister spoke to the special envoy in the same way that I did, it will have been a very productive discussion.

Mr. Jeremy Hunt (South-West Surrey) (Con): Does the Minister accept that the situation in North Korea is a perfect illustration of why it is vital that we renew our nuclear deterrent? Does he agree that the argument that we are unlikely to use such a deterrent is not only wrong but dangerous when we are faced with an opponent such as North Korea, which accepts only one principle, namely, that might is right?

Mr. McCartney: I take on board entirely what the hon. Gentleman says, and I thank him for his support of the Government’s position. It is also really important that we get the six-party talks going again. It is critical that we resume those discussions. We already have talks about the talks under negotiation, and several points remain under discussion to be agreed between the United States and China. I hope that the talks will resume soon.

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Opposition Day

[1(st) Allotted Day]

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