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Given that many more Britons and Europeans are forecast to fly across Europe, how are the Government pressing the EU to improve the affordability and availability of train travel as an alternative?

Mr. Hoon: There is a substantial EU commitment to improving high-speed rail links throughout the European Union. A significant amount of European
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taxpayers’ money goes into such projects. Those routes are important alternatives for travellers throughout the European Union, as anyone who, like me, regularly catches the Eurostar between London and Brussels and Paris will find.

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend comment on the Prime Minister’s recent discussions with the German Chancellor on climate change? Is it not the case that the EU emissions trading scheme should be widened and deepened and that we need to move quickly to a post-Kyoto settlement?

Mr. Hoon: That is certainly one of the United Kingdom’s ambitions as we discuss the way forward on climate change with Germany, which holds the EU presidency for the moment, and with other member states. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has led Europe on this issue and he continues to be determined to secure an agreement. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his observations. An important aspect of the British Government’s negotiating strategy during the German presidency is that we should achieve improvements, especially on the trading scheme.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Do not the crises and conflicts in various parts of the world that we have been discussing for the past 45 minutes underline the need for greater effectiveness of the EU in international and foreign affairs? Will my right hon. Friend do what he can to ensure that he talks to the German Chancellor to try to bring forward proposals that would strengthen the European Union’s ability to intervene on international issues?

Mr. Hoon: Certainly, I see no reason why we should not build on the considerable success that Javier Solana has made of his post. There was a good deal of criticism of his appointment, especially from Conservative Members, but he has demonstrated that it is important for the European Union to have a single figure with whom the United States and other countries throughout the world can communicate, especially on matters as vital as the middle east peace process and relations with Iran and Russia. He has been an outstanding success and I pay tribute to the work that he has done.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that one of the British Government’s priorities in negotiations about institutional changes to the European Union is still to bring the rotating presidency to an end and to appoint a permanent President of the Council?

Mr. Hoon: That was certainly agreed by all member states in the constitutional treaty. However, as I have indicated to the House before—not only today, but previously—negotiations and discussions are going on. It is important that we find the right way forward, but obviously that depends on a consensus among all 27 member states.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): Does the Minister believe that the future development of the EU should include the capacity to create criminal law?

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Mr. Hoon: It has never been the British Government’s view that criminal law is a central feature of the European Union’s case law. However, there are relevant examples, especially in relation to environmental protection. There is a strong argument that organisations and countries that breach important principles of environmental protection could well face criminal law sanctions, although that is not something that the United Kingdom Government have necessarily yet supported.

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): Will the Minister indicate what progress has been made on a joint statement to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the treaty of Rome?

Mr. Hoon: Work is already under way in Berlin on a draft statement. We have made it clear on behalf of the United Kingdom that it is important that the draft statement reflect not only the achievements of the European Union over the past 50 years but set out its values and provide a vision for the future. I assure the House that as soon as a text is available it will be laid before the House for further discussion.


9. Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): Whether she has received reports of connections between relatives of President Karzai and drug trafficking from Afghanistan. [121323]

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): We know that there are a number of individuals in both the Government and Parliament with links to the drugs trade. We are aware of media reports that those individuals may include relatives of President Karzai. The President himself has stated publicly that he is committed to acting against all those involved in the trade. The UK is helping the Afghan Government to improve their capacity to bring those involved to justice.

Dr. Pugh: I thank the Minister for that answer, but given the fact that US military documents describe Wali Karzai, the President’s brother, as

and given the endemic corruption in the Afghan Government, what new initiatives do this Government believe will improve governance in the country and international and local confidence?

Dr. Howells: The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of corruption, because wherever I have gone in Afghanistan the first thing that people say to me is that if the provincial governors, as a species, were honest, central Government’s remit would be much easier to extend across the whole of Afghanistan—so corruption is enormously important. We have not, however, seen or come across any evidence that any relative of President Karzai is involved in the drugs trade and, as far as I am aware, none has been laid publicly before the people of Afghanistan.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): When it was suggested in November that the Karzai Government were endemically corrupt, as Governments in
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Afghanistan have been for a couple of centuries now, with provincial governors and chiefs of police appointed by Karzai, including former warlords, former Taliban, one paedophile and people involved in the drugs trade, the defence given by the Defence Secretary was that there was one governor who was above suspicion and a man of great integrity. His name was Mohammed Daoud; he was sacked in December; he was the only one who could be identified as non-corrupt. Should we not be pressing for improvements in the Karzai Government before we ask more troops to die for them?

Dr. Howells: My hon. Friend is right to say that Engineer Daoud, who was the governor in Helmand province, was a good man. He replaced somebody, Sher Mohammed, who was totally corrupt. He was the local warlord and ran the drugs trade in Helmand. The new governor appointed after Engineer Daoud, who, after all, served a year in the tough environment of Helmand province, seems to us to be a very honest and hard-working individual—

Paul Flynn: Is that why he was sacked?

Dr. Howells: No, it was not the new governor but the old governor who was sacked. We have to take account of the fact, which my hon. Friend so eloquently conveyed, that this is not Surrey; it is Afghanistan, and it is a pretty rough neighbourhood. To say that we can do nothing there until we have proved that every single provincial governor is as pure as the driven snow is to be on the road to nowhere.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that drug trafficking is relevant to the intensity of the fighting in Helmand province? Will he confirm too that many of our NATO allies are unwilling to provide reinforcements for British forces in Helmand? Does he accept that it was reckless of the Government to deploy British forces in Helmand in operational conditions without ensuring that proper reinforcements were available from the NATO countries?

Dr. Howells: No, I certainly do not agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Great care was taken in planning the operation in Helmand and the ISAF move to the province. We consulted closely the chiefs of staff and others who feel that they have the troops and the equipment to fight that campaign properly. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right to imply that this is a real test of the resolve and credibility of NATO, and I am not sure that every NATO member understands the significance of that. If they did, I am sure that they would be far more ready to put more troops and more assets down into the south, where the real battle is going on at the moment.


12. Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): If she will make a statement on the political situation in Lebanon. [121326]

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): The United Kingdom continues to be concerned by the ongoing political instability in Lebanon. We have
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called on all sides to address their differences through peaceful dialogue. We support all constructive international mediation efforts to help resolve the crisis. The United Kingdom continues to believe that UN Security Council resolution 1701 provides the best framework for solving Lebanon’s problems, and we are working with international partners to implement it.

Dr. Palmer: During the short-lived war between Israel and Hezbollah, the world media and world Governments were all over the region, particularly Lebanon, attempting to solve the crisis, but world opinion has the attention span of a butterfly, and we now talk about practically everything but Lebanon, while there continues to be near civil war there. Will the Government reinforce their efforts to try to ensure that the situation does not spill over into a new crisis of the kind that we all faced a few months ago?

Dr. Howells: Yes; I tell my hon. Friend that we certainly will. We are very concerned about the situation in Lebanon, and especially the continuation of disruptive activities by Hezbollah, which acts as if it were an alternative Government in Lebanon. It is heavily armed, and as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, we are worried about the way in which it has been rearmed through Syria. The latest intelligence indicates that it is up to its previous strength, in terms of the rockets that it has prepared to fire into Israel. It is a serious situation, and one that I will shortly have the privilege of investigating more closely.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): The Minister just stated that the Government are concerned about the rearming of Hezbollah. Does he agree that one of the factors behind the destabilisation, and the activities of Hezbollah, is the direct involvement of the Iranian Government? That brings instability to Lebanon, and the Secretary of State for Defence has suggested the involvement of Lebanese Hezbollah, armed by Iran, in the killing of British troops in Iraq. What pressure are the British Government putting on the Iranian Government to cease that activity?

Dr. Howells: As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have brought the matter to the attention of the Iranian Government many times. We know what bomb-making technology has been used in the Basra area and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the fingerprints of Hezbollah and the Iranian revolutionary guards’ bomb-makers are all over that equipment, and obviously we are concerned about that. We have made our views known in the United Nations and in other forums. The great problem is that the Government of Iran seem to be divided in two: there is a theocracy, and there is the elected Government of President Ahmadinejad. Our problem is trying to understand who is pulling the strings, and who is giving the orders to the revolutionary guards and to those who are smuggling arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon, via Syria. The issue is who is giving the orders, and who is pulling the strings. It is difficult for any nation to try to understand that, and to alter the activities of that Government and their agents abroad.

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Association of South East Asian Nations

13. Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): What assessment she has made of the strength of UK relations with the Association of South East Asian Nations. [121327]

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Ian McCartney) rose—

Hon. Members: It is the Little and Large show!

Mr. McCartney: The wee man will answer the big ’un.

The UK has strong relations with the ASEAN countries, both bilaterally and multilaterally. We have formal relations with ASEAN through the EU, via the EU-ASEAN dialogue, the Asia-Europe meeting and the ASEAN regional forum. To maintain UK-ASEAN relations, and to ensure that we are fully aware of current issues, I regularly meet ASEAN ambassadors and high commissioners. I will attend the EU-ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting on 15 March.

Mr. Soames: Given that the ASEAN countries have a combined population of 558 million and a combined gross domestic product of more than $850 billion, does
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the right hon. Gentleman consider that British representation is adequately furnished to ASEAN through the European Union? Should not such a vital market, where we have such enormous interests and which is developing at such a pace, have much bigger British representation on its own?

Mr. McCartney: Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman that as well as multilateral relationships through the European Union for trade negotiations, we have bilateral relationships which provide increasing resources for United Kingdom trade and investment in all the countries in that region. As the Minister responsible, I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that a great deal of effort is going into putting new investment, skills and technology into those relationships. We have a growing trade relationship with all the ASEAN countries, except of course Burma, because of the specific circumstances. Those sanctions will remain.

I will be visiting the region in the coming months, including Vietnam, in which I know the hon. Gentleman takes a specific interest. If he wishes to have a meeting with me before that visit, I shall welcome him to my rather rotund and large office in the Foreign Office, which will suit him admirably, to discuss issues relating to my visit.

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Point of Order

3.31 pm

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) raised a point of order and drew attention to the fact that I had withdrawn from yesterday’s Order Paper Question 20, which asked whether any questions had been drafted wholly or in part by a member of the ministerial team, and so on. The implication was that Thurrock had been buckled or sat upon by the ministerial team. I want to place it on record that that does not happen in Thurrock, and that the question will be asked again. I withdrew it for the old-fashioned reason of tactics. If it had stayed on the Order Paper, it would have received a written parliamentary reply, whereas I want an oral reply. The lesson is this: the Conservative Opposition is in a parlous state, the Labour party does not just provide the Government—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his point.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: It is not a point of order. The matter has nothing to do with the Chair. The hon. Gentleman had a bite of the cherry yesterday, and a return match took place today, so we will call it quits.

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Catholics (Prevention of Discrimination)

3.32 pm

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): I beg to move,

In a civilised society there ought to be no reason to introduce this Bill. If we proposed a Bill on the Floor of the House of Commons that would make it illegal for the heir to the throne to marry a Muslim, a Methodist or a Mormon, that would be intolerable in a free society, yet the heir to the throne is still not allowed to marry a member of what is, on any Sunday, the largest worshipping community in this country. That is an insult to the Catholic community because it suggests that, somehow or other, being a Roman Catholic means being less of a citizen than someone belonging to any other religious denomination.

I admit that I feel ashamed that I did not introduce the Bill before, when I was an Anglican. Since becoming a Catholic, I have recognised what the attitude towards this denomination means. For that reason, I am trying to make up for the history. It is not just a question of who the heir to the throne may marry or who the Queen or King may be. It is pretty ridiculous that the king could be a Scientologist, which is manifestly intellectually difficult and religiously rubbish, but cannot be a Catholic, which is intellectually difficult and religiously correct. This is wholly unacceptable, and I do not think that anybody believes otherwise.

One discovers other things in the woodwork when one looks into the matter. For example, it used to be true that no Catholic diocese could have the same name as an Anglican diocese, even though those dioceses had, shall we say, been borrowed. In 1927 that measure was apparently removed, but it turns out that it was not removed. The Act says that naming a Catholic diocese the same as an Anglican diocese is no longer punishable—it is just illegal. That is a peculiarity, and it is also insulting. The Catholics called the diocese—now the archdiocese—of Southwark that name because there was not an Anglican diocese there, so when the Anglicans decided that they wanted a diocese in Southwark, it was perfectly all right for them to call it Southwark, despite the fact that there was a Catholic diocese, so the measure is not there to make matters easier for people. The Catholic diocese of Newcastle, although the cathedral is in Newcastle, has to be called Hexham and Newcastle, even though the centre of the diocese is in Newcastle. The Catholic archdiocese of Liverpool happens to precede the Anglican bishopric of Liverpool. It was perfectly all right for the Church of England to use the same name, but it was not all right the other way round. I do not think that it is terribly important, but it is insulting.

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