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Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): Given that the EU is Iran’s largest single trade partner, can the Foreign Secretary tell us whether she has urged her EU colleagues to agree to restrict EU export credit guarantees to Iran?

Margaret Beckett: The issue has been touched on, but not yet discussed in depth. It is, of course, very much one of the issues that may well be pursued when we come again—as we are likely to do in the near future—to consider whether there is scope for further sanctions against Iran, given that it appears not to be willing to comply with the existing resolutions.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it is essential that we ensure that Iran remains a member of the non-proliferation treaty system, that dialogue be continued with it, and that we do our best to persuade all neighbouring countries in the region, including Israel, also to sign the non-proliferation treaty so as to try to bring about the dream of a nuclear-free region?

Margaret Beckett: I can say something that I do not say very often, which is that I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I hope that that is not a source of dismay to him. We do believe that Iran should remain in the non-proliferation treaty. Indeed, we would like to see Iran observing its provisions, which is even more important than staying within it. We have consistently urged on the Government of Israel that they should sign the non-proliferation treaty and it is very much our policy that we would like to see a nuclear weapons-free zone in the middle east.

Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): Iran’s continued flouting of its nuclear obligations is worrying and unacceptable, and the international community must be clear and united in delivering that message. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the diplomatic initiatives by Condoleezza Rice have been consistent with those of Europe and others in efforts to make Iran comply with United Nations resolutions? If so, does the Foreign Secretary agree that Vice-President Cheney’s recent speech, in which he threatened the use of naval power against Iran, delivered as it was while he stood on the deck of one of the two American aircraft carriers just off the coast of Iran, undermined that diplomatic approach and was counter-productive?

Margaret Beckett: It is not for me to answer questions about the policy of the Government of the United States. I will say only therefore that it is indeed the case that the United States has been a major partner in the discussions and negotiations with Iran about its use of nuclear power and that that has been a useful and constructive role.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Given the growing concern about Iran’s nuclear capacity, how does my right hon. Friend regard the statement made last Sunday by President Ahmedinejad that the Lebanese war had pressed the button for Israel’s destruction?

Margaret Beckett: I am afraid that I view those remarks in much the same spirit as I view many of
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President Ahmedinejad’s comments, which is that they are not helpful to the wider international community or to the reputation of Iran.

Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): The Foreign Secretary will know that Iran’s ballistic missile programme is intertwined with its nuclear programme. What estimates have the Government made of when Iran will be capable of deploying missiles outside the region?

Margaret Beckett: Assessments of that kind continue to be made. We are concerned about Iran’s intentions. While pursuit of civil nuclear power is perfectly acceptable, we are anxious to ensure that nuclear weapons are not something that Iran pursues. That is a major concern on its own. The question of a delivery mechanism is, if I may say so, at present somewhat secondary, and long may it remain so.

Jane Kennedy (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab): While I encourage my right hon. Friend’s and the British Government’s commitment to dialogue, what is her response to the comments by Mohamed el-Baradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, that Iran should be permitted limited uranium enrichment under strict supervision? Are not those comments in the current circumstances hardly helpful and possibly reckless in the extreme?

Margaret Beckett: My right hon. Friend highlights some of the observations made recently by Dr. el-Baradei, who has also indicated his view that perhaps Iran has already succeeded in mastering the technology that is required for the enrichment of uranium. That is not a view that we share; nor indeed am I aware of any evidence that sustains that view. We remain strongly of the view that it is in the interests of everyone who wishes to see sustained peace in the middle east for Iran not to continue to pursue a programme that calls the security of that peace into question. I certainly urge anyone, no matter what their role or responsibilities, to avoid saying things that might give a different impression.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): The Foreign Secretary has rightly expressed her frustration at failing to persuade the Iranians to comply with the international community and the feeling across the House that they are playing for time. Will she come back to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley)? Does she agree that the EU should use its leverage as Iran’s largest trading partner to increase the pressure on Iran by saying that it is prepared to limit the access of Iranian banks to the European financial system, progressively to restrict new export credit guarantees to Iran, and to begin targeted action to restrict European investment in Iranian oil and gas fields? There is a feeling on both sides of the House that some of our European partners are dragging their feet on this.

Margaret Beckett: I am not sure that that is entirely justified, although I understand the anxiety. Of course we are keeping all the options and possibilities under review. The hon. Gentleman will recall that when we reached agreement in Vienna almost a year ago, part of the decision was that if we were driven to sanctions,
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which no one wished to have to implement, they would be incrementally increased if the necessity arose, with the possibility of reversal because the offer of negotiations remained on the table. That remains the position. So any and all of the measures that the hon. Gentleman raises are not outside the bounds of consideration. We are merely taking things step by step to see what is most effective at that moment in time.

UK/Brazil Economic and Trade Committee

4. Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): If she will make a statement on the progress of the joint economic and trade committee with Brazil. [140312]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): There has been a good deal of progress under the UK-Brazil joint economic and trade committee. It is an excellent initiative for developing our strategic economic relationship with Brazil. Good relationships have been established at both Government and private sector level. The Confederation of British Industry is delivering a comprehensive programme aimed at improving the business environment with Brazil. A full programme of activities is under way for the UK-Brazil year of science.

Mr. Blizzard: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I welcome the establishment of the Jetco because Brazil is one of the world’s four really big emerging economies and probably the one on which we have focused less than the other three. I am advised that there are real opportunities for British companies in Brazil’s high-quality expanding aerospace industry and in its programme of developing energy infrastructure and tourism infrastructure. What encouragement and support is my right hon. Friend giving to British companies so that they do not leave those opportunities to the French, Germans and Italians?

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend both for his question and for his interest. UK Trade and Investment has transferred more than £5 million of its resources from existing mature markets to focus on emerging markets, including Brazil. As a result, six additional offices have been added to UKTI’s network in Brazil. So undoubtedly there is a determination at government level to assist British companies in increasing their exports to Brazil. I am delighted to be able to say that exports from the United Kingdom to Brazil increased by some 9.5 per cent. in 2006 over 2005.

Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): Brazil is developing a market in biofuels, although some people refer to it as deforestation diesel. May we have an assurance that, although we are keen to develop such markets with Brazil, it will not be at the expense of environmental concerns?

Mr. Hoon: Sustainability is an important principle in the way in which major British companies operate in countries such as Brazil, and it is certainly something they will take into account.

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): Brazil is an enormously important strategic partner for the UK in the battle against climate change, as my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill)
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pointed out. May I press the Minister to be more specific about how we should measure the success of the Jetco initiative and when we should expect it to bear fruit?

Mr. Hoon: I have indicated one measure—the level of economic activity by British companies in Brazil, which has increased over the past 12 months. We want to put in place arrangements that will allow continuing exports while equally ensuring that there is a two-way exchange of ideas, information, science, knowledge and understanding, which is something the Jetco initiative will foster.


5. Mrs. Sharon Hodgson (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab): If she will make a statement on the position of trade unions in Iraq. [140313]

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): The Iraqi Government should recognise the importance of free and democratic trade unions. Currently, the finances and membership of Iraq’s trade unions continue to be restricted by decree 8750 passed by Iraq’s Interim Government in 2005, and law 150 passed by Saddam Hussein’s Government in 1987. We have encouraged the Iraqi Government to ensure that free and comprehensive elections can take place among members of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers, so that legislation can be introduced to allow properly constituted trade unions to operate freely in the country.

Mrs. Hodgson: I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that the Iraqi trade union movement seeks to unite working people of whatever religion, and even no religion? That requires the support of democrats everywhere to build a democratic, civil society, whatever their view about the invasion might have been.

Dr. Howells: Yes, I agree entirely. Through the Department for International Development, we are providing funding for the International Centre for Trade Union Rights and have co-funded union training with Unison. The aim is to provide core training on the role of trade unions in the workplace and society, negotiating collective agreements, union organisation and, importantly, women’s involvement in trade unions.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): Are the Government helping the Iraqi Government to meet one of the main concerns of Iraqi trade unions? Oil revenue that should be channelled into raising living standards is actually being siphoned off in large volumes to rich Gulf states as reparation for the first—not the second—Gulf war, including payments to companies that claim missed business opportunities at that time.

Dr. Howells: The hon. Gentleman will know that measures were taken and decisions reached at the United Nations on the payment of reparations and on other forms of payment to account for the loss of property and profits and damage during the first Gulf war period and the invasion of Kuwait. I am sure he agrees that we should see an end to those payments, which have been going on for a long time and are
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draining revenue that should be used to build Iraq. The Government are doing everything they can to persuade Iraq’s neighbours in the Gulf to forgo those reparations so that reconstruction can take place.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): Given that I have spent a considerable amount of time talking to Iraqi trade unions on my several visits to Iraq, I agree that it is important that laws that militate against them be repealed as quickly as possible. I would like to press our diplomats in Baghdad to make more efforts to pressurise the Iraqi Government to repeal those laws. Secondly, does my hon. Friend agree that as the Iraqi trade unions are mainly non-sectarian they have an important role to play in the future reconciliation programme in Iraq, and that we should not underestimate the power of their membership to achieve what others, seemingly, are failing to achieve?

Dr. Howells: Yes, I agree with my right hon. Friend’s assessment of the role of trade unions in Iraq and their character. I pay tribute to the work that she has done over very many years in defence of free Iraqi trade unions. She will know, as well as I do, that trade unions were sometimes used under Saddam Hussein as intelligence-gathering operations for his secret police and for the repression that they exercised. I certainly agree that we—our diplomats and everyone else—must do everything possible to try to convince the Iraqi Government that it is a priority that they should take seriously.


6. Ann McKechin (Glasgow, North) (Lab): If she will make a statement on negotiations to secure peace in northern Uganda. [140314]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Margaret Beckett): We are encouraged that the Juba peace talks between the Government of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army resumed on 1 June and that the cessation of hostilities agreement has been extended. We believe that the Juba talks offer the best chance for many years to achieve peace. We call on all parties to remain focused on finding a peaceful resolution to this long-running conflict and to implement their commitments.

Ann McKechin: I thank my right hon. Friend for her response. However, she will be aware that there have been criticisms by the International Crisis Group, among others, about the level of representation at those talks and the structure of those talks. Does she agree that it is important for all members of the international community, including the United Kingdom, to support the talks process fully and to commit themselves, along with the Governments of Sudan and Uganda, to a much fuller redevelopment and reconciliation programme in northern Uganda, so that we can secure the lasting peace that everyone wants?

Margaret Beckett: I take the point that my hon. Friend makes, and I can certainly assure her that we keep those matters under consideration. We have, of
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course, already provided £250,000 to a UN fund that was set up to support the talks process. We are supporting the work of local civil society groups, as well as the deployment of police to the northern districts. We are active, and officials from our high commission and other representatives from the international community remain active in trying to work with and to help to support the talks. We will, of course, continue to keep under review the scale and nature of the representation and will make changes if they seem to be required.

Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): Does the Secretary of State not accept that a major stumbling block to peace is the fact that the leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army are still indicted by the International Criminal Court? Does she not agree that it would be far better if they were dealt with by Acholi justice, rather than by pursuing them through the ICC?

Margaret Beckett: No, I am afraid that I do not accept that for two reasons. First, of course I understand the concern that the hon. Gentleman raises and that it could be a factor, but I simply say that, if it were not for the existence of those ICC warrants, I doubt whether members of the Lord’s Resistance Army would consider coming to those talks anyway. I accept that it is a matter of concern, but there are pros and cons, so I do not take the view that those warrants are inevitably damaging. Secondly, whether or not they remain in place is, of course, not a matter for us, but for the ICC itself.


7. Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): What recent discussions she has had with her Chinese counterpart on China’s human rights record; and if she will make a statement. [140315]

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): We raise human rights regularly with the Chinese Government, including at the highest levels. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised a number of human rights concerns during her visit to China in May, when she again met Chinese Premier Wen and the newly appointed Foreign Minister Yang. The Minister for Trade also raised human rights concerns during his introductory meeting with the new Chinese ambassador at the end of May.

Martin Horwood: I thank the Minister for his reply and, indeed, for the Government’s willingness to raise human rights issues during their visit to China, but do they now plan to send any specific signals on the unacceptability of continuing infringements on the grounds of personal belief—whether for Christian house churches or the Falun Gong movement—and continuing violations of the rights of Tibetans, such as the shootings at Nangpa La in September last year, or the arrest and imprisonment for 12 years of Sonam Gyalpo for possession of a video of the Dalai Lama? Could the frequency of the talks that the Minister mentioned be increased? For instance, the UK-China human rights dialogue could be increased to three or four times a year, instead of the present two sessions.

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Dr. Howells: I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that we push very hard on human rights, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade, who has responsibility for human rights, has certainly never been backward in pressing the Chinese on this crucial issue. At the moment, we are fighting very hard to hold the number of meetings with China on human rights to which they agreed, and it will be very difficult to get them to agree to a larger number of meetings, very important though that aim might be.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Does the Minister agree that China’s record on the death penalty is quite atrocious? What is worse still is its policy of using without permission the vital body organs of condemned prisoners. When was that specific point raised by Ministers with their Chinese counterparts?

Dr. Howells: Those points were certainly raised by my right hon. Friend the human rights Minister during his meeting in May. The hon. Gentleman is quite right to highlight those two important issues. Any civilised Government will be shocked that somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 people a year are executed in China. We have been working hard to persuade the Chinese to review that situation. I am sure that he will agree that it is good news and a real step forward that the high court in China has once again gained the right to review all death sentences passed in China.

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