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The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Margaret Beckett): I discussed Iraq with Foreign Minister Mottaki on 3 May at the margins of the Sharm el Sheikh meetings on Iraq. All Iraqs neighbours have a stake in a secure and stable Iraq. We have consistently made it clear to the Government of Iran that the training, equipping and funding of illegal armed groups by agencies of the Iranian state is unacceptable.
Michael Fabricant: I thank the Foreign Secretary for her very helpful answer. Given that there was an eight-year war between Iran and Iraq, she will be aware that it is almost certain that Iran has good intelligence bases in Iraq and that, just as it did during the Iran-Iraq war, it would have used insurgents against the Saddam Hussein regime. What is her assessment of the present situation regarding Irans intelligence operations in Iraq?
I find myself in difficulty because of course it is our policy not to discuss intelligence operations. I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that I am sure that there are many ways in which Iran has perfectly legitimate links with, and relationships in, Iraq, as will have been the case over many years for a variety of reasons, as he says. We continue to urge Iran to use whatever links and contacts it has positively in
support of a stable and secure future for Iraq, which, in the end, is in the interests of not only the country itself, but all its neighbours.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Is it not ironic that one of the many evil consequences of our invasion of Iraq is that we have merely served to increase massively the power and influence of a fundamentalist Islamic regime in the region? Is it not even more ironic that to provide a fig leaf of respectability to get us out of this mess, we have to cut a deal with people who are fundamentally opposed to our national interests?
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): Four years ago, we went into southern Iraq to liberate the local Shiites from the vicious oppression of Saddam Hussein. Four years later, apparently with the backing of Iran, those same Shiites are fighting and killing our forces and celebrating our every setback on the streets. Why are we still there?
Margaret Beckett: The right hon. and learned Gentleman is perfectly well aware of why we are still there. We are still there because there is a contribution that we can make to trying to establish better armed forces and police forces in Iraq in a way that will enable them securely and peacefully to maintain their own state. It is not the case that all of those whom he describes are opposed to the presence of the multinational forces in quite the way in which he says. Although it is easy to find people in Iraq who say that they look forward to the day when the multinational forces will leave, if the next question that they are asked is whether they would like the forces to leave now, almost invariably the answer is, No, certainly not.
The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): We receive letters regularly from members of the public, Members of Parliament and Tibetan support groups on the human rights situation in Tibet. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade met the Foreign Affairs Committee in May to discuss its concerns about Tibet in more detail. We continue to raise Tibet-related issues with the Chinese Government, and we did so most recently in the UK-China human rights dialogue in February.
Barbara Keeley: Recently, a world Tibet support conference took place in Brussels, and his holiness the Dalai Lama had planned to attend. I understand that the Chinese Government put pressure on the Belgian Government, and so the Dalai Lama was effectively blocked from attending that conference. Given the pivotal role that he plays in protecting human rights and seeking a negotiated settlement for Tibet, will the Government show his holiness a better welcome when he visits the UK in May next year?
Dr. Howells: The Government have been informed that the Dalai Lama wishes to visit the United Kingdom in May 2008. When specific requests are received for meetings with Government Ministers, we will consider them carefully and sympathetically. I will respond to the Dalai Lamas international office in the usual way and he will be received as a distinguished religious leader.
Mr. Jeremy Hunt (South-West Surrey) (Con): What representations has the Minister received recently on the human rights situation in Syria? Last week, its President, like the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was elected unopposed, with the support of a ruthless political machine. Will the Minister review his policy on engagement with Syria?
Dr. Howells: As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said a few moments ago, we have to deal with all manner of difficult regimes, and sometimes with regimes that do not have a trace of democracy about them. We take seriously Syrias role as a major player in the middle east, especially as regards Iraq and Lebanon.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): On the 40th anniversary of the six-day war and the consequent occupation of Palestinian territory, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he has had any recent discussions with the Israeli Government about them holding so many Palestinian prisoners without charge, including those who were elected, and children?
Dr. Howells: Yes, we have, and we will continue to do so. We have, on a number of occasions, both through our ambassador and through ministerial contact, pressed the Israelis either to charge those individuals or to release them.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): One of the most important human rights is the right to a fair trial. I have been in correspondence with the Minister for Europe about my constituent, Nick Morley, who faces trial in Macedonia in relation to a possible driving offence. The judge has made it clear that evidence put forward by expert witnesses on behalf of the defence will not be admitted; evidence will be accepted only from the prosecution. May I urge Ministers to make representations to the Macedonian Government to make sure that a fair trial is secured?
Dr. Howells: I understand that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe has encouraged the hon. Gentleman to write at the end of the trial, because we cannot interfere during the course of it, but we will certainly be prepared to review the situation when he contacts my right hon. Friend.
Mr. Ian Austin (Dudley, North) (Lab): On the issue of human rights, will the Minister join me in condemning the decision taken by the University and College Union last week to call for a boycott of academic institutions in Israel?
Dr. Howells: We are aware of the proposed boycott, and I have to say to my hon. Friend that I do not think that it would be at all helpful. What we need is more discussion, more reconciliation and fewer threats, wherever they happen to come from.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Given that the brutal military dictatorship in Burma commits some of the most egregious human rights abuses to be found anywhere in the world, and that only last month the tyrannical Government of that country, in defiance of international opinion, renewed the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, does the Minister share my horror, and more particularly that of Human Rights Watch, at the fact that the Government of Burma were invited to the Asia-Europe meeting in Hamburg on 28 and 29 May? Ought not the international community be prepared to exert pressure on India, China and Russia to force the Government of Burma to stop killing their people, and to start respecting and liberating them?
Dr. Howells: Yes, I agree with every word that the hon. Gentleman said. It is a great shame that commercial considerations are often put far above humanitarian ones when it comes to dealing with the Burmese Government.
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): With regard to human rights, is my hon. Friend aware that when I visited Israel as the emissary of the then Prime Minister a few days after the end of the six-day war 40 years ago, I begged the then Israeli Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol, to have regard for the human rights of the Palestinians who, even at that early stage, were being oppressed. After 40 years, is it not time that that terrible cancer, which has afflicted Israelis, Lebanese, Palestinians and everyone else in the region, should be brought to an end? The only way to do so is to secure a settlement that brings human rights to the Palestinians and ends those terrible encroachments on Palestinian territories.
Dr. Howells: My right hon. Friend will know that the Governments policy is to construct a two-state solution. That means that on Israels border there must be a viable Palestinian state with an economy that works and is capable of sustaining employment and wealth in that country. It ought to happen, as that is a very, very small part of the world. Geographically, it is something that the international community ought to be able to handle. I quite agree with my right hon. Friend: we draw back from making difficult decisions at our peril, because this will remain the most difficult and intractable problem for a very long time to come. Wherever I go, it is the problem that is always quoted as the chief symbol of injustice. We need an Israel and a Palestine living alongside each other in peace and harmony, and that is what we must aim for.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): May I congratulate the Minister on his foresight in being able to answer the question from the hon. Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) before she had even put it to the House? Does he agree that the work of the new Human Rights Council is critical to improving human rights in the world, so it is important that individual council members examine critically their own human rights record? For example, countries such as Cuba should do so. Does he therefore agree that the universal peer review mechanism should be implemented as soon as possible, and that it is important that the British Government make representations to Mexico, which chairs the committee of the council and, indeed, any other committee members that have influence, to ensure that that review mechanism is put in place?
Dr. Howells: Yes, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, we worked hard to ensure that those who were elected to the council have a good human rights record in their home territory. That was not always the case, and it was a great disappointment to us that some countries with repressive regimes were elected. It is therefore extremely important that the review take place and that the Mexican Government are proactive on this. I am afraid that for far too many years the way in which human rights were handled in the United Nations meant that very little was done and that there was great reluctance to become involved, even in the worst human rights situations in individual states. This is an opportunity for the world to move on and for the United Nations to play a much more proactive and useful role than it has previously done.
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): We saw an egregious assault on human rights on television the other weekend, with the beating-up of Mr. Peter Tatchell in Moscow in a Gay Pride demonstration. Added to the denial of human rights to Mr. Litvenenkos widow by the contemptuous refusal to co-operate with judicial and legal authorities in the UK on the extradition of a suspect, and the contempt shown by Russians for the murder of Anna Politkovskya, the investigative journalist whose death has still not been explained, as well as Mr. Putins threat two days ago to aim his missiles at our cities, is it not time to say to Russia, If you want to be friends with Britain and Europe, get your human rights in order and drop this aggressive, hate-filled language against the values of Europe and of western democracies?
Dr. Howells: We try on every occasion to stress to the Russians the importance of improving and maintaining human rights. It is a key value, and if the Russians are to extend their undoubted economic influence, they must understand that. The world is looking for improvements in human rights in Russia, and the Government certainly are.
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): Following an extended period of reflection, EU institutional reform will be discussed at the forthcoming European Council. As part of the continuing negotiations in the run-up to that meeting, we have made it clear to our partners that the EU should agree an amending treaty that makes the European Union more effective and better able to deliver practical benefits for EU citizens. Such an approach would be consistent with the way in which treaty change has been agreed in the past.
Will the Minister undertake not to bring back any items from the constitutional treaty without a referendum, including any tinkering with the criminal justice system? Does he understand that that is a matter
of trust for the British people, and that the public perception of the Governments trustworthiness is as crucial as it is fragile?
Mr. Hoon: I have made clear and I have repeated on a number of occasions from the Dispatch Box the fact that if the constitutional treaty returns in its present form, there would be a referendum. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made that clear. However, if the hon. Gentleman is suggesting a referendum if any dot or comma reappears in any subsequent treaty, that is a matter for discussion and negotiation, and ultimately a matter for decision by the House.
Mr. Mackay: May I try to help the Minister to clear up the confusion over a referendum? On 20 March, he told the House that there would be a referendum if there was a new treaty. The Foreign Secretary, replying to a question earlier this afternoon, said that it depended what was on the table. Can the right hon. Gentleman give me some indication of what on the table might lead to a referendum, or are we to be kept completely in the dark for ever more?
Mr. Hoon: I have made clear on a number of occasions the position of the Government. If the constitutional treaty returns in its present form, there would be a referendum. On any other question, it depends on what is agreed at the European Council. I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman has raised the issue, because it allows me to remind the House that in the course of his distinguished service as a Whip on the Government Benches between 1992 and 1997, he whipped Conservative Members of Parliament against a referendum on the Maastricht treaty.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): But my right hon. Friend will be aware that not everyone is as violently in love with the constant imposition of unworkable systems from the EU as some Opposition Members. It might be helpful if we were clear that at present, even in matters such as transport, there are constant impositions that are costing the United Kingdom not only vast amounts of money, but vast amounts of efficiency in very difficult areas. Will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that nothing will be brought in, even by the back door, that will lumber this country with even more rubbishy and unworkable legislation?
Mr. Hoon: I made it clear in my answer a few moments ago that it is important that we recognise the practical benefits that the European Union can deliver in transport and in a range of other matters, where international co-operation through the mechanisms of the European Union provides real benefits for EU citizens and for citizens in the United Kingdom. That is a perfectly proper test of the way in which we should approach the negotiations.
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con):
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). Having heard that question, I wish her the best of luck in the forthcoming reshuffle. If the Minister will not answer questions from the respected Labour Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, will he perhaps do me the courtesy of answering one
from me instead? Is it the policy of the Government that criminal justice matters within the EU should remain subject to national veto, or are the Government countenancing downgrading that critical issue to qualified majority voting?
I begin by welcoming the hon. Gentleman to his new responsibilities. I note that his predecessor, the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady), is sitting a few rows behind him. In giving him advice about the conduct of his new responsibilities, I am sure that his hon. Friend will encourage him to keep in step not only with the grass roots of the Conservative party but with the hokey cokey of the leadership too. I
hope that he is able to do that while maintaining his vigorously anti-European sentiments.
On the question about the Home Affairs Committee, may I make clear to the House that I was not invited by that Committee to give evidence? Had it invited me, I would have been delighted to respond positively, as I did to the Foreign Affairs Committee when it invited me to give evidence. For the sake of historical accuracy, may I remind the House again that it was a Conservative Government who introduced the European competence in respect of home affairs and justice? Indeed, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) voted against a referendum on that issue. Obviously, the matter will have to be negotiated at the European Council.
Mr. Secretary Hutton, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary John Reid, Mr. Secretary Hain, Secretary Alan Johnson and Mr. Secretary Alexander, presented a Bill to establish the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission; to amend the law relating to child support; to make provision about lump sum payments to or in respect of persons with diffuse mesothelioma; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed. [Bill 118].
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