Previous Section Index Home Page

9 Oct 2007 : Column 159

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): The legal group producing the draft treaty finished its work on 3 October. The United Kingdom has set out our red lines and we are determined that they will be delivered. We will continue to press, right up until the December European Council, to ensure that they are met.

Mr. Gauke: The Government’s case relies almost entirely on the effectiveness of the red lines, but today’s report from the European Scrutiny Committee makes it clear that there may well be an argument that the charter of fundamental rights will apply to the UK. In those circumstances, and if there were a dispute—the report makes it clear that there might well be—can the Minister confirm that it would be the European Court of Justice, not Parliament, that would decide whether the charter applied in the UK?

Mr. Murphy: The Foreign Secretary has already made it clear today that the constitutional approach has been abandoned. On the hon. Gentleman’s specific point about the legally binding protocol and the charter of fundamental rights, it is absolutely clear that the protocol has the same legal force as European treaties. That is a very strong legal protection indeed.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): Why has the Minister not responded to my point of order yesterday—it appears at column 57 and was supported by the Deputy Speaker—in which I complained that the documents—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must not draw the Chair into any arguments that he has.

Andrew Mackinlay: Sorry about that, but my point of order related to the fact that the documents to which I referred were not in the Vote Office yesterday, and they were not there before Prayers today. They should be available so that we can quiz the Foreign Secretary tomorrow afternoon, not only in the Chamber but in the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Will the Minister ensure that the legislation on this is not so narrowly drawn and crafted that we cannot table an amendment that is acceptable to the Table Office relating to the ability to have a referendum? We want an assurance that the legislation will be drafted so as to leave that scope open to Parliament. What say you?

Mr. Murphy: On the specific point about publications and paperwork being available, it is certainly my understanding, and that of the Foreign Secretary, that that material was placed in the Libraries of the House of Commons and the House of Lords on Friday last week, when it became available. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that, throughout this process in recent months, we have shared with his Committee and others all the material as it became available. On his wider point about the breadth of the Bill, the House has a long tradition of enabling European Bills to be amended in relation to calls for a referendum. After all, one third of those currently on the Conservative Front Bench voted against such a referendum on Maastricht. As I have said before, and am happy to say again, it would certainly be our intention—with your permission, of course, Mr. Speaker; it is entirely a matter for your discretion—to craft the Bill widely enough so that an amendment calling for a referendum on the reform treaty could take place.

9 Oct 2007 : Column 160

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): The Minister has clearly looked at the scrutiny report and will have read its paragraph 71, where the Committee characterises the drafting process as

It goes on to say:

Do the Government agree with that view?

Mr. Murphy: Not at all. At every opportunity, the Foreign Secretary and I have sought to be available to the Select Committees of this House. I believe that I have given evidence on five separate occasions to such Committees, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has also spoken in glowing terms of his anticipation of appearing before Select Committees. The fact is that the reform treaty gives greater powers to national Parliaments, and it remains the case that it is this House and the other place that will ultimately take a view on whether or not to ratify that reform treaty.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary seemed to suggest in an earlier answer that the draft of the document now available since 3 October is so different that it invalidates the findings and some of the conclusions of the European Scrutiny Committee. He suggested that the conclusions were drawn before the Committee had sight of the 3 October document, which implies that there have been significant changes. Will the Minister for Europe indicate just two or three changes in the document of 3 October that were not present in the earlier version?

Mr. Murphy: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was recording a statement of fact. The Select Committee report was drafted and went to publication before the legal text was available. That was my right hon. Friend’s point. The differences between the old constitutional treaty and the reform treaty are very clear. Every member state has moved away from the old constitutional approach and it is quite clear that it is the end for those who had a federalist dream or a federalist vision for Europe. It is equally clear that of all the member states of the European Union, the United Kingdom has moved furthest away from the old constitution.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): What is clear is that it has hardly changed at all. Yesterday’s press release on the Downing street website said that if the red lines were not met

Given that the European Scrutiny Committee has now cast very serious doubt about the Government’s red lines and its Chairman told the BBC this morning that they would “leak like a sieve”, will Ministers now admit that they are morally bound to offer the British people the referendum that they themselves promised them in the first place?

Mr. Murphy: Not at all. It is absolutely clear that the legally binding protocol and the charter of fundamental rights offer very strong protection indeed. That is acknowledged by other member states and other prominent politicians. As the president of the European Parliament,
9 Oct 2007 : Column 161
Hans-Gert Pöttering— [Interruption.] The shadow Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), scoffs at him, but the president of the European Parliament is a gentleman and a Conservative. In other places, those things are not mutually exclusive. The president said:


8. Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): If he will make a statement on the Iranian nuclear programme. [156131]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): Iran has every right to be a secure, rich country. However, it does not have the right to set off a nuclear arms race in the middle east. That is why we deplore its continued enrichment of uranium in defiance of three UN Security Council resolutions. We will continue to work with our E3 plus 3 partners—France, Germany, Russia, the US and China—and with our EU colleagues to persuade Iran to suspend all reprocessing and enrichment-related activities and return to negotiations on the basis of the far-reaching proposals that we presented in June 2006.

Mr. Jenkin: Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House, in a word, whether there is any substantial difference between the policy of the United Kingdom Government and that of the United States Administration?

David Miliband: We are joint members of the E3 plus 3 process. Six countries are leading the diplomatic effort. We are working together with the United States, Russia, France, Germany and China, as I said in my answer to the hon. Gentleman’s main question.

Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): What discussions is my right hon. Friend having with Iran’s neighbours to prevent any expansion of nuclear proliferation in the region should the worst happen?

David Miliband: Obviously I have spoken to the Iranian Foreign Minister himself. I talked to him about the risks that he was taking, not just for his own country but for the region and the wider world. In discussions with Egyptian, Saudi and other Foreign Ministers and ambassadors, I have emphasised our concern for the non-proliferation treaty to be respected, and for Iran not to play the proliferating role that is so dangerous in the current circumstances.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that if military action against Iran is to be discouraged, it is crucial for there to be a robust and effective alternative that cannot be scuppered by Russian or Chinese vetoes? As President Sarkozy of France—along with the United States—is enthusiastically calling for financial and banking sanctions against Iran, and as Deutsche Bank, UBS, HBSC and other banks are already responding, will the Foreign
9 Oct 2007 : Column 162
Secretary do all in his power to encourage other European Union countries, particularly Germany, Italy and Spain, to support such a policy?

David Miliband: The right hon. and learned Gentleman’s general point about the importance of the diplomatic route having proper teeth is absolutely correct. He could have added Standard Chartered to the list of banks that he mentioned.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be interested to know that in the year to May 2007, EU trade with Iran fell by 34 per cent., which constitutes a significant tightening of the sanctions. We are exploring all avenues. I will of course discuss the matter with EU colleagues next week, and will continue to monitor it at an international level.

Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op): Iran is almost certainly in breach of its undertaking on the non-proliferation treaty, given that it is a signatory. It is our duty to ensure that the treaty is enforced: it has maintained a very good record over many years. However, the policy lacks some coherence when we are prepared to tolerate the development of nuclear weapons in Pakistan and India—and, indeed, welcome it, as the Americans did recently. We really must have a coherent and comprehensive policy if we expect to make real progress on the Iranian problem.

David Miliband: I understand my hon. Friend’s point, but I think he will agree that the present situation in regard to India and Pakistan is far preferable to that which existed in 2002, when people were extremely worried about relations between the two countries. I think that the efforts by the Governments of both countries to lower the temperature in the region should be recognised, notwithstanding my hon. Friend’s point about nuclear weapons.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary believe that prospects for the development of nuclear weapons by Iran would be strengthened or weakened if the British Government lifted its illegal prohibition and proscription of the People’s Mujaheddin Organisation of Iran and the National Council of Resistance of Iran?

David Miliband: I think I am right in saying that the issue is currently before the courts, and in that context it would be very unwise of me to venture any opinion.

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): Have there been any discussions at any level between the British Government and the United States Administration about the possibility of taking military action against Iran?

David Miliband: As I have said—and as representatives of the United States Administration right up to the top have said on every occasion—we are 100 per cent. focused on the diplomatic process, and on making the diplomatic route work. That is what we will continue to argue and urge in all forums.

9 Oct 2007 : Column 163


9. Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): What assessment the UK has made of EU and UN involvement in Iraq. [156132]

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): The United Nations Secretary-General is clear that the UN has a significant role. We welcome the appointment of a new special representative: he has our full support in implementing the UN's role under Security Council resolution 1770.

The EU is committed to developing its engagement and supporting the UN. We welcome the recent high-profile visits by the Swedish and French Foreign Ministers, and the discussion stimulated within the EU.

Jim Sheridan: I welcome the Minister’s response. Will he join me in welcoming the recent statements by the French Government and the EU High Representative, Javier Solana, on the need to help and to co-ordinate the reconstruction work of the Iraqi Government and indeed their allies in projects such as Operation Sinbad, which has recently ended in Basra? Will he expand on the success of that project?

Dr. Howells: That is an important question. The effect of Operation Sinbad on employment levels, for example, in Basra has been significant. There is a long way to go, though. Basra is still suffering greatly. There is an enormous amount of work to do on infrastructure. It will be helped if EU nations and wealthy nations of the west realise that that reconstruction helps everyone, not just the people of Basra and Iraq. It will help to prove that a democracy can function well in the middle east, ensuring that people are employed, children are educated and the health system works. It will become a model for the rest of the region.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): The Minister will be well aware that there are possibly as many as 2 million internally displaced Iraqis and that possibly as many as 2 million people have fled to a place of safety in neighbouring countries. What support is being offered to Jordan and Syria to cope with that very large influx of desperate people? What is being done to support the people who have been displaced within Iraq, who are living in desperate poverty, without any support or services whatever?

Dr. Howells: My hon. Friend has asked an important question. This Government have given a great deal of financial support to try to help to improve the humanitarian situation. We know that the Governments of Syria and Jordan especially require a lot more help. We have been lobbying to ensure that our partners in Europe give some money for humanitarian support as well and, even more importantly, that the very wealthy neighbours of Iraq, Jordan and Syria, especially the oil Governments of the Gulf, realise that they have a role to play too and that they could alleviate that suffering significantly.

EU Treaty (Climate Change)

Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Lab) rose—

9 Oct 2007 : Column 164

Hon. Members: Hear, hear.

Mr. Speaker: Order. First, the hon. Gentleman must say “Question No. 10”.

10. Mr. Davies: What assessment he has made of the likely impact on the ability of the UK and its European partners to combat climate change of proposed changes to qualified majority voting in the new EU treaty. [156133]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): In response to the question tabled by my hon. Friend, I make it clear that the EU can be effective in tackling climate change. That process began with the targets agreed at the spring European Council this year. The move to QMV under the reform treaty will help by removing the veto of any one country on the liberalisation of energy markets and steps to improve energy diversity.

Mr. Davies: I am sorry; I was put off earlier by the unusual applause, to which I am not accustomed.

Is it not clear that, if we in the EU are going to make our contribution to meeting the challenge of global warming and to achieve our high, demanding and necessary targets for reductions in carbon emissions, we need to get the necessary implementing legislation through in a timely fashion and unambiguously and that, for that purpose, we need to have QMV in a Union of 27 members? Therefore, is there not evidently more than the usual degree of confusion in the minds of those on the Opposition Benches who claim— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I think that the Minister might be able to give the hon. Gentleman a reply.

Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is giving yet another reminder of why he left the Opposition Benches and joined us. Opposition Members scowl and dismiss. Euroscepticism is now a mainstream ideology for the Conservative party. The reform treaty provides, for the first time, an opportunity to unblock decision making. It will give the United Kingdom and the European Union the capacity to deliver change and effective improvements on one of the biggest issues facing the EU. That is one of the important parts of the reform treaty. It is one of the reasons why Labour Members support it so wholeheartedly.

Pakistan (Detentions)

11. Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): How many cases there have been of British citizens under the age of 18 being detained by Pakistan authorities while custody issues are considered by the Pakistan High Court in the last five years; and what support the high commission has provided in such cases. [156134]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Meg Munn): We are not aware of any British citizens under 18 who have been detained by the Pakistani authorities in the last five years while custody issues are considered. We have,
9 Oct 2007 : Column 165
however, provided consular assistance to many British parents involved in custody disputes and child abduction cases in Pakistan. When providing such assistance, we take care that our actions do not contravene Pakistan law and any determination by the Pakistan courts.

Next Section Index Home Page