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House of Commons

Tuesday 20 November 2007

The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Secretary of State was asked—

Climate Change

1. Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): What contribution his Department is making to initiatives aimed at improving the effectiveness of co-ordinated international efforts to address climate change. [165617]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): The latest United Nations scientific report on climate change has shown that the scale and urgency of the challenge demands immediate international action. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is working with Government partners, business and civil society—and through the European Union, the G8 and the UN—to mobilise international action on climate change.

Mr. Hendrick: Does my hon. Friend believe that, as a result of the UN intergovernmental panel on climate change conference in Valencia, there is a need for an effective price signal to cut greenhouse gases significantly, and that the Chinese and the Americans might be willing to use mandatory and binding targets, which could be agreed at the Bali conference in December?

Mr. Murphy: I am not sure that we are yet at the stage of the binding targets that my hon. Friend and many other Members would support, but in the context of world energy needs rising by 50 per cent. between now and 2030, there clearly is a need for concerted and immediate international action, particularly on China, which this year for the first time becomes the world’s biggest carbon emitter. There is hope in the light of some of the work happening in China, and there is increasing pressure in the United States, partly driven by the findings of the Stern review, of course.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): In view of the Secretary-General’s remarks last week that industrialised nations need to play a greater part in tackling climate change, what discussions is the Minister having with colleagues in other Government Departments—the Treasury, for example—so that international forums such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Bank continue to live up to the highest environmental standards?


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Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right—this issue requires a cross-government approach, just as it requires a concerted approach by Governments and business across the globe. We are working through the United Nations—we have participated in a leading way in the UN Security Council debate—and we are trying to ensure that the work of the UN, the G8 and the World Bank is co-ordinated. I am happy to discuss this issue in greater detail with the hon. Gentleman.

Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): China has coal reserves of more than 1 trillion tonnes, is producing 1.2 billion tonnes a year and is opening some 550 new coal-fired power stations. What consideration has been given to, and what discussions are taking place on, expanding clean coal technology and sharing it with the Chinese, so that we can cut their carbon dioxide emissions? Such efforts would also help us to meet our own targets.

Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend has detailed knowledge of, and a long-held interest in, these issues. We are involved in a specific carbon capture and storage project in China, and wider efforts are being made regarding the intellectual property rights of climate change technology generally, so that such investment can be rewarded. Significant moves are therefore being made in China not just on coal, but on wider energy efficiency, and that is part of a continuing and growing international consensus.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): The Minister will be aware that the Scottish Government have more ambitious climate change targets than those set at Westminster, so I am intrigued by the following question. How will UK Ministers co-ordinate best practice, in order to ensure the best co-ordination of international efforts to address climate change?

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. Of course, if he and his party stopped opposing renewable wind energy schemes wherever they are proposed throughout Scotland, that would be a start. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon), future investment is phenomenally important to the evolution of modern technologies. Many people who share an ambition for climate change technology would be puzzled—indeed, flabbergasted—by the Scottish Executive’s budget announcement on cutting investment in Scottish universities.

Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab): My constituents—and, I suggest, Members of the House—struggle to find independent and trustworthy information on green and carbon issues. Can I persuade my hon. Friend to open negotiations with Al Gore and our leading universities to create a green institute that could be the centre of such information for the world?

Mr. Murphy: As my hon. Friend is aware, the UK is the first country in the world to set legally binding targets for CO2 emission reductions, and other countries are genuinely interested in incorporating that initiative into their own domestic legislation. Of course, there is more that we can do and I shall look into the specific issue that he raises, but it is a fact that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has enabled 30 different visits by Stern to countries across the world, including Mexico, Brazil and countries in south-east Asia. They are very attracted to the research and analysis that Nick Stern has carried out.


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Kosovo

2. Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of progress in the final status talks on Kosovo. [165618]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): The UK fully supports the work of the EU-Russia-US troika aimed at bridging the divide between Pristina and Belgrade on Kosovo’s future status. Intensive negotiations are ongoing and will be concluded by 10 December. We share the UN Secretary-General’s view that the status quo in Kosovo, which is unique by virtue of its tragic history, is unsustainable. I have met leaders of both sides in the dispute and I am working with EU colleagues on contingency plans to develop a constructive EU position.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Will the Foreign Secretary give a clear assurance that the United Kingdom Government will not recognise any premature declaration of independence by Kosovo before there is international agreement? Does he accept that to give such recognition would breach a Security Council resolution for which the United Kingdom voted and would conflict with the assurances that NATO gave Serbia at the time of the military action against that country? It would also have serious consequences with regard to the likely action by Republika Srpska and similar entities in Georgia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and other parts of the former Soviet Union.

David Miliband: The right hon. and learned Gentleman raises an important point. I can give him comfort in respect of the first half of what he said. I have made it clear to the Unity team, which represents Kosovo, its different parties and its Government, that it must work with the international community, because a chaotic and unplanned declaration by it would certainly not contribute to the sort of stability that we need. In respect of the second half of his question, resolution 1244, which forms the basis for UN action, for NATO action and for EU action, is very wide-ranging. As far as we are concerned, it allows us to proceed with the range of contingencies for which we have prepared. That legal base is an important part of this final piece of the Yugoslav jigsaw, which he knows well.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): What discussions is the Foreign Secretary having with the United States Administration to try to persuade them not to recognise precipitately a unilateral declaration of independence and to use their influence with the Kosovo Albanians to allow a little more time in the last hope of getting some agreement?

David Miliband: I confirm that in September I chaired a meeting of the Contact Group at the United Nations in New York, in which Condoleezza Rice, of course, participated. That meeting gave full support to the current 120-day process of negotiations and discussions, following, let us remember, 15 months in which the Ahtisaari team had been leading on the issue. It is an opportunity for all sides to engage responsibly with the troika representatives. Post-10 December, we
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must ensure that the international community sticks together on this issue. That is what my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe was talking about yesterday at the General Affairs Council of the European Union. I shall certainly remain in touch with the US Secretary of State on this issue.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary bear in mind that any appearance of a permanent separation of Kosovo from Serbia will lead to endless tension and instability throughout the Balkans, heightened by Russia’s strong and understandable feeling of kinship with the Serbs?

David Miliband: The comment of the UN Secretary-General that the status quo is unsustainable is very important. The legitimate aspirations of more than 90 per cent. of the people of Kosovo for their nationhood to be represented—

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP) indicated assent.

David Miliband: I see that the Scottish National party representative is nodding his head. Every single person who has studied this issue emphasises that the situation in Kosovo is unique and results from the tragic circumstances of the 1990s —[Interruption.] Members cite all sorts of parts of the world, but the situation in Kosovo is unique, not least because of the way that Kosovo is currently governed by a UN resolution, which has unique characteristics. Although we must recognise the rights of the minority community in the north of Kosovo, we must address the legitimate aspirations of more than 90 per cent. of Kosovo’s citizens.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Will the Foreign Secretary assure the House that Britain’s name and reputation will not be dishonoured or shamed by continuing to appease either Belgrade or Moscow, as happened in the 1990s, and by not allowing independence for the Kosovan people, who, first peacefully, then in a short military campaign, won their independence nine years ago, although they have not yet achieved it? Does he understand that it is in the interests of Serbia, which seeks to join both Europe and NATO, to let go of Kosovo? It is no more going to live under Serbian tutelage than Ireland will come back under English control or the Baltic states will come back under Russian control. Britain had a record of shame and dishonour in the 1990s in this area, and it must never be repeated.

David Miliband: I certainly agree about the terrible consequences of inaction in the early to mid-1990s. This is not about punishing Serbia, but about drawing a line under the terrible nationalist legacy of the 1990s. This process has been going on since 1999 in the UN and it is important that we see it through to a political conclusion.

Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): The whole House recognises the sensitivity of the situation in Kosovo and in the wider Balkans, and would also agree that we must ask Kosovan politicians not to rush to any unilateral declaration of independence. Does the Foreign Secretary accept that in return for that restraint the international community must not jettison the basic principles of the Ahtisaari proposals,
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which seek to ensure the rights of the Serb minority and set out a path towards Kosovo’s independence? Does he also agree that if Russia alone stands in the way of a new UN Security Council resolution, the rest of the international community must take the lead in swiftly recognising Kosovo under the terms of the Ahtisaari plans?

David Miliband: The short answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman’s question is yes. The Ahtisaari plan was a painstaking piece of work and it is very much on the table. If more can be done to guarantee minority rights in the north of Kosovo, it should be done, but any suggestion that the Ahtisaari plan should be taken off the table would be quite wrong.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): In the Foreign Secretary’s reply to the hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind)—

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): Right hon.—

Andrew Mackinlay: Don’t interrupt me; you will upset my thought process. In the Foreign Secretary’s reply, he referred to the legal basis, about which the UK is confident. In the Gracious Speech debate, he offered to share that legal advice with Opposition Front Benchers, and I shouted out, “What about the rest of us?” Will he disclose that information to the House? Yet again the Foreign Office is relying on legal advice that it has conjured up to buttress what might well be a foolhardy and reckless decision in respect of Kosovo, as well as a flouting of the UN.

David Miliband: When my hon. Friend says, “Yet again”—

Andrew Mackinlay: I mean Iraq—

David Miliband: I know. When he says, “Yet again”, he answers his own question, because of course it is a long-standing position of all Governments that we do not publish Government legal advice—

Andrew Mackinlay: Dodgy legal advice.

David Miliband: It certainly is not dodgy legal advice. That is a slur on Government lawyers who do an honourable job and provide honourable advice.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): The whole House will appreciate that we could soon be facing a serious situation in the Balkans. The Foreign Secretary referred earlier to contingency plans, so may I ask him what contingency plans have been put in place by the EU and NATO to address any potentially difficult effects that a declaration of independence by Kosovo might have on Bosnia and Herzegovina or Macedonia?

David Miliband: As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are 18 battalions on the ground in Kosovo. The most important contingency planning that we can do is to work with both sides to ensure that they behave in a responsible way that engages with the international community. He rightly raises the issue of Bosnia, and the most important thing that we can do there is to
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support the work of High Representative Lajc√°k, because his authority is key to continuing stability in Bosnia, where there are real tensions at the moment—as the hon. Gentleman rightly points out. It is important that the authority of the high representative is maintained.

Darfur

3. Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): If he will make a statement on progress in the peace talks on Darfur. [165619]

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): The Government welcomed the start of the Darfur political process in Libya on 27 October. Although it is disappointing that some rebel leaders are not engaging, it is good that civil society groups are represented. The Government of Sudan’s commitment to a cessation of hostilities is potentially significant, but the violence and humanitarian suffering continue. The Government call on all parties to engage fully, to be prepared to negotiate and to cease acts of violence.

Mr. Drew: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, and congratulate the Government on the work that they are doing behind the scenes to try to provide some unity among the different groups who maintain their independence of mind. However, does he agree that it is vital that we do not give the moral high ground to those who intend to abstain from the peace talks? The best way to do that is to ensure that all members of civil society, including the Arabic people, are fully engaged in all the discussions that are going on. In that way, we will get a genuine peace settlement that will not unravel as the last one sadly did.

Dr. Howells: Yes, I agree, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on his commitment to the effort to build peace in Darfur. There will certainly not be peace there unless all the parties come to the table and all the issues are discussed. The peace process must be worked on systematically, and we cannot expect success if there is only occasional attendance at the occasional meeting. That approach has failed in the past, and will do so in the future.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Many hopes were placed on the African Union forces coming into Darfur but, sadly, they have been largely dashed because of the Sudanese Government’s refusal to agree to the make-up of the peacekeeping force. What else can the Government do to put further international pressure on Khartoum?

Dr. Howells: The right hon. Gentleman is right that that is one of the problems that has bedevilled any move towards peace in Darfur. We have worked with the Sudanese Government, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken at the UN about the need for Sudan to realise that there has to be an effective peacekeeping force there and not just one that is the most convenient for Sudan. That is an important point, and we shall keep on arguing it. If we get an effective peacekeeping force there, we may be able to turn from rhetoric into reality the Sudanese Government’s new statements that they now want a peaceful outcome.


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John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): May I put it to the Minister of State that what is required is not a peacekeeping operation, but a peace-enforcement operation? Peace talks are necessary but they are not a sufficient condition of progress. Foot stamping by the Sudanese Government has so far prevented the necessary deployment, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) has observed, and that Government are now seeking to determine the peacekeeping force’s precise ethnic composition. Given all that, can the Minister tell the House how optimistic he is, on a scale of one to 10, that the deployment will take place in Darfur before the genocide of Darfureans has been completed?

Dr. Howells: The hon. Gentleman has been passionate about this matter for a long time, and he will know that I am an optimist—one cannot be Minister for the Middle East without being that. There have been rather more encouraging moves in the past couple of months, and I very much hope that they will result in some progress towards what he accurately describes as a situation in which the peace is guarded. We can negotiate from now until the end of the century but, as the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) noted, there need to be effective troops on the ground who are able to discipline both state representatives and rebels. Both sides must be part of the peace process, or else it will not succeed.


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