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The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has had no discussions with representatives of the overseas territories on arrangements for the service of remembrance at the Cenotaph. He lays a wreath on behalf of all the overseas territories at the service, and there are currently no plans to change that arrangement.
Mr. Hoyle: I think that my hon. Friend will accept that the Foreign Secretary has not served in any wars, and that we should allow the London representatives of the overseas territories to alternate the wreath-laying duties between them. Their people fought in the war, and it is to them that the wreath pays tribute. I am sure that the ego of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is not so great that he will refuse to give up the wreath-laying duties to representatives of the overseas territories.
Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is perhaps the greatest champion in this place of the rights of the overseas territories, in particular Gibraltar. We value the strong relations between Her Majestys Government, Her Majesty the Queen and the overseas territories, whose representatives are regularly invited to events hosted by Her Majesty and her Government. I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend, with whom I often agree, but we have no plan to change the current arrangements at the Cenotaph.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I support the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) in his question, so will the Minister confirm that the Cenotaph commemorates all people from the Commonwealth and the empire as was who lost their lives not only in world wars but in more recent conflicts? As this year is the 25th anniversary of the Falklands war, is not it time that the Minister had a word with his ministerial colleagues so that people from the island of St. Helena were awarded the south Atlantic medal, which has, so far, been denied them?
Mr. Murphy: I will of course bring the hon. Gentlemans comments to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Ministry of Defence. I do not wish to upset him by championing the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) for the overseas territories, because the hon. Gentleman has a proud record in that matter, too. The current arrangements provide the correct balance: the central involvement of Her Majesty the Queen, the respect and honour shown in the act of national commemoration and the role played by the Foreign Secretary in laying a wreath on behalf of the overseas territories. We think that is the correct balance.
The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): Our locally employed Iraqi staff have made an invaluable contribution, in very difficult circumstances, to the work of Her Majestys Government in Iraq, and we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary set out in his written statements of 9 and 30 October our new policy of assistance to Iraqi staff. Eligible staff are now able to apply for assistance and a number have already done so.
John Barrett: What will the Government do to assist civilians whose lives will be at risk at the end of their duties to the UK? Will the Minister ensure that they are not left behind when our troops return home?
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): How many Iraqi interpreters or civilians assisting the Government and our forces abroad have been granted leave to enter the United Kingdom since the Foreign Secretarys welcome statement of 9 October? Will the Minister confirm that if anyone is refused admission they will have the right of appeal and that they will not need to travel to Syria or other countries to make an application?
So far, we have received 281 requests via the dedicated Foreign and Commonwealth Office e-mail address and about 10 postal applications. Of those, 181 were from former Ministry of Defence staff and eight were from former Department for International Development staff. Thirty-three forms were incomplete,
or the applicants did not appear to have worked for a Department, 36 requests were from former FCO staff, including 10 who probably qualify for assistance, and another 23 are being assessed. I am sure that appeals will be made in the usual way through the immigration appeal tribunal.
Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con): Does the Minister agree that when foreign nationals are employed in any capacity it would be helpful if the terms and conditions of their employment were made clear from the outset?
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): As I said in my written ministerial statement this morning, I have returned from the region today more convinced than ever that there is an opportunity for progress towards a two-state solution. The Annapolis meeting later this month and the process that will follow need the support of the whole international community. As the Prime Minister said last week, we intend to make up to $500 million available over the next three years for economic reconstruction in the occupied Palestinian territories and on Sunday I saw in Jericho the basis for the additional £1.2 million for the EU police training mission in the west bank.
Chris McCafferty: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. In light of Israels declaration of Gaza as a hostile entity, will he confirm that the Government view any collective punishment of Gazans, in particular the cutting of water supplies, as a war crime under the Geneva convention?
David Miliband: As the Secretary of State for International Development and I made clear when the announcement was made, we always oppose any form of collective punishment. It is vital that all states adhere to international and humanitarian law. I assure my hon. Friend that in, I think, all my meetings in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories over the past three days, the humanitarian situation in Gaza in the short term, and the political situation in the longer term, have been a feature of the discussions.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Any possibility of a settlement for the Palestinians has been made immensely more difficult by the building of illegal Israeli settlements in the west bank. It is a breach of the fourth Geneva convention and has been opposed by successive British Governments. However, there is a report in The Jerusalem Post that the Foreign Secretary visited one of those illegal settlements. Plainly, it would be a manifest stupidity for someone in his position to have done that. Will he take the opportunity to tell the House that he did not visit one of the settlements and that the Governments position on Israeli settlement-building in occupied territory remains what it has always been?
David Miliband: Of course I am happy to make that clear. I visited Jericho and the EU police training centre there. I am certainly happy to make it clear that, as the hon. Gentleman indicated, successive British Governments have made their position on this issue clear, and there is certainly no change on the basis of any report in The Jerusalem Post or elsewhere.
Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): While the Foreign Secretary was on his way to Jericho, did he not see the cranes and bulldozers expanding the settlements at Maale Adumim, on Palestinian land, which is doing more than anything else to strengthen the position of extremists and to undermine moderate Palestinian positions, because it is in defiance not only of international law, the Geneva convention and UN resolutions, but the Oslo accords and the road map?
David Miliband: I did see those settlements. I also had a briefing from the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which monitors these issues extremely carefully. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that it is very important that the settlement process that has been started is brought to a close. In that context, however, it is important for the House to recognise the statement made by Prime Minister Olmert yesterday, after his Cabinet meeting. He said, as a confidence-building measure in advance of the Annapolis meeting next week, that he was committed and that it was the position of his Government to fulfil their responsibilities under the first phase of the road mapwhich is precisely to cease settlement activity.
Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): In the past year, there have been well over 1,000 identified rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza. Thirteen Israeli citizens have been killed and 317 wounded. What are the Government doing to prevent the proliferation of missiles in the Gaza strip, which are the cause of unacceptable daily attacks on Israeli citizens?
David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue. Obviously arms smuggling into Gaza is a major concern of the Israeli Government. I discussed that in detail with the Israeli Foreign Minister and was then able to take up the issue that she raised with the Egyptian authoritiesthe Egyptian Foreign Minister and otherswhom I met yesterday. I know that the hon. Gentleman studies this issue and he is absolutely right to raise the matter of rocket attacks. He mentioned the figure of 1,000 attacks. The House should be in no doubt that such attacks have continued right over the summer and continue to the present day. I know that it is of major concern to the Israeli Governmentrightlybut it should be of concern to everybody.
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Can the Foreign Secretary indicate what assurances President Abbas was able to give that he would be able to fulfil the first requirement of the road mapto dismantle the apparatus of terror?
I am happy to confirm to my hon. Friend that President Abbas was absolutely unstinting in his commitment to fulfil Palestinian obligations in respect of building a viable Palestinian state not just in
economic terms, but in security termsin relation to both the security of its own people and the security of Israeli people. The issue of the link to Gaza and the representative nature of President Abbasas a representative of all Palestinian peopleis vital. I am sure that the whole House will have seen the scenes last week of hundreds of thousands of Gazans demonstrating and then six of them being killed by Hamas thugs. That is an important issue that of course needs to be addressed in any long-term settlement.
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary believe, before Annapolis, that it is possible to make genuine progress towards the creation of a Palestinian state without the consent and participation of representatives of all the Palestinian people?
David Miliband: There are two parts to that question. First, before Annapolis, the best that we can do is maximise the consensus that exists between both sides and launch negotiations for the first time in many years. The process of negotiation has been in deep freeze.
Secondly, the right hon. and learned Gentleman refers obliquely to the position of Hamas. President Abbas is the elected leader of all the Palestinian people. It is for him to lead any process towards reconciliation across the divide that now exists between Gaza and the west bank. My impression is that much of the activity undertaken by Hamas since the coup in June has shown its true nature, not just to the wider world, but to the Palestinian people.
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his visit to the region in the past few days and on his attempts to promote dialogue between Israel and Palestine? I welcome the points that he made about the need for economic development in the Palestinian territories, but can he reassure me that something will be done about the 563 restrictions on movement and access? If something is not done about them, any chance of Palestinian economic development or statehood will be a pipe dream.
David Miliband: My hon. Friend raises an important point. He will have noted the announcement made by Defence Minister Barak yesterday that between 20 and 30 checkpoints are being taken awaya start to the process that my hon. Friend describes. He will also know that Jon Cunliffe and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, in his previous capacity at the Treasury, produced a Government publication on the economic road map to peace. It makes very clear the links between economic development, improvements in security and tackling the checkpoints issue in the west bank.
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con):
May I express the Oppositions support both for the Foreign Secretarys work over the past few days and for his hopes for the Annapolis conference? Everybody in the House will want that conference to succeed. I put it to him that if we are to take a real step towards reconciliation in the middle east, it will require from Annapolis not just a statement with plenty of warm words, but a plan for practical steps on the ground, involving some painful decisions by both sides to start
to rebuild trust that has been badly damaged in recent years. How confident is he that there is sufficient agreement, at least about an indicative timetable for such practical steps, so that the conference can be the success that we wish it to be?
David Miliband: I am happy to associate myself with the hon. Gentlemans remarks. Annapolis needs to set out the consensus that exists between the parties, including, critically, on the shared goal of a two-state solutiona viable Palestinian state living alongside a secure Israel. He did not specifically mention this, but it also needs to launch a negotiating process, the absence of which has been terrible for the political horizon that is necessary if we are to make practical measures really bite. He is right to say that practical, economic and security measures matter. I referred in my answer to what the UK Government hope to do. The work for Tony Blair as the Quartet representative is important, too. On timing, there is a short-term need for progress on practical measures, but the House will recognise that we need a timetable, or at least some sense of the timing, for the negotiating process. The emerging consensus that next year is absolutely critical to making substantial progress can give the process the spur that it desperately needs.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): All friends of Pakistan will share the Governments grave concern about the state of emergency in Pakistan. We have strongly urged General Musharraf to restore the constitution immediately and to ensure that free and fair elections take place by mid-January. My hon. Friend will have seen yesterdays announcement that the elections will take place on 8 January. Democratic values and the rule of law are our best allies against the extremism that threatens both Pakistan and this country.
Mr. Illsley: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that response. Does he intend to raise the issue of Pakistan at the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, and will he continue to do all that is in his power, together with international partners, to ensure that the elections on 8 January are free, fair and properly observed? Will he continue to press General Musharraf to stand down as head of the army?
David Miliband: Certainly. I should have said in my answer that the meeting of the Commonwealth is particularly well timed. I shall be heading for Kampala tonight, and the meeting of the Commonwealth Ministers action group on Thursday morning will have Pakistan right at the top of its agenda. I am happy to confirm that it remains the strong position of the Government not just that General Musharraf must resign as head of the army, but that political prisoners must be released and that media restrictions and the state of emergency must also be lifted.
David Miliband: It is probably wise not to get into the prediction business in any political system, perhaps especially in respect of Pakistan and some of the other issues that we have spoken about, notably Kosovo. It is clear that there is unanimity across the international community about what General Musharraf needs to do. The best ally of stability in Pakistan is an extension of democracy, which is vital for the country and for the region.
Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): Can my right hon. Friend give the House an update on the welfare of Imran Khan, the international cricketer? He is the chancellor of Bradford university and I have been asked by the university to raise the question. I have spoken to Maleeha Lodhi, the high commissioner, twice. She can tell me only that he is in prison and on hunger strike. Is there anything further that my right hon. Friend can tell the House?
David Miliband: I am happy to confirm that our officials are trying to make contact with Imran Khan or his colleagues and associates. We have all seen the news about his proposed or actual hunger strike. The most important thing to say is that he, like all political prisoners, should be released as soon as possible. If the story that was running on the wires this morning about 3,000 political prisoners being released is translated into action, we will all welcome that, but it must be a step towards all political prisoners being released.
Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): The continuing state of emergency in Pakistan raises serious questions about the Pakistan Governments ability to maintain security throughout Pakistan and, in particular, in the volatile and largely ungoverned border areas with Afghanistan. Almost three weeks ago the Foreign Secretary said in his statement:
It would be wrong to say that we have seen any short-term spillover of the situation in Pakistan into the border area.[ Official Report, 7 November 2007; Vol. 467, c. 134.]
Is that still the case? Has any increase in cross-border incidents been reported by British commanders in Afghanistan? Is he confident that British forces are adequately equipped and protected to deal with their mission?
David Miliband: Yes, that remains the case, but the challenge for British forces in Afghanistan along the 2,600 km border remains a severe one. I can confirm to the hon. Gentleman that there has been no change in the reports to us about the situation in the federally administered tribal areas.
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