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Ms Dawn Butler (Brent, South) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and for the children’s plan, which is a progressive plan for young people and
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children. Five days ago, Richard Angell, Stephanie Peacock and I welcomed 60 young people from all over the country to talk about the new £1 rate to join the Labour party and how the Labour party could employ it to engage more with young people. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that councils will have some accountability to ensure that they consult young people on the delivery and progression of the children’s plan?

Ed Balls: I can reassure my hon. Friend that the £160 million spent on youth services through our Department and the Big Lottery Fund will be conditional not only on consultation with but on the active engagement of young people in drawing up proposals and their future management. Through her leadership in the all-party group on youth affairs, my hon. Friend has highlighted the importance of engaging young people in the design and implementation of policy, and this is a good example of an area where we will ensure that that happens case by case across the country.

Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): This is an excellent plan. I particularly welcome the youth service proposals and the adventure playgrounds. Will my right hon. Friend say something about the eight-to- 13 age group, who are often neglected in this respect? What will be in it for them?

Ed Balls: I mentioned the 30 adventure playgrounds, which will be particularly for that age group. However, the more general point is that many parents are concerned about the transition from primary to secondary school, and many teachers are concerned that some children are not making as much progress as they should in the first and second years of secondary school. We aim for parental engagement in that transition and in the early years of secondary school, and we will be able to address both those issues through these proposals, plus age not stage—[Hon. Members: “Stage not age”]—thank you—stage not age testing and the making good progress pilots. That will help to support the age group that my hon. Friend mentions.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): In children’s first years of life, their main educators are usually their parents, not school teachers, and the professionals to whom those parents usually turn for support are not teachers but health visitors. Does my right hon. Friend envisage a central role for health visitors in co-ordinating those other supports for this group of parents?

Ed Balls: Health visitors and midwives are playing a central role in many areas, and we envisage their doing so in future in the implementation of this plan. It is very important to bring together education, schools, children’s services and health policy in local areas. We are expanding the family fund to support parents in supporting their children’s learning at home, including in the earliest years. We also want to ensure that co-location of services includes health services in the earliest years. When I was at Cardwell school yesterday, I met people from the PCT and midwives who were doing that for children and families in that part of south-east London. We can make this happen across the country.


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European Affairs

[Relevant documents: Thirty-fifth Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, Session 2006-07, HC 1014, on the European Union Intergovernmental Conference; and Third Report from the Committee, Session 2007-08, HC 16-iii, European Union Intergovernmental Conference.]

4.43 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): I beg to move,

I am pleased to open this traditional debate on European policy held before each meeting of the European Council. Before I do so, the whole House will expect me to express our shared horror at the two bomb blasts in Algeria today. The latest information is that there were two targets—a student bus and a United Nations mission. Sixty-two people are known to be dead and 13 people, whom we presume to be UN staff, are currently unaccounted for. No one has yet claimed responsibility for this terrible atrocity, but I know that the whole House will want to send deepest condolences to all those concerned and to ensure that we offer to the Government of Algeria any possible help that we can give them, both in pursuing the perpetrators of this terrible crime and in helping them to strengthen any security that they need to strengthen or to develop any security co-operation to prevent this sort of terrible outrage in future.

The meeting of the European Council this week will address some of the most pressing issues facing the European Union. It will set out a globalisation declaration and establish a reflection group on the long-term global context for European action. Leaders will also no doubt bask in the acclamation among the peoples of Europe for the benefits of the Lisbon reform treaty— [ Laughter. ] I was just checking that hon. Members opposite were listening.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): As the Foreign Secretary is adamant in refusing the British people a vote, why does he not give this House a vote before he signs away our birthright by signing the treaty?

David Miliband: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, no birthrights are being signed away, and I look forward to many debates and many votes in this House in the course of the new year, when we can debate such issues at great length.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): I am happy to have my right hon. Friend’s assurance that no birthright is being signed away. However, one or two rather fundamental points are being agreed in this treaty. Despite the fact that objection to the treaty may be regarded as a purely political ploy on the part of some Members, it might be helpful if we in the House of Commons were to register in some way that there is a great deal in it that causes great worries to many people of all parties.

David Miliband: I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend that all the details of the treaty will be carefully scrutinised. Time will be given for all opinions to be registered and for the detail to be exposed and debated.
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She will know, as will hon. Members opposite, that the treaty will come into force only when it has been passed by this Parliament and every other country that is party to the treaty.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend confirm for the record that, however lengthy the debate in the House may be, it is not a question of amending even a single comma but of accepting the whole treaty or nothing? Therefore, the whole concept of the House being involved in the drafting and drawing up of the treaty was not realised. We are being given a rather black-and-white choice rather late in the day.

David Miliband: My hon. Friend will know from the exchanges we had in the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs that there are good grounds for looking again at the way in which the period between 19 and 21 June brought into sharp relief the choice faced by the Government and subsequently the House. That is the point at which the bilateral discussions that had been happening were consolidated into a single text. We have had exchanges about that in the Committee. She is right to say that the House will face the question of whether it should pass the treaty in the new year. If the House does not do so, or if the treaty is rejected elsewhere in Europe, it would not come into force.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): Just to clarify exactly what the Foreign Secretary said, will he tell me what would happen if a particular amendment tabled by the House went through to amend one part of the treaty? Is he basically saying that we are going to spend months and months discussing it, but that it quite honestly makes no difference whether or not anyone turns anything down because the treaty will go through?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend is right to say that in the end the House has to decide whether to pass the Bill. The Bill will implement the treaty, and the House certainly can amend the Bill. For example, we will have a long debate about a referendum on the treaty. An amendment on that can succeed or fail; if it succeeds, the treaty would go in front of the people for passage or not. The Bill is amendable in the same way as any other—

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) (Lab): Can we amend the treaty?

David Miliband: It is the Bill that comes before the House, and the Bill can certainly be amended.

Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the procedures being adopted by the Government in relation to the treaty are exactly the same as those adopted in the past when dealing with the important Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice treaties, which were supported by Conservative Front Benchers? Will he comment on the fact that if amendments were made to the treaty in the 27 countries of the European Union, we would end up with complete anarchy when trying to achieve anything in Europe?


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David Miliband: My hon. Friend’s intervention is telling, and so is the response from Opposition Members, because what they want is anarchy in the European Union. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The procedure that the Government will follow will be just as with previous treaties. Previous amending treaties have tried—

Several hon. Members rose

David Miliband: With due respect to hon. Members, I said that I would go through the issues being discussed at the European Council and then move on to the European reform treaty. If they will permit me to do so, we can return to their questions about the treaty at the appropriate moment.

For obvious reasons, the situation in Kosovo will be at the forefront of discussion this Friday in Brussels. The responsibilities of the EU, which I discussed with Foreign Ministers in Brussels yesterday, are critical to stability in the western Balkans, and I say the whole of the western Balkans advisedly—Kosovo, Serbia and the other parts of the region together. The written ministerial statement that I laid before the House this morning sets out the Government’s approach. The origins of the problem are ancient. They date right back to the battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389. However, the immediate context is set by the terrible experience of the people of Bosnia in the mid-1990s and of Kosovo at the end of the 1990s. Then, ethnic nationalism overwhelmed the forces of moderation and humanity. This time it needs to be different. Kosovo Albanians and Serbs need to know that restraint and due process will be honoured, and extremism and violence confronted.

There has been an extensive process of mediation over the past two years, first under UN auspices, led by former President Martti Ahtisaari of Finland, and then under an EU-Russia-US umbrella for the past four months. These efforts have been unstinting. I want especially to recognise the efforts of Wolfgang Ischinger, the German ambassador to the UK and the European troika representative over the past four months. I met Ambassador Ischinger again yesterday to hear his latest views. The basic fact is that despite the effort at mediation, there remains a wide gulf between the sides which further mediation will not close; so they have to choose and so do we.

The Kosovars have to choose how they go about pressing their claims for independence, recognising that the status process provided for in UN Security Council resolution 1244 resulted in the Ahtisaari proposal for supervised independence. The signals from Pristina yesterday were encouraging. The Government there said that they would first, stay in step with the international community; secondly, work to minimise violence in Kosovo; and thirdly, honour the undertakings of the Ahtisaari plan, including for minorities.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): I presume that the Foreign Secretary has met the Serbian Foreign Minister to discuss this difficult issue. Like many other young people, the current Serbian Foreign Minister fought against Milosevic and put his life at risk opposing the despot, but his position in his own country is being made extremely difficult by the great rush by the United States for an immediate solution. What assurances can the Foreign Secretary give me that the process will not be rushed?


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David Miliband: I am happy to confirm to the hon. Gentleman that I have met the Serbian Foreign Minister three times, most recently yesterday. It is important to recognise that there needs to be outreach both to the Kosovars and to the Serbs—the Serbs within Kosovo and the Serbian Government. The political situation is obviously delicate, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are seeking to strengthen the forces of moderation on both sides. He talked about a rush to independence, but the fact that the Kosovan Government are talking about working with the international community and about a period of months, not days, speaks at least in part to the sort of care that he knows is important.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman has indicated on the radio that he is now in favour of independence for Kosovo. He will know that that is very much at variance with the Government’s policy at the time of the bombing of Belgrade, when his predecessor Robin Cook said:

If the Foreign Secretary is arguing that circumstances have changed over the past few years, requiring the Government to adopt a new position, will he at least acknowledge that further changes are required to the current proposals? If the borders of Serbia are not to be seen as sacrosanct, is there any reason why the current borders of Kosovo should be seen as sacrosanct? Will he give further consideration to whether the northern part of Kosovo around Mitrovica, which is dominated by a Serb population, might be left with Serbia as part of a concession that might enable moderates in Belgrade to accept the inevitable?

David Miliband: I should like to address the three or four points that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has raised. First, the French Foreign Minister and I said in September that if the mediation process could not close the gap between the sides, the Ahtisaari plan for supervised independence was on the table and should represent the basis on which to move forward. To answer the third point that the right hon. and learned Gentleman hinted at, we also said that the Ahtisaari plan should be seen as a basis. If there is a way we can add to the guarantees that are offered—to the Serbs in northern Kosovo, for example—we should look to do so within a new constitutional settlement, recognising that Serbs are to be found not only in northern Kosovo but in other parts of Kosovo as well.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked me directly about partition, and I want to address that point directly. We do not support the partition of Kosovo. The mediation team has been talking to both sides over the past four months, and that suggestion has been floated. Both sides have addressed the question, but we have been clear that partition is not the way to create a viable, stable constitutional settlement in Kosovo. We do not support that proposal.

Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): I agree with the Foreign Secretary that self-determination is key in Kosovo, but there cannot be self-determination while we reject any possible partition of Kosovo in favour of the self-determination of the Serb minority in
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the north. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman two questions. First, what are his plans for the Serb enclaves further south? Secondly, what access can he guarantee for Serbs trying to reach the cultural sites, such as monasteries, that are extremely important for the Serb position?

David Miliband: The situation in Kosovo is unique, as I think the official Opposition have recognised all along. It is unique because Kosovo is the subject of the terrible tragedies of the 1990s; because it has been a UN protectorate within a country for the past eight years, since the 1999 UN Security Council resolution; and because it has been the subject of a political process that emanates directly from a UN Security Council resolution with the attributes that I have described. This unique situation circumscribes the boundaries of a new Kosovo in a very clear way. Any state needs to be viable, to be able to fend for itself and to organise itself, and I do not believe that partition would meet those criteria.

In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question about protection for Serb minorities outside the north, I would say they need precisely the kind of security presence that the NATO KFOR force provides. There are 16,000 NATO troops there at the moment. That is in start contrast to the situation when the terrible events took place in the 1990s. He also asked a reasonable question about access to religious sites. The precise purpose of a supervised independence—I emphasise the word “supervised”—is to ensure that there is proper respect for minority rights, and that the kind of access he has described is properly organised and policed.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Does the Foreign Secretary accept that there is considerable unhappiness on the Kosovar side, not least because of the long-standing obduracy by Serbians over the handing over of indicted war criminals? There are four still remaining, and Carla del Ponte—the United Nations war crimes prosecutor, who retires in a week’s time—has made it absolutely clear that she is certain that the Government in Belgrade knew exactly where two of them were two years ago. Is it not time that Belgrade did its business in this regard?

David Miliband: I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. Carla del Ponte made a presentation to the European Foreign Ministers in October. Of the 36—I think—indictees, 32 have been returned, and it is very important that the last four should be returned as well. It is also important to recognise that the Serbian Government have now put up $1 million as a reward. It is perhaps a little late in the day, but the reward is now there, and we now need to see 100 per cent. conclusion to the process, with all the indictees being returned.


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