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He said that the key word was “ensure”, but I would argue that the key word is “shall”, because it implies an element of compulsion and is used three times in the paragraph. In a sense, he picked the wrong paragraph to support his argument. I hope that he appreciates the fact that I bothered to read in detail the passage that he put before the Committee.

Rob Marris: Let me make three points. If the version of the consolidated treaties that the hon. Gentleman is brandishing is the same as the one I have in my hand, it is dated 20 November 2006, so it is completely out of date. Secondly, I stressed the word “consistency” in the quote that he cited, not the word “ensure”. Thirdly, the hon. Gentleman rightly said that I am occasionally known for being legalistic. May I suggest that he does some research on the arcane way in which the European Union uses the word “shall”? I have done such research, and on many occasions in European Union treaties, shall means not “must”, but “has the power to”. Bizarre as that is, it is the legalistic interpretation of the word, and the hon. Gentleman, as the shadow Minister for Europe, really ought to know that.

Mr. Francois: As the shadow Minister for Europe, I know that there was a great deal of argument in the context of national Parliaments about whether the relevant word should be “shall” or “may”; we will come on to that subject tomorrow, so I will not dwell on it
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now. No doubt we shall debate that point in detail tomorrow—the Minister is smiling already. In the paragraph of article 21 that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West cited, the word “shall” appears three times, and I think that it appears in a compulsive context.

Mr. Clappison: Has my hon. Friend conducted detailed research on the history of judgments of the European Court of Justice, where the meaning of the word “shall” is determined according to the degree of integration that it implies?

Mr. Francois: As usual, my hon. Friend, with his experience of serving on the European Scrutiny Committee, makes a good point. We all know that the history of the European Court of Justice shows that it is an activist court. In its judgments, it has tended to push the boundaries of EU competence and to interpret the word “shall” as my hon. Friend describes, rather than taking the advice of that well-known lawyer in the House of Commons, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West.

Mr. Jim Murphy: I know that many outside the House will pay great attention to the detail of which text we are reading from, so it is important, in having this great debate about international development and the poorest in the world, that we get it right. The text in my hand is the one with which we have been dealing throughout these six days of debate; the other text is the consolidated text of the EU treaties from 2006.

Mr. Francois: I know.

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman says that he knows, but his copy has not yet been opened. That might not translate for Hansard, so I should explain that his copy is still covered in polythene. The text that he has not yet opened was published in 2006, before the Lisbon treaty was even agreed to. The text in my hand is the one that we have been working from this evening, and every day of our deliberations.

Mr. Francois: The sealed copy is not mine; I picked it up off the Table in the Chamber about half an hour ago. This one is my copy—The Stationery Office copy, which is the current copy. Could we get back to the matter under debate?

Perhaps we could debate this substantive point. The Minister did not provide any assurance with regard to the question that I specifically asked him when I introduced the amendment. I asked him whether he could provide the House with any guarantee that there would be a Commissioner for International Development if the Lisbon treaty were ratified. He skated through the question by saying quickly, “There will, of course, be some changes in portfolios,” rather hoping that nobody would notice. The Conservatives noticed, however, and my hon. Friends on the Back Benches and I pressed him repeatedly on whether he could give us a commitment that the Commissioner would be retained. I think that the House will recognise that he did not give us such a commitment.

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I said that for that reason, I might be minded to press the amendment to a vote. However, we have a dilemma. Because of the structure of the Government’s business motion, if we press the amendment, the timing of the Division will mean that we lose any ability to get to the next group of amendments. I am keen to make some points, however briefly, about those amendments, so although I am not satisfied with the Minister’s reply—I tell him that to avoid confusion—I have decided, on balance, to seek the leave of the House to withdraw the amendment so that we can debate for at least four minutes the amendments in the second group. That way, we will at least manage to touch on aid operations—which, because of how the Government have structured the business motion, we could not do if we voted on amendment No. 245. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Francois: I beg to move amendment No. 248, in clause 2, page 1, line 12, after ‘excluding’, insert—

‘(i) Article 2, paragraph 167, inserted Article 188I TEC (TFEU) relating to the procedure for adopting decisions on urgent financial assistance in respect of a situation in a third country; and

(ii) ’.

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Michael Lord): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 249, page 1, line 12, after ‘excluding’, insert—

‘(i) Article 2, paragraph 168, inserted Article 188J TEC (TFEU), paragraph 3 relating to the legislative procedure for the framework for humanitarian aid operations; and

(ii) ’.

No. 250, in page 1, line 12, after ‘excluding’, insert—

‘(i) Article 2, paragraph 168, inserted Article 188J TEC (TFEU), paragraph 5 relating to a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps; and

(ii) ’.

Mr. Francois: I shall do my best to cover the key points in the five minutes that I have. The amendment would strike out of the treaty moves towards majority voting on the provision of urgent financial assistance. By doing so, it would remove a damaging ambiguity from the treaty, as well as keeping the Government to their policy of only a few years ago, when the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) sought to delete the same provision from the original EU constitution. The Government’s view as expressed by him, to quote their argument for the amendment, was as follows:

However, it appears that the Government now enthusiastically support majority voting on that matter, although not much else relating directly to it has changed in essence. The relevant treaty provision states:

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As that proposal remains somewhat ambiguous, I should have liked time to press the Minister for an explanation of the circumstances in which he believes the power will pertain.

I shall mention our two other amendments briefly. Amendment No. 249 would strike out moves towards majority voting on humanitarian aid. It would strike out a controversial measure that opens up the possibility of the EU Foreign Minister pursuing EU foreign policy under another guise. For instance, there could be a situation in which aid to a foreign Government was unacceptable to the UK Government and would bring with it foreign policy commitments with which we were uncomfortable.

10 pm

Let us take one potential example: under the treaty, it would be possible for a qualified majority of EU states to think it right to provide humanitarian aid to the Hamas Administration in Gaza. The United Kingdom might oppose that aid, yet could still be outvoted under QMV. Giving up a veto in that area could force us into being party to a course of action that we find morally repugnant, and bind us to handing over British taxpayers’ money for a cause whose values we firmly oppose. It would be extremely foolish of Ministers to claim that such a situation would never arise. The treaty provision could have wide-ranging implications for our foreign policy, and there should be no place for it.

Amendment No. 250 would strike out the provision in the Lisbon treaty that allows the European Union to set up a European voluntary humanitarian aid corps. It is curious that the provision is still in the treaty, given that when the right hon. Member for Neath was negotiating at the constitutional Convention he said:

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That was the Government’s argument. Incredibly, this is another example in which, despite their previous opposition, the Government are now telling us that they support an idea. The hon.—and gallant—Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster) brought his experience of Afghanistan to bear on the argument when he suggested that what development companies primarily need is experienced technical professionals to help them. I tend to agree with his argument.

Amendment No. 248 seeks to remove a harmful aspect of the treaty by removing provision for majority voting on urgent financial assistance. The right hon. Member for Neath explained that that measure was both unnecessary and ambiguous. If we had time, I would have asked the Minister for Europe to give more detail about possible circumstances. Amendment No. 249 seeks to remove provisions for majority voting on humanitarian aid in respect of areas where there could be conflict with our own independent foreign policy. I have given an example relating to Gaza. Amendment No. 250 would delete references to—

It being two hours after the commencement of proceedings in the Committee , The Chairman left the Chair to report progress and ask leave to sit again, pursuant to Orders [28 January and this day].

To report progress and ask leave to sit again.— [Mr. Watts.]

Committee report progress; to sit again tomorrow.




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Belarus (Children's Visas)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Watts.]

10.2 pm

Willie Rennie (Dunfermline and West Fife) (LD): Mr. Deputy Speaker— [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. If hon. Members are leaving the House, will they do so quickly and quietly, so that we can get on with the Adjournment debate?

Willie Rennie: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am slightly alarmed to see that the Minister for Europe is replying to the debate. He has had a lot to do over the past few weeks, and I know that he has a very important race on Wednesday. I would not like him to do too much in advance of that race, considering that he beat me only by a smidgen two years ago. If you have any power to do so, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you should advise him to go to his bed on Wednesday.

On the issue of visas for Belarusian children, I would first like to tell the House a wee story about a boy called Vova who came to the United Kingdom a few years ago when he was 17 years old. Many of his friends had come here years before then, but doctors had not wanted him to travel because of the state of his health. He was not expected to make a full recovery, and he was painfully thin. He had a great holiday in the United Kingdom, and the following year he made a full recovery. He is now the father of a healthy little girl.

Vova is one of many victims of the radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear explosion in April 1986. There are thousands of people like him across Belarus—people suffering from thyroid cancer, bone cancer, leukaemia and many other horrific conditions. In Belarus, in the summer, the dust causes radiation levels to rise, so a few weeks of fresh air and clean food in the United Kingdom are a great release for those children. The Belarusian doctors believe that it boosts the children’s immune system for at least two years after the visit, and that it is vital for teenagers, who are often in their second or third bout of illness. Indeed, the death rate among teenagers is extremely high.

There are 12 or so charities that organise holidays for Belarusian children and bring about 5,000 children every year to the UK for recuperative holidays. The children are chosen by the Minsk-based Children in Trouble charity, which is organised by the parents of children with cancer. The children stay with volunteers in the UK, and they have enjoyed fantastic holidays here for at least two decades. The charities have brought more than 55,000 children to this country since the visits began. They have an excellent, first-class reputation, and are run by brilliant people. The former British ambassador to Belarus, Brian Bennett, is a leading player, as is my constituent, Carol Dean, from North Queensferry. Victor Mizzi, Linda Walker and Olwyn Keogh were recently recognised by the Queen for their work for Belarusian children and received the MBE.

All that excellent work, however, is under threat because of the manner of the introduction of biometric visas, which has been rushed, with little
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regard for the needs of the children, families and charities. I am appalled by the way in which they have been treated, and if urgent measures are not taken, their good work could be under threat. There is evidence that some charities are packing up, or thinking about doing so. If that is the case, it will be the children who lose out at the end of the day. The Minister will know that on 1 January this year biometric visas were introduced across the board. Finger scans and a digital photograph are required. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office website states:

It all sounds very simple, but that is far from the case. There are three main problems with the introduction of biometric visas. Since September last year, the children have been required to take a trip up to Minsk to receive their visa. For some of them, it is a 10-hour round trip of hundreds of miles on a bus. Those children, as I have explained, are often in poor health, and a 10-hour round trip is not something I would advise them to undertake.

There is a major expense, too, for the charities involved, which have to hire coaches to transport the children. The Italians and Germans organise more holidays than the UK for the children, and I should like to know from the Minister whether those countries have been consulted, and whether a joint effort has been undertaken with them to make sure that we can learn lessons from their measures, just as they can from ours. There seems to be a one-size-fits-all approach to the whole world, but there must be more than one way to demonstrate under the rules that

I understand that mobile visa units may be in place by summer. Can the Minister tell us more about that, and whether they will be guaranteed to be in place, on time, without any delays? Volume, or the number of children, is an issue, too. As I have explained, 4,000 to 5,000 children travel here every year, but because they all travel in summer, they are more than likely to apply for visas at the same time, so there will be a rush for visas from spring until the summer, when they go on holiday. There have been reports of significant waits at the embassy in Minsk, so the two-minute wait time that was given is unrealistic, as it will be much longer. The charities fear that there will be a sudden rush and the system will not be able to cope. Can the Minister give us a guarantee that there will be no massive queues and no massive delays?

The third issue concerns advance notice. The British embassy in Minsk told the charities:

Officials have interpreted that as meaning:

To me, it is quite a leap from

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