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The Leader of the Opposition mentioned the human rights situation in Zimbabwe. The United Nations has sent an envoy, who has been in Harare and is now in
Pretoria. We would like the Government of Zimbabwe to allow him to return so that he can report to the world on the human rights situation. The whole world now sees the regime for what it is, and there is a consensus in the House that what has happened is intolerable. We want an immediate end to violence because the loss of life is unacceptable, but we also need a way forward for the people of Zimbabwe.
I confirm to the Leader of the Opposition that we have not only offered help for reconstruction, but are working with other countries on a detailed plan to help the Zimbabwean people so that, once democracy is restored, reconstruction can happen, poverty can be alleviatedmany people are not even getting food aid at the moment, even though non-governmental organisations want to get it to themand Zimbabwes economy, which should be one of the strongest in Africa, can be restored to its proper place, delivering jobs and prosperity to the people of that country.
The Prime Minister: On recognition, I made it clear that we do not recognise the regime as legitimate. That has been made clear for many weeks and it is clear in the statement that I gave the right hon. Gentleman before the questions today.
We are working hard to ensure that a trade deal takes place. Discussions are happening at the moment and I hope that there will be a ministerial meeting soon. I hope that, before we go to the G8, we can make progress on getting a signal that protectionism is unacceptable around the world. A world trade deal will, incidentally, help developing countries. After all, it is the Doha trade deal.
The Leader of the Opposition said that we had announced the go-ahead for a coal power station. That is not the casethe matter is still under discussion. We want to move forward on wind and wave power in the United Kingdom. There are local planning objections, some from members of the Conservative party, to wind power, but we are determined to move forward with our renewables objectives. A full statement on that matter will be made on Thursday.
I come now to the right hon. Gentlemans objections to the discussion in Europe on the Irish referendum. Let me make it clear that the Irish reported to us and said that they wanted time to discuss the matter in their country. They also said that they wanted to report to the Council. It is for the Irish to make their position known, and they made it absolutely clear. The Irish Government made it clear that they were not seeking to persuade other countries not to ratify the treaty. That is why the Leader of the Opposition is isolated in Europe; he claims that other European Governments are with him, but every other country is moving ahead with the ratification process because, unlike him, they believe the first words of the declaration of Brussels almost a year ago: the constitutional concept has been abandoned and the reform treaty is very different from the original treaty, which has been forsworn. He asks whose voice has been heardthis Parliaments voice has been heard and he should respect the fact that the House of Commons and the House of Lords both voted in favour of the treaty; otherwise it could not have received royal consent.
The right hon. Gentleman wants environmental co-operation round the world, but refuses to support co-operation in Europe. He wants to tackle poverty in Europe, but refuses to support the social chapter and wants to repatriate social policy. He wants a world trade deal, but that can happen only through Europe working as Europe to make that possible. He wants action on food prices, but that, as well as action on issues related to the economy, can be best done by being part of the European Union. I sometimes think that the Conservative party forgets that nearly 60 per cent. of our trade is with Europe and that 3 million jobs depend on our membership of the European Union. The Conservative party is isolated not only in Europe, but in the perverse view that blames everything on Europe, when Europe is delivering many good things for the British people.
Compared with other six-monthly European Union summits, last weeks was not a hugely significant one. In truth, it was more about catching up with fast-moving developments than about setting the pace for the future. Rather than being their master, the summit was in many ways a slave to events, whether the aftermath of the Irish vote on the Lisbon treaty or the unscheduled spat between the French President and the Prime Ministers good friend, the EU Trade Commissioner.
On the Lisbon treaty, the Prime Minister is right, of course, that we need to respect the need for the Irish Government to consider their next steps before October. However, as a supporter of the treaty, I none the less worry that we might soon make the best the enemy of the good. Uncertainty beyond October would genuinely raise the spectre of a paralysed European Union, unable to deliver concrete benefits to European citizens. So will he give some assurance that the treatys fate, whatever one thinks about it, will be sealed one way or another in October and that we will not be pitched into months of further uncertainty about the treaty?
On the issue of Zimbabwe, I welcome the Prime Ministers commitment to working in the European Union and the United Nations. I hope that the international community will consider all the options available, including the case for stopping foreign currency remittances into Zimbabwe, restricting electricity supplies from South Africa and Mozambique, and encouraging the Southern African Development Community to take more action. However, does the Prime Minister agree that there are more things that he could do now, here? Will he, for instance, consider allowing asylum seekers who are fleeing Mugabes brutal regime to live and work temporarily in the United Kingdom, until such time as Zimbabwe is more stable and they can return home?
I also welcome the summit conclusions in favour of carbon capture and storage technology. However, how does the Prime Minister square that approach and the summits unambiguous conclusion with the strong indications that his Government will go ahead with a new generation of dirty coal power stations that are CCS ready, but not CCS functional, such as the one at Kingsnorth?
Finally, it is good to see the European Union grappling with the issue of food and fuel prices. However, the Prime Ministers summit-hopping, from Europe to Jeddah, is not enough. We need him to take practical steps here
at home, too. So will he emulate the example of other European Union countries, such as Spain, whose Government have clawed back some of the massive subsidies that energy-generating companies have been handed on a plate through the European emissions trading scheme, to compel energy companies to help the fuel poor and to promote energy efficiency in our homes on the scale that is now urgently needed?
The Prime Minister: I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said about Zimbabwe. All of us are appalled by the violence taking place, and all of us are looking for a way forward. Each asylum case is dealt with on an individual basis, but I will consider what he has said about that. However, he must agree that the priority is to see an end to the violence in Zimbabwe and a way forward that allows democracy to be properly in existence there, and then, once democracy is restored, to see how we can help with the reconstruction of that country.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned carbon capture. We are leading the rest of the European Union in seeking to have the first demonstration plant, and then the first commercial plant, for carbon capture. We want the EU to provide a mechanism by which that will be possible, because it is an expensive thing to do. We are urging the CouncilI hope that he would support thisto ensure that, from the budget of the European Union, there is a means by which carbon capture can be given some support.
The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned food and oil. I agree with him that they are the major problems that many households up and down the country face, with the cost of food in the supermarket and the cost of petrol at the petrol pumps, as well as gas and electricity bills being higher as a result of the oil price. However, he underestimates the extent to which we have raised the winter allowance. We have provided additional help for insulation, which was billions of pounds in previous years and will be billions of pounds in the years to come, to help people insulate and draught-proof their houses, and to make energy-efficient and environmentally sensitive adjustments. When the right hon. Gentleman talks about the utility companies, I think that he has forgotten that we have just negotiated a deal that gives us £150 million a year after next yearthe deal will go for many yearsto provide extra money to give help to low-income households.
The right hon. Gentlemans first point was about the report on Ireland. We have said to the Irish Government that it is for them to come forward with their proposals. It is for them to suggest, as they have done, that they need time to look at this. They will then submit a report to the Council in October. At a time when we have 26 other countries moving towards ratification, the Irish will come to us with their views about what can be done, and we will look at the matter in October. It is fair to give the Irish Government the time to assess the situation and then bring their proposals forward to us.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op):
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement, and particularly for his remarks about Zimbabwe and Burma. He also referred to Kosovo. Will he give the House more information about what discussions were held on the progress of the
implementation of the EU-led programme for the judicial and police takeover in Kosovo, and on the prospect of the enlargement of the European Union and the ongoing discussions with Croatia about further enlargement in the western Balkans?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question; he takes a huge interest in these matters. There was a long discussion about the proposals for the next stage for Kosovo at the Council meeting and at the Foreign Ministers dinner the night before, and the UN Secretary-Generals proposals for reconfiguring the support that is given to Kosovo were mentioned. The EU will take a bigger role in future and I believe that, despite all the differences that have been expressed over Kosovo, there was a general welcome for the proposals.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): Having lived and worked in Zimbabwe, may I suggest to the Prime Minister that the collapse of law and order in that country has now reached a point at which it is no longer a question simply of the internal trauma of the Zimbabwean people? There is now a threat to the stability of the whole of southern Africa. Does the Prime Minister agree that perhaps the only key to progress lies with the African Union and with SADC? Will he try to impress upon the leaders in southern Africa, who are now speaking out more eloquently than they have done before, that the answer is not simply a mission to Zimbabwe but a withholding of recognition of Mugabes Government by the African Union and SADC, and a threat to the Zimbabwe Government that they will be suspended from the African Union and SADC, if they do not embark immediately on the necessary reforms?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for that question. I know of his great interest in Zimbabwe and that he worked at the university there for some time. I have talked to him about that on previous occasions. He is absolutely right to say that African leaders must be vocal in their condemnation of what is happening. I sense that the surrounding leaders are becoming increasingly angry and appalled by the events that are taking place, and that they are now prepared to speak out against them. He is also right to say that we should discuss all possible measures to ease the situation there. I agree with him that a mission to Zimbabwe in itself is only the first stage in dealing with the problems that exist. I also agree that none of the African states should recognise the legitimacy of the Mugabe regime, and they should certainly not recognise any electionsif they go aheadthat take place at the end of the week.
I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will sense from the conversations with African leaders that I have mentioned, and from the statements that they have made, that there is a new mood in Africa that is unprepared to accept the violence, the intimidation, the lack of democracy and the poverty and degradation that have been forced upon the Zimbabwean people. He is in good company in saying that the whole world must speak out and give no legitimacy to that regime. It is time that we supported the people of Zimbabwe, who want democratic rule and a return to prosperity.
Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I would like to ask my right hon. Friend many questions about the policy issues, but I am afraid that there is a great barrier between my wish and the reality. That barrier is the Irish referendum. It is quite clear from all the legal advice and the Crotty decision that Ireland would require another referendum or amendments to be made to the constitution, the Lisbon treaty[ Interruption.] You know what I said about that in the past. The treaty would have to be amended in some way to allow Ireland to have an opt-in or an opt-out in the way that Denmark had. That would then require re-ratification by all 27 countries.
It seems to me that everyone expected something more enlightening and open than just waiting to see what we can get the Irish to come up with. I urge the Prime Minister to tell us whether anything else went on at the Council and to give some hope to those who want to see the European Union expand that there was more in it than simply waiting to see whether the Irish can somehow change their minds.
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is also Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee and provided the House with a report previously. I think that he would agree, however, that in the situation in which we find ourselves, when 26 countries are moving ahead towards ratification, but one country after a referendum is unable to do so, we should give that country time to consider the position. There are many reasons that the Taoiseach will want to look at in reflecting on the result of the referendum and many issues were not exclusively concerned with the treaty itself. There are reasons such as the state of the economy and other matters in Ireland, as well as the provisions of the treaty, that could have contributed to the result[Hon. Members: Ah.] I have to say that the Taoiseach has set these issues out in speeches over the last few days, which provides all the more reason for listening to the Irish Government as they review what has happened and make progress towards making a statement to the European Council in October. That is the right way to proceedto be sensitive to what the Irish Government will wish to say.
Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): Is it not patently clear that people such as Mugabe and those around him, who have been responsible for the murder of scores of people, who have brutalised thousands and wiped out the livelihoods of millions, should now be brought within the ambit of international criminal law? Will the right hon. Gentleman make a commitment to that as a matter of Government policy?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising the issue of conditions in Zimbabwe. The Foreign Secretary will be making a further more detailed statement about what is happening there. The Zimbabwean Government are not signatories to the International Criminal Court provisions and it would require a motion by the UN Security Council to bring them within those provisions. We will of course look into everything that needs to be done, but the priority now is to secure an end to the violence and a way forward for the people of Zimbabwe and then to secure the reconstruction of the country. I have already mentioned the action that we propose to take in respect of imposing travel, financial and other economic sanctions on the criminal cabal around Mugabe.
Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): May I assure the Prime Minister that, notwithstanding the comments of the leader of the Liberal Democrats, every European Council is significant and every European Council reflects the forward march of the Union? In respect of the question about the Irish raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), the House should welcome the statement of the Taoiseach to come back in October and explain and define how the Republic of Ireland will stay at the heart of Europe.
As to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) about enlargement to the east, does the Prime Minister agree that such enlargement of the 27 member states cannot take place uniquely on the back of the treaty of Nice?
The Prime Minister: I think it is generally recognised that the treaty of Nice contains provisions that make it very difficult for the EU to move ahead with 27 members. At one stage, the Opposition parties wanted a referendum on the treaty of Nice and now they want us to govern Europe by the treaty of Nice; I think the best way ahead is to implement the reform treaty. It is right to listen to what the Irish Government say and it is right for them to review the situation. That is clearly the best way forward and I would have thought that every sensible Member in the House would support it on that basis.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): Like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), I served in Rhodesia, as it was called in those days, in 1979 in order to bring universal suffrage to that country. I was proud of our position then, but I am not particularly proud of ours or Europes right now. Does not the secret to providing a solution lie in Pretoria and Beijing? Is it not time that we said in no uncertain terms to the Chinese that if they wish to be accepted as a decent nation, they should stop supporting violent regimes such as Mugabes? If we also said to President Mbeki, who is almost alone in South Africa in supporting that man, that if he pulled out the stops, made Zimbabwe a pariah state, cut off all support and said to Mugabe, Go or we will finish you, he would be gone in a week.
The Prime Minister: I understand the knowledge of the situation that the right hon. Gentleman has given from when he was in the country many years ago. I have to say to him that the UN Security Council will meet this afternoon and I believe that there will be a presidential statement. That will require the countries that are part of the UN Security Council and that play a part in its affairs, including the ones he has mentioned, to be able to support that statement. I hope that they will support a statement that says in the strongest terms that the violence is unacceptable. What has led to the opposition leader pulling out of the election is perfectly understandable and a way forward has to be found for the Zimbabwean people, but that will be discussed by the UN Security Council later this afternoon.
I talked to President Mbeki before I came to the House this afternoon and urged it upon him that there had to be a solution and a way forward found, but he, too, will in my view join the statement that will be made
by the UN later this afternoon, which shows that South Africa, too, wants an end to the violence and a solution to the problems we face.
Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Lab): First, I congratulate the Prime Minister on the considerable success of the summit and on the meeting in Saudi Arabia. Does he agree that true leadership consists of being guided by the long-term interests of the country and that, in the case of the EU, that means playing a central, constructive and, indeed, leading role, and in not constantly picking quarrels, sending signals that we do not want to be part of the venture at all and for ever playing to the gallery?
The Prime Minister: The Conservative party, as everybody knows, is isolated in Europe. It not only wants to renegotiate this treaty, but it would have renegotiated the other treaties signed under this GovernmentAmsterdam and Nice. It wants to withdraw from the social chapter and from social policy in Europe. It has no support in any other part of Europe for doing so. It should start to recognise that it is isolated in Europe. If the Conservatives were in power, we would be in the second division as a result of it.
Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): In response to the global energy crisis and, in particular, to help hard-pressed sectors such as the hauliers, the French Government tabled a proposal at the European Council to introduce a cap on fuel taxes when oil prices reach $150 a barrel. The Austrian Government proposed a windfall tax on oil speculators, who have been heavily criticised by the US Congress and American regulators recently. Surely that is a more attractive proposal than going cap in hand to authoritarian regimes in the middle east. Did the Prime Minister support the French and Austrian initiatives?
The Prime Minister: As far as speculation is concerned, the EU, like the American Congress and other bodies including the Treasury in Britain, is looking at the forces at work in the marketplace. If there is any speculative activity, which is market manipulation, they will report on its existence. On the hon. Gentlemans other proposal concerning VAT and the discussion on it, the Council agreed to look at all proposals that the different countries were putting forward. A report will come on that in the next few months.
We will look at those proposals, but the hon. Gentleman should also know that we in Britain have done what many other countries have not. We have raised the winter allowance for pensioners to help them with their fuel bills; we have negotiated a deal with the utilities to help low-income households; and we have frozen petrol duty, as we did in the Budget, for the next few months. The Chancellor will announce later what we will do in future.
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