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Mr. Steen: In light of the Foreign Office’s responsibility for dealing with human trafficking under the Government’s action plan, does the Minister think it sensible to discuss with his opposite number the possibility of our embassies in both Bucharest and Sofia doing more to raise awareness of the scale of human trafficking in Bulgaria and Romania? Hundreds and thousands of children from poor Roma communities are sold into slavery every year, so should not our embassy be doing more? Could we not lead a crusade in eastern Europe with other embassies to raise the whole profile of the trafficking problem in eastern Europe?

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman raises entirely reasonable points and I hope that he is reassured that our embassies in both Bulgaria and Romania are working very hard on these issues. That is not to say that we cannot continue to look for additional initiatives and energies to expend. He rightly draws attention to the trafficking of children in particular, and it may help the House if I say that intelligence reports have identified a network of ethnic Roma criminals involved in the trafficking of Romanian Roma children, particularly to the UK. Police forces in the UK have identified more than 200 children being exploited in London and beyond. We are grateful for the co-operation that we have with the Governments of Bulgaria and Romania, but there is more that we can do together.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend quite satisfied that the Russian Federation is doing enough to halt the flow of trafficked people through its territory?

Mr. Murphy: I know that the Russian Federation is committed to controls on people trafficking, but it is certainly the case that, across the European Union and the wider sphere of Europe, there is far too much people trafficking, with criminal gangs exploiting the vulnerability of often frail and desperate people in a vile and sick trade. We do all we can in the EU through the European neighbourhood policy and much else besides, but if my hon. Friend has specific additional points that she would like Her Majesty’s Government to address with the Russian Federation, I am always happy to listen.

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): I would like to re-emphasise the concern over child trafficking, especially of babies, for all sorts of purposes—slavery, sex and so forth. The Minister says that we can do more. What does he have in mind?

Mr. Murphy: The fact is that as these criminal gangs become more sophisticated, we always have to develop new ways to deal with them. Working with Save the Children in Romania is one important example of what we need to do, and the voluntary return of children, if their safety and well-being can be guaranteed, is another. We continue to discuss such issues with the Governments of both Bulgaria and Romania. As I say, as the challenge changes and these gangs become more sophisticated and in some ways more subtle, we have to be equally determined and flexible in our efforts.

EU Presidency

5. Mr. Robert Syms (Poole) (Con): If he will make a statement on the agenda of the French EU presidency. [213060]

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The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said to the House yesterday that we will continue to focus on an outward-looking European agenda. We look forward to working with the French presidency on climate change, defence and security, migration, and rising food and fuel prices.

Mr. Syms: Should not Her Majesty’s Government be impressing it upon the French presidency that the kindest thing for the treaty of Lisbon is to let it die? The people of Europe do not want it. Some of the matters that the Minister raised at the Dispatch Box a few moments ago are far more important for the people of Europe than this treaty.

Mr. Murphy: The fact is that the United Kingdom Government will not seek to decide, determine or dictate to the Irish Government regarding their next move. It is for the Irish Government to make their decision. I offer an observation in passing: as has been said, the Lisbon treaty is the first treaty that officially recognises children’s rights across the EU. Previous treaties recognised animal rights; this treaty recognises children’s rights. That is an important innovation and improvement.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Was not President Sarkozy right at the weekend when he said to the former Member for Hartlepool—the future Lord Mandelson, no doubt—that he was responsible for the Irish “No” because of his free trade policies, which frightened Irish farmers into the no lobby? Does the Minister agree with that assessment and does he recognise that the laissez-faire attitude of the EU and its undemocratic roots are having a similar impact on the core vote that might have supported continued membership in this country?

Mr. Murphy: I thank my hon. Friend for the gracious way in which he carefully put his point. I do not agree with him, however. I think that Peter Mandelson is doing a fantastic job as Commissioner. [Interruption.] I had thought, until today, that the Conservative party supported reform of the common agricultural policy as we continue a wider review and reform of Europe’s budget so that it reflects the future, rather than the historical past of massive subsidies being paid to farmers instead of protecting the environment.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): It would be welcome if the French presidency looked closely at the European neighbourhood policy. A great many projects previously supported by member states are now part of the ENP. Does the Minister agree that, with close attention from the presidency and the Commission, those projects can go from strength to strength?

Mr. Murphy: I do agree, and I had the opportunity to meet the hon. Gentleman yesterday to discuss many of those issues. Europe has substantial influence in countries on its borders, both to the east and to the south. That is a responsibility and an opportunity, and we should seek to maximise our influence on democracy, the rule of law, human rights, penal reform and a range of other matters. He is absolutely right, and the French presidency shares our ambitions for a European neighbourhood policy that seeks to do more in supporting human rights and democracy.

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Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): The Minister for Europe mentioned the problem of high energy prices, but EU policy on climate change and the directive on renewable energy and biofuels will increase energy prices further, so can we have some consistency here? Will the Government stop complaining about high energy costs while supporting measures that will increase them further?

Mr. Murphy: In response to the point raised by the former Minister for Europe, I point out that it is important to reflect the fact that the EU is working on an energy policy and a climate change policy that are about transparency in the market, matching supply and demand, investment in climate change technologies such as carbon capture and storage, and so much else besides. That variety of policies plays an important role in supporting our economies, but also in protecting our environment.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): The people of Ireland clearly rejected Lisbon by an emphatic margin on a record turnout, since when The Economist has wisely advised the Government, “Just bury it”. Will the Minister answer the question that the Foreign Secretary clearly ducked last week and assure the House that no further work on the External Action Service will be undertaken by British officials, including during the French presidency?

Mr. Murphy: The Foreign Secretary was very clear on this point, as was my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister: in light of the Irish referendum result, plans to have discussions on the External Action Service at the General Affairs Council and the European Council were cancelled. That was the right response to the referendum in Ireland. No further work will be carried out, and the work has stopped in the UK until such time as there is a new suggestion from the French presidency or a way forward suggested by the Irish Government. That is very clear.

Palestinian Occupied Territories

6. Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): What assessment he has made of compliance of the operations of the Israeli defence force in the occupied Palestinian territories with the fourth Geneva convention. [213061]

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): We expect Israel, including the Israeli defence force, to comply with its obligations under the fourth Geneva convention, and have made clear where we profoundly disagree with Israel on key issues, such as the route of the barrier and location of settlements. The Annapolis talks provide the best opportunity yet to move forward. The announcement of a ceasefire in Gaza was welcome. We are doing all that we can to help to relieve suffering and move towards resolution of long-term issues.

Mr. Blunt: I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, and agree with his points. I am interested, however, to know what he means by “location of settlements”. Article 49 of the fourth Geneva convention is extremely clear that colonisation of occupied territory is illegal. The settlements in all of the occupied territory are the biggest physical obstacle to a settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Now that a ceasefire is in place, surely the Palestinians can expect us to pursue
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the matter under international law. What kind of signal does it send when settlers’ leaders are then invited by Her Majesty’s ambassador to Israel to a party celebrating the Queen’s birthday?

Dr. Howells: Not very helpful signals, and I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman that this is the time to push the Israelis hard on the question of illegal settlements. Clearly, they are illegal and are not helping the Annapolis process in the least. Indeed, they are an obstacle to progress.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Can the Minister help us with another question concerning the role of the occupying forces in Palestine: the imprisonment of elected Palestinian parliamentarians, about 70 of whom are still in detention, which is outrageous? If we support Palestinian democracy, what pressure are we putting on Israel to release those who were elected to represent the Palestinian people?

Dr. Howells: We continue to raise the issue with the Israelis, and continue to urge them either to charge those individuals or release them—it is as simple as that. They are elected representatives and should be treated as such. If the Israelis believe that they are guilty of some crime, they should charge them, not keep them incarcerated without a proper trial.

Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): In the Minister’s opinion, is the continued holding of hostages by Hamas, Hezbollah or whoever helpful to the peace process? Under the current ceasefire, will further pressure be exerted to release the Israeli hostages?

Dr. Howells: The taking of hostages was not only a despicable act in itself, and it remains so—kidnapping is always one of the worst crimes—but caused thousands of deaths in the Lebanese war of July 2006. We urge the Palestinian and Hezbollah factions to release the Israeli soldiers. That would be a concrete and important step towards a sustainable peace in that region.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Is it not the case that in Israel too small a minority, unfortunately, realise that the behaviour of the Israeli soldiers and armed forces generally in the occupied territories demonstrates, day in and day out, a contempt for human rights? Have the Israeli Government any understanding of the contempt that we have for the way in which their country occupies the post-1967 territories?

Dr. Howells: I certainly do not believe that all officers and all men in the Israeli army behave in that way. Many soldiers, including many whom I have met, have a real regard for human rights—the human rights of Palestinians as well as of Israelis. We will continue to urge Israel to abide by international law in its treatment of Palestinians in those occupied territories, and to work towards a sustainable settlement so that the Israeli defence force does not need to be in those areas. That must be our object, and we believe that a two-state solution is the right one.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments about settlements, but given that the website of the Israeli
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Ministry of Construction and Housing lists 4,900 housing units that are currently in the construction programme, may I ask him what response is coming from Israel to our representations on the matter, particularly in relation to the E1 scheme?

Dr. Howells: I should like to think that my hon. Friend had inferred that our actions were having some effect, but I do not think they are having a great effect. The latest announcements—within the last few weeks—of 1,000 new dwellings on occupied territories are doing no good whatever to the Annapolis process.

When I met Prime Minister Fayad in Berlin last night, he repeatedly referred to the issue of illegal settlements as one of the greatest impediments to progress on Annapolis. My hon. Friend is right: we must keep plugging away, and trying to convince the Israelis that this is one of the most important steps forward that they could take.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): When my hon. Friend assesses Israel’s reactions to attacks on its citizens, does he bear in mind that false allegations can be made? Is he aware, for example, that Hamas has now admitted that the explosion that killed 50 people on 13 June was not Israel’s responsibility?

Dr. Howells: My hon. Friend is right. I have seen and heard many reports of truck-loads of rockets intended to be fired into Israel that have been hit or handled badly and have exploded. People have been killed, including onlookers and innocent people in the streets of Gaza. I take reports of that kind with a pinch of salt, and I think we all should. The fact is that there is a propaganda war going on in the area, as well as a deadly war involving bullets, bombs and rockets.


7. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): If he will visit Yemen within the next six months to discuss relations with the UK and regional issues. [213062]

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): Foreign engagements for my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and other Ministers are kept under constant review. We do not announce visits until they have been confirmed, and final decisions on overseas visits are often not possible until shortly before the day of travel. Last month, however, I paid my third visit to Yemen. It included a visit to Aden, which I know is a place close to my right hon. Friend’s heart.

Keith Vaz: I welcome the fact that the Minister went to Aden, the city of my birth, and acknowledge the fact that he returned from his visit. No one fired any shots at him, no one directed any bombs at him; he came back safely. So why does the Foreign Office continue to pursue a travel advice policy that prevents business persons and tourists from going to Yemen? Surely the best way in which to ensure good relations with the country is for us to allow our people to engage with the people of Yemen.

Dr. Howells: My right hon. Friend will know as well as I do that civil unrest in Yemen is growing. There are grievances throughout the country. Al-Houthi-led rebels
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in the north have been exploding bombs, and indeed exploded bombs while I was there, although luckily out of my earshot for a change. There is also a great deal of disquiet in the south, even around Aden. As my right hon. Friend will know, people in the south feel that they are not receiving the investment that they should be receiving for their industries and infrastructure.

There is a great feeling of unease. Tourists have been kidnapped, and although they have not been British tourists—thank goodness—I am not sure that I would like to ease that travel advice and then find that as a consequence someone caught up in a bomb outrage had been killed or maimed, or someone had been kidnapped or shot. I am sorry to say that, because Yemen is a very beautiful country which ought to be prospering as a result of tourism.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): When the Minister next meets the Yemeni authorities and those of neighbouring countries, will he raise the concern that is felt about the increasing piracy off the coast of the horn of Africa around Somalia and Yemen and the effect that that is having on international shipping?

Dr. Howells: Yes. It is an extremely serious problem. The hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that the British Navy and the British coastguard service have been co-operating closely with the Yemeni—

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): The Royal Navy.

Dr. Howells: I am sorry: the Royal Navy. [Interruption.] No, not the Welsh navy. The Royal Navy has been co-operating very closely with the Yemenis on this. The authorities in Somaliland and Djibouti, which are also exercised about the problem, are now beginning to co-operate with Yemen to try to eradicate it, but it does not just involve piracy. There is an enormous amount of people trafficking, and an enormous number of people are drowning as they try to make the crossing from the horn of Africa to the Saudi peninsula.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): As my hon. Friend knows, the Yemeni constitution guarantees freedom of expression, but in reality that is not the case. Will he take up the case of Yemeni journalist Abdul Karim al-Khaiwani, who was sentenced to six years of imprisonment on 9 June? Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience, as he has been convicted and sentenced solely because of something he wrote. Last week, he received an Amnesty award, among its annual awards, for his work, and I ask the Minister to take up his case and ask for his release.

Dr. Howells: I would be only too glad to take up this case.

Iran (Nuclear Programme)

8. Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of developments in the Iranian nuclear programme; and if he will make a statement. [213063]

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