Select Committee on Liaison Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Quesitons 100-119)


13 DECEMBER 2007

  Q100  Mike Gapes: Are you confident that a supervised independence in line with the Ahtisaari plan is legally watertight, even though UN Security Council Resolution 1244 is still in existence, which says that Kosovo is part of Serbia?

  Mr Brown: As you know, there is a proposal for a further UN resolution, and I think that ought to resolve the issue, and I hope that all countries can support that. Obviously, the European Union has got a responsibility to help. There are troops on the ground, of course, at the moment with the responsibility to help in that area, but I do think that we can move forward. There is more agreement than your original question suggested.

  Q101  Mike Gapes: You are implying that we are going to get another Security Council resolution. I thought Russia had made it absolutely clear that it would veto any attempt at a resolution which legitimised the independence of Kosovo.

  Mr Brown: If that were to happen, of course, we would have a European Union mission and we would have a European EDSP[6] mission in relation to Kosovo.

  Q102 Mike Gapes: If there is this European mission, what will we do? What will we and what will the rest of the European Union do, and the UN forces who are still in Kosovo? What will we do if the Serbs in the north of Mitrovica decide to break away to clear their own UDI[7] from Kosovo at the River Ibar or if blockades are put up in other part of Kosovo?

  Mr Brown: I think that is hypothetical actually. I think a Kosovo settlement is actually in Serbia's interest, and I hope we can reach a situation where they are persuaded that that is the case. I would not want to jump in stages and speculate about what might happen if certain things that you speculate about do in fact eventually result. I think the important thing is that Serbia has got an interest in a peaceful resolution of this issue as well.

  Q103  Mike Gapes: What inducements, carrots, encouragements can we give to Serbia to try and persuade the Serbian Government and, more importantly, the Serbian people (and the democracy in Serbia is very fragile at this moment) that their future destiny lies with accepting, however reluctantly, an independent Kosovo and an aspiration to join Europe?

  Mr Brown: I think you know that it is the last part of what you are saying that is very much in Serbia's thoughts, that it wishes a better relationship with the European Union, it wishes to see itself as part of Europe, and, of course, it would not make it easy for people to see it that way if we could not get a settlement over the Kosovan issues.

  Q104  Mike Gapes: Is there some tangible thing that the European Union today, tomorrow, can offer to Serbia to try to sugar this pill that they regard in a very bitter way?

  Mr Brown: I think you are pointing in the direction of Serbia recognising that if its future lies, as we believe it does, with a better relationship with the European Union over a longer period of time, then it is not in its interests that the Kosovan problem is left as one that cannot be sorted out. Whether you are talking about something specific or not, I think the long-term interests of Serbia really depend on it recognising that that relationship with Europe is put at risk if we cannot find a solution to the Kosovan issues.

  Malcolm Bruce: Thank you, Prime Minister. I guess as we speak your plane is warming up to fly you to Lisbon. You will not be surprised, therefore, that Michael Connarty would like to ask you some questions about the European Treaty that you are about to sign.

  Q105  Michael Connarty: I might state that if you look back at the Maastricht Treaty, Prime Minister, you will find that it was signed by a very junior member of the Foreign Office, not signed by the Prime Minister at all. I notice, by the way, that you fell back on your Fife dynasty by referring to what seemed like the Proclaimers' paraphrase on education: "No more, no more, no more"?

  Mr Brown: That is right.

  Q106  Michael Connarty: But another good Scots phrase is that truth is a chiel that winna ding, and that is the basis on which we approach the Reform Treaty; so we obviously disagree about its final effect but I am certain you have read and considered the impact of certainly the drafts that we have, because we have not yet seen the final copy of the 294 amendments of the amended treaty, or the Reform Treaty on the EU, which you intend to sign at the forthcoming European Council. Are you aware whether that impact will be positive or negative for the UK? Do you accept that increasing use of qualified majority voting in many, many additional areas, plus the use of co-decision-making, we are told by the European Parliament, in 95% of EU policy-making in the future will fundamentally alter the way that the EU will function and it will also alter the UK's relationship to that policy process?

  Mr Brown: Qualified majority voting has been a feature of every treaty. The 1986 Single European Act contained very large changes by introducing qualified majority voting in particular areas. That was extended in all the different treaties—Nice, Amsterdam and so on—and so there is nothing new in qualified majority voting, the question is whether the changes in qualified majority voting are in Britain's interest or whether they are not in Britain's interest; and I think you could make an argument going through the changes in qualified majority voting that some of them are actually minor and procedural and the other ones are in Britain's interest and, if they are not, then you have usually got an opt-in or an opt-out to decide whether we wish to be part of it.

  Q107  Michael Connarty: I will come to the question of opt-in and opt-out, but they are actually two different things, because there are a number of passerelle clauses in this Reform Treaty that will again and again bring up the question of transfer from unanimity to what they call the community method of qualified majority voting, and the opt-in and opt-out is not exactly the same thing.

  Mr Brown: But that has got to be agreed by unanimity.

  Q108  Michael Connarty: Correct, but many do not, many are automatic, but there are new areas, with passerelle clauses, for example, in common foreign security policy, that may or may not be used in the future. Turning to the question of opt-in, Article 10 to Protocol 10, which is a new added protocol article, and the new Article 4A, which cover, as the Foreign Secretary told us, 70 to 80 areas where the UK has already opted in but will then have to decide whether they stay in should it go to the community method, which means final jurisdiction by the European Court of Justice and infraction ability on the part of the Commission, the UK will have control over these decisions to opt-in when they are transferred to that method, but do you accept that when we use the opt-in it will transfer final jurisdiction to the Commission and to the European Court of Justice and, if so, will the process that will be put in place in the UK law allow the sovereign UK parliament the right to have a view on whether we do in fact opt in or opt out? Underlying that is the question that, if we are not going to have a referendum, will we be given a multi-clause bill that is amendable that will be put before Parliament before this treaty is finally ratified or will we get a one clause, in or out, which we are supposed to talk about for 20 days?

  Mr Brown: You are right to say that there are issues where, where we have opted-in in the past, we have got the right now to opt out because of the change in the status of justice and home affairs from being a matter for, if you like, national governments to being a matter for the community of the Union as a whole. We as a government will be able to make that decision as to whether we opt out or not and whether, if having the right to opt out, we decide to take it up in particular instances, and there is a whole series of procedures that will have to be adopted. That will be the subject of a debate in Parliament when we go through the Bill. Obviously the Bill is not yet published, but when the Bill is published I think it will be clear that there is more scope for Parliament to debate some of these issues than there has been in the past. The problem, however, if I may say so, on the opt-in, if we decide we wish to opt in on areas, is that you will only have three months to make that decision under the rules that have been set out; so it will have to be a matter for the Government to make that decision on the basis of what we know to be in the best interests of the country, but the general debate we will have in the House of Commons when the Bill comes before it.

  Q109  Michael Connarty: Can I press you on the point about will it be a multi-clause bill with clauses that are amendable but will cover these points of principle? At the moment you are saying that your opinion is that this is a matter for the Government and that the Parliament will just have to basically lump it or like it.

  Mr Brown: On the passerelles, if I may say so, which you mentioned—

  Q110  Michael Connarty: Can we stick to the principle we are talking about, about whether these opt-ins are implemented by the Government or will have parliamentary scrutiny? Will it be in the Bill?

  Mr Brown: There will be scrutiny, of course, but in a situation where you have only got three months to make a decision, it will have to be the Government that actually makes that decision but if you are bound by this three-month window, I think it is going to be very difficult. On the other hand, all these issues that you raise are going to be discussed during the passage of the Bill, and if Parliament chooses to do things differently from what is recommended, that will be a matter for Parliament, but I think all these issues will be before the House when we discuss the Bill.

  Q111  Michael Connarty: Will amendments be allowed on the Bill?

  Mr Brown: I do not quite know what you mean.

  Q112  Michael Connarty: There were a series of clauses when we went through the Maastricht process. Will it be similar?

  Mr Brown: There is going to be a very considerable period of time set down for these debates to take place, and I am sure that those people who are ingenious in the matter of amendments will find ways of amending or suggesting amendments to the Bill, but I cannot announce the details of the Bill here, the Bill will be published very soon. Can I add for the passerelles, however—you did raise the question of the passerelles and this is a very important issue—you can only decide by unanimity, of course, to move in a passerelle to a different position from where you have been, but I do believe that is a matter that has got to come before the House of Commons.

  Q113  Malcolm Bruce: Thank you. One final area, Prime Minister, is the Middle East peace process. Whilst it was welcome that the American administration proposed to try and kick it back to life in Annapolis, does the Prime Minister accept that what was agreed in Annapolis (a) was not very substantive and (b) was not very inclusive in terms of the parties who were involved?

  Mr Brown: What was agreed in Annapolis was that Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas will have regular meetings to work through a framework document that was agreed in Annapolis, and what now follows is the Donors Conference in which Tony Blair, rightly, has had a very big involvement, and there is a large group of countries now willing to contribute to the development of the Palestinian economy and to rebuilding the social fabric. I thought that after that we could have a Palestinian investment conference as well so that not just money be provided in terms of aid but we can attract people, including Israeli business leaders, to invest in the West Bank and in Gaza. As you know, President Bush is going to visit Israel and the Middle East in the next month or so. So, side by side with the political process moving forward to resolve some of the issues, where there are regular meetings agreed at Annapolis. There will be also what I think is an important effort to provide encouragement to the Palestinians in particular that we will support the economic and social development of the territories so that we can relieve a lot of the unemployment and poverty that is a major source of retention.

  Q114  Malcolm Bruce: Can I say to you, Prime Minister, that was exactly what was not addressed at Annapolis. The issues of settlements, the future of Jerusalem, refugees, borders and water were unmentioned. Can you not acknowledge that the credibility of a commitment to a two-stage solution is simply not acceptable in circumstances where there is no serious discussion for withdrawal of settlements, the road blocks and restrictions on movements, and, indeed, settlements are still continuing to be built?

  Mr Brown: You have got two issues there: what was said about settlements and what was said about the current, if you like, security problems that prevent things moving forward as things stand between Israel and the Palestinian areas, and I think there was progress actually in these areas, although not as much as you or I would like to see. I think the framework document, however, is about dealing with the long-term issues. You rightly say that they did not reach conclusions or have big discussions on the detail of what happens to Jerusalem or what happens to the future of refugees, but that is very much part of the discussion that is started by the framework document that is agreed, and I would imagine over the next period of time, as the Prime Minister of Israel, Mr Olmert and Mr Abbas, representing the Palestinians, have the discussions, all these issues are on the table; and what you had at Annapolis was not a final document listing all the things that had to be included, but what you had was a framework agreement where they agreed that they would look at the issues, particularly the issues that you say are the most controversial ones and have got to be dealt with.

  Q115  Malcolm Bruce: The other issue—the final point—that was not addressed is Gaza. In fact the agreement was between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas. Conspicuous, of course, and in no way party to it is Hamas, who runs Gaza. Can you, Prime Minister, give us any indication of what progress can be made firstly to alleviate the suffering and the crisis that exists in Gaza and to recognise that, whether we like it or not, Hamas was elected—I do not forgive any of their actions or what they stand for—and that to ignore them and not engage with any section of Hamas is simply not going to be a way to achieve real peace which has a united Palestine negotiating with a United Israel and an international community that can actually produce a solution that will genuinely see the creation of two viable states?

  Mr Brown: I am not going to announce a change in our policy relating to Hamas. What I can, however, say is that we set aside $500 million for specific aid for the Palestinian areas, subject to reaching an agreement about security. So we are prepared to provide substantial sums of money to help the Palestinian people; we have actually made the sums of money that we can provide immediately known and DFID has made announcements to that effect. We believe we could encourage other countries to do exactly the same, and substantial funds could be made available for the Palestinians, and that, I think, will be a matter for discussion at the Donors Conference and, then, as I say, I do not want just to provide aid for the Palestinian people, I want to help provide an economic framework by which the economy of that area can develop and get new investment and infrastructure for the future, and that would also be the next stage if we could solve some of the security problems. That is what I think the challenge is over the next few weeks and months.

  Q116  Malcolm Bruce: I agree with you, Prime Minister. I just hope we can see those things being talked about rather than left outside the room.

  Mr Brown: Thank you very much.

  Chairman: I have had two requests to put individual questions. Rosemary McKenna.

  Q117  Rosemary McKenna: Thank you very much, Chairman. I suppose we can call this our version of the topical question! Prime Minister, I would suspect that most of us round this table have at some time in our political career visited a British Council facility across the world, and so it was with great dismay yesterday we read or heard of Russia's decision to expel the British Council from Russia. The Foreign Secretary has today given a written ministerial statement saying that we are urging the Russian authorities to reconsider; at the same time we are working closely with the British Council to ensure the welfare of their staff—absolutely crucial. Could you speculate what hope there is for us being able to achieve this, because the British Council is a force for good throughout the world? What actions can we take if the Russians do not respond to our request?

  Mr Brown: This is totally unacceptable action that has been taken or is being mooted by the Russian Government. The British Council does a tremendous job, both in Russia and in every part of the world. The British Council deserves to be supported in its activities. I think the Foreign Secretary has said that there are only two other countries in which this treatment has been meted out against British Council staff, and that is Iran and Burma.8 I think it is very important to recognise that the British Council is doing valuable work in Russia that is actually recognised to be so by the Russian people; so we wish this action to be desisted from immediately. We are making our views known to the Russian government on that part. We want good relationships with Russia and with the administration there, but that must be dependent upon the Russians dealing with the problems as they arise, and one of them is that they should not be

8  See letter from the Parliamentary Clerk at 10 Downing Street and a copy of a letter from the Foreign Secretary to the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee

putting at risk the welfare of the British Council staff or removing the facilities that it offers to the people of Russia.

  Q118  Sir Patrick Cormack: Prime Minister, in many of your statements and speeches over the years, you have made it very clear, explicitly or implicitly, that you believe in job satisfaction. You now occupy a job which you have aspired to for many years. This morning it has been quite clear to me that you are taking the job seriously and acting very diligently, but are you enjoying it?

  Mr Brown: I was saying to someone a few days ago, I was reading the newspapers more but enjoying them less, repeating what President Kennedy had said in the 1960s. I think the excitement of the job is that every day there is a new challenge to deal with. When I started in the summer months and we had the terrorist incident and then we had the floods, someone said to me in the Cabinet Office, "At least there is not foot and mouth", and then suddenly there was foot and mouth, and then they said, "At least there is not avian flu", and then there was avian flu. So we have had a series of challenges to deal with and we will continue to deal with them, and I think that is really what the business of government is about. Enjoyment: I am not sure that you could ever say that in some of the circumstances we have found ourselves in the last few weeks it has been enjoyable, but it is certainly a challenge.

  Q119  Chairman: May I thank you, Prime Minister. At our very first session of the Liaison Committee with your predecessors, as I left this room, two ex-friends—journalists—approached me and said, "But there was no blood on the carpet", and I said to them, "But that is not necessarily what parliamentary accountability is about. We can have scrutiny; it does not have to be frenetic." I hope you have found it perhaps valuable as an exchange, also to understand our worries and our concerns as we have come to understand your position. We thank you for your first attendance. As I said at the beginning, we look forward to many more. I hope I will not be here for many more because I retire at the next election, so go on as long as you can.

  Mr Brown: Thank you, Chairman. Maybe I should end on a non-partisan note by wishing you all a happy Christmas.

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