Previous Section Index Home Page

31 Mar 2009 : Column 775

David Miliband: I understand why the hon. Gentleman was drawn to the American example; of course, President Obama has had to bail out a large number of states that have left their public finances in a baleful condition. Presumably, the hon. Gentleman has some experience of that as a result of the performance of the Scottish National party in Scotland. The measures being taken in this country, including some of those that he has criticised, have been of benefit not only to national Government and individuals, but to local government right across the country.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): As we welcome President Obama to this country and to Europe, is it not time to congratulate NATO, reaffirm the transatlantic partnership between Europe and the United States and ensure that European Union countries and the US work together on security issues for the future?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend has made a very important point. The summit on Friday and Saturday marks the 60th anniversary of the foundation of NATO, and it is an important chance to look forward. One of the foundations of NATO’s future, whatever the debates about how it should combine the defence of its members with operations beyond its borders, is that it must embody the transatlantic alliance that has served Europe and North America so well over the past 60 years. I hope that the meeting on Friday and Saturday can be more than a “celebration”. First, it needs to be a chance to chart the future in respect of Afghanistan, the biggest and most important NATO mission currently under way. It should also start the debate about how NATO can look forward, in the next 10 or 20 years, to working in a very different context from that in which it was created.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Given the Government’s failure to act urgently on carbon capture and storage, and the fact that the Prime Minister’s own adviser, Lord Stern, said last night that he thought that it was unacceptable for Kingsnorth to go ahead without carbon capture and storage, does the Foreign Secretary expect leadership on that technology, which is crucial to tackling climate change, to be ceded to the United States?

David Miliband: No, not least because on the Friday before last, the United Kingdom was successful in ensuring that a significant tranche of the €5 billion stimulus package agreed by the EU should be dedicated to countries that want to take on carbon capture and storage, and €180 million is coming to the UK precisely for that purpose.


5. Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of UK relations with Ukraine; and if he will make a statement. [267599]

The Minister for Europe (Caroline Flint): The UK has a very strong bilateral relationship with Ukraine. The Foreign Secretary and I both visited Ukraine last year, and President Yushchenko has paid three visits to the UK in the past 12 months.

31 Mar 2009 : Column 776

Mr. Grogan: On the eve of England’s first ever World cup match against Ukraine, does my right hon. Friend agree that it should not be too long before the European Union offers Ukraine a long-term membership perspective, to use the Euro-jargon, and that that measure, more than any other, is likely to encourage further political, legal and economic reform?

Caroline Flint: That might depend on the outcome of the match. Seriously, it is important for the EU and Ukraine to conclude a substantive new association agreement, including a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement. That will represent a strengthening of our ties and will offer an opportunity for Ukraine to integrate into the European economy, to align with EU energy policy—an important issue in recent months—and to co-operate in other areas such as tackling organised crime and trafficking.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): When does the Minister envisage Ukraine becoming a member of the European Union? [ Interruption. ] “Not too soon,” I heard someone say. Has the economic crisis in Ukraine delayed that country’s entry into the European Union?

Caroline Flint: Ukraine will become a member of the EU when it meets all the requirements, and that is a matter for Ukraine. With the eastern partnership being launched, it is important for Ukraine to show that it is ready to reform and to find a consensus across the political divide to move forward on an issue that is very popular among the Ukrainian people, namely joining the EU.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): The Minister has mentioned trafficking. It is estimated that half a million women from central and eastern Europe are working as prostitutes within the EU. When the Home Affairs Committee went to Ukraine, we found that it was both an origin country and a transit country. What further measures are the Government proposing to help the Government of Ukraine deal with the serious issue of human trafficking?

Caroline Flint: My right hon. Friend has made an important point. As I have said, getting the association agreement under way will lead to greater collaboration on matters such as organised crime and trafficking. He is right to point out that Ukraine is a significant transit country for illegal migrants and a major exporter of trafficking victims. The Serious Organised Crime Agency is currently working on identifying the criminal networks involved, and we are offering programme assistance to prevent trafficking. We are liaising with agencies here in the UK, such as the UK Border Agency and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, and working with our Ukrainian colleagues to stamp that out.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): Will the Minister assure the House that targets are in place to ensure a significant reduction, in human trafficking, particularly in the numbers of women coming either from or via Ukraine into the UK to work in the manner outlined?

Caroline Flint: I will write to the hon. Gentleman with some detail about targets, because I am not in a position to answer that here. But it is important to
31 Mar 2009 : Column 777
demonstrate that the measures we are taking are having an impact. I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman about how we assess that because, presumably, knowing the flow is important in understanding whether the problem is being tackled effectively.

Sri Lanka

6. Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the political situation in Sri Lanka. [267600]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Bill Rammell): We have become increasingly concerned about the humanitarian situation in northern Sri Lanka and in particular about the fate of the many civilians caught in the conflict area. We have made repeated calls on both the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to agree an urgent humanitarian ceasefire to allow civilians to leave the conflict area safely and for increased humanitarian supplies to be brought in.

Mr. Lancaster: One of the great tragedies of the conflict has been the loss of civilian life, particularly in the so-called Government safe zones. Many feel that the only way in which we can have a lasting settlement is if the alleged abuses of human rights are investigated. Does the Minister agree? What action are the British Government taking to ensure that that happens?

Bill Rammell: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The scale of losses since January this year—more than 2,600 civilians killed, more than 7,000 injured and hundreds of thousands internally displaced—is truly shocking. The UN Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed very serious concerns about the civilians reported killed and injured in the conflict. We are urging all parties to investigate those matters, and we believe fundamentally that there needs to be full and independent investigation.

John Reid (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): I commend my hon. Friend and the Government on appointing the former Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Des Browne), as an emissary on these matters. Notwithstanding the initial reception for this move, will my hon. Friend stress to all parties involved in this tragic case that this is not a matter of taking sides; it is a recognition that however essential military means may sometimes be, they are never sufficient to solve a problem? One cannot ultimately solve a political problem by military means alone, and it is in that spirit that we approach trying to assist a resolution of that terribly tragic conflict.

Bill Rammell: I agree with my right hon. Friend that this is not about taking sides; it is about standing up for all the innocent civilians who are caught in the middle of the conflict. He is right to draw attention to the fact that on 12 February the Prime Minister appointed the former Secretary of State for Defence as his special envoy to Sri Lanka. I very much regret the fact that the Government of Sri Lanka have yet to agree that appointment. We are disappointed and do not understand their attitude. I further agree with my right hon. Friend that the conflict cannot be resolved by military means and that there must be a political solution.

31 Mar 2009 : Column 778

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): The Minister has rightly identified the problem in northern Sri Lanka with the Tamils, but is he aware that in parallel with all that is the persecution—I think that is the right word to use—of journalists in the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation and in national newspapers in Colombo? What steps can the Government take to try to protect journalists and ensure that journalists can speak out and speak the truth?

Bill Rammell: We have the power of advocacy, but we do not have the ability to mandate actions on the ground. Nevertheless, the aspect that the hon. Gentleman has identified is a matter of the highest priority. The attacks and threats to journalists, members of civil society and others is extraordinarily concerning, as is the culture of impunity. We have urged and continue to urge the Government of Sri Lanka to do everything possible to investigate such instances and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.

Joan Ryan (Enfield, North) (Lab): About two weeks ago, Balasingham Nadesan, the political leader of the LTTE, made a plea for a ceasefire. My view is that the Government of Sri Lanka should take that plea seriously. Have the Minister or his colleagues pressed the case with the Government of Sri Lanka and their representatives?

Bill Rammell: I know that my right hon. Friend is extremely concerned about the situation and has forcefully put forward her views. We agree that there should be a ceasefire. Indeed, our Prime Minister was the first international leader unequivocally to call for a ceasefire, and at every opportunity we are making it clear to all the parties that that is our view.

Mr. Speaker: I call Keith Vaz.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): Mr. Speaker, I am sure the right hon. Gentleman’s lawyers will be speaking to mine.

May I draw the Minister out a little further in his comments about the UK special envoy? Will he explain to the House what reasons the Sri Lankan Government have given our Government for refusing to accept the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Des Browne)? Does he see any way in which, in the near future, we will be able to resolve that impasse?

Bill Rammell: Dead ringer, I would say!

Let me be clear on the position of our special envoy. He remains our special envoy and we emphatically urge the Sri Lankan Government to recognise that. I do not know and do not understand why they will not work with our envoy. We are not in isolation. There are other envoys with whom the Sri Lankan Government are not co-operating. The message that we need to communicate emphatically at all levels is that there must be a political solution in Sri Lanka, not a military one.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): Over the weekend, a group of brothers from the De La Salle order in my constituency came to see me about their concerns about Sri Lanka and the civilian safe zone in particular. Can my hon. Friend assure us that whoever is to blame for the problems and the mayhem, we will continue to give as much humanitarian support as the situation clearly invites?

31 Mar 2009 : Column 779

Bill Rammell: I agree with my right hon. Friend. There has been a limited delivery of UN humanitarian supplies to the conflict area since January. That is not enough, and we urge all parties to ensure that medical supplies, food and equipment get to the people who so desperately need them.


7. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the state of UK relations with Iran; and if he will make a statement. [267601]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Bill Rammell): The UK desires a constructive relationship with Iran, based on mutual respect. However, we have significant concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, its regional activity and internal repression. Unacceptable harassment of staff in Tehran has forced the British Council to suspend its operations, which has obstructed the legitimate activities of our embassy. We have protested to Iran on numerous occasions, and we regret that it has done nothing to address the situation.

Mr. Swayne: The Minister did not draw attention to the fact that Iranian activity has been responsible for the deaths of our servicemen in Iraq—and now, particularly, in Afghanistan. What are we going to do, other than merely protest?

Bill Rammell: We make our views very clear to the Iranian Government. We also interdict the forces coming from Iran. The message that needs to go out from all of us—it is part of the message that President Obama is sending the Iranian regime—is that we want Iran to be a responsible international partner. Fuelling terrorism and fighting in the region does nothing whatever to further that end.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): What representations has my hon. Friend made to Iran following Israel’s interception of Iranian missiles that could reach Tel Aviv? They were being transported across Sudan to be smuggled into Gaza.

Bill Rammell: The reports have not yet been confirmed; nevertheless, a constant refrain of our dialogue with the Iranian regime is that such activities, wherever they occur, are not only wrong but move us further away from the peaceful outcome that we all want in the region.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): We are right to be very concerned about Iranian nuclear ambitions; so, too, are the Government of Israel. However, does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is important that we should stress to Mr. Netanyahu and the Israeli Government that their interests are best served by working in concert with the United States and the European Union, rather than by contemplating any unilateral action on their own part?

Bill Rammell: I very much agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s statement. There is a shared interest, and all our interests are served by our presenting the Iranian Government with that choice—a choice between engagement, with all the political and economic benefits that that can bring, and much tougher sanctions imposed on behalf of the whole international community.

31 Mar 2009 : Column 780

General Affairs Council

8. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): What discussions he had in the recent meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council on the effect on consumers of the European Council’s European economic recovery plan. [267602]

The Minister for Europe (Caroline Flint): The overriding aim of the European economic recovery plan is to stimulate demand and boost consumer confidence across the EU. The €5 billion package discussed at the General Affairs and External Relations Council and agreed at the spring European Council on 19 and 20 March focuses particularly on improving energy and broadband infrastructure. It will deliver cheaper, greener energy and better internet access, particularly to consumers living in rural areas.

Tony Lloyd: My right hon. Friend’s answer has confirmed that making sure that consumers get back into the marketplace is central to the European economic recovery plan. That, of course, means jobs here in Britain. Does she believe that Britain’s influence and ability to make sure that we get those jobs would be increased or decreased if we had a Government who were withdrawing to the fascist wing of the European process?

Caroline Flint: We can be proud that the UK Government have more friends and allies in Europe in 2009 than we inherited in 1997. What is important is that we can come together across Europe, at this crucial time for our citizens, to focus on the issues that matter—rather than on internal institutional navel-gazing, which the Conservative party likes to do. The Conservatives’ decision to remove themselves from their alliance with the European People’s party is a bad one; it is bad for politics and it is bad for—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Does the right hon. Lady agree that spending yet more taxpayers’ money in this way is unlikely to do anything good for consumers, as it all has to be paid for? Will she instead look at the continuing blizzard of high-cost, job-destroying regulations that are pouring out of Brussels? The European Scrutiny Committee has to look at more than 1,000 such regulations a year. Will she ask for at least a moratorium on such regulation, at least for the duration of the recession, in the interests of employment and consumers alike?

Caroline Flint: I would have to disagree with the right hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that investing in carbon capture and storage and renewables is a bad thing to do. There is a time when regulation is right. We need to look at how we better regulate the banks and the way that they work. Over the past few years, we have seen some huge reductions in regulation in the European Union, and there is a target to reduce the number by another 25 per cent. by 2012. That has been greatly influenced by the better regulation unit that we set up here in the UK, which has found favour in other member states, and certainly within the Commission. I look forward to less red tape, but where we need it, it has to be SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.

Next Section Index Home Page