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5. Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): What discussions he has had with his Egyptian counterparts on progress towards a Palestinian reconciliation agreement. [293906]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): I spoke to the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, last Friday. As I understand it, despite Fatah agreeing to Egypt's proposals, Hamas has not. The Foreign Minister told me that the original deadline and further repeated deadlines for reaching agreement among the Palestinian factions will not be met. I told the Foreign Minister that we continued to favour any reconciliation which supported peace negotiations and enhanced efforts to improve governance, security and the economy in the Palestinian territories.

Andrew Gwynne: I understand that difficult negotiations are continuing to try to bring about Palestinian unity, which will be crucial. Will my right hon. Friend give his assurance that that unity will be based on the renunciation of violence as the first step to the creation of a viable Palestinian state, as part of a two-state solution with Israel?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend takes a detailed interest in these issues and I know that his commitment to a two-state solution is profound. He is right that negotiations need to take place on the basis of the renunciation of violence. There is no path to a Palestinian state through violence, and it is precisely the sort of
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accord and determination to renounce violence that is recognised by the majority of the Palestinian people and needs to be recognised by all their leaders.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): Unlike the Egyptians, who turned up to vote in the UN Human Rights Council meeting last week on the Goldstone report on the recent conflict in Gaza, is it not deeply disappointing to find that our own representatives stayed away? This seems to have put us in the same voting camp as Angola, Kyrgyzstan and Madagascar, three of the world's worst dictatorships. What message was the Foreign Office trying to send to the community by staying away from that important vote last week?

David Miliband: The Government do not stay away from the question at all. As the hon. Gentleman should know, the Prime Minister was working closely with President Sarkozy of France, which I do not think even the Conservative party would describe as a dictatorship, on three key issues: first, an independent inquiry into the allegations at the heart of the Goldstone report; secondly, greater humanitarian aid into Gaza; and thirdly, a restart of the peace process. The vote was called in the middle of the discussions between the Prime Minister, President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Netanyahu. I think it is right that the United Kingdom takes every opportunity to drive forward on those three key issues, the aims of which have previously been supported by the Opposition.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Now that the United Nations Human Rights Commission has decided that Israel and Hamas have committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity, and with Israel continuing to flout President Obama's injunction to stop building in settlements, what action are we going to take to stop these blatant violations of international law?

David Miliband: It is absolutely right that we stick to the position that we have held since the publication of the Goldstone report-that, on the one hand, it did not do enough to recognise Israel's right to self-defence but, on the other, it did raise serious issues that democratic Governments should address through the sort of full and independent inquiry that is important. Democratic Governments are held to higher standards than terrorist organisations, and such Administrations need to live up to them. That is why it is in Israel's interest, never mind the international community's interest, that there be a proper independent inquiry. That is precisely what the Prime Minister was working for last Friday, and we will continue to work for it.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): When the UN Human Rights Council voted to endorse the Goldstone report on the conflict in Gaza, the text of the motion made no reference at all to Hamas, despite the fact that it was heavily criticised in the report itself. Given that the motion was so clearly unbalanced, therefore, does the Secretary of State agree that the Government should have voted against it, as the United States did, rather than not even registering a formal abstention but simply not voting at all? We interrupt meetings here all the time to vote. Why could they not have done that?

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David Miliband: For the record, I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has not understood what actually happened at the launch of the Goldstone report. The resolution setting up the report was, indeed, deeply unbalanced, and it did not refer to Hamas. That is why we welcomed the fact that Judge Goldstone immediately said that his inquiry would be into Hamas's alleged violations of international law, as well as Israel's, and he was right to do so. The hon. Gentleman will know that, frankly, asking Hamas to set up an independent inquiry is whistling in the wind, but it is right none the less that we say to a democratic Government such as Israel, whom we do respect, that their interests are best served by the sort of independent, full and transparent inquiry that has distinguished Israeli public life in the past.


6. Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of EU co-operation with China. [293907]

The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant): There is scope for much more productive EU-China co-operation on the whole range of global economic and security issues. We believe that entry into force of the Lisbon treaty, with its new external structures, is the ideal opportunity to put that relationship on a much more productive course.

Joan Walley: Will my hon. Friend tell me how existing co-operation and the European Union's current stance can be used to ensure that we get a fair and effective Copenhagen climate change treaty that involves China?

Chris Bryant: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments. She is absolutely right: if we are to get a proper agreement in Copenhagen, we must ensure that the Chinese contribution to that discussion is very much in line with the EU. That is why we very much welcome the further meeting that will take place in Nanjing in a few weeks' time, in November, just before the Copenhagen summit. We support summit plans for a high-profile EU-China partnership on climate change and, indeed, for the near-zero emissions coal initiative. It is absolutely vital that the EU and China work together, and it is much easier for us to achieve that if we co-operate with other countries in Europe, rather than distance ourselves from the mainstream.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Is the Minister aware of China's treatment of refugees from North Korea, and of China's refusal to admit an investigation or access by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees? Does that not rule out any further co-operation so long as China, as a member of the UN Security Council, refuses to abide by human rights obligations that it has signed up to?

Chris Bryant: Of course, there are always human rights issues that we will want to take up with the Chinese authorities, and we do so very regularly. I think that that is one of the issues that we have specifically taken up, but that does not mean that we do not continue to engage with China. Indeed, I would argue that in recent years, we, as the European Union, have
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not been able to engage as effectively with China as we might, but that does not preclude us from raising in the most robust of terms human rights issues in every regard, whether in relation to Falun Gong, the issue that the right hon. Gentleman just raised or, for that matter, the death penalty.


7. Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on the co-ordination of policy with other EU member states on developments in Afghanistan affecting UK national security. [293908]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): I regularly discuss developments affecting UK national security with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, including the outcome of his recent and important visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan. We have pushed consistently with European Union partners for greater and more coherent EU action in both countries, including the adoption of a new strategy to strengthen EU action in Afghanistan and Pakistan and a second EU-Pakistan summit in the first half of 2010.

Dr. Blackman-Woods: I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. Will he confirm that he will be working closely with his European partners over the next few weeks to ensure that the next round of voting in the Afghan presidential elections is both free and fair, so that those wishing to rebuild Afghanistan and make it more secure have the benefit of working with a credible Government there?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend raises a very important point that I will touch on in the introduction to topical questions. There are important developments in Afghanistan today that will affect all of us. The commitment to a second round on behalf of both candidates is important, but equally important are the statesmanlike statements made today, which hold out important prospects for the future credibility of an Afghan Government-that must be at the heart of any hon. Member's concern about the future of that country. The Afghan people need a credible Government and so does the international community as a partner for all our efforts.

Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): Further to the previous question, the Foreign Secretary will be fully aware that soldiers can buy one time and space, but what we need in Afghanistan is a political solution. Given that the electoral complaints commission said that about a third of President Karzai's votes in the presidential elections were fraudulent, will the Foreign Secretary assure the House that any poll run-off will be legitimate and fair and have the confidence of the Afghan people?

David Miliband: The whole House should recognise that the work of the electoral complaints commission has been of the highest order, the highest integrity, and, as we can now see, the highest level of forcefulness. There has been no willingness on its part to be pushed off the central principles to which it has adhered. There
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has clearly been attempted fraud on a large scale. The vital thing is that all the arrangements, security as well as administrative, are followed through for the second round, or in preparation for the second round, not least to give proper credit and recognition to those brave Afghans who were determined to vote despite the intimidation and threats that they faced.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend once again restate the fact that because the conflict in Afghanistan is so inextricably linked with the military activity in Pakistan, it is absolutely vital for Britain's own security that we maintain our commitment to seeing a peace process develop, which means a continuation of our military presence in Afghanistan?

David Miliband: Yes, but to pick up my hon. Friend's point and that of the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron), ultimately there must be a political settlement in Afghanistan: a political settlement for the people of that country; a political offer to the insurgency to live within the constitution and to come in and share political power or face the military consequences; and a political settlement with Afghanistan's neighbours, because their tendency to try to see Afghanistan, or parts of it, as a client state rather than a neutral state is completely undermining that country's ability to run its own affairs.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): Perhaps anticipating what the Foreign Secretary intends to say in topical questions, may I, on behalf of the Opposition, join in the welcome for the announcement by President Karzai that he accepts the need for a second round, which in the absence of a national unity Government in Afghanistan must be the best way forward? Building on earlier questions, will the Foreign Secretary expand on what the Government can do and what representations they will make to try to ensure that these elections are run on a far better basis than those on 20 August, with an increase in the number of Afghan and international election observers and a reform of the electoral procedures that were abused last time? Will he assure the House that action can be taken on those matters?

David Miliband: It is important to say that real efforts will be made to live up to the standards that the right hon. Gentleman has tried to sketch out. Frankly, it would be glib and slightly other-worldly for me to stand here and give a blanket yes to his questions, which, although serious, go the heart of very deep security problems that face Afghanistan. However, it is the case that in the first Afghan-led elections significant numbers of people voted despite huge attempts at intimidation. It is also the case that the establishment of the electoral complaints commission held true to the principle that fraudulent votes would not be counted, with consequences that were probably not expected by many people in terms of the overall result. The final score, if it comes in at about 48 per cent. to 31 per cent., represents a degree of competition in the electoral process that is significant and speaks to the work that will be critical in the next few weeks, which is the election of a credible Afghan Government who can be a legitimate expression of the will of the Afghan people, with a programme representing a significant majority of opinion. That is the hope for all of us.

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Mr. Hague: On another matter regarding Afghanistan, the Prime Minister announced last week 500 additional troops for Afghanistan but set out burden sharing across the coalition as one of the conditions for that. Can the Foreign Secretary enlighten us further about that condition? If the United States is the only substantial extra contributor alongside the United Kingdom, will he consider that condition to have been fulfilled?

David Miliband: The right hon. Gentleman will know that one of the commitments that President Obama has made is that not just that the first McChrystal report but that the second should be discussed deeply to ensure that there is full alliance engagement with the request in question. We will engage fully with the process, in respect of not just the American uplift and the discussions about it but the commitments of other countries on, first, the number of troops, secondly, on what those troops do and where they do it and, thirdly, on the civil engagement that President Obama and the Prime Minister have stressed at every stage is a critical part of the effort. We will consider that in the round and then come to our conclusions.

Sri Lanka

8. Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): What recent discussions he has had with Sri Lankan Government Ministers on the situation of Tamil communities in the north and east of that country. [293909]

10. Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): What his most recent assessment is of the political situation in Sri Lanka; and if he will make a statement. [293911]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): I met Foreign Minister Bogollagama on 25 September and urged him to ensure that the Government of Sri Lanka return all 250,000 internally displaced persons to their homes as quickly as possible. The imminent monsoon makes that more urgent, alongside the need for improved facilities for, and access to, camps. I pressed for progress on the protection of minority communities and on reconciliation, which will be vital if the end of the conflict is to be translated into a meaningful and lasting peace.

I also made clear my concerns about the protection of human rights. The European Commission registered those concerns yesterday in its pre-report on GSP plus-general system of preferences-trade preferences. I assure the House that our position on GSP plus is clear: Sri Lanka must respect its international human rights obligations if it is to continue to benefit from GSP plus.

Simon Hughes: I am grateful for the Foreign Secretary's answer and for the Government's efforts on this subject. Given the importance that he has placed on human rights being upheld by the Government of Sri Lanka, can he assure the House that he will make it clear up to and during the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference that it would be unacceptable for the next conference to be held in Sri Lanka?

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David Miliband: We will continue to use all avenues to make clear the importance of human rights in Sri Lanka and every other part of the Commonwealth.

Mr. Evennett: We are all extremely concerned about the situation in Sri Lanka, and obviously a political solution is vital for all the people of that country. However, Sri Lanka is to start its process of political reform and reconciliation only after the 2010 election, so the Government there say. If minority communities are not to be disfranchised, the process must begin before the election. What more can the Government do to encourage that?

David Miliband: I spoke to the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka on the day the civil war ended and said that this was the best opportunity for Sri Lanka to build an inclusive political settlement. There is no need to wait-the time is now. Outreach to the minority communities now, in advance of the election, will be critical to shaping how they engage with a future Sri Lankan Government.

Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary will know that it has been impossible for independent journalists to gain access to the detention camps. Will he press the Sri Lankan Government to ensure that there is free and unfettered access, so that the reports that we are hearing of wilful gang rapes by the Sri Lankan army of women abducted from those camps, and of the taking out of young men, can be brought to an end once and for all?

David Miliband: Yes, access to the camps, not just for journalists but for human rights organisations, is a fundamental part of the building of a peaceful and inclusive Sri Lankan political system.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): Now that the EU has concluded that Sri Lanka is in breach of its human rights obligations under its trade agreement with the EU, will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the UK will push for and support the suspension of the GSP plus trade benefits that Sri Lanka currently enjoys, and argue for that across the EU?

David Miliband: I must have disappointed the hon. Gentleman terribly when I answered that question in my original answer. I am sorry that he was not able to change his question after that.

I repeat that the European Commission has produced what is called a pre-report on GSP plus, and that our position is absolutely clear: Sri Lanka must respect its international human rights obligations to continue to benefit from GSP plus. The hon. Gentleman will know that when the Commission finally publishes its report, as opposed to its pre-report, there will be a maximum of two months before a final decision is taken. We will play a full part in ensuring respect for that principle.

Mr. Davey: With respect to the Foreign Secretary, he did not actually answer my question in his first remarks, and he failed to do so in that response. Are the UK Government going to push for the GSP plus trade benefits to be suspended in relation to Sri Lanka-yes or no?

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