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on Iran. Given that, does the Minister agree that we need to be talking about a new UN Security Council resolution, which should include a total ban on arms sales to Iran, a tough UN inspections regime and action against the Iranian Islamic revolutionary guard corps, which is deeply involved in Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes?

Mr. Lewis: What is important is that it is absolutely clear that despite the international community's reaching out a hand towards Iran, requesting diplomatic engagement and saying that we want a political solution, and despite the speech in which the new President of the United States made those points, Iran has still refused to engage: for more than a year, it has not engaged with the UN's nuclear watchdog in any way. If, at this stage of reappraisal, the best way forward is found to be a United Nations resolution about further sanctions against Iran, we will take that view seriously.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): It is clear that Iran has not listened to anything that anybody has said for the past six years and is proceeding irrespective of any representations made, so talk of further sanctions is really neither here nor there. However, may I press the Minister a little further? Having P3 and E3, and talking to the new High Representative, is still not a proper European position. Will he say exactly how the three E3 countries-Germany, France and the United Kingdom-intend to work with the rest of the European Union and the new High Representative to bring some clout to the table?

Mr. Lewis: The General Affairs Council is due to meet next week. There will be an attempt to get complete EU unity on this issue, so that we can go forward to the December E3 plus 3 meeting with a common EU position. We will then consider the case for a UN Security Council resolution.

Middle East Peace Process

10. Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): What his most recent assessment is of progress in the middle east peace process. [302603]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): There is more consensus in the international community than there has been for many years about the basis for a resolution of the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, but the parties are moving further apart. Those Palestinians and Israelis who are committed to the idea of a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the shared capital and a fair settlement for refugees, appear smaller in number and weaker in politics than ever before. However, the US Administration are engaged in a good-faith endeavour to bridge the gap. We will
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continue to support those efforts, because the alternatives for the people of Israel, Palestine and the rest of the region look so much worse.

Andrew Selous: I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will agree that education and hope for the future are important for peace in the middle east so, to that end, may I ask him to have a word with his Israeli counterpart about the 8,000 desks that the UN has imported into Gaza for schoolchildren? They cannot be assembled because the Israelis will not let the nails come in. Will he commit to have a word on that subject?

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point, and I shall certainly raise it. We have raised many issues over the past year-or certainly since January and the end of Operation Cast Lead-about the grip that exists at the checkpoints, in terms of both the volume of trade and the items that are allowed in. I have never heard that item referred to before, but the hon. Gentleman raises a very important point and I shall certainly follow it up.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): What lessons does my right hon. Friend draw from Iran's recent attempt to send 500 tonnes of weapons to Hezbollah? The weapons were disguised as civilian cargo, and some of them as construction materials, but thankfully the attempt was intercepted and thwarted by the Israelis.

David Miliband: We must learn two lessons. The first is that we must never underestimate the extent to which some will go to get further weapons into Gaza, and the second is that we must follow up every aspect of resolution 1860- [ Interruption. ] I beg my hon. Friend's pardon: she referred to Hezbollah and not to Gaza. We should never underestimate the extent to which some will go to arm terrorist groups all across the region. Secondly, we should not underestimate the extent to which the international community needs to come together to follow through on repeated resolutions, in the UN and elsewhere, to support all states in the region that are committed to coexistence. That is what we will certainly do.

Foreign Prisoner Release

11. Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): If he will hold discussions with the Scottish Executive on co-ordination of policy on release and removal from the country of foreign prisoners held in UK prisons. [302604]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Ivan Lewis): I understand from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Home Affairs that no discussions are planned with the Scottish Executive on these issues. The release of any prisoner in the Scottish prison estate is a devolved matter for the Scottish Executive. Deportation of foreign national prisoners remains a reserved matter for the UK Border Agency.

Daniel Kawczynski: What lessons have the Minister and the Government learned from the release of Mr. al-Megrahi to Tripoli? The Government's total silence at the time brought great shame and embarrassment to
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our country. Will he interact properly with the Scottish Executive in future to ensure that such embarrassments do not happen again?

Mr. Lewis: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made a statement to the House that set out very clearly the terms of the release of al-Megrahi. As the hon. Gentleman knows full well, the decision was entirely a matter for the Scottish Executive, and he was not even in the House when my right hon. Friend made his statement.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): But does my hon. Friend agree that the normal process should be that foreign prisoners who have committed an offence should serve their sentences in their country of origin, unless it would not be safe for them to do so, or their crimes are so unacceptable that they should remain here?

Mr. Lewis: That depends entirely on the nature of the agreements that we have with other countries. The agreements that the Home Office has with other countries vary according to our relationships with those countries, so such decisions have to be made on a case-by-case basis.

EU Informal Meeting

13. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): What the outcome was of the informal meeting of EU Heads of State or Government on 19 November 2009; and if he will make a statement. [302606]

The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant): The special European Council on 19 November came to unanimous agreement on the appointment of Herman Van Rompuy as the first permanent President of the European Council, and of Baroness Cathy Ashton as the new High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

Miss McIntosh: Does the Minister not regret being outmanoeuvred by our partners on the spurious grounds of gender equality when we could have taken home the prize of one of the most important financial and economic EU Commissioner posts, which would have been of great benefit to the City of London?

Chris Bryant: No. The hon. Lady was a rather more pragmatic and sensible pro-European when she was a Member of the European Parliament. She knows perfectly well that these are good appointments. The appointment of Cathy Ashton as High Representative will be especially good because we need Europe to play a far more effective role on the global stage, and she is a woman who will bring that about. I welcome the appointment of Michel Barnier as the Internal Market Commissioner, and I merely note that the hon. Lady's party wants to dismantle elements of the internal market, which would be wholly inappropriate.


14. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the political situation in Zimbabwe; and if he will make a statement. [302607]

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The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband) rose-

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Ivan Lewis) rose- [ Laughter. ]

David Miliband: I say to my hon. Friend the Minister of State that you have to be quick in this game. The notes for the reply say that the Minister answering is "Ivan Lewis", so I apologise-but hesitation and deviation are both punished in this House.

The inclusive Government continue to make progress on economic reform, but we are disappointed by the slow pace of political reform, the spasmodic violence and the continuation of human rights abuses. The Southern African Development Community agreed at its Maputo summit to push for further implementation of the global political agreement in Zimbabwe, but the proof will be in the delivery. We urge all parties, as the Commonwealth did on Sunday, to stick to the agreement and comply with it.

Mr. Swayne: Is it not clear that there can be no real change while Mugabe remains? Will the Secretary of State confirm that it is absolute nonsense to speak of readmission to the Commonwealth while the current situation persists?

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman will know that Prime Minister Tsvangirai has committed to the global political agreement, which is a transitional agreement to renewed elections over an 18-month period. The Commonwealth, the British Government and others have said that that all parties must stick to that agreement. If that happens, the future of Zimbabwe can be turned away from the terrible descent into violence and economic chaos into which Mugabe took the country.

Topical Questions

T1. [302619] Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): The Commonwealth Heads of Government met in Trinidad and Tobago between 27 and 29 November. The meeting underlined the Commonwealth's strength through its diversity and ability to promote action, and the importance of its core values. We saw strong support for a deal in Copenhagen and agreed a UK proposal for a Copenhagen launch fund, as well on calling on Zimbabwe's coalition partners to respect their commitments and restore democracy and the rule of law. The Commonwealth also agreed to set up an eminent persons group to consider the modernisation of the Commonwealth, including its systems and priorities, to prepare it for the future.

Mike Gapes: Following the overwhelming and welcome vote by the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the subsequent capture and detention of British civilian yacht competitors, will the Foreign Secretary update the House on the current state of relations between the UK and Iran?

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David Miliband: First, I should say that I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House look forward to the prompt release of the yachtsmen, who were in their yacht between Bahrain and Dubai purely for sporting purposes. The consular case is being pursued in London and Tehran. In the light of my hon. Friend's question, it is important to say that there is no link at all between the position of the yachtsmen and the Iranian nuclear file or other political issues between Iran and the rest of the international community. We very much look forward to the yachtsmen being released on a consular basis. We understand that they are being treated well in Iran, as we would expect. As I said outside the House earlier today, we are working closely with the Iranian Government to ensure that the release happens as quickly as possible.

T4. [302622] Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)(LD): There are 50,000 Christians displaced in Orissa state, and the Indian Government's compensation scheme appears to have stalled. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what representations he has made to the Indian Government to get the compensation scheme flowing again and the displaced persons resettled?

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Ivan Lewis): I can update the hon. Gentleman. The British high commissioner visited Orissa and spoke to the state authorities only a couple of weeks ago specifically about this issue. They advised the high commissioner that the state-run camps have been closed, that affected Christians have now been returned to their homes, that compensation has been provided, and that the perpetrators have been convicted. Of course, we will continue to monitor the situation.

T2. [302620] David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): When the world comes together in Copenhagen this weekend for the United Nations climate change conference, will our Government press for an amended and extended Kyoto protocol, with a second commitment period of emission reduction targets for industrialised countries as an absolute priority for those crucial negotiations?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend raises a very important matter. Every industrialised country must come forward with a binding emissions target, both intermediate and long term. However, one difference between the Kyoto protocol and the Copenhagen agreement is-I hope-that at Copenhagen, every country in the world will make a commitment to ensure that it does not proceed with business as usual. After all, 90 per cent. of the increase in carbon emissions over the next 50 years will come from developing countries rather than industrialised countries. While we cannot expect absolute cuts from many developing countries, we can help them to ensure that they do not proceed on a high-carbon development path.

T5. [302624] Mr. Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con): As part of its strategy on child rights published in August 2007, the FCO said that it would work closely with, and continue to consult, the child rights panel

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Will the Secretary of State tell the House when the child rights panel last met, and what plans there are for it to meet again in the near future?

Mr. Ivan Lewis: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that child rights are an integral part of British foreign policy objectives. The panel meets on an ad hoc basis when and if necessary. It is true that it has not met for some time. The last time we called a meeting of child rights stakeholders was in July this year to assist our work revising the FCO's children and armed conflict strategy. We want children's rights to become a mainstream integral part of our work, and we will convene that panel when necessary.

T3. [302621] Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): Rwanda has made tremendous progress in the past 15 years, leading to its accession to the Commonwealth at the weekend and today's announcement that it is largely mine-free. What steps can the Government take to consolidate that progress through work with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and by building good governance, not just in Rwanda but across the rest of east Africa, to assist those countries, particularly from the point of view of good governance and of development?

The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant): My hon. Friend is right. We, too, welcome the accession of Rwanda to the Commonwealth. We think that this is an important point at which Rwanda can seize hold of the values and principles to which the Commonwealth adheres, and make them prominent in its constitution and in its way of life. We work closely with the Government in Kigali to try to enforce key messages on media freedom and good governance and to support the national Human Rights Commission, and we will continue to do so.

T6. [302625] Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): What has been done to improve further our relations with Japan, particularly with the new Democratic Party of Japan Government? We have many shared interests in international security-the new H-2A rocket has recently been launched by Japan-and we can learn a lot from its experiences in dealing with a low-growth economy.

Mr. Ivan Lewis: The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the importance of our relationship with Japan, particularly given the election of the new Japanese Government. Since that Government were formed, there have been UK ministerial visits to Japan by the Minister with responsibility for defence equipment and support, by the Minister for Science and Innovation, and by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and skills. The Prime Minister has met the new Japanese Prime Minister on at least one occasion. We very much welcome Japan's bold initiative on climate change, and its recent announcement of a £5 billion assistance package to Afghanistan. We want to continue to deepen and strengthen our relationship with Japan.

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