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19 Jan 2010 : Column 152

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend say whether the E3 plus 3 group has discussed the Russian proposal to enrich uranium? Does he think that there is any mileage in it, and is it something that the Iranians may well bend to as negotiations continue?

David Miliband: We certainly have. It is a very important proposal, which former director el-Baradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency tabled, but the Iranians have not given a positive response. Their reply, which is not in writing and, even at that, has not been formally tabled, does not accept the simple point that the IAEA-Russian proposal makes, which is, "The Iranians say that they have only civilian use for the low-enriched uranium; here is a way in which it can be enriched for medical purposes and returned to Iran for those purposes." Nothing would more clearly demonstrate to the wider world that Iran is serious, but it has not taken that opportunity.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I hope that my right hon. Friend does not flinch from those criticisms of Britain's involvement in Iran. I would be very proud if the United Kingdom was on the side of the great Persian nation, its culture and the green revolution of young people as they march to overthrow those ayatollahs and their tyrants. Is this not a case whereby so-called soft power has to work? Will he talk to other Departments and other Governments to see what we can do to encourage the people of Iran, like the people of Poland in 1980 and the people of South Africa, to overthrow that tyranny and install democracy?

David Miliband: I think that I am right in saying that on 70 occasions over the past few years the Government have raised human rights issues. Given that the Iranian Government say that they want to give us a slap in the mouth for the vehemence with which we have expressed our opinions, no one can say that the Government have been soft or recalcitrant in putting forward those views.

Viva Palestina Convoy

11. Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): What recent reports he has received on the Viva Palestina convoy to Gaza; and if he will make a statement. [311323]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Ivan Lewis): The Government remained in close contact with the convoy organisers and the Egyptian Government. The Government's clear advice is against all travel to Gaza. We set that out to the Viva Palestina convoy organisers, and we provided appropriate consular assistance to all the convoy members who requested it.

Paul Rowen: I thank the Minister for that, but, given that it is now 12 months since the Israelis withdrew from Gaza, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that convoys and aid can reach the stricken people of Palestine?

Mr. Lewis: The Foreign Secretary made it absolutely clear that, at every opportunity, Britain makes it clear that it is Israel's responsibility-and, indeed, Egypt's responsibility-to remove all obstacles to humanitarian assistance. Since the conflict in Gaza, the United Kingdom
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has made unprecedented resources available in terms of humanitarian assistance and reconstruction through international development assistance and aid. Alongside that, we have made it very clear that we call on Hamas to do everything to stop the rocket attacks that have recently restarted against Israel, and to release Gilad Shalit as a matter of urgency.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): In view of the destruction that Gaza suffered last year, and arising from previous answers by the Foreign Secretary, is my hon. Friend aware that it would be wrong and harmful to Britain's reputation if the law here on suspected war criminals were changed in order to protect former Israeli Ministers or, indeed, former Ministers anywhere, and does he agree that the law should remain as it is?

Mr. Lewis: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made it very clear that we will uphold our international obligations in terms of those accused of war crimes. However, Israel is an important strategic partner and a close friend of the United Kingdom. If we are to bring peace to the middle east and make a significant contribution to kick-starting the beginning of a political process that will lead to the two-state solution, which all Members of this House fundamentally believe in, it cannot be right that leaders of Israel are unable to enter this country because of what we believe to be an unintended consequence of the universal jurisdiction laws.


12. Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): What recent steps his Department has taken to seek to resolve the conflict in Yemen; and if he will make a statement. [311324]

13. Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): What steps the Government are taking to seek to resolve the conflict in Yemen. [311325]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Ivan Lewis): The root causes of conflict in Yemen are a lack of governance and of delivery of services by the state. The UK strategy is to tackle these causes in co-operation with the international community. The meeting in London on 27 January is part of that wider strategy, and it will seek to help the international community to co-ordinate both its response to these issues and support for the efforts of the Government of Yemen.

Mrs. Humble: Given how important next week's meeting will be, can my hon. Friend outline the objectives that he hopes will be met in order to solve not only the problems of Yemen but the problems that Yemen causes for so many other countries?

Mr. Lewis: My hon. Friend asks absolutely the right question. Last year, the United Kingdom signed up to a cross-Government strategy that dealt with the issues of security, more effective governance and economic and social development in Yemen, and those will be the focus of the meeting in London. We want to get the international community to come together and support the Government of Yemen in relation to those challenges. Ultimately, social and economic progress are the best ways of guaranteeing security and stability in Yemen.

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Mr. Chaytor: Does my hon. Friend see the problems in Yemen as exactly analogous to those in Afghanistan? If he does, what kind of intervention by the international community is needed?

Mr. Lewis: We do not see the challenges that we face in Yemen and in Afghanistan as being the same. In Yemen, while there is a very fragile state and Government, there is a functioning Government. It is very important that we do everything that we can at this early stage-surely the lesson from Afghanistan and, indeed, from Iraq, is early intervention-to support the Government of Yemen in relation to the economic and social challenges that they face, because, as I said earlier, that will be the ultimate difference that will lead to greater security and stability in Yemen and minimise the threat to the international community.

Topical Questions

T1. [311338] Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): No one in this House can fail to be moved by the plight of the Haitian people today. It is a human tragedy of enormous proportions, with more than 50,000 confirmed dead and 3 million in need of assistance-fully one third of the total population of that country. The UK Government have so far pledged £20 million, and the British public almost the same. UK search and rescue experts are working alongside teams from 27 countries. Yesterday, the EU pledged more than €345 million. An increasing amount of aid is reaching those who need it-a huge task given the extent of the damage to the limited infrastructure of Haiti. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, the Prime Minister and I are working closely with the UN, whose lead co-ordinating effort is vital, and with key partners-above all, the US and Canada-to ensure that all necessary steps are taken for the effective delivery of aid.

Meg Munn: I declare an interest in relation to a recent visit to Iraq supported by the Kurdistan regional government.

The forthcoming Iraqi elections are an important step in the development of Iraq, but so is the development of trade links. Will my hon. Friend agree to organise the first UK trade mission to Kurdistan, Iraq's safest and most open region, to support its future development?

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Ivan Lewis): I begin by paying tribute to my hon. Friend for her long-standing interest in Kurdistan. Before Christmas I visited Iraq, and I went to Baghdad, Basra and Erbil. There is absolutely no doubt that there is a tremendous appetite for a much closer business and trading relationship and a normalisation of the economic relationship between Kurdistan and the United Kingdom, and I will certainly look into her specific proposal.

T3. [311340] Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): On 1 December, the Foreign Secretary said that he would follow up the issue of the 8,000 desks provided by the United Nations for schoolchildren in
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Gaza that cannot be assembled because Israel will not let in the screws and brackets. Could he kindly tell the House what follow-up action he has taken since then?

David Miliband: I cannot, but I will write to the hon. Gentleman as soon as we get an answer. I asked for the issue to be followed up, and I will certainly write to him and place a copy of the letter in the Library.

T2. [311339] Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): While I am sure you have received a blizzard of congratulations on your birthday today, Mr. Speaker, may I add my voice, particularly as I believe you share this glorious anniversary with three Conservative Members of Parliament and, possibly even more felicitously, with Dolly Parton?May I ask my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe what assessment he has made of the European arrest warrant as a counter-terrorism measure?

The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant): Happy birthday, Mr. Speaker-I hope that that does not wind you up.

My hon. Friend makes a serious point about the European arrest warrant, which is one of the most important crime prevention tools that we have in Europe. It proved vital following the 21 July attempted bombings, when we had to secure the arrest of a citizen in Italy. The only sadness is that the Conservative party does not support it.

T4. [311341] Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): On 3 January the Prime Minister announced with great fanfare the conference on Yemen, and this afternoon the Minister of State has given its importance further billing. However, we discovered in a written answer yesterday that the conference is likely to last two hours. Has the announcement been over-sexed just a little bit?

David Miliband: My felicitations as well on your birthday, Mr. Speaker. I do not know whether it was the mention of Dolly Parton that excited the hon. Gentleman.

The meeting on Yemen will bring together 21 countries including the United Kingdom. It will be a serious look at the security, economic and political issues in that country, and I hope that it will also lead to more cohesive international engagement with Yemen. The hon. Gentleman should welcome the meeting, as it will make a useful contribution to a dangerous situation.

T5. [311342] Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I declare my interest in respect of Yemen and welcome the conference. However, what is the rationale behind the Department for Transport suspending direct flights between Sana'a and London? Surely this is the time when we should be engaging with the Yemeni Government and people, not isolating them by preventing them from flying direct to London.

Mr. Ivan Lewis: I would lead a chorus of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow", Mr. Speaker, if it would guarantee unanimous support from the Opposition.

My right hon. Friend raises an important issue, but the first responsibility of any Government is the security of its citizens. The Department for Transport has very good information that suggests that in that context, at the moment it is in the best interests of Yemen and of the UK for those flights to be suspended. However, I want to make it very clear that representatives of the
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British Government are currently in Yemen supporting the Yemeni Government and advising them about how they can enhance security measures at their airport to ensure that those flights can be resumed in future. Once we have a report back from that visit, we will be able to make decisions.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): I support what the Foreign Secretary said about the plight of the people of Haiti and the efforts made to alleviate it.

Does the Foreign Secretary share our concern about recent developments in Iraq involving the disqualification from the forthcoming elections of large numbers of Sunni candidates on the grounds of their former membership of the Ba'ath party, possibly even including the current Defence Minister, who became a strong opponent of the Saddam regime? Would it not be deeply disturbing and dangerous if Iraq's politics became once again more sharply sectarian? The United States is very active in trying to change that situation. Can the Foreign Secretary say what representations the British Government have made, and what representations they will be making, to the Iraqi Government?

David Miliband: It has been a foundation of UK policy in Iraq over successive years to argue the case that Iraq needs to establish itself as a pluralist democracy in the middle east. It is very important that the sectarian potential of that country does not become the basis on which politics is organised.

We view with genuine concern any attempt to restrict the candidates in the forthcoming March elections. In that context, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), was in Iraq just before Christmas and was able to discuss directly with Prime Minister Maliki the importance of opening up the democratic process. A very large number of candidates are putting themselves forward for election; as far as we are concerned, it should be as large as possible.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): Many innocent families were forced off their properties during the 1974 occupation of northern Cyprus. Therefore, does my hon. Friend agree that any peace process must allow those people to go back to their legally owned homes or to get compensation?

Chris Bryant: My hon. Friend is absolutely right that one of the key issues is going to be property. That is why we support a whole-package solution to Cyprus. In the end, the solution must not be dreamed up in Ankara, Athens or London; it must be a resolution of the two sides, which everybody in Cyprus can then vote for. The decision of the Court of Appeal today in the Orams case is going to provoke quite a lot of soul searching over the days to come.

T6. [311343] Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Following the election of the new President in Croatia and the successful resolution of a territorial dispute with Slovenia, will the Foreign Secretary accept that there is no need for any further delay in Croatia becoming a member of the European Union, and will he and his fellow Foreign Ministers use their best offices to ensure that that happens as quickly as possible?

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David Miliband: We welcome the election of the new Croatian President, although I hope that on reflection, the right hon. Gentleman will realise that he slightly misspoke. There is a major outstanding issue before membership of the European Union, namely full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in respect of the situation in the 1990s. I spoke to the Croatian Foreign Minister last week and said that the UK would not block the opening of chapter 23, which is an important chapter in the renegotiations, but I emphasised to him that while we welcome what the Croatian Prime Minister has done in terms of setting up a taskforce to find the important lost documents that are at the heart of ICTY co-operation, it remains the responsibility of the Croatian authorities to pursue this case to the end.

I hope the right hon. Gentleman recognises that that sort of conditionality is an important part of becoming a functioning member of the European Union. May I make this point, Mr. Speaker, because I think it important? The Croatian Foreign Minister said that he agreed with that approach, because he is helping to drive a process of reform in Croatia so that it can come to terms with its own past. That requires the sort of openness and transparency that is at the heart of the EU accession process.

Mr. Speaker: Order. It goes without saying that all the Foreign Secretary's points are important to the House, but we must try to make a bit of progress.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary today repeated that the UK Government favour sanctions against Iran because that country might be trying to develop nuclear weapons. However, the UK Government do not support sanctions against the state of Israel, which already has nuclear weapons. Will he please explain that contradiction?

David Miliband: I do not think that that is a contradiction because, first of all, we are clear that the possession of nuclear weapons by any state in the middle east is not a contribution towards peace in that region. That is why we have long supported a middle east that is free of nuclear weapons. Secondly, Iran is a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty. I would have liked to see Israel itself sign the NPT a long time ago, but it did not do so. Thirdly, it is very clear in the Arab world that although the Israeli programme may be viewed with disdain, it has not been the basis for mass proliferation in the middle east. The danger of the Iranian programme is that it will be the basis for precisely that sort of proliferation right across the Arab world.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): The three Baha'is detained in Tehran and the one detained in the town of Semnan turn out to be relatives of the seven Baha'i leaders whose trial commenced on 12 January. Is the Foreign Secretary willing to meet me and a delegation of UK Baha'is to hear our concerns about the arrests and the trial? We also encourage him to seek assurances of fairness and justice from Tehran.

Mr. Ivan Lewis: We are very concerned about the situation facing the Baha'i community, and I personally agree with the hon. Gentleman's concerns. I am more than happy to meet him and a delegation as soon as possible.

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