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19 Jan 2010 : Column 158

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): May I take my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary back to the answer that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), which contained a huge non sequitur? If my right hon. Friend is condemning Iran, as I would, for developing nuclear weapons, why cannot he-in the same unequivocal terms-condemn Israel for holding and developing nuclear weapons? There is an obvious danger of proliferation in the region simply because there are nuclear weapons there and, therefore, an implied threat.

David Miliband: We do clearly say that that policy of a middle east free of nuclear weapons is the right vision for the future. Equally, I think that it is right to recognise that the development of the Iranian programme is of concern not just in Israel, but right across the Arab world. Now, it is absolutely clear that if the Iranians do go ahead and develop a nuclear weapons capability, the chances of Israel disarming are zero, and that is why the immediate challenge that we face does relate to the Iranian programme. That is why it is very important to stop the rot in the NPT before it gets any deeper.

T7. [311344] Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): I listened carefully to the Foreign Secretary's answer to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman). He agreed, I think, that leaders of Israel should be able to come to the United Kingdom without fear of arrest. What I did not hear in his answer was the steps that the British Government will take to ensure that that can happen.

David Miliband: The issue arises in respect of an anomaly in English law with respect to the taking out of arrest warrants on the basis of so-called prima facie evidence-a different test than is required for prosecution. So under English law, arrest warrants can be issued even when there is no chance of a prosecution taking place. The Government are looking at ways to remedy that anomaly, but it is important that we do so in a way that preserves our commitments to pursue war crimes and allows private individuals to make representations in such cases. When we have been through all the legal aspects, we will come forward to the House with an answer.

Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East) (Lab): The Government have sought to reassure concerned Members about the EU negotiations on the free trade treaty with Colombia. That has been reassuring, but will the Minister raise the case of Liliana Obando, a human rights campaigner who, to use the words that the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis) used earlier, is facing trumped-up charges and a bogus trial for her human rights activities?

Chris Bryant: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this matter. We will indeed do so. The human rights situation in Colombia is a matter of significant concern to us, with the number of trade unionists and others murdered every year. We need to ensure that if we move forward with a trade deal with Colombia and Peru, it contains robust and enforceable human rights clauses.

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T8. [311345] Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): Last year, the Government changed their long-standing position on the status of Tibet to recognise Chinese sovereignty, despite the fact that it has no historical basis. The Chinese secured a major diplomatic victory as a consequence, but the Government said at the time that the decision would enable progress in Tibet. Can the Minister point to one single concrete achievement for Tibet that has resulted from that badly judged decision?

Mr. Ivan Lewis: I can; I was the first British Minister ever to be allowed to visit Tibet.

Jane Kennedy (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab): Did my right hon. Friend hear the comments by Khalil al-Hayya yesterday in which he roundly rejected the Egyptian proposals for reconciliation on the Egyptian border with Gaza? Does not that clearly indicate the responsibility that Hamas carries for the suffering of its own people?

David Miliband: My right hon. Friend is right that Hamas bears a strong responsibility for seeking reconciliation on a basis that would allow the Palestinian people to find a way to achieve the state that should be their right, but is not yet their reality. Hamas bears a heavy responsibility in that area. Given that the whole Arab world has endorsed the Arab peace initiative, the question is why Hamas has not, and that question needs to be repeated again and again.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): After the last demonstrations in Iran, hundreds of political prisoners are languishing in jail, some being tortured and 17 facing the death penalty. I do not think that Iran cares a stuff about having good relations with the UK, but can the Foreign Secretary use his influence with the international community to protect the lives of these innocent political prisoners?

David Miliband: It is a tragedy that Amnesty International has said that the human rights situation in Iran is the worst for 20 years. That is a blot on the copybook of a civilised and historic nation that deserves a civilised regime. I believe that it is not in Iran's interest to be isolated, and I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that Iran does not care at all about its isolation. However, the people on the streets of Iran deserve our admiration for their determination to stand up patriotically for what their revolution was all about-serving the interests of the people in the Islamic republic.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend now relinquish his duty of laying a wreath at the cenotaph and ensure that the overseas territories lay their own wreath? That decision has been deferred for a long time. Can it now be taken-yes or no?

Chris Bryant: It has not been possible to secure unanimity on that decision, so we have no plans, I am afraid, to bring it forward this year.

T9. [311346] Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of State's comments on Haiti, but may I ask whether we are using all our assets? The Type 23 frigate, HMS Iron Duke, is in the Caribbean but not being utilised. Our military stabilisation and security teams, which performed so admirably after the Indonesian earthquake, remain to be dispatched to Haiti. Will he consider those assets?

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David Miliband: Unlike the situation in Indonesia, Haiti's Government have been all but eradicated. The Ministry of Defence has certainly looked at the use of all its assets as part of the international effort under UN leadership, and we will continue to consider any way in which we can make a difference in Haiti.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): The President of the European Union Council, Mr. Van Rompuy, has been in London today. Will the Foreign Secretary inform the House on whether he stopped the traffic?

David Miliband: As it happens, I was not listening to Capital Radio at 8.30 am, when the Council President's motorcade-for I assume that it was a motorcade-went through London. However, I know that he was delighted to meet the Cabinet after his meeting with the Prime Minister this morning, and that he and the Prime Minister set out a very ambitious agenda for European growth and jobs that will support the efforts being made in this country to ensure that the fragile recovery is turned into strong and robust growth.

T10. [311347] Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House how many powers have been handed from the European Union back down to national Parliaments since the principle of subsidiarity was recognised under European Community law by the Maastricht treaty? In the same time, how many powers have gone from national Parliaments up to the EU?

Chris Bryant: One of the most important powers that Parliament now has, following the Lisbon treaty, which the hon. Gentleman opposed, is the power to say no to legislation proposed by the Commission. I would have thought that he would support that-it is one of the reasons why I would have thought that he would support the Lisbon treaty-but if he wants to remain on the extremist wing of Europe, he should feel free to remain there.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Even without the nuclear question, Iran remains a malevolent, oppressive and destabilising influence in Latin America, the horn of Africa, central Europe and Lebanon. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Government of India to try to convince Iran to understand the will of the international community?

David Miliband: I was pleased to meet my Indian opposite number at the G8 meeting and then at the Commonwealth conference. It is important to recognise that when the IAEA voted recently on a resolution on the Iranian nuclear programme, India supported the majority position-I think that 22 of the 25 countries supported it. That is an important step forward, and I was pleased that it did so.

Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): With the terrible events in Haiti, and as we look forward to its reconstruction, can the USA's blockade or embargo of Cuba be helpful to regional prosperity, including in Cuba's near neighbour, Haiti, in the years to come?

Chris Bryant: We have long opposed the blockade of Cuba. We think that it is inappropriate and does not encourage Cuba to open its society and economy. We think that it is wholly misguided, as we regularly tell our American counterparts.

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Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): Over a number of years the Foreign Office has been complicit with the Government of the Republic of Turkey in denying the Armenian genocide of 1915. In the dying months of this Administration, is the Foreign Secretary happy that this situation should prevail?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend the Minister for Europe has happily deferred to me to answer this question.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): He doesn't know!

Chris Bryant: I do.

David Miliband: My hon. Friend says that he knows the answer, but he did not spring to his feet. The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) will know that it has been the long-standing position of the British Government, as articulated both publicly and privately in Turkey, that there should be a proper historical
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investigation into those events that has the confidence of both sides. However, he should recognise that the recent opening of closer relations between Turkey and Armenia is a significant step forward. As it happens, last Tuesday, when the Turkish Foreign Minister was here, was also the day when those talks took a further step forward beyond so-called football diplomacy and into real diplomacy. That is something that we should welcome and congratulate both sides on.

Mr. Speaker: I am glad that the House is in such an ebullient and, on the whole, good-natured mood. As usual, I have tried to practise the maximum inclusivity and have done my best to be accommodating, but from now, if we are going to get everybody in, we will need pithier questions and pithier answers.

Several hon. Members rose -

Mr. Speaker: We will shortly move on to the ten-minute rule motion, but I hear a chorus of points of order on its way.

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Points of Order

3.41 pm

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Government have released a written ministerial statement on the vexed subject of garden grabbing this afternoon. However, it was clearly briefed to journalists some 24 hours beforehand, as The Daily Telegraph reports not only its contents, but the intended actions of the Minister for Housing. The statement was therefore clearly briefed out with his explicit consent. As you have previously advised, Mr. Speaker,

Would you agree, therefore, that first sight of that important statement should have been given to the House and that it should have been debated?

Mr. Speaker: I hope that the hon. Lady, and more particularly the House, will understand that, in the course of a busy day thus far, my eye has not chanced on the particular article to which she refers. I think that it would be prudent for me, and fair also to the Minister to whom she refers, first to make inquiries and try to check the position and ascertain the vantage point of the Minister before reaching a definitive view. What I can say, however, is twofold. First, I am grateful to the hon. Lady for highlighting the matter. It is in the public interest that she has done so. Secondly, I think that she knows-and the Ministers on the Treasury Bench are also aware-that I strongly deprecate the practice of leaking when it takes place. It is very important to establish the facts in this case, but important statements must be made first to the House. They should not be given to the media, either through direct speech or through briefing by others on Ministers' behalf. I hope very much that that has not happened in this case, but I will look into the matter and revert to the hon. Lady.

Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, South) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance on the matter of a £21,000 donation that was made to the office of the shadow Health Secretary on 17 November by a Mrs. John Nash, the wife of the chairman of a private health care company. Was it in order for the hon. Gentleman to lead the Conservative party in the health debate on the Queen's Speech two days later, on 19 November, when he had not registered that interest?

Mr. Speaker: The registration of interests is a matter for Members to undertake, and there are rules within which they must operate. If I were a cynical or suspicious soul, I might suppose for one moment that the hon. Gentleman was seeking to inveigle me into a political debate or argument; but as I am a charitable character, I must assume that that is not his intention.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. For clarification for Members, if donations-for instance, to the Health Secretary, whose office I have notified that I would be raising this point of order-are properly declared, they do not influence policy, so where is the problem in what is being brought up?

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Mr. Speaker: I have already ruled on the matter. Just as I was charitable enough to conclude that the hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), from the Government Back Benches, was not seeking to inveigle me into an argument, I feel sure that, notwithstanding any appearance to the contrary, the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) is not seeking to persist, or to encourage me to persist, with any such argument. That would be very wrong, and the hon. Gentleman would not invite me to do anything that was very wrong.

Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that the House will have been expecting a statement on Cadbury today. It cannot be right that a successful, progressive, iconic British company can be taken over by a foreign predator for short-term gains, with huge potential long-term dangers. Will you make inquiries as to whether a Minister will come to the House and make a statement?

Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. A decision on whether to volunteer a statement is, of course, a matter for the Government. Ministers on the Treasury Bench, and their colleagues in the relevant Department, will have heard the point of order. I think that it is fair to say that Members who have an interest in the matter will be looking for, and are almost certainly already exploring, other means by which the matter can be highlighted in the Chamber or Westminster Hall. However, I note what the hon. Gentleman has said, and hope that Ministers will have noted it. I feel sure that we have not yet heard the end of the matter.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Shortly after your election, I suggested to you that it would be a useful democratic innovation if those Cabinet Ministers based in the House of Lords were able to come to the Commons to answer departmental questions-a point to which you responded in a positive manner. I appreciate that those Cabinet Ministers now respond in the Lords, but that does not quite meet my concerns. Can you update the House on the latest position on that matter?

Mr. Speaker: As the House will know, the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) is usually conversant with what is going on and takes a keen interest in all such matters. He will, I am sure, be aware that there have been ongoing discussions on the subject. It is no secret that I have commented on the issue, underlining the importance of Lords Ministers' accountability to the House. Indeed, I have done so recently in a number of speeches and interviews.

I should say to the hon. Gentleman, in case he is not aware of it, that I have asked the Procedure Committee to look at the matter, and have encouraged it to do so with some dispatch, as, frankly, this is not a matter of any complexity. It does not require the garnering of large quantities of written or spoken evidence. What is sought is the expression of an opinion and the reaching of a judgment. Certainly, I am keen that we should not delay reaching a satisfactory conclusion on this important matter. I call Dr. Bob Spink.

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Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am most obliged. Have you had notice that a Minister will make an early statement to the House about today's Court of Appeal judgment in favour of Meletios Apostolides and against Orams, which establishes enforceable property rights for Cypriot refugees? We should have such a statement so that no more British people make the expensive mistake of buying occupied Cypriot property from the Turkish occupiers-property that must be returned to the rightful owners without compensation.

Mr. Speaker: What the hon. Gentleman has raised is, I am sure, a matter of great interest, and possibly also of considerable complexity. I have to admit that it is a matter on which my ignorance is unequalled by any other Member of the House. What is more, it is not obvious to me, as of this moment, that it constitutes a point of order, but the Minister for Europe is stirring from his seat, and I feel sure that we will hear his words of wisdom.

The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant): Well, I do know slightly more about this subject that you do, Mr. Speaker, so might I help? The judgment was given only this morning; we hope to update the House as soon as possible.

Mr. Speaker: Well, we seem to have exhausted points of order. We are all very grateful for that, and none more so than the person responsible for the ten-minute Bill, Mr. Frank Doran.

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