2 Mar 2010 : Column 781

2 Mar 2010 : Column 781

House of Commons

Tuesday 2 March 2010

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Secretary of State was asked-

Energy Security

1. Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had in the General Affairs Council on measures to improve UK energy security. [319382]

The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant): There have been regular discussions of energy security at a wide range of Council meetings, both formally and informally. We wholeheartedly support a robust united European position on energy security and a liberalised energy market.

Nia Griffith: Has my hon. Friend given any thought to having discussions with his European counterparts about the development of a European super-grid, which would enable us to transfer excess energy from one country to another and thus to make better use of renewables and to use less carbon-producing fuels?

Chris Bryant: My hon. Friend has laid out all the key issues that we need to address in bringing forward a united position on energy security throughout Europe. The third internal market package, which was brought together last year, lays out a series of ways in which different regulatory authorities can co-operate and ensures that there is some funding available to enable greater transfer of energy supplies from one country to another, and that will help, but in the end we must have a wholly liberalised energy market in the European Union, so that it is not rigged in its relationship to countries such as Russia.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): Is there not concern that we have paid a high price for being the first to liberalise, while the rest of Europe has not liberalised? It is important to have a level playing field. Given that Ofgem's Project Discovery report is beginning to suggest that we need to row back from the completely open market in this country, where are we in trying to equalise the playing field between the UK and the rest of Europe ?

Chris Bryant: We need to ensure that there is a level playing field so that British people can own energy companies in Germany, Spain and France, just as people from those countries can own energy countries in the
2 Mar 2010 : Column 782
UK. The hon. Gentleman is right that we need to ensure that the most vulnerable members of society are fully protected throughout the EU, especially in parts that sometimes have much more dramatic energy needs than we do, particularly in winter. The third internal market package makes specific provision for that.


2. Liz Blackman (Erewash) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the political situation in Yemen; and if he will make a statement. [319383]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): The recent ceasefire in northern Yemen offers hope for a longer-term, political settlement between the rebels and the Government. However, tensions continue to run high in the south. Yemen also faces a growing terrorist threat. The London meeting of 27 January galvanised international support for the Government of Yemen's reform efforts, which are essential to address Yemen's challenges and ensure its long-term stability.

Liz Blackman: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Can he tell the House the outcome of the Gulf Co-operation Council meeting held in Riyadh last month? Can he elucidate the current position on Yemen?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend makes an important point. One of the key outcomes of the Friends of Yemen meeting in London was that the Gulf Co-operation Council should play a more proactive role in helping economic and other development in Yemen. At the meeting in Riyadh on 27 and 28 February there was agreement not only to a more intensive process of GCC engagement with Yemen for the first time, but to bring forward the aid flows that were promised in the 2006 London conference, which in 90 per cent. or so of cases have not yet been delivered.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): Before the usual suspects send foreign troops blundering into a fourth Islamic country, will the Foreign Secretary draw their attention to the fact that the northern frontier of the Yemen is only 360 miles from Mecca, that the two main land routes for pilgrims on the Hajj cross its territory, that thousands of Yemenis fought against the Russians in Afghanistan, and that very large numbers of their offspring work in the oil states of the Gulf?

David Miliband: I am very disappointed to have to agree with the hon. Gentleman. He has spoken with characteristic force but uncharacteristic accuracy in describing all the points. His warnings are well made. I note his commitment in respect of the role that Yemenis play throughout this country, including in South Shields, the historic centre of the Yemeni population in Britain, and I commend him for his views on the topic.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I declare my interest in welcoming the steps that have been taken so far, including the visit to Yemen by my hon. Friend the Minister of State and the lobbying of the GCC. Is it not important that we now have a fresh initiative? Given the strong personal relationship between the Secretary of State and Mrs. Clinton-I think that she last described him as "vibrant and attractive"-is it not appropriate
2 Mar 2010 : Column 783
for a joint visit to be made to Yemen? The German Foreign Minister has been there. I know that the Secretary of State sent his Minister of State, but a joint initiative between the United States and the UK could help the whole process.

David Miliband: Needless to say I have thought of many places for a joint visit with the Secretary of State and I shall certainly bear in mind the attractions of Yemen. To be serious, the Yemeni Government have taken some important measures since the 27 January meeting. For example, they have reduced fuel subsidies by about 9 per cent., arrested a major alleged arms dealer, removed an allegedly corrupt governor and, of course, brokered the ceasefire with the Houthi rebels. We should support such initiatives and will do so through the sort of visit that my right hon. Friend suggested and in any other way possible.

Israel-Egypt Frontier

3. Mrs. Anne McGuire (Stirling) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the Government of Israel on its plans to build a border wall along Israel's frontier with Egypt. [319384]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Ivan Lewis): We are in regular contact with both the Egyptian and Israeli Governments regarding Gaza and related matters. We recognise Israel's right to protect its citizens from acts of violence but make it clear at every opportunity that all measures must be in accordance with international law.

Mrs. McGuire: I am sure that my hon. Friend appreciates that the humanitarian situation in Gaza continues to cause grave concern to many, certainly in my constituency. I endorse his words about the security of Israel and acknowledge that the capacity of Hamas to fire rockets into Israel must be stopped, but I would like a reassurance from my hon. Friend that he is doing all he can to persuade Israel and, indeed, Egypt not to forget the people of Gaza who are suffering as a result of the current situation.

Mr. Lewis: The UK and the EU use every opportunity to call on Israel to remove all obstacles to humanitarian assistance getting into Gaza. If we are to secure a mainstream majority for peace, we need to enable Gazans to begin to rebuild their homes, public institutions and businesses. Equally, Hamas must stop rocket attacks against Israel and should release Gilad Shalit without preconditions.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): The right hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire) has just asked the Minister to discuss the issues regarding Gaza with Israel and to persuade the Israeli Government, but how can we have proper discussions and a proper search for a peaceful solution with Israel when a leading Israeli political figure is threatened with arrest with a warrant issued by a British court under universal jurisdiction? What are the Government doing to clear away this effort to hamper the search for peace?

Mr. Lewis: The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. We have made it clear, as have all parties in this House, that the principle of universal jurisdiction must be non-negotiable but that the means by which arrest
2 Mar 2010 : Column 784
warrants can be obtained is not acceptable. In this case, leaders from a strategic partner and close friend of Britain have been prevented from entering the United Kingdom. It could of course have the same impact on leaders of other strategic partners and friends of this country. We are seeking a satisfactory remedy that maintains the principle of universal jurisdiction but ends the unintended consequence whereby an arrest warrant can be obtained by individuals in dubious circumstances.

Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab): The Minister will be aware that the Foreign Affairs Committee recently visited the west bank. We were not allowed to go to Gaza. We witnessed the creation of settlements that are causing physical apartheid and depriving many Palestinians of access to their land and therefore their livelihood. Exactly what pressure are the Government putting on the Israelis with regard to settlements?

Mr. Lewis: First, we should applaud the improvements that have been made on the west bank in security and economic development as a result of the leadership of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad. We should also applaud the removal of some checkpoints by the Israeli Government. Having said that, settlements are both illegal and an obstacle to peace in the middle east. We have constantly called for a total freeze on those settlements. Prime Minister Netanyahu's partial freeze is an important movement but we believe that settlement expansion is not acceptable in the context of the peace negotiations that we hope are about to get under way.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): Is the Minister aware that the blockade of Gaza has already turned a coastal strip into a net importer of fish-just one example of the damage being done to Gazans and to their economy by the blockade? While condemning all the rocket attacks launched from Gaza into Israel, has the Minister conveyed to the Government of Israel that they should be ending the blockade of Gaza, not tightening it still further with the wall? Do the Government oppose the building of the wall?

Mr. Lewis: I think that I have answered the question. I said clearly that the Government at every opportunity make clear directly to Israel and in the context of international institutions that all obstacles to humanitarian assistance and the capacity of the Gazans to begin reconstruction should be removed. We equally make it clear at every opportunity to Hamas that the rocket attacks must stop and that Gilad Shalit should be released.

London G20 Summit

4. Mr. Neil Turner (Wigan) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the implications for his Department's policies of the outcomes of the London G20 summit. [319385]

The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant): In essence, the G20 London summit showed that international economic crises require international remedies in the form of clear and co-ordinated action in all the major economies. It is noticeable that not a single major economy currently believes in making savage cuts now.

2 Mar 2010 : Column 785

Mr. Turner: Will the Minister expand on that, and tell us whether any countries had been planning for that, and if they were, whether they thought that that was fiscally responsible and their patriotic duty?

Chris Bryant: My hon. Friend's comments help to make the very good point that not a single major economy around the world is now proposing to make savage cuts. Indeed, all the major economies in the world, both within the European Union and elsewhere, are talking about how they can make sure that they maintain a level of fiscal stability by maintaining a fiscal stimulus. I would just quote the words of President Obama. He said last April:

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): We will have quite enough time for all these party political shenanigans, so will the Minister just focus on what needs to be done now? He knows that world trade dipped by 12 per cent. last year, which is an absolute disaster, and Pascal Lamy has already said that he believes high unemployment could lead to protectionism. The United States has got "buy American only" clauses in its stimulus package of $780 billion, which is regrettable. Will the Minister use his good offices to promote, and help ensure, world free trade?

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman makes the very good point that it is important that nowhere in the world resorts to protectionism in this case. That is why the G20 summit last year was particularly successful. Some countries tried to advance significant protectionist measures across the EU, and we were wholeheartedly opposed to that. I should say, however, that this is not just about free trade; it is also about fair trade. That is why we want reform of the common agricultural policy as well.

Ms Patricia Hewitt (Leicester, West) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary for meeting members of the UK-India round table last Friday. Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that the best way of recognising the rise of India and other new economies in the global economy would be to develop a strong permanent secretariat for the G20, and to locate it in New Delhi?

Chris Bryant: My right hon. Friend makes a good point about the need for a full-time secretariat for the G20, because although there are those who adopt a rather little Englander attitude towards economic problems, around the world there is generally a consensus that big economic problems require big economic solutions. That means much more action on an international basis. I would also say, however, that if Britain is to get the best out of our relationship with India, we need to make sure that the whole of the EU plays a far more co-ordinated role in relation to India, and that requires action that the Conservative party always seems reluctant to take.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): The G20 discussed maintaining financial stability, which is an issue for Britain and many other EU countries, not least Greece. Does not their fate show how wise we in Britain were to
2 Mar 2010 : Column 786
retain the pound sterling? Why is it still Government policy to consider joining the euro when recent events only reinforce how mistaken that would be?

Mr. Speaker: That question was very wide. I suggest that the Minister be extremely discriminating in the way in which he replies.

Chris Bryant: I congratulate the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) on his ingenuity and imagination. In trying to stay within the realms of a discussion of the G20 meeting, I should say that he knows perfectly well that Greece is not a member of the G20, and at the moment I do not foresee any prospect of its joining the G20.


5. Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): What recent assessment he has made of the political situation in Sudan; and if he will make a statement. [319386] [Official Report, 8 March 2010, Vol. 507, c. 2MC.]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Ivan Lewis): This is a crucial year for Sudan, with elections due in April and the referendum on self-determination for south Sudan in January 2011. We welcome the recent Darfur framework agreement and ceasefire. We urge all parties to work together to build a peaceful future for Sudan, whatever the referendum result.

Mark Durkan: The Minister will be aware that following that ceasefire agreement the President of Sudan said Darfur is now at peace. Since then however, the Sudanese military has attacked the Jebel Marra region. What information does the Minister have on that, including on civilian death and displacement, and what representations are his Government making?

Mr. Lewis: The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that issue, about which there is serious concern as it continues to destabilise prospects for progress. Our information is that more than 300,000 people have been forced from their homes-more than double the number in 2008. We have urged the Sudanese Government and the UN mission to prioritise the protection of civilians and to support reconciliation. We will argue for that in discussing the renewal of the UN's mandate in April.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): The EUFOR Chad mission in the region is key, and it is supported by more than 2,000 French troops, 500 Irish troops, 400 Poles, 200 Swedes, 160 Austrians and many more. Some in this House are very critical of other countries making small deployments to international operations, so could the Minister confirm whether only four UK service personnel are part of the mission?

Mr. Lewis: It is rather a unique moment when the Scottish National party calls for more British troops to be deployed somewhere in the world-however, this is no place for political knockabout, as the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) said. Let us be clear that the UK contribution to the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur has been more than £100 million. In March 2009, the UK contributed a further £1.85 million in discretionary funding for the training and equipping
2 Mar 2010 : Column 787
of a Sierra Leone reconnaissance company to deploy to UNAMID, and we continue to explore all possibilities for further and effective UK support. The UK is doing more than its bit to contribute to the mission.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend comment on whether it is possible to strengthen the democratic process across Sudan and on how that is emerging?

Mr. Lewis: My hon. Friend raises the crucial issue. The elections are scheduled for next month, and we have so far pledged £12.5 million towards them. That funding has been focused on technical preparations, civic education and conflict management. We hope that the process will be credible; the voter registration process was conducted largely peacefully. The legal framework for the elections has been approved with a level of consensus, so we hope that they will be another milestone on the way to stability in Sudan.

Next Section Index Home Page