Topical Questions

Nato – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 20th October 2009.

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Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney Labour, Makerfield 2:30 pm, 20th October 2009

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

This afternoon, President Karzai has announced that in the light of the findings of the electoral complaints commission, he will embrace a second round run-off of the presidential elections in Afghanistan. We welcome that. Both he and Dr. Abdullah have been statesmanlike in accepting the prolonged electoral process and have secured support from across the country. Both have a major responsibility to ensure that the next stages are a credit to Afghanistan. The independent election commission is expected to make an announcement this afternoon on the details of the first round result, once it has collated the orders of the electoral complaints commission to exclude flawed ballots and include some quarantined ballots. The Afghan people and candidates have shown patience and resilience throughout this process and the UK will continue to support them as they bring it to a conclusion.

I also wish to place on record the thanks of the whole House not just to the UN Secretary-General's special representative, Kai Eide, for the unstinting work that he has done on this election, but to Senator John Kerry for his work over the past few days. I spoke to him on Saturday and Sunday, and he has made a signal contribution to the resolution of the process.

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney Labour, Makerfield

I agree with everything that my right hon. Friend has said. I wish him and our colleagues well in reaching a successful conclusion with a run-off.

Does my right hon. Friend have any comment to make about the complaint by the chief rabbi of Poland about the recent election of Michal Kaminski to the leadership of the Conservative group, given his neo-Nazi links? Does my right hon. Friend think that that was an appropriate election, supported as it was by the leaders of the Opposition in this country?

B

The brass neck of McCartney never ceases to amaze me. In his first paragraph he supports the most corrupt Leader the world has seen for years, in Karsai. (Mind you, he's still under investigation himself) Then he critisises the Tory's political assocciations, showing complete disregard for his own parties involvement with...

Submitted by Bill Burrows Continue reading

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Members Estimate Committee, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I remind right hon. and hon. Members that in topical questions both the question and the answer must be brief. I do not want to cut people off, but I will if it is necessary to make progress.

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The future of this country depends on wholehearted engagement in the European Union, making Britain's case and ensuring that we are part of a mainstream majority. This Government are proud to be alongside 27 Governments and 26 opposition parties in saying that now is the time to put the Lisbon treaty into practice and to ensure that it benefits all the citizens of Europe. It is a great pity that the Conservative party is stuck in the past.

Photo of William Hague William Hague Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

On that, it is a great pity that the Labour party broke an election promise that it made to the people of this country at the last election. However, I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will join me in welcoming today's visit to Sarajevo by Carl Bildt and the US deputy Secretary of State. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, given the situation in Bosnia and what has happened in that country over the past 15 to 20 years, it would be premature to close the Office of the High Representative or to withdraw the EUFOR presence, and that the time might be coming when the carrot of EU accession for Bosnia and Herzegovina has to be accompanied by the stick of sanctions on those who would undermine its political progress?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The House should know that the real pity is that three times the right hon. Gentleman has refused to debate Europe with me on the BBC and Channel 4, because he knows that his arguments are completely threadbare. We stand ready to take questions about Europe-of which there are none-and to hold debates about Europe, which he refuses to have.

In respect of Bosnia, I spoke to Minister Bildt on Sunday about this important issue, and I agree that today's meeting is important. The European orientation of Bosnia and Herzegovina is a very important part of the package being worked on. However, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will also agree-I think that this is his position-that we must ensure proper conditionality in any switch from the OHR to the EU special representative.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Members Estimate Committee, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I am grateful to the Secretary of State, but I must say to Ministers that the abridged version, rather than the "War and Peace" version, will suffice. I call Judy Mallaber.

Photo of Judy Mallaber Judy Mallaber Labour, Amber Valley

Last week, I visited Bangladesh, which will be critically affected by climate change. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if we weaken our political affiliations in Europe and with other countries by fringe activities such as joining fringe groups, we will be in a weaker position when trying to deal with issues such as getting agreements on climate change and other issues critical to UK interests?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Europe)

My hon. Friend- [Interruption.] It is nice to be welcomed.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Members Estimate Committee, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I ask the Minister to hold his horses for a moment. Mr. Simpson, you are very senior and experienced Member of this House. Chuntering away and bellowing from a sedentary position is not in order. You can behave so much better when you try.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Europe)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to be able to deliver on some key issues for Britain, one of which is an agreement in Copenhagen later this year. It is impossible for us to do that without a stronger EU and our playing a stronger role within the EU. There are no fringe benefits to being on the fringe.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

From the Liberal Democrat Benches, may I encourage Ministers to be as positive as that answer about the post-Lisbon future? I ask that, in the interests of a Copenhagen deal that works and an economic future for Europe that delivers jobs, we work positively with all the other 26 countries and do not work on the margins, which will put us on the margins for the decades ahead.

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

I fear that I might have done a disservice to the Liberal Democrats and their allies around Europe. All 27 Governments around Europe, 26 opposition parties and all the Liberal parties in Europe are saying that now is time to put the constitutional arguments, and now the reform treaty arguments, behind us and to work for a stronger Europe. It is a great pity that only one party-this Conservative party-in the whole of Europe wants to fight the battles of the past. From now until election day, it will have to answer whether it is ready to live with the Lisbon treaty or determined to fight it on its own.

Photo of David Anderson David Anderson Labour, Blaydon

It is now four years since the Iraqi Government took control of the assets of the Iraqi trade union movement. In the past week, they have seized even more control of the levers of power in the unions. Will the Secretary of State meet me and Iraqi trade unions to see whether we can find a way forward to give these people real support in a situation that should not be happening?

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

We believe in not only the rights of trade unions in this country, but in the rights of trade unions in Iraq. At the heart of the Iraqi constitution is the right to organise in a free trade union, and I would certainly enter into discussions with my hon. Friend about how we make this a reality. When I visit Iraq at some stage over the next few months, I shall raise the point directly with the Iraqi Government.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

What impact does Pakistan's deep involvement in the Afghanistan conflict have on the prospect for a resolution of the long-running India-Pakistan dispute over the future of Kashmir?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The key to re-establishing the composite dialogue, which was so important in trying to establish better relations between India and Pakistan, is action in Pakistan on those associated with the Mumbai bombings. There is a real hunger in the Indian Government and among the Indian population to see real action from their Pakistani neighbours on that critical issue. However, the foundation of confidence needs to be proper prosecution and, if found guilty, sentencing of those who were associated-or allegedly associated-with the Mumbai murders.

Photo of Marsha Singh Marsha Singh Labour, Bradford West

May I inform my right hon. Friend that many of my constituents are extremely concerned about the events taking place in Pakistan right now? This is a struggle that the Pakistani Government must win. What support are the Government offering Pakistan, both through what its troops are doing and on internally displaced people?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

I am glad that my hon. Friend, who follows these issues carefully, gives me the chance to reflect with the House on the vital work being done in Pakistan. The Pakistani Government have long been urged to recognise that the multiple insurgencies that they face are a threat not just to them, but to overall regional peace and security. The armed efforts now being taken up by the Pakistani army in six of the districts in South Waziristan threaten a large number of refugees, but also offer the prospect that, for the first time, there will be a proper Pakistani Government security presence in those districts. It is of the utmost importance that we continue not only to offer political and humanitarian support, which is an essential part of our work with the internally displaced persons who will inevitably come with the conflict, but to engage with all Pakistani opinion on this vital issue.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

The Government are right to expend diplomatic efforts in trying to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear capability, but does the Foreign Secretary understand and accept that one of the issues that the Iranians rightly raise is the Israeli nuclear capability? What is his policy on that and will he encourage Israel to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Yes, and I answered exactly the same question when my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn asked it at the beginning of questions today.

U

But he did not in fact answer it at all. His answer did not address the question of Israel's nuclear capacity at all.

Submitted by Urmilla Stoughton

Photo of Phyllis Starkey Phyllis Starkey Labour, Milton Keynes South West

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the appropriate response of the Israeli Government to the Arab peace offer would have been an unequivocal commitment to an immediate settlement freeze, as all the settlements are illegal under international law. What can be done to ensure that they do this now?

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I agree with my hon. Friend. President Obama has made it clear that the trigger for comprehensive negotiations that will lead to a two-state solution are, first, the freezing of illegal Israeli settlements, which has long been the British position, and, secondly, a positive gesture towards the state of Israel from the Arab world. We believe that there is no time to waste in responding positively to President Obama's initiative.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Last year we provided £339 million in overseas development assistance to India. We even provided £97 million to China, but Afghanistan on the other hand received only £178 million. The brave men and women of our armed forces are fighting to defeat the Taliban. Should we not be providing more aid to win the hearts and minds of the civilian population?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

We are providing more aid: Afghanistan is going to become the second largest recipient of British aid this year. It is also worth pointing out that, to put it mildly, Afghanistan is a much smaller country than China or India. By definition, the aid that we give to a country of 20 million people will be much less than our aid to some other countries. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that Afghanistan will become the second largest aid recipient this year.

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Labour, Inverclyde

One small cause for optimism in the middle east is the security improvements on the west bank, which have been brought about by the Palestinian Authority finally getting a grip on security there and the Israelis responding by opening road blocks. Will the Foreign Secretary continue to provide full support and backing to General Dayton and his largely British team, who have done so much to bring about that improved state of affairs?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Yes, I have worked closely with General Dayton, who has done an important job, with support from his British No. 2. The commitment to improving Palestinian security was to be found in phase one of the road map, and the Israeli commitment was meant to be to freeze the settlements alongside that. The fact that the Palestinian Authority are determined to follow through on their commitment to improving Palestinian security is right, and it is also reaping dividends in the form of the economic benefits that can be seen by anyone who goes to Ramallah or anywhere else in the west bank.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

I am mindful of the earlier exchanges about Sri Lanka and the work being done by the Government. Is it not therefore high time that we had a cast-iron programme from the Sri Lankan Government for the disbanding of those awful camps and the repatriation of the Tamil people?

Photo of Gordon Banks Gordon Banks Labour, Ochil and South Perthshire

Will my right hon. Friend tell me whether he thinks that the pressures on freedom of expression elsewhere in the world have an impact on our own freedoms of expression and our safety in the UK?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Europe)

Freedom of expression, wherever it may be in the world, is a vital subject that we try to raise in many countries. Part of our diplomatic effort in Colombia, Russia, China and many parts of Africa involves trying to ensure that the freedoms that we rejoice in here in this country can be shared by people in other parts of the world.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Zimbabwe has fallen off the Foreign Office radar, yet the tragedy and the crisis there continue. What initiatives are the Government taking to try to bring some form of African democracy to that wonderful country?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

I am glad to have the opportunity to assure the hon. Gentleman that Zimbabwe certainly has not fallen off our agenda. There is intensive work going on, not least through our contacts with the new South African Government, to ensure that the crisis that he has rightly described is not forgotten. He will also be aware of our continuing humanitarian work. The vital need, however, is to support the global political agreement and the transition that it promises to a proper election that will recognise the real winner of that election. He will have seen that members of a European Union delegation went to Harare and delivered a simple message without fear or favour to President Mugabe and Prime Minister Tsvangirai. The message was that they would support the Zimbabwean people in delivering and administering that global political agreement, but that it must lead to an effective election to resolve the country's future.

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Labour, Rotherham

Does my right hon. Friend agree that any massacre, big or small, by whomever, of Jews during world war two was a crime against humanity? To whitewash such a massacre and to try to make it relative is intolerable, unacceptable politics, and those who associate with those politicians shame this House and our nation.

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

My right hon. Friend has done fantastic work with colleagues across every party on anti-Semitism and the need to combat it. There is no room for hair-splitting when it comes to the massacre of 300 or 400 people in a Polish village in 1941, and I would have thought that every single Member of this House would be able to condemn that atrocity without any hesitation.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Parliamentary Private Secretary To the Leader of the Opposition

In his answer to my hon. Friend Mr. Moss, the Foreign Secretary implied that our grand abstention was part of a cunning plan involving President Sarkozy. What was the plan?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The plan was very simple, and I would not describe it as cunning. I would describe it as principled and clear. It is to ensure that there is an independent inquiry into the allegations at the heart of the Goldstone report, that humanitarian aid gets into Gaza and that there is a restart of peace talks on the basis of President Obama's UN General Assembly speech. That is something that the hon. Gentleman should be supporting, not mocking.