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Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new post and I am sure that he will be looking forward to the intricacies and labyrinths of European institutional debate. As he manoeuvres himself along those labyrinths, will he draw a clear distinction for the British public between the fundamental rights charter of the European Union and the human rights articles of the Council of Europe, enabling him to make it clear that no transfer of power to European institutions arises from the draft treaty in June, and that the
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Council of Europe provisions are as strong today in defending human rights in Britain as they have ever been?

David Miliband: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Manoeuvring along labyrinths is an enticing prospect—thickets come to mind. He makes an important point about the legal wording that we now have in respect of the charter of fundamental rights, and he is also right to draw the distinction between that and the Council of Europe.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): In welcoming the entire ministerial team to their responsibilities, I draw attention to the IGC mandate and its call for an enhanced role for national Parliaments, which I hope that everyone very much welcomes. The right hon. Gentleman will also be aware that shared sovereignty in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on many issues is with the EU. What enhanced role does he see for the Parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in relation to the EU?

David Miliband: We intend to ensure that the devolved arrangements that have been established are made to work in the way that was prescribed in the legislation of the late 1990s.

Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): I, too, welcome my right hon. Friend to his new post, and I wish you, Mr. Speaker, a happy birthday, and many more of them.

As my right hon. Friend said, many of the reforms that were hammered out at the recent conference were aimed at making the EU easier to manage now that there are 27 member states. What is his assessment of the effectiveness of the reforms in addressing that particular point, which was rightly the focus of the discussions?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend makes an important point. This is a good treaty for Britain. It is good that we end the rotating presidency, it is good that the Commission’s numbers are reformed, and it is good that we have a new voting system, which is a 45 per cent. increase—

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): May we have a vote, then?

David Miliband: I look forward to a question from the hon. Gentleman, when I will be happy to volley back at full blast.

It is good that national security is definitively and for the first time set out as a national competence, and it is good that the symbols, flags and anthems, which distracted attention from the discussion of the European constitutional treaty as previously put forward, are done away with, so that we can focus on what, in the end, will make the EU useful to this country—jobs, climate and energy, the issues that matter to ordinary people.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): I join in warmly congratulating the Foreign Secretary on his elevation. There are many bipartisan issues in foreign
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policy on which we look forward to working with him, and more than that, there are many very difficult issues, not least in the middle east, on which we wish him every success.

On Europe, however, the right hon. Gentleman may have noticed that Mr. Giscard d’Estaing has said:


Why does the Foreign Secretary think he said that?

David Miliband: I warmly reciprocate the right hon. Gentleman’s kind words. He will certainly find me very keen to co-operate in areas where a bipartisan approach is good for the country. I would not seek to read Giscard d’Estaing’s mind, but one does not need to do so to see the difference between the constitutional treaty and the reformed treaty. I have here the published conclusions of the European Council. Clause 1 of the IGC mandate clearly states:

not reformed, not amended, but abandoned. The constitutional treaty has been abandoned. That is not just my view, nor is it just the view of our Prime Minister—it is the view of the 27 Heads of Government who signed the document.

Mr. Hague: Could the reason why the former French President said that be that it is true? Is it not clear that

Those are not my words, but those of the German Foreign Minister. Did the Prime Minister not say that Ministers had to honour their manifesto and that this was an issue of trust between him and the public? Would it not be a splendid start to the Foreign Secretary’s time in office if he were to tell the Prime Minister that if there is no referendum on the revived EU constitution, he will never be able to use the words “honour” and “trust” with any credibility again?

David Miliband: The right hon. Gentleman’s memory has deserted him. When he first entered this House, he worked with 11 other members of the current shadow Cabinet and 22 current Conservative Front Benchers to vote against a referendum on the Maastricht treaty, which involved a smaller transfer of power. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) is a new member of the Opposition Front-Bench team, and it is incumbent on me to mention his distinguished record, working with Douglas Hurd to ensure that the Maastricht treaty was piloted through this House before 1992. He entered this House in 1992, and he voted against a referendum on a motion that I can read out, if hon. Members are interested. His membership of the Conservative Front-Bench team should mean that the Conservative party, instead of being a dying sect, returns to being a mainstream, sensible political party.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I join other hon. Members in welcoming the Foreign Secretary to his
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post. There is no need for a referendum on an amending treaty. Will he assure the House that the IGC will not be an end to this Government’s commitment to the reform agenda in Europe? We should push the process forward to ensure the more efficient use of the European institutions and the greater enlargement of the EU.

David Miliband: My right hon. Friend speaks with the authority of a former Minister for Europe who has been through the European labyrinth that my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) has described. He is right, because in the end the European Union must prove its worth by delivering for the people who elect us to this House and to other Parliaments around Europe. It adds value when it focuses on the things that need to be done at a European level. Those things should be done efficiently, which is what this Government are determined to advocate.

EU Treaty Opt-outs

3. Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): what advice he has received on the legal status of the opt-outs from the proposed EU treaty. [146814]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): I refer the hon. Gentleman to my right hon. Friend the then Prime Minister’s post-European Council statement to the House on 25 June this year. The Government received legal advice from the Government lawyers on all aspects of the IGC mandate.

Mr. Brady: I congratulate the Minister on his appointment, although I think it regrettable, given the important negotiations that lie ahead, that the new Prime Minister has downgraded his post by not allowing him to attend Cabinet, which his two predecessors did. May I draw his attention to the comments of the legal adviser to the European Scrutiny Committee, Mr. Michael Carpenter, who said that the declaration on foreign affairs might turn out to be completely meaningless, and who went on to cast doubt on all the other opt-outs on the so-called red lines? Given that the whole case made by the then Prime Minister as to why we were not going to have a referendum was based on those opt-outs on his so-called red lines, has that not been shown to be completely and utterly worthless?

Mr. Murphy: Not at all. However, I begin by thanking the hon. Gentleman for his kind words of welcome to this important job. I also thank him for championing my cause; my mother will be pleased. The hon. Gentleman’s specific points are, of course, unfounded, as were the points made by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). The treaty explicitly confirms for the first time that national security is the sole responsibility of member states. Where we agree, and where we agree unanimously, we will work together, but where we disagree, we will, of course, continue to act independently.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): The charter of fundamental rights, which is closely associated with the treaty, declares that every worker has the right to the limitation of maximum working
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hours. Does the Minister believe that that will leave Britain’s existing opt-out open to challenge at the European Court of Justice, and if it does, how vigorously will he defend it?

Mr. Murphy: I thank my hon. Friend for his warm welcoming of me to my new role. In terms of his specific point, I do not agree with him. This does not affect our opt-out in any way. The former Prime Minister made it very clear that one of our red lines is that our existing labour and social legislation would not be affected by this part of the reform treaty, and that is very clear in the outcome of the deliberations.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): It is quite clear that declarations, protocols, emergency brakes and opt-ins have been tried in the past and have failed; they cannot be relied on. The only thing that works is a veto. Why does the Minister not say that this is going to be a new Government and use the IGC to put the vetoes back—the only sure way of defending the red lines?

Mr. Murphy: The right hon. Gentleman has a long record of being wrong on European issues. He voted against the previous referendum proposals. When we look at the difference between the reform treaty and the constitutional treaty, we see that out has come automatic qualified majority voting for policing and judicial co-operation in criminal matters, out has come any suggestion of a binding charter of fundamental rights, out has come the weak emergency brake on social security measures, and out has come possible communal decision making for foreign and defence policy. Much has changed, but the right hon. Gentleman’s decades-long, strident opposition to the UK’s membership of the European Union still remains.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): May I reassure the hon. Gentleman’s mother and welcome him to his new and important role? In that role, does he agree with his ministerial colleague, Sir Digby Jones, who recently told the Economic Research Council:

Was not the new Trade and Investment Minister exactly right?

Mr. Murphy: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm welcome. We have always had a very good and friendly relationship, particularly in European Standing Committees A, B and C, but I do not agree with his comments. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already made it clear that, as it says loud and clear in the reform treaty, the “constitutional abandoned”.

UN Resolution 1701

5. Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): What steps the Government are taking to support the enforcement of UN Security Council resolution 1701, with particular reference to its call for the release of abducted Israeli soldiers. [146816]

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The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): May I, Mr. Speaker, add my best wishes to you on your birthday?

Full implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1701 remains a high priority for the Government. We continue to call for the unconditional and immediate release of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, the Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah on 12 July 2006, almost a year ago. The UN facilitator appointed by the Secretary-General leads on negotiations to secure their release. The UN has the United Kingdom’s full support as it takes this important work forward.

Mr. Amess: As the Minister told the House, it is nearly a year since those two Israeli soldiers were captured. He will be aware that last week the UN-Lebanon independent border assessment team revealed that the borders between Lebanon and Syria have been opened to the smuggling of weapons and goods, which is in violation of resolution 1701. Will he tell the House what discussions the Government have had with other Security Council members and with Syria to stop the illegal flow of these weapons to Hezbollah and to Palestinian terrorist organisations in Lebanon?

Dr. Howells: The hon. Gentleman is right; this is a very serious situation and one which the United Nations has been trying to address. I went to the Israeli border on the Lebanese side, south of the Litani river, to speak with General Graziano, who is running UNIFIL—the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon—down there. He told me that he was pretty confident that there is not a large amount of smuggling coming over the Syrian border in that part of Lebanon, but he could not give those guarantees for the northern part of Lebanon. That is a very long and very porous border, as the hon. Gentleman says. We have been urging the Syrians, and everyone else, to turn the rhetoric about wanting stability in Lebanon and in the middle east into reality by doing their best to promote peace in that area and not to support rejectionist groups and Hezbollah, paid for by Iran, that are intent on causing destruction and mayhem.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Happy birthday, Mr. Speaker. It is nice to see one old face among such an excellent new team.

One of the features of resolution 1701 was a commitment for Israel to publish maps of any landmines in the Lebanon. There are still landmines there. What action could the UK, with its expertise in de-mining, take to assist with the removal of landmines, which are causing such havoc in Lebanon?

Dr. Howells: I will not comment on the “old” adjective.

We are worried about the levels of unexploded ordnance throughout southern Lebanon and we have committed a total of £2.8 million to clearing unexploded ordinance in the area. We have also asked the Government of Israel to hand over all relevant maps, which could help us locate unexploded ordnance—whether mines or the configuration of shells that were fired by artillery from Israel. I am afraid that, so far, we have not had that co-operation, although we have had promises of it.

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Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): The Syrians have said that they want to play a constructive role in bringing about peace in the region. What pressure is being brought to bear on the Syrian Government, given their relationship with Hezbollah, to ensure the release of the two Israeli soldiers?

Dr. Howells: We certainly have pressed—and will continue to press—the Syrian Government to play their part in trying to bring peace to the Lebanon and to secure the release of the Israeli soldiers. I must admit to the hon. Gentleman that we have not made a great deal of progress, but at least talks have begun. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett), the former Foreign Secretary, met Foreign Minister Mouallem of Syria in the margins of a recent conference and pressed him in order to try to discover Syria’s attitude to its continuing support of Palestinian rejectionist groups and its apparent lack of co-operation in trying to find and return the Israeli soldiers. We would very much like an answer from Syria about that.

We want good relationships with Syria. We understand the important part that it could play in bringing peace to the middle east. So far, its reaction has not been helpful but we will urge the Syrian Government to change their mind about that and play their part in co-operating to bring peace to the region and ensure the return of the soldiers.


6. Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the effect of the Hamas movement for regional stability in the middle east. [146817]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): The violence of recent weeks has undermined the political foundations of robust and durable progress towards a two-state solution. The Quartet principles remain an essential basis for an inclusive political process. We will support the work of Tony Blair as the new Quartet representative in helping to build the capacity and institutions of a viable Palestinian state.

Mrs. Moon: Thank you for calling me, Mr. Speaker. Happy birthday.

In welcoming my right hon. Friend to his new role, may I say that I was surprised to see that article 22 of the Hamas constitution of 1988 argues that Zionist secret societies, such as the freemasons, the Rotarians and the Lions, were established to sabotage society and promote Zionist interests? With such views, is a peaceful solution possible between a Hamas Government in Gaza, a Fatah Government in the west bank and Israel? Are we moving towards a three-state rather than a two-state solution?

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