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I said earlier that the bedrock of our approach would be to support first, a two-state solution; secondly, all those committed to peaceful negotiation in search of a solution; and, thirdly, the economic, social and humanitarian work that is essential. Consistency with the Quartet principles is the foundation. Obviously, we deplore the sort of
sentiments that my hon. Friend read from the Hamas charter, because they are incompatible with the settled two-state solution that is the foundation for a peaceful middle east.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman use his best endeavours to urge our American friends to cease poisoning the well of relations between Fatah and Hamas? Does he agree that Palestinian unity is extremely important if security is to return to the territories, and thatmost important of allpeace talks can recommence with Israel?
David Miliband: Palestinian unity is important, but the violence, the killing, the feuding between Hamas and Fatah representatives and supporters has deep roots. I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman when he says that it is all the fault of the Americans [Interruption]or words to that effect. Poisoning the well was the expression that he used, but one has to be very careful in making that sort of allegation. The unity to which he referred and a set of Palestinian institutions that can provide the political basis for proper negotiations are obviously essential. I will certainly discuss those and other issues with Condoleezza Rice, my opposite number, when I visit the United States in due course.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that it might help the peace process if the 44 properly elected Palestinian Members of Parliament who have been in Israeli jails for a considerable time were charged and brought to trial, and that the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which has been trying to visit them in jail for almost two years, should be given that access?
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): May I reinforce the call of the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd)? If the Palestinian Legislative Council were the same size as this Chamber, 220 of us would now be in detention. As it is primarily supporters of Hamas who have been detained, what effect does the Foreign Secretary believe that that has on popular support for Hamas among Palestinians?
David Miliband: Perhaps unfortunately for the hon. Gentleman, I gave a very clear answer to my right hon. Friend. The Quartet principles make it clear that recent events made it doubly imperative that there should be progress and re-engagement in the area. This issue and its resolution provide classic ground for the sort of progress that is needed.
Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab):
As we speak, the Israelis are continuing to expand their illegal settlements in the west bank. The population of Israelis in the occupied territories has risen at five times the rate of the population of Israelis within Israel. Will the Foreign Secretary urge the Israelis to stop taking further west bank land, as that
merely strengthens the extremists on the Palestinian side and weakens the moderates, making a two-state solution impossible?
David Miliband: Yes; I know that my hon. Friend takes a close interest in these issues. Settlement building is contrary to international law. We will continue to raise the matter with the Israeli Government, because the road map is clear that Israel should freeze settlement activity.
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): Last month, the former Foreign Secretary discussed Kosovo with our EU colleagues at the General Affairs and External Relations Council and in the run-up to the European Council. This issue is also frequently raised in bilateral meetings with EU member states.
Mr. Randall: Will the Minister confirm that the Government continue to consider the integrity of UN resolution 1244 and the territory of sovereign states? Will he also confirm that Her Majestys Government will never unilaterally recognise an independent Kosovo?
Mr. Murphy: Her Majestys Government support the UN special envoy Ahtisaaris proposals, which took 14 months of intense negotiations and involved Serbs and Kosovo Albanians. He carried out his negotiations professionally and with integrity and we believe that that formed the basis of the subsequent UN resolution.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): May I add my congratulations to you on your birthday, Mr. Speaker? May I also congratulate the Minister on his new appointment? No doubt the Opposition will work closely with him.
Will the Minister confirm that the Ahtisaari plan for the future of an independent Kosovo is the only fair and sustainable option on the table at the moment? Will he also confirm that his Government have been having discussions with the Russians, to persuade them that neither they nor their Serb rivals have anything to fear from an independent Kosovo? If he is unable to persuade the Russians that they should not use their veto, what contingency plans has he to deal with the situation in that event?
Mr. Murphy: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm welcome. He is right to say that we have discussions and negotiations with our Russian colleagues on this important issue, as we do with others throughout Europe. This is also an issue that has been discussed between the Presidents of the United States and Russia over the past 48 hours. One of the areas of concern to Russia and the Serbs is the protection of Kosovo Serbs. The Ahtisaari plan is very detailed and contains a comprehensive set of protections, which should provide important comfort as we move towards establishing the new UN resolution.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Meg Munn): We have provided extensive consular assistance to Angela Barratt as well as to her family in the UK. We have also been making representations to the Turkish authorities where appropriate. She was found guilty and sentenced on 26 June 2007 and is currently on bail pending appeal, so her case remains sub judice.
Angelas relatives are constituents of mine, and they have asked me to thank my hon. Friends Department for the support that they have received. Can they have an assurance that that support will continue?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Meg Munn): My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett), the then Foreign Secretary, met the foreign affairs adviser of the caretaker Government of Bangladesh on 19 April. She welcomed the Governments commitment to restore democracy before the end of next year, looked forward to free and fair elections, applauded the Governments drive against corruption, and stressed the need to respect human rights and due process.
Ms Keeble: I am grateful for that answer. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be aware of the high level of concern in the Bangladeshi community here in the UK about the situation in Bangladesh and the need for a proper democratic Government there. What will my hon. Friends Department do to impress on the caretaker Government the need to work with the political parties in Bangladesh to get them re-established and working again properly, so that they can play a proper part in free and fair elections?
Meg Munn: I entirely agree with the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend. We believe that the lifting of the ban on party political activities will be an important step towards creating the right conditions, and we stand ready to offer practical assistance. We await the findings of the United Nations Development Programmes assessment of the extent of the assistance required to pave the way for free and fair elections.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): I understand that the Bangladeshi Government recently met representatives of the European Union and gave a commitment that the Bangladeshi electoral commission would bring forward a road map for elections by mid-July. During the Ministers negotiations with her opposite number in Bangladesh, will she ensure that any assistance needed for the production of that road map will be provided?
The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): The middle east peace process is one of our highest priorities. Our objective remains a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The two-state solution is the only realistic basis for a just and lasting peace, despite Hamas actions in Gaza. That means a viable state of Palestine living in peace and security alongside the state of Israel. Both parties need to fulfil their obligations in order for that to become a reality. The international community has a key role to play in helping to secure that outcome, and the Government are fully committed to doing whatever they can to help.
Mr. Hamilton: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but does he not agree that it is a secure economic future for the Palestinians that will make a future Palestinian state viable? Will he tell the House what the Government are doing to help the economic development of the Palestinian people?
Dr. Howells: I doubt whether there is a politician across the world who has paid more attention than my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to trying to find economic solutions to the problems in Gaza and the west bank as part of a peaceful solution to that long-running conflict. We will continue to do so, because we recognise that the lack of jobs and the fact that there is no sense of an economic future are a curse on the region. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will continue to put the resources required into ensuring that we play our part in the rebuilding of the infrastructure of both Gaza and the west bank.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con):
Does the Minister accept that the Israeli Government themselves, however inadvertently, played a not insignificant role in the rise of Hamas, not least by encouraging continued settlement building and continually snubbing President
Abbas in the early days? Does he accept that there is no way forward on the two-state solution, which we all desire, unless all the parties with real power in the area, including Hamas itself, are part of the process?
Dr. Howells: We have never denied that Hamas should play a part, but it must be a constructive part. I would very much like it to play that role, which I believe the Palestinian people elected it to play. However, we cannot treat Hamas in the same way as other players in the region if it supports suicide bombers and if it plays a game of violence, and does not take a peaceful approach to the problem. There is no question but that Hamas was the democratic expression of the majority of the Palestinian people in the electionsthat is not disputedbut the hon. Gentleman will agree that we cannot deal with a Government with elected representatives who advocate terrorism as a way of achieving some kind of political settlement in such a sensitive area.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Meg Munn): I have not had any discussions on the situation in Burma with my EU counterparts. However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett), the then Foreign Secretary, and her EU colleagues issued a statement at the General Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg on 23 April expressing concern about the situation in Burma. EU Ministers and their Asian counterparts issued a further statement at the Asia-Europe Foreign Ministers meeting in Hamburg on 29 May.
I thank the Minister for her response, and I welcome her to her new post. Does she think that there is any more that the EU can do to help end the suffering and the abuse of human rights endured by many thousands of people in Burma? Those abuses, particularly the practice of porteringusing detainees as porters in armed conflictswere even condemned last Friday by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which usually remains neutral. That is the strongest example of its speaking out since Rwanda.
Meg Munn: I thank my hon. Friend for her warm comments, and I pay tribute to the work that she has done on Burma over many years. The EU common position is the best achievable policy. The EU acting as 27 carries more weight than individual members acting alone. However, we are deeply concerned that the ICRC has been forced to close two field offices in Burma, and we share the concerns that it has expressed. We will continue to keep the matter under review, and I entirely share the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD):
I welcome the Minister to her new position. As secretary of the all-party group for democracy in
Burma, may I tell her that we enjoyed a very good relationship with her predecessor, the right hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), and I hope that we will enjoy a similar relationship with her? Her predecessor wrote to me last month explaining that the Government were pursuing the question of non-British companies investing in Burma through the British Virgin Islands. Requests were made for that claim to be investigated by the local authorities there, so can she tell me what progress has been made?
Meg Munn: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments and congratulate him on his work on the all-party group on Burma; that group is widely appreciated throughout the House. Unfortunately, during my few days in post I have been unable to attain the level of detail to be able to answer his question. I hope that he will bear with me by allowing me to write to him on it. I will certainly pursue the matter on his behalf.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): With permission, Mr. Speaker, my first, most important and most solemn duty is to pay tribute to the five members of our armed forces who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past week. Corporal Paul Joszko of the 2nd Battalion the Royal Welsh, Private Scott Kennedy of the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, and my constituent Private Jamie Kerr, also of the Black Watch, were all killed on patrol last Wednesday in Basra. Captain Sean Dolan of the 1st Battalion the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters and Sergeant David Wilkinson of 19 Regiment Royal Artillery were killed at the weekend in Afghanistan. They served their country bravely, and the whole House will join me in sending our sincere condolences to their families.
May I also pay tribute, Mr. Speaker, to the professionalism of our police, emergency services and security services over recent days, and applaud the heroism and vigilance of ordinary members of the British public? We owe them all a great debt of gratitude.
All Members of this House and all the people of this country have a shared interest in building trust in our democracy, and it is my hope that, by working together for change in a spirit that takes us beyond parties and beyond partisanship, we can agree a new British constitutional settlement that entrusts more power to Parliament and the British people. Change, with a new settlement, is in my view essential to our countrys future. For we will meet the new challenges of security, of economic change and of communities under pressureand forge a stronger shared national purposeonly by building a new relationship between citizens and Government that ensures that Government is a better servant of the people.
Let me pay tribute to the contribution to our thinkingand to the wider constitutional debatethat has already been made by parliamentarians in all parts of the House. Because I want this process to be one in which we consult and involve not only all political parties but the people of this country, what I propose today is not, and should not be seen as, the final blueprint for a constitutional settlement, but a route map towards it.
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