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David Miliband: The Committees report was written and printed before the legal text was published on Friday. I am happy to go through the detailed arguments about justice and home affairs, and other issues raised by the Committee with itI shall do so next weekbecause I think that if one examined the treaty, one would see that the red lines are being respected.
Mr. Hague: No one believes the Foreign Secretary any more when he argues that this is not the EU constitution. When the Prime Minister met the Irish Prime Minister on 17 July, even he referred to it as the European constitution. Do we not now have an extraordinary double of a Government who are too scared to hold a general election that they had planned and too scared to hold a referendum that they had solemnly promised the people of this country? Is it not time that the Foreign Secretary summoned up the courage that his predecessor but one showed to the previous Prime Minister and told the Prime Minister that he needed a democratic mandate for such a far-reaching treaty, rather than colluded in this cynical betrayal of the promises made to the country?
David Miliband: I am very pleased that the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned predecessors, because he has recently recruited Lady Thatcher back to his campaign team. I suggest that he listens to what she said:
Perhaps the late Lord Attlee was right when he said that the referendum was a device of dictators and demagogues.
Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): In my reply to the three constituents who have written to me about this matter, I made it clear that it is the historic role of this Parliament to scrutinise and consider in detail treaties with other nations. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be a profound abrogation of responsibility on the part of this House to set that detailed scrutiny aside in favour of a ludicrous tick-box referendum?
David Miliband: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I do not wish to damn his or my political career by saying that we agree with the chairman of the Conservative democracy taskforce but it is the role of this Parliament to undertake that work. I point out to Conservative Members that every previous amending treaty, Labour or Tory, has been presented to and passed by Parliament. That is our job and we should get on with it.
Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): At the centre of this debate is the status of the charter of fundamental rights. The timely and useful report from the European Scrutiny Committee raises a number of issues about it. In particular, it highlights the potential imbalance between the general obligation on the Court of Justice to ensure the uniform application of union law and the protocol secured by the Government, which seeks to ensure that the charter does not extend the ability of the court to find that UK law is inconsistent with the charter. On reflection, does the Foreign Secretary believe that the current text is robust enough? Will he ensure that we get a stronger set of words before the final treaty is developed?
David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman approached this issue in a serious way and he deserves a serious answer to his question. [Hon. Members: A boring approach.] Conservative Members describe a serious approach as being boring; that says a lot about the modern Tory party.
The Charter does not extend the ability of the Court of Justice, or any court or tribunal...to find that the laws, regulations or administrative provisions, practices or action...are inconsistent with the fundamental rights, freedoms and principles that it reaffirms.
Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North) (Lab): Recognising that any change to a European treaty is, in effect, a constitutional change, does my right hon. Friend agree that deciding how to deal with such a change is a matter of balance and, perhaps more importantly, workability? I urge him to stand firm and act against some of the hypocrisy we have heard this afternoon from colleagues who argued that there was no need for a referendum on the Maastricht treaty, which retained far more power for the European Union than the current treaty. I urge my right hon. Friend to stand firm.
David Miliband: My hon. Friend will be amused to know that a number of the Opposition Members chuntering away during his question were actually there in 1992, voting against a referendum. One of the things we shall be able to do as the debate proceeds is to ask them how they could be against a referendum in 1992 and in favour of one in 2007. I am sure that my hon. Friend, as a former Minister for Europe, will ensure that his historical experience is brought to bear on this debate.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Meg Munn): The situation in Zimbabwe gives grave cause for concern. That is why the Prime Minister has stated he will not attend the EU-Africa Summit if President Mugabe is present. It is also why we are working for change by maintaining international pressure on the regime; supporting those working in Zimbabwe working for democratic change; and giving up to £40 million in humanitarian aid every year.
In 2003, the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs suggested revoking Robert Mugabes knighthood. In July this year, Lord Malloch-Brown said in a letter to me that his Department will continue
to keep the issue under close review. When will the Foreign Office stop dithering and take some action on this issue?
Meg Munn: I understand the cause of those who wish to see the knighthood removed, and as my noble Friend said, we are currently reviewing the matter. However, let us clear about this: the situation in Zimbabwe demands a great deal more than that, and removing President Mugabes knighthood might detract from that focus and give him more publicity. We need to concentrate on the real problems faced by the people of Zimbabwe.
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): Following on from the Prime Ministers welcome statement that neither he nor any of his senior Ministers will attend any summit between the European Union and the African Union, and the agreement of the Foreign Office last week not to allow Peter Chingoka, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, into this country, would the Foreign Office consider taking up the suggestion of Lord Morris, the former Transport and General Workers Union general secretary, that we consider co-ordinating with Australia a wider sporting boycott on Zimbabwe?
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): It must be right for the Prime Minister to follow our advice and say that he will not attend the EU-Africa summit if Mugabe is there. Will the Under-Secretary confirm that if any of Mugabes senior henchmen are there, the Prime Minister will not attend? Otherwise, we will send a bad message to Zimbabwe.
Meg Munn: We have always said that Zimbabwe should be represented because it is important that the issues that affect it and the whole of Africa are discussed. We will have to consider specific personnel at the time.
Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) (Lab): My hon. Friend knows that the German Chancellor has repeated the Portuguese Governments mistake of suggesting that Robert Mugabe should attend the EU-Africa summit later this year. Will she make representations to not only our German colleagues but other EU countries to try to ensure that the embargo on Robert Mugabe is maintained?
Meg Munn: I assure my hon. Friend that we are in discussion with our EU partners on the matter. Chancellor Merkel was clear that all African countries should be invited to the summit, and we agree. However, we have always said that Zimbabwe should be represented, but not by President Mugabe.
Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con):
We welcome the Prime Ministers statement and I am glad that we have moved on from our debate in July, when the Under-Secretary was unable to give us the guarantee that the Prime Minister would not go to the
EU-Africa conference. Following the comments of the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) about Chancellor Merkel, do the Government believe that we need to generate additional EU sanctions against Zimbabwe? In particular, does she believe that the EU could go much further and home in on some of the more obnoxious members of the Zimbabwean regime, such as Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono, who is a leading friend of President Mugabe and helps finance the regime? Does she agree that it is disgraceful that he can still travel abroad and that we cannot impose sanctions on him?
Meg Munn: It is important to examine sanctions carefully. European Union targeted measures are there precisely to ensure that they do not further hurt ordinary Zimbabweans. On the specific issues that the hon. Gentleman raises, we have already argued for Gideon Gono to be added to the EU list. We will continue to do that, and the Home Secretary has excluded him from the United Kingdom.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Discussions are fine but action is needed. The sooner action is taken, the better. The whole country has been razed to the ground. I have met groups from Bulawayo and they cannot accept that everyone seems simply to be talking. They need action now. I urge the Government not to wait any longer, please.
Meg Munn: I agree with my hon. Friend, but the situation ultimately needs an African solution. Since July, when we had our debate here, the UK has committed a further £8 million to the World Food Programme and we have ensured that Zimbabwe is discussed at the United Nations Security Council. We in the EU have put pressure on Zimbabwe at the UN Human Rights Council. We are clear that action needs to be taken, but the UK cannot do that alone; we need to work with other people. African countries in particular need to act on the matter.
The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): The Government believe that the UK must be involved in seeking genuine progress on the middle east peace process. With the combination of the continuing dialogue between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas, Tony Blairs engagement, an international meeting scheduled for November and a rejuvenated Arab peace initiative, the prospect of progress appears more promising than it did at the start of the summer. We will continue to work with international partners to move us closer to a two-state solution.
Sir Patrick Cormack: I thank the Minister for that answer and his robust attitude to the matter. What plans do the Government have for convening a formal meeting of the Quartet and arranging for former Prime Minister Blair to brief Members of the House of Commons on his actions?
Dr. Howells: I certainly think it is a very good idea for former Prime Minister Blair to come to the Commons to brief an all-party meeting on the issue. I shall certainly put that to him and I hope that he will do so. As for a Quartet meeting, there are of course regular such meetings. There will be one in the run-up to the November conference that is being organised in the United States. It ought to be an important conference and we are pinning a lot of hope on it.
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): May I tell my hon. Friend that last month I discussed with businessmen in the north of Gaza their plans just to export like businessmen in any other part of the world, but that their ability to do so is being strangled by the Israelis continuing blockade of the Karni crossing? The blockade does not affect the firing of rockets from Gaza, but does collectively punish the innocent people of Gaza. What are the Government doing to ensure that the excuses are put on one side and that the Karni crossing is opened as it should be?
Dr. Howells: I assure my hon. Friend that, along with my right hon. Friends, I have been pressing the Israeli Government to open the Karni crossing. He is quite right and has great experience of the issue. It is interesting to hear that he has held discussions about the issue in northern Gaza, because it is one of the most crucial issues. I cannot for the life of me understand how Israel believes it can have an economic basket case on its border, because there is no more potent way of generating violence and opposition to the idea of a two-state solution than strangling the economy of ones neighbour.
Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): The Minister is entirely right in what he has just said. However, is he also aware that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency is unable to get necessary supplies into Gaza because of what is effectively a blockade and that it is thus unable to help to build temporary accommodation for the many refugees who are in Gaza? The situation in Gaza is getting more difficult as a result and encouraging the sort of behaviour that none of us wants to see.
Dr. Howells: Yes, we have been very worried that that reading of the situation in Gaza is going to make things worse. We recently gave £1 million extra to the International Committee of the Red Cross to meet some of the extreme humanitarian problems inside Gaza. We are glad to see that UNRWA is now lobbying widely, in Europe and the rest of the world, to make people aware of just how acute the difficulties are inside Gaza. That is something on which we shall continue to lobby, as it is a very important issue.
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): How does my hon. Friend assess the impact of Irans actions on current attempts to reach peace in the middle east, particularly following the statement by Irans judiciary chief on 5 October, when he described the rallies in Tehran as a good start to the destruction of Israel?
Dr. Howells: Iran is playing a mischievous role. The Iranians support for the extreme elements of Hamas and for Hezbollah in Lebanon is an indication that they do not want a two-state solution. They want to destroy Israel, and as far as they are concerned, the quicker the better.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): May I associate myself with the comments of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden)? I was with him in northern Gaza last month, when we met the businessmen whom he described. Will the Minister stress to the Israeli Government that closure of the borders is now creating a burgeoning humanitarian crisis that will not wait until November to be resolved? It is hurting the ordinary people in the Gaza strip, not the Hamas Administration. We should not confuse one with the other.
Dr. Howells: Yes, I take that point clearly. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman managed to get into northern Gaza and hold those discussions. We do not want to hurt the ordinary people of Gaza. Nobody wants to do that; indeed, I do not believe that opinion inside Israel is in favour of that. The Israelis have had long experience of suffering as a consequence of the terrorism that has been generated inside Gaza and other areas where such difficulties have occurred.
At the same time, there must be pressure on Palestinian and Israeli neighbours to do their utmost to ensure that the supply of rockets and weapons to Hamas militants and jihadists inside Gaza is also curtailed and that those people are not firing rockets into Israel, because that does not help the argument either. However, the hon. Gentleman is quite right. The issue is immensely important and I agree with him entirely.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): To follow up on the points that colleagues have made about the importance of the economy of Palestine, does my hon. Friend recognise that the Balls and Cunliffe report made it clear that there is high and growing unemployment among the Palestinian people and that that is increasingly speedily making the situation worse? What can the British Government do to help to tackle that crisis?
Dr. Howells: The British Government, led by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, have worked very hard to try to raise international consciousness of the need to provide employment and housing for so many people in Gaza. There is a new generation of young people there now who will not have jobs, and of even younger people who will not have an education. It is extremely important that we pay attention to that, and I think that we have a good record of trying to do so. However, we can introduce any plan for economic reconstruction that we like, but if we cannot get the politics fixed, we will never build a house or a road in Gaza, or do any of the things for the infrastructure that we want to do. We have to get the politics right, and that is why these international agreements and the other work that we are doing on the middle east peace process are so important. That is absolutely crucial if we are to take forward my hon. Friends agenda for economic reconstruction.
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