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House of Commons

Tuesday 19 May 2009

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Speaker’s Statement

2.34 pm

Mr. Speaker: Since I came to this House 30 years ago, I have always felt that the House is at its best when it is united. In order that unity can be maintained, I have decided that I will relinquish the office of Speaker on Sunday 21 June. This will allow the House to proceed to elect a new Speaker on Monday 22 June. That is all I have to say on this matter.

Oral Answers to Questions

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Secretary of State was asked—


1. Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): What assessment he has made of recent progress in reaching international agreement on the governance of Cyprus. [276064]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): Mr. Speaker, the whole House will respect your wish that we proceed with our business today. We shall make our tributes at a later date.

The current negotiations represent the best opportunity for Cypriots to reunify Cyprus. We fully support the courageous efforts of the two leaders; their joint commitment is a key strength of the process. They have made steady progress, but it is important that momentum is increased. A settlement will deliver major economic, social and political benefits for all Cypriots.

Bob Spink: Would the Foreign Secretary care to join me in paying the warmest possible tribute to you, Mr. Speaker, and in thanking you for your service—a very honourable service—to this House and this country over many years? [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] And I thank you personally, Mr. Speaker.

Recent research shows that the majority of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots want their respective leaders to reach a mutually acceptable settlement through the current peace process. What can the Foreign Secretary do to help them succeed? Such a settlement would not only be in the interests of everybody on the island; it
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would also be very much in the interests of Turkey, particularly given its ambitions to join the European Union.

David Miliband: I fear that some of what I said at the beginning may have been lost in the hubbub.

Mr. Speaker, I am sure that the House will fully respect your wish that we save our tributes for a future date and that we proceed with our business today.

The hon. Gentleman is right that the spirit of dedication to solving the Cyprus problem, a spirit that has been evident in the 28 meetings between the two leaders, represents precisely the sort of determination that we need. There will need to be compromises on all sides, and in my meeting with the Cypriot Foreign Minister later today, I will take forward the Government’s determination to help promote a solution.

David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion) (Lab/Co-op): Mr. Speaker, may I add my tribute to those that have already been expressed?

As the Foreign Secretary will know, one of the abiding problems in Cyprus is the issue of property rights and property ownership. In the light of April’s European Court of Justice judgment on the case brought by Mr. Apostolides, will the Foreign Secretary consider, if he has not done so already, revising information on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website to ensure that anyone contemplating buying property in northern Cyprus realises that there are dangers in doing that? They might well be buying what many would consider stolen property.

David Miliband: The Foreign Office guidance speaks to the unique circumstances that exist in Cyprus at the moment. It sets out all the issues at stake for anyone interested in property in the area.

The so-called Orams judgment is now going to the Court of Appeal, so it is important that we politicians are careful about what we say on the subject. I can say, however, that all the developments point to the need for leaders from both communities to get to grips with the need for a political settlement, including on the vital property issue. I will be urging that point on all players in this important question.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the European Union made a historic mistake in accepting Cyprus as a member while the island remained deeply divided between its Greek and Turkish communities? Did that not help the Greek Cypriots in their decision to reject the Annan peace plan in 2004? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that lessons have to be learned from that with regard to any future membership applications from countries such as Kosovo, Bosnia or the republics in the Caucasus?

David Miliband: I certainly believe that lessons should be learned from previous enlargement. The biggest lesson is that enlargement has made the European Union stronger, not weaker. As we look at the cases of Kosovo and the other countries mentioned by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, it is important that we should remember the force of the European Union as a power for stability as well as for democracy on its eastern
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borders. I also recognise that it is vital that the European Union should play its role in ensuring that all understand that now is the best opportunity since the 1970s for a proper settlement in Cyprus. That is certainly what we are dedicated to, and I believe that the rest of the European Union is as well.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Given that, as the Foreign Secretary says, there is now the best prospect of a solution because both sides are willing to continue the talks, does he accept that neither side should be deflected by any interpretation of the election results in the north of the island or the local elections on the mainland of Turkey? Can he assure us that the European Union and the UN will make that the priority, which does not appear to have been the case in recent years?

David Miliband: It is important, if I may say so, to go beyond what the hon. Gentleman has said. There needs to be new and extra momentum in the drive for a settlement, precisely because this is the year when a settlement needs to be made. The UN special representative—a former Foreign Minister of Australia, Alexander Downer—reported to the Security Council on 30 April. The message that went out very clearly from that meeting, from all members of the Security Council, was that all sides needed to recognise their responsibility to ensure that the second round of talks, which are just about to restart, really engage the spirit of compromise that will be essential if this opportunity is to be grasped. That is not to be interfered with by election results in any part of that region. The statements from Turkey, as well as from Mr. Talat, speak to that point.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will know that one of the big issues is the presence of Turkish troops in Cyprus. Is he aware that UNFICYP—the United Nations Peace-Keeping Force in Cyprus—has estimated the true number of Turkish troops at below 20,000, not in the high 30,000s as estimated, or pronounced, by both sides? Does he agree that one of the best things would be for Turkey to come clean about the actual number of troops, which is far lower than it claims, as that is one of the measures that are desperately needed on the island to build and maintain confidence while the news blackout on the talks proceeds?

David Miliband: It is certainly the case that there needs to be proper transparency on all sides. I discussed that with the Turkish European Union negotiator when he visited London two weeks ago. It is important that we keep the rhetoric down, that we keep asserting that we want to facilitate and support a settlement that is agreed on by the communities in Cyprus, and that all the regional powers make their contribution. Transparency and clarity will be vital at every stage.

Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that it is necessary to apply all possible assistance to this process, because it is important not only for the people of Cyprus but for the people of Turkey and Greece, both of which we need in NATO, and for countries such as Macedonia and the other Balkan states, which are pursuing resolutions of ancient conflicts?

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David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. The continued conflict is not just a problem for the residents of Cyprus. It blocks the sort of co-operation that will be essential not only in NATO but in the EU—an EU that I believe, and the Government believe, needs to include Turkey; I think that that is also the position of the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats. That is a good reason to dedicate ourselves very strongly to this process. However, there is a further important reason: the status quo is not sustainable as a basis for a long-term resolution; that must be based on the sort of political settlement that hon. Members in all parts of the House recognise is absolutely essential.

Mr. Edward O’Hara (Knowsley, South) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments. I agree with everything that he says about the need for a solution in Cyprus, and I hear what he says about talking to the Turkish Foreign Minister. Does he agree that although the solution must come through direct negotiations between the two sides in Cyprus—Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot—the real key to the solution is in Ankara? What is he doing actively to persuade Turkey that it must use its influence, or stop using its influence negatively and use it positively, to effect a solution in Cyprus?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend speaks with a lot of experience and expertise on this question. I think that the fairest thing to say is that it takes two to tango. It will need not only Turkish Cypriots and the Turkish Government, but Greek Cypriots and the Greek Government, to support this outcome. All our diplomatic efforts—my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe has visited Cyprus twice, and I will be visiting Turkey and Greece at the end of this month—are dedicated to ensuring that there is genuine compromise, because that is the only way in which the problem will be resolved. No one wants a repeat of the 2004 referendum result in the south of the island; that is why we are working for a solution.

Lisbon Treaty

2. Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): What his most recent assessment is of progress in the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty; and if he will make a statement. [276066]

3. Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on the date of entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. [276067]

4. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty. [276068]

The Minister for Europe (Caroline Flint): The Czech Senate voted in favour of ratification of the Lisbon treaty on 6 May. That means that 26 European Union member states have now completed their parliamentary stages of ratification. All EU countries have agreed that the aim is to complete ratification and bring the Lisbon treaty into force this year.

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The Lisbon treaty clearly sets out that the treaty shall enter into force on the first day of the month following the deposit of the instrument of ratification by the last member state. That is in article 357. The treaty can come into force only if all 27 member states have ratified it. Discussions on implementation of the Lisbon treaty have not restarted in Brussels.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Does the Minister agree with the former Member for Halifax, Alice Mahon? One of her main reasons for leaving the Labour party was the fact that she thought that it had broken its solemn promise to give the British people their say in a referendum on the Lisbon treaty.

Caroline Flint: I do not agree with my hon. Friend the former Member for Halifax. The Government said that we would have a referendum when the EU was proposing a constitution. That was then dumped when the French and Dutch voted against it. This is a treaty, and neither Tory nor Labour Governments have ever had a referendum on treaties of this nature. Maastricht is one good example. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the comments of his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who in comparing the Lisbon treaty with the Maastricht treaty said that it was a “far less important” document than Maastricht.

Mr. Evennett: Can the Minister confirm categorically that any changes to the Lisbon treaty for any country would mean that the treaty needed to be re-ratified? Would the Government then hold a referendum on this matter?

Caroline Flint: I think that it is dead if people vote against it.

Mr. Swayne: With the possible exception of you, Mr. Speaker, virtually every Member of this House was elected on a solemn pledge to put the European constitution to a referendum. If some Members have abrogated that promise on the spurious grounds that the treaty is not the constitution, does the Minister think the electorate will ever trust them again?

Caroline Flint: It is not a constitution, it is a treaty. It is about ensuring that the European Union is fit for purpose with 27 member states. It is to streamline and make more effective the way in which the European Union works. I would have thought that that was something that right hon. and hon. Members of all parties would agree with.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): Now that the Czech Senate and Polish Parliament have both voted to ratify this treaty, and now that we are in such a position that the parties that are in alliance with putative far-right, demagogic, emotionally anti-homosexual or racist parties in Europe are also voting for the Lisbon treaty, does not that make a mockery of the policies of the Conservative party?

Caroline Flint: I very much welcome the fact that the ratification of the treaty through the parliamentary measures in the Czech Republic has taken place. To respond to my hon. Friend’s point, I think that the shadow Foreign Secretary, in hunting around Europe for allies, is in danger of becoming a Willy-no-mates.

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Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North) (Lab): May I say to my right hon. Friend that if the policies that have been argued for by some Opposition Members, and their antics, were ever implemented as the policy of this nation, not only would Britain be completely isolated in Europe and beyond, but the economic, foreign and defence policy of this country would be undermined by those silly schoolboys?

Caroline Flint: I agree with my hon. Friend. There has never been a more important time to realise the added value that we get from being part of the European Union. Whether on the economic crisis that we all face, climate change or our future security, the Opposition’s policies would lead us only to isolation. Those are not just my words, but those of leaders of their own—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Perhaps we will leave their leaders to deal with that.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): Notwithstanding the fact that I disagree with my party about holding a referendum, has the Minister taken legal advice? Once the treaty is ratified, surely any promise to hold a post-ratification referendum in this country is meaningless.

Caroline Flint: I appreciate my hon. Friend’s question. My understanding is that, should the Conservative party be in a position to try to leave, it would have to renegotiate its relationship with the European Union. That would be a disaster for families and businesses in the United Kingdom and for our future security prospects, as well as for the other ways in which we benefit from our co-operation and negotiating stance at the European Union table.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): Does the Minister understand that, although we are waiting on the Irish, Czech and Polish Presidents as far as the Lisbon treaty is concerned, and we can continue to wait, the key issue is that is that Europe needs to be more organised, not less, in our uncertain world? It needs more cohesive action on foreign affairs, the environment and energy. It needs to work much more closely together for a common security policy, and it needs a common approach to countries such as Russia and to the middle east. Will she try to get that message across to the British people?

Caroline Flint: The hon. Gentleman is welcome to join us in getting that message across. He is right that it is important that the European Union can reform itself to be better equipped to deal with the issues of the day. When the EU is focused on the issues that matter to families and businesses, and looks outwards instead of engaging in navel gazing, it can deliver for not only British families but other families throughout the European Union. That is the message that I will endeavour to get out, and I hope that we can have a more mature debate about added value. No institution is perfect—this one is not and the European Union is not—but we must have a mature debate about what it delivers. That delivery is real, tangible and positively affects the lives of Britons throughout the United Kingdom.

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Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. Friend comment on the remarks of the Swedish Prime Minister, who said, “You need friends in Europe and strong support; you can’t do it on your own”?

Caroline Flint: He is right. We can add to that the remarks of Angela Merkel, who said:

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