Foreign and Commonwealth Office Questions
On Tuesday there were questions to the Foreign Secretary and his ministerial team.
Christopher Pincher (Tamworth, Conservative): What recent discussions has he had with his EU counterparts on reforming the principle of free movement within the EU?
William Hague (Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs): I discussed free movement with my Hungarian and Bulgarian counterparts last week. My right honourable Friend the Minister for Europe raised free movement at the December General Affairs Council and the Prime Minister was clear at the December European Council that free movement cannot remain completely unqualified.
Christopher Pincher (Tamworth, Conservative): When my right hon. Friend discusses these issues with his counterparts in Europe, will he remind them that because British immigration was previously out of control, if there is to be confidence here in the single market, and if we are to welcome talented and skilled migrants to work in our country, a broken system that allows mass population movements from the south to the north of Europe—because migrants think that if they cannot get jobs, they can certainly get generous benefits—must be fixed?
William Hague (Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs): Certainly I make the point to colleagues across the European Union that the long-term sustainability of the free movement of workers requires the sort of reforms that my colleagues in the Government have announced in recent weeks, particularly on rules that govern our social welfare system. Other member states share our concerns on abuse of free movement, particularly Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, so we will continue to make these points.
Keith Vaz (Leicester East, Labour): Following the Prime Minister’s statement after the European Council meeting, there was a suggestion that there should be a cap. Does the Foreign Secretary have a figure as to what that cap should be?
William Hague (Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs): No, we have not set out a particular figure, because that is for discussion with member states in the future. There needs to be a discussion about how we handle these things. In the long-term future, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, across the House we are strongly in favour of the enlargement of the European Union, but the next member state to join the EU is quite some years away in all probability. These are things that need to be discussed in the context of the whole future of the EU.
Phillip Lee (Bracknell, Conservative): What recent progress has been made on securing a comprehensive agreement with Iran on its nuclear programme?
William Hague (Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs): I welcome the entry into force yesterday of the Geneva joint plan of action. This agreement halts progress in Iran’s nuclear programme in return for proportionate sanctions relief, and will be implemented in parallel with the negotiations on a comprehensive agreement.
Phillip Lee (Bracknell, Conservative): There has been an encouraging start to these negotiations, so will the Foreign Secretary give his assessment of the wider possible implications of success for other challenges in the region, including Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, and for the prospect of a normalisation of diplomatic relations between the UK and Iran?
William Hague (Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs): Some encouragement should be taken, as my hon. Friend says, from the start of the negotiations and from yesterday’s agreement to begin implementing the interim deal. I must stress that a huge amount of work remains to be done to arrive at a comprehensive settlement of the nuclear issue. It will be formidably difficult to do so, but it must remain the main priority. It is too early to say whether that will be accompanied by wider changes in the foreign policy of Iran. In the meantime, we are working, step by step, on building up our bilateral relations, including two visits in recent weeks by our new chargé d’affaires.
Jack Straw (Blackburn, Labour): May I draw it to the House’s attention that I am co-chairman of the all-party group on Iran and was recently a guest of the Iranian Parliament on a parliamentary delegation?
I commend the work of the Foreign Secretary and welcome the progress that has been made, but will he take account of the fact that many of those in the current Administration in Iran felt, I think quite rightly, badly burned by their experiences of acting in good faith 10 years ago and finding that their best efforts were thwarted, in this case, by forces inside the United States. We must ensure that that does not happen again.
William Hague (Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs): Absolutely, we must take account of events 10 or 11 years ago and make sure that we give encouragement to those in Iran who are in favour of better relations with the west and with the region. That has been one of the arguments for proceeding quickly with an agreement on an interim deal. Indeed that was one of the reasons for urgency, apart from the advances of the Iranian nuclear programme, in coming to that deal, so I hope that we can now build on that, and we will make every effort to do so.