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Sri Lanka

31. Mr. Gerrard: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what arrangements currently exist for the delivery of aid to the northern regions of Sri Lanka. [10012]

Mr. Hanley: Aid is being provided through the Sri Lankan Government, international organisations and non-governmental organisations. Over and above our regular support for rehabilitation in the north, we have recently provided an additional £350,000 for programmes run by the International Committee of the Red Cross and by Christian Action, Research and Education; and an additional £690,000 for Oxfam. We also contributed £350,000 through the European Union.

Mr. Gerrard: I am sure that the Minister acknowledges that there is enormous need in the north,

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following the fighting towards the end of last year when several hundred thousand people were driven from their homes. Do the Government of Sri Lanka still insist that all aid to the north is delivered through them and their agencies, or are they now allowing agencies such as the UN to deliver directly to the north? Plainly, many people in the north will be extremely suspicious of the practice of all aid having to go through the Government.

Mr. Hanley: Yes, I understand what the hon. Gentleman says. I can confirm that, for instance, the ICRC is taking provisions, both medical aid and food aid, by ship to the north. I was at Vavuniya, which is not far from Jaffna, just a few months ago and I saw the main road along which aid is taken. I understand that the Government of Sri Lanka now believe that sufficient aid and medical supplies are getting through to the north. I took this opportunity to plead with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to meet the Sri Lankan Government to discuss their plan for autonomy within Sri Lanka. Only by discussion can permanent peace be brought to that otherwise beautiful island, which has been so scarred in recent years.

CHURCH COMMISSIONERS

Investments

36. Mr. Flynn: To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, representing the Church Commissioners, what new proposals the commissioners have to improve the ethical content of their investment. [10017]

Mr. Michael Alison (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): The commissioners' investments, as I told the hon. Gentleman when he last raised the subject a few weeks ago, have always been subject to ethical criteria and are continuously reviewed. The ethical working group set up in October 1994 plays an important part in keeping under review the ethical investment policy of the Church Commissioners and of the Church's two other main investing bodies, the Central Board of Finance and the Church of England pensions board.

Mr. Flynn: The commissioners deserve the congratulations of the House on the decision that they were reported to have taken in November when they sold 2 million shares in BSkyB because of its investment in a pornographic television channel. When will the commissioners deal with their investment in another, more dangerous, obscenity--the international arms trade? It was reported recently that they had nearly 3 million shares in GEC. A quarter of that firm's production is for the arms trade and it has been reported that the commissioners have discussed with it its exports to Indonesia and Nigeria. Did such a meeting take place and, if so, what was the outcome?

Mr. Alison: The hon. Gentleman's question covers a wide spectrum. We are investors in GEC, whose

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armaments portfolio is held to be less than 30 per cent., which is just about the cut-off point for our ethical application. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the five permanent members of the Security Council have reaffirmed, and continue to reaffirm, the inherent right to individual or collective self-defence that is recognised in article 51 of the United Nations charter, which implies that states have the right to acquire the means for legitimate self-defence. Nevertheless, the Church of England does not invest in companies whose main business is armaments. It has to be less than 30 per cent.

Mr. Simon Hughes: Does the Church intend to increase its investment in inner cities? Is its view that the Government should do the same?

Mr. Alison: The Church urban fund, to which the hon. Gentleman refers, is a very important but, nevertheless, by statute a subordinate part of the claims on the income of the Church of England. Although we shall do everything possible to sustain our cash flow into the Church urban fund, pensions and stipends of clergy and their dependants must remain statutorily the overriding priority. Incidentally, I am glad to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that the capital value of our total assets has risen to £2.6 billion from £2.1 billion or less 10 years ago.

Cyclists

37. Mr. Steen: To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, representing the Church Commissioners, what is his policy in respect of charging cyclists for the use of Church Commission land. [10018]

Mr. Alison: The Church Commissioners make no charge for cyclists using legal rights of way across their land.

Mr. Steen: Is the reason why the Church Commissioners are refusing to allow the completion of the Totnes to Buckfastleigh cycle route that they can get more revenue from fishermen fishing in the River Dart than they could possibly get from cyclists going across Church Commissioners' land? If that is the case, would not one of the best ways to reduce the £800 million loss that resulted from the property collapse, and the property speculation, in the 1990s be to charge cyclists a toll as they cycle across Church Commissioners' land?

Mr. Alison: My hon. Friend is quite right to pinpoint the importance of fishing rights as a source of income to this essential charitable fund, whose beneficiaries, I remind him, are clergy and their dependants. In relation to that particular stretch of territory in his constituency, I doubt whether the toll that we could levy on cyclists passing that delectable spot would be payable by them or that they would agree to pay it if it were set at a level that would raise the same amount of money that we receive from letting the fishing rights. I am afraid that cyclists might bash through and we would have very little power or control to prevent them from doing so in trying to levy a toll.

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Points of Order

3.30 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I apologise for not having given you the usual notice of this point of order, but frankly it is one of the problems of the peripatetic Scottish Grand Committee, which was in Stirling this morning.

It may be within your recollection that, at column 483 in business questions on Thursday, the Leader of the House said that the President of France was laying it open for experts to monitor French nuclear testing. Has there been any statement, or request for a statement, from any Minister, given particularly the urgent responsibilities that we have in this House towards the Pitcairn islanders, the nearest community to Mururoa where the testing is taking place? Do not the widely reported leaks of iodine 131, strontium 90 and caesium 137 show that France's statements that the rocks would in no way leak are false? In those circumstances, should not a Minister make a statement?

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) rose--

Madam Speaker: Is it on the same point?

Mr. Skinner: Yes, it is. It is very disturbing that there have now been six French nuclear tests. If you recall, Madam Speaker, I asked you on a point of order on the occasion of the first test whether it was possible to have a debate or a statement on the issue. You very kindly allowed myself and others to take part in an Adjournment debate the following week.

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Despite the fact that there have been six tests, the Government have never made a statement on the matter. This must be one of the very few Parliaments in the world that has not heard a proper statement from the Government on the matter. I wonder whether, through any office whatever, we can be assured that at some stage the Government will be accountable for their very strong support of Chirac.

Madam Speaker: I know that both hon. Gentlemen are aware that I cannot give any guarantee that a statement on this issue will be made by the Government. Of course I understand the concern about the matter, which, as was rightly said, has been previously raised with me. Indeed, we have had a Adjournment debate on it. It seems that hon. Members have raised a matter of concern to them, not so much a point of order for the Chair. As the House knows, I deal with procedure. There is no doubt that Members sitting on the Treasury Bench will have heard what has been said and the concern expressed, and will report back to the appropriate authorities.

Ms Liz Lynne (Rochdale): I tabled a question to the Deputy Prime Minister, which was accepted on to the Order Paper. I was then told that the question was to be transferred, even though it dealt with Government policy and the sharing of information between Departments.I should be grateful for some guidance on which questions the Deputy Prime Minister answers.


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