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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Hain): We welcome the establishment of a transitional National Assembly in Mogadishu, but have made it clear that it must not undermine the peace and stability achieved by the regions of Somaliland and Puntland.
Mr. Michael: I am grateful for the personal interest that my hon. Friend the Minister takes in Somaliland, in particular the north of Somalia, from where so many British Somalis come. They have made a considerable contribution to organisations such as the British Army and the Merchant Navy over the years. Does he agree that it is remarkable, given the unsettled state of most of Somalia, that Somaliland has become well ordered, that it has governance if not a Government, and that it has democratic institutions and is working towards an election? Does he also agree that the British Government, and we as parliamentarians, should do everything possible to encourage the continuation of that stability and the development of those institutions and of law and order in Somaliland?
Mr. Hain: I very much welcome the points made by my right hon. Friend, and acknowledge his long-standing expertise and interest in the future of the Somali people, some of whom reside in his constituency. We are very proud to have them in Wales.
Somaliland's stability, which is remarkable in a country that has been torn apart by some of the most vicious skirmishing and warlordery, is a model for the rest of the country and one that we should support and encourage. I shall work with my right hon. Friend to achieve that.
Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet): While the Minister is considering the promotion of democracy in Somaliland, will he widen his view to take in the whole of the African continent? Will he tell the House, in the light of
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Hain): Salaries of all United Kingdom- based Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff, whether serving at home or overseas, are reviewed annually. There is a common settlement date for all staff of 1 April.
Mr. Kirkwood: The Minister will know that Members of Parliament, when travelling overseas, receive very good support from staff of all grades at missions and embassies throughout the world. Some lower administrative grades have to be filled by United Kingdom nationals because they involve sensitive work such as translating messages, telexes and telegrams. However, is the Minister aware that those grades attract salaries that leave the postholder entitled to the working families tax credit and other social security benefits? Surely, if those UK nationals are being asked to do such sensitive work in such important positions overseas, they should not have to rely on the social security system for top-ups to their wages.
Mr. Hain: We are well aware of the problem of low-paid staff in the Foreign Office--a problem that we inherited from the Tory Government. [Interruption.] I will come to the hon. Gentleman's specific point. Our awareness of the problem explains why the Foreign Secretary authorised a pay settlement in agreement with the Treasury that was particularly beneficial to the lowest-paid staff, who received up to 9 to 10 per cent. compared with an average of 4.5 per cent. this year. I think that about six members of the Foreign Office staff would be entitled to receive the working families tax credit, and receive ex gratia payments by agreement with the Inland Revenue because they cannot attract the credit under the rules. We do not want that situation to be perpetuated and we are keeping it under review. I join the hon. Gentleman in acknowledging and paying tribute to the service that our overseas staff, both locally engaged staff and British nationals, provide.
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Could we not link the pay of overseas staff to their efforts in promoting British products overseas? Does the Minister agree that it is wrong, for example, that the consul-general in Sydney has equipped his offices there with crockery not from Australia, not from Taiwan, not even from Japan, but all the way from Italy? This matter could be linked with the next question. Does the Minister agree that the Italian embassy in Canberra is probably equipped with Italian
Perhaps the explanation of the hon. Gentleman's observation is that Foreign Office staff travel round the world and bring with them their own crockery, which they have collected on previous postings. I do not know whether that applies in this case. The hon. Gentleman should raise important, serious issues rather than matters such as this.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): The Queen, accompanied by Prince Philip, paid a state visit in October to Italy, during which Her Majesty and Prince Philip also visited Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. The visit was a recognition of our extremely close relationship with the Government and people of Italy. The Queen received an enthusiastic welcome, and the Italian press gave the visit extensive and wholly positive coverage.
Mr. Casale: Does my right hon. Friend agree that Britain and Italy are working together successfully on a growing number of issues to shape the European and international agenda, not least on defence issues, such as the formulation of a headline goal for European defence capabilities, but also on immigration and asylum issues as well as taking a lead on the cancellation of poor-country debt? Will he join me in thanking my colleagues in the all-party parliamentary group, and the head of our secretariat, Michael Nathanson, for helping to cement bilateral parliamentary links, which further advance the new impetus that he and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister have given to bilateral relations at every level?
Mr. Cook: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that parliamentary links are an important part of bringing our countries together, and I congratulate him on his work as the chairman of the British-Italian parliamentary group. We have a close relationship with Italy on defence co-operation. Indeed, while on the state visit, the Duke of Edinburgh visited Agusta Westland, which is the second-largest producer of helicopters in the world. In addition, a Tornado that was part of the fly-past for the Queen was jointly piloted by an Italian and British crew. We also work together very closely in Kosovo, where there is an Italian commander of the Kosovo force.
Italy played an important part in, and made a major contribution to, the capabilities conference, to which my hon. Friend referred. If the Italian Government were ever faced with a Conservative Government who carried through their commitment to renege on Britain's commitments made at that conference, they would not only be astounded by that betrayal, but would ask why they should stand by their commitments to Britain if we do not stand by our commitments to our allies.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Hain): While visiting India, I welcomed the Indian Government's ceasefire in Kashmir during Ramadan and called on militants and those supporting them to respond positively. I have also welcomed Pakistan's subsequent announcement that its forces at the line of control will observe maximum restraint. We hope that those recent developments will create a climate that encourages dialogue between the Indian and Pakistani Governments.
Mr. McCabe: I welcome my hon. Friend's positive and helpful comments about the situation in Kashmir. Can he say more about the proposed investigation by the Indian authorities into the massacre at Chattisinghpura of 36 male villagers who were executed on the eve of President Clinton's visit on 20 March this year? He will be aware that the limited inquiry by Mr. Justice Pandian revealed that the original suggestion that the atrocity was the responsibility of Kashmiri militants is now subject to considerable doubt. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital that the true facts are known and that those responsible are brought to justice if we are to continue to reduce tension in the region?
Mr. Hain: I agree with my hon. Friend that that appalling massacre of 36 Sikhs in March has not done Kashmiris or, indeed, India any credit. That is why I very much welcome the decision of the Indian Government to conduct a special inquiry into the massacre and to publish two reports. That is a good sign of transparency and will act as a check against human rights abuses, which are happening almost every day in Kashmir.
It is important that the present opportunity offered by the statements of restraint that have been made by both sides is grasped. We need to move towards a proper dialogue and a resumption of the Lahore process, which was started so courageously last year by Prime Minister Vajpayee of India, so that we can get down to proper negotiations between the two countries and Kashmiri representatives to find a new and stable future for that troubled region.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): I note the Minister's welcome for Pakistan's announcement of maximum military restraint on the conflict line, but does that announcement extend to its ceasing to be a state sponsor of terrorism in Kashmir?
Mr. Hain: No. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised that point because there is still far too much evidence--certainly over the past year to 18 months since the Cargil incident, which was inspired by Pakistan--that cross-border terrorism is actively encouraged and, indeed, at times sponsored by agencies and elements closely aligned with the Pakistani authorities. It is very important that that stops. Then, we shall have a climate in which serious negotiations and dialogue can create a more hopeful situation.