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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. John Battle): The Government enjoy a very good bilateral relationship with Cuba, based on open and frank discussions. Our policy is to pursue practical co-operation and critical dialogue. Like our European Union partners, we believe in constructive engagement, not isolation.
Angela Smith: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. May I put it to him that, as we explore and improve our economic and political co-operation with Cuba, we should not impose on Cuba through our EU common position, or on further development, conditions that would not also apply to other countries--that we should not treat Cuba differently? When representatives of the Foreign Office next meet President Bush, will they place on the record our very strong opposition to the embargo that the United States Government have placed on the Cuban people?
Mr. Battle: My hon. Friend has campaigned diligently to improve relations with Cuba over a long period, which is welcome. I remind the House that the Cuba initiative was established in 1985, following a visit to Cuba by a former Department of Trade and Industry science Minister. As a result, the Caribbean trade advisory group set up a private sector group whose aim was to strengthen United Kingdom trade and investment ties. That group celebrated its fifth anniversary recently.
We intend to push that work further forward. We are steadily developing diplomatic relations with Cuba. There is an extensive exchange of ministerial visits and trade missions. As we have made plain all along, it is right that we should make clear our rejection of the US approach by supporting the Cuban United Nations resolution against that embargo, so that Cuba should not be treated differently; we agree with my hon. Friend.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Given that Cuba remains a communist dictatorship run by the man who did more than anyone else to bring the world to the brink of nuclear war, why are the Government, and Labour Back Benchers, so enamoured of that dictatorial regime?
Mr. Battle: Under the previous Government, it was a Tory Minister who went to Cuba to open diplomatic relations, so I wonder whether the shadow Ministers have had a change of line. We have good bilateral relations. Business and cultural links will increase and we intend to foster them. Yes, there is real economic hardship and poverty in Cuba, as a result of other attitudes. It seems to me that some Tory Members are locked into an out-of-date time warp. It seems that, for some of them, the pre-1989 cold war is not yet over.
Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): Despite the trade embargo, the Minister will know of the growing influence of Cuba in the Caribbean and the fact that many countries are losing out on an opportunity. Is not the best way to encourage peaceful pluralism, democracy and economic progress to ensure that all sanctions are lifted and encourage trade and tourism? Will the Minister give the House an assurance that he will take that up with the new Administration in America?
Mr. Battle: We cannot accept that American attempts to control the activities of UK companies which do legitimate business with Cuba are fair. The Government and the European Union have made clear our opposition to the Helms-Burton arrangement and other extra- territorial legislation. I agree that those laws constrain legitimate commercial activity and are objectionable in principle. We shall continue to make that plain.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Keith Vaz): My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary met Mr. Ecevit briefly at the European Council in Nice in December. The Prime Minister also had a bilateral meeting with him in January last year, when they discussed Turkey's EU candidacy, Greek-Turkish relations, EU-Turkey bilateral relations, the Caucasus, NATO and European defence. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary meets the Foreign Minister of Turkey regularly, most recently in Brussels in December.
Mr. Vaz: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we raise that matter whenever we have a discussion with our Turkish counterparts. The President of the Board of Trade has made it clear that four conditions, which he has set down, must be met before he is prepared to accede to the request for cover for the Ilisu dam. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall continue to raise those issues until we are satisfied that all of those conditions are met.
Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): What sort of ethical Government foreign policy denies the genocide of Armenians in Turkey--even though the British Government at the time the genocide took place acknowledged it--because a powerful ally in NATO refuses to acknowledge the sins of the past?
Mr. Vaz: The Government's foreign policy is not based on what other countries would like us to do. We have made clear our policy on that issue. That was a sad and sensitive event in the history of Armenia; that remains the position.
Sir David Madel (South-West Bedfordshire): Do the Turkish Government accept that if Cyprus joins the European Union, there must be complete freedom of movement throughout the island? Therefore, when is the Turkish army going to leave and what is the Turkish Government's response when the Minister points out to them--as I hope he does--that Turkey must leave Cyprus, which must be restored as an independent state, and that there must be complete freedom of movement if Cyprus joins the EU?
Mr. Vaz: We are in complete agreement with the talks that are going on. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the proximity talks are important. We have a special representative, Sir David Hannay, who is dealing with those matters. Of course the issue concerns the EU. We have made clear our position on Cyprus's application to join the EU. We would prefer a united island to join, but unity is not a precondition of membership. All countries involved in that issue are aware of the position, and we shall continue to do everything that we possibly can to accept and follow the statement of the Prime Minister in December 1998, when he made it clear that he wanted to see matters resolved.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): What do the Turks say about the use of their Incerlik air base in Anatolia for the purpose, last Saturday, of bombing an Iraqi cattle feed factory, killing six Iraqi cowherds?
Mr. Vaz: As my hon. Friend knows, Turkey is a NATO ally and has worked with the United Kingdom on a number of different conflicts. It is an ally on which we rely. As for the particular issue that he has raised, I give an assurance that I shall raise it with the Turkish ambassador when I see him this week.
Mr. Maude: It is the Prime Minister of Turkey who will speak for Turkey. Who can we trust to represent the Turkish Government's view--the United Kingdom Foreign Secretary or the Turkish Prime Minister?
Mr. Vaz: We have made it absolutely clear that NATO remains the bedrock of our defence policy. We have explained that so many times to the right hon. Gentleman that I feel at pains to have to explain it again to him. On every single occasion, we are consulting and discussing with Turkey as a NATO ally. Turkey is relaxed about what we are proposing to do. When it has concerns, it discusses them within the proper parameters of the continuing discussions on defence policy. We do not have to discuss those concerns with the Conservative party.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Keith Vaz): We are committed to all efforts to improve gender diversity in the workplace. We strongly support initiatives to create environments favourable to the recruitment of women, to their promotion and to their career development within the EU institutions. Our own European fast stream programme helps to recruit women to the EU institutions: in the past two years, there have been more successful women candidates than men candidates. We also supported the June 2000 council resolution calling on the EU institutions to promote the balanced recruitment of men and women. We have done well, we can do better, and we are striving to do better.
Shona McIsaac: I welcome my hon. Friend's reply. Does the Government agree that encouraging women's participation in the political process is vital to democracy? If so, what advice would he give to the Conservative party, which admits that only 2 per cent. of its membership is women under 45?
Mr. Vaz: Fortunately, it is not part of my brief to offer advice to the Conservative party. However, I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend has raised the issue. She was, after all, the first woman Member of Parliament from
We are currently having discussions with the Swedish presidency. As my hon. Friend knows, half the members of the Swedish Cabinet are women. Therefore, there is a good opportunity to work with a country that has the presidency and will take the issue of gender diversity very seriously indeed. I thank her for raising this important issue.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Further to the inquiry from the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac), will the Minister say what proportion of employees of European Union institutions are trans- sexuals, and how that figure compares with the achievement recorded thus far by British Departments?
Mr. Vaz: I personally have no knowledge of how many members of the European Union are trans-sexuals. However, the shadow Foreign Secretary seems to spend so much time talking to so many different people, I am sure that he will be able to find a quote from a trans-sexual that he will be able to pass on to the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. David Lammy (Tottenham): I am sure that the whole House will welcome steps to make European Union institutions more representative of the communities that they serve, especially regarding women. Will my hon. Friend the Minister comment on steps to promote ethnic diversity in our European institutions? He will be aware that there are more than 3 million Africans in France and that Germany has a large population of Muslims and Africans.
Mr. Vaz: I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important issue. I am aware of all that he has done during his career to promote the cause of minority groups. I assure him that we regard diversity as relating to the employment not only of more women, but of more people from ethnic minorities. The United Kingdom has a very good story to tell about this subject. Indeed, I believe that we have a leadership role to play in the European Union. The number of Foreign Office employees who come from the ethnic minority community has doubled in its four years under my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.