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Great Lakes Region

3. Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): What further help his Department is giving the countries of the Great Lakes region. [144038]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Chris Mullin): Our aim is to build political support for peace and stability in the region. The key to this is the completion

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of the peace process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi. Active diplomacy and the support of the international community have been vital factors in resolving these conflicts.

Judy Mallaber : I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. We must see an end to the illegal trade in diamonds and precious commodities that pays for the arms that do so much to sustain conflict in the great lakes and elsewhere. What action will the Government take on the recommendations made by the UN panel of experts on the exploitation of resources in the Democratic Republic of the Congo? What other measures will my hon. Friend and the Government introduce to help to minimise conflict in the region?

Mr. Mullin: We certainly want an end to the illegal trade in diamonds and other precious commodities, which, as my hon. Friend says, has been responsible for sustaining the conflict. That is why we were keen for the UN panel to be set up. I have convened a meeting tomorrow to discuss how we may take forward the recommendations in the panel's most recent report that apply to us. We are also pressing Rwanda and Uganda to follow up the recommendations that relate to them. The difficulty with taking action against the few British companies that are named in the report is that there is currently insufficient detailed evidence that would enable prosecutions, but we are seeking that.

Of course, we have played a wide role in Burundi and the Congo. We are contributing a military chief of staff and about £28 million to the military force in eastern Congo that is bringing stability to the region. We made a major contribution—just under £4 million—to help to finance the African-led peace forces in Burundi. I am sure that my hon. Friend appreciates that the key is bringing stability to the Congo. If we can do that, we will manage to stabilise the entire region.


4. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): If he will make a statement on progress with the Brussels process. [144039]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): The Government have repeatedly made it clear that there will be no change in Gibraltar's sovereignty without the consent of the people of Gibraltar. The Government's objectives remain to secure a stable and prosperous future for Gibraltar and we will continue our dialogue with Spain and Gibraltar to this end. No date has been set for future Brussels process talks.

Tim Loughton : Given that 98.5 per cent. of the population of Gibraltar again voted in a referendum against any sharing of sovereignty with the Spanish, that the Chief Minister of Gibraltar has been re-elected with more than 50 per cent. of the vote on that platform, that Gibraltarians will be represented in the European Parliament from next year, and that the Spanish have apparently just negotiated a deal for a sub-Mediterranean tunnel with the Moroccans, with whom they have territorial disputes, will the Minister tell us what progress has been achieved on the availability of the phone lines and health care that the Spanish provide

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for the Gibraltarians? What progress has been made on the ridiculous business involving having to fly over Spanish territory on Gibraltar flights that cannot land? Such a right would be accorded under treaty to any other member of the EU.

Mr. MacShane: The hon. Gentleman makes good and fair points. We want Spanish recognition of the 00350 number for Gibraltar, but they are not yet willing to concede that. The Government of Gibraltar have asked us to create a wider overseas territories number of 0044, but the other overseas territories are not interested in that solution. We will continue negotiating with the Spanish and talking to them about the problem. They could send a positive signal to the people of Gibraltar and be helpful on the situation with the telephone lines.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Obviously, the Minister spoke about the Brussels process and we are all aware that Gibraltar celebrates its 300-year anniversary next year. The way in which Spain delivers its constant ultimatums to Gibraltar must be the longest-running sore leg that anyone has ever had. Under the process, would not it be a challenge to celebrate those 300 years by ending the joint talks on sovereignty once and for all? The Minister should tell us what good news he has for Gibraltar and what he will do for those 300-year celebrations next year.

Mr. MacShane: It is an important anniversary. It reflects the occupation of the Rock by a combined Dutch and British fleet during the Spanish war of succession when France tried to dictate its will to Spain and we stoutly resisted the imposition of what it wanted to do 300 years ago. I am happy to inform the House that the Princess Royal will visit Gibraltar to represent all of us at the historic moment. The Duke of Kent is coming to the service in St. Clement Danes, and the Ministry of Defence and other Departments will participate fully in that important historical anniversary.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): What about you?

Mr. MacShane: If I have the chance to visit Gibraltar next year, as I did this year, I shall take it with enormous pleasure.

Côte d'Ivoire

5. Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): What representations he has received about the situation in the Côte d'Ivoire; and if he will make a statement. [144040]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Chris Mullin): We remain concerned about the situation in Côte d'Ivoire. We are in regular contact with the parties and key members of the international community, including France and the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS.

Mrs. Gillan : I, too, am concerned about the situation in Côte d'Ivoire. My constituent, who is from that

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country, came to see me the other day with several of his fellow countrymen. They support the Linas-Marcoussis agreement, despite the fragility of the ceasefire, but believe that France is playing a double game, favouring the rebels and harrying the Government because they have tried to open their markets rather than continuing with the French monopoly. Will the Minister agree to meet my constituent and his colleagues to discuss how the Government can, in my constituent's words, use their influence to ensure that the French do not bully African poor states that choose to open their economies to a wider trade area?

Mr. Mullin: I do not accept that for a moment. We support the role that the French have played. Their intervention has avoided civil war in the Côte d'Ivoire. The solution is for all sides to implement the Linas-Marcoussis agreement, which addresses the root causes of the crisis. If the hon. Lady wishes to bring constituents to see me to discuss the subject, I would be glad to meet them.

Tony Cunningham (Workington) (Lab): We have rightly had questions on Zimbabwe, the Côte d'Ivoire and the great lakes area, and attention is focused on Iraq and Afghanistan. However, is not there a danger of taking our eye off the ball on problems like the border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which when war broke out in 1998 cost the lives of about—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is out of order.

Diversity Targets

6. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): What progress his Department is making towards meeting its diversity targets. [144041]

The Minister for Trade and Investment (Mr. Mike O'Brien): The Foreign and Commonwealth Office targets for diversity have been met for recruitment and we are making progress on staff already in post.

Tony Wright : I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Why does he think that the Foreign Office is dragging so far behind other Departments in terms of the number of women and ethnic minority people that it employs? More than one in 10 children in our schools are from ethnic minorities, yet half of 1 per cent. of people from ethnic minorities are at senior levels in the Foreign Office. If the Foreign Office really is Britain's face on the world, should not that face be far more representative than it currently is?

Mr. O'Brien: It should be far more representative than it currently is. That is why we have set realistic targets to make that change. Targets have to be realistically achievable. The Foreign Office started in 1997 from a low base. There were few women, few ethnic minority staff and few disabled people. The Foreign Office promotes internally and it therefore takes time to change things, but we are changing things.

I am told that until 1972 women had to resign from the Foreign Office on marriage. As a result, we lost a whole generation of ambassadors who would have been

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in post now. Likewise with ethnic minorities there were restrictions on the employment of persons with parents of certain nationalities, and no effort was made to recruit disabled people. However, things are changing in the Foreign Office. Today there are family friendly policies and flexible working. An FCO nursery started 18 months ago. Promotion is based on skill and competence, not on time served. Likewise we are attracting ethnic minority recruits. We have doubled the number of ethnic minority staff from 3.4 per cent. in 1997 to 6.8 per cent. today. In the B grade, the important grade, it is 8.6 per cent.

Two ambassadors from ethnic minority communities were recently appointed: Mohammed Chowdry to Bangladesh and Alp Mehmet to Iceland, Britain's first Muslim ambassador. The number of women ambassadors has doubled from nine in 1997 to 18 now. Things are changing in the Foreign Office. The people from ethnic minorities and the women we are recruiting today will be the ambassadors of the future.

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