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House of Commons

Tuesday 12 October 2004

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—


1. Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): What representations he has made to the Government of Bangladesh about their domestic security. [190314]

The Minister for Trade and Investment (Mr. Douglas Alexander): May I begin by extending the sympathy of all Members to the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), who I understand is absent from the Chamber this morning as a result of the passing of his father?

We regularly raise concerns about the situation in Bangladesh, including the recent political violence, with the Bangladeshi authorities. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary wrote to the Bangladeshi Prime Minister following the attack in August at an opposition rally. Sir Michael Jay, permanent under-secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, pressed the Bangladeshi Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition in Dhaka on 5 October to work to resolve the problems facing Bangladesh. I hope to visit Bangladesh myself in the near future.

Ms Keeble: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer, and I join him in offering condolences to the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram). Is my hon. Friend aware of the recent spate of arrests of opposition members—some reports put the figure as high as 40,000—which come on top of the bombings that have accounted for some 1,400 deaths in the past three years? Will he look at getting support from the rest of the international community so that we can bring urgent pressure to bear on Bangladesh, in order to improve the security situation and the fragile democracy in that country?

Mr. Alexander: May I first place on the record my gratitude to my hon. Friend for her work on this issue, which is of great concern to her. Like her, we are concerned at the deterioration of law and order in Bangladesh, and we are keen to work with the Bangladeshi police to help them to improve their
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performance. The Department for International Development is providing £5 million for a United Nations police reform project, in order to focus on investigation techniques and prosecution. We are keen to encourage that aspect of such work.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (LD): When the Minister goes to Bangladesh, will he add to his list of issues on which to make representations the security of minority faith communities in Bangladesh—his colleagues are aware of this issue—who are under increasing pressure and subject to harassment? In particular, I draw his attention to the allegation of increasing evidence of fundamentalists from outside Bangladesh infiltrating Government and security services to the detriment of the civil rights of all the community, in what is meant to be a secular state.

Mr. Alexander: The hon. Gentleman raises two important issues: the treatment of minorities and the threat of external involvement in the challenges facing Bangladesh. I certainly undertake to make those points, which have been made previously, when I visit Bangladesh.

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): Half of all British Bangladeshis live in Tower Hamlets, and I reiterate to the Minister how deeply distressed they are by the current political situation in Bangladesh and the floods that have devastated it. Having just returned from that country, I commend the outstanding work of our British high commissioner, Anwar Choudhury, his team and the DFID team. What further pressure will be put on the Bangladeshi Government to investigate properly the attacks on Anwar Choudhury and on the opposition leaders? When the Minister is in Bangladesh, could he also ensure that the experience of my constituent, Nunu Miah, is not suffered by other British Bangladeshis travelling to that country?

Mr. Alexander: My hon. Friend raises a number of points. I know of her strong commitment to, and concern for, her Bangladeshi constituents; indeed, my first meeting with a Member of this House after taking up my new responsibilities was with her. She impressed on me then, before her visit to Bangladesh, the importance that she attaches to these issues. On the 21 August attack, I understand that a one-man judicial committee has reported to the Bangladeshi Government, but that the report has not been made public. On the attack on high commissioner Anwar Choudhury, I am glad to say that he recovered well and returned to his duties in July. Although there have been no arrests as yet in relation to that attack, the Bangladeshi police investigation continues. We have stressed to the authorities—I intend to do so again when I visit Bangladesh—that we are keen that the importance of the investigation be elevated, so that those responsible for perpetrating such violence are brought to justice.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet) (Con): The Minister will know that the attack on the peaceful rally on 21 August involved the killing of 24 people and the injuring of hundreds of others. That rally was protesting against a previous series of bomb attacks, including one
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on our high commissioner. I appreciate the efforts that the Government have made, as outlined by the Minister; nevertheless, will he see that the matter is pressed resolutely? What is going on in that country is just not acceptable, and if necessary the United Nations should be brought in at the earliest opportunity.

Mr. Alexander: I certainly agree that we were all shocked by the attacks on an opposition rally on 21 August. We utterly condemn such attacks, which have no place in a free and democratic society. We certainly welcome the swift condemnation of those attacks by the Bangladeshi Government, but we are determined to ensure that we continue to press the case that a full investigation takes place. I give a further undertaking that I will make that point when I visit Bangladesh in due course.

Global Warming

2. Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab): What representations the Government have made to the United States Administration to encourage it to engage with international efforts to combat global warming. [190315]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): I echo the remarks of my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade and Investment in expressing my condolences to the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) on the loss of his father.

The Government are working hard to re-engage the United States on the urgency of tackling climate change, despite our differences over Kyoto. We are making every effort to convince US policymakers at all levels that the right environmental policy, as set out in Kyoto, is also good for business. I made a major speech on the UK's position at Howard university, Washington DC, in May this year. Taking effective international action on climate change is a major priority for our G8 and EU presidencies next year.

Dr. Turner: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I am sure that he would agree that the evidence is now abundant that the process of climate change is accelerating, making the need for action extremely urgent. In the face of the evidence, it is still clear that the United States Administration is in total denial—almost of the science and certainly of the need to take action, which places the future of the entire globe in grave jeopardy. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the time has come to stop playing patsy with the States, and that we need to go in fairly tough on the matter? We need to get together with the rest of the international community to ensure that the US, which produces 25 per cent. of all carbon dioxide emissions and probably an equal share of the other important greenhouse gases, comes together with everyone else. Even Russia has signed Kyoto, yet the US is still standing out and must be brought into line.

Mr. Straw: If my hon. Friend reads the speech that I made at Howard university in Washington in May—I will send him a copy—he will see that, far from taking a patsy line on this issue, I took a very robust line. There is
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a major disagreement between the United Kingdom and the United States on this issue. Our aim is to persuade US policymakers to change their approach.

There are some encouraging signs. The first is that the National Academy of Sciences in the United States now agrees about the scientific evidence. The second is a developing and all-party alliance in favour of Kyoto. The states of California and New York, which between them account for 50 per cent. more carbon dioxide emissions than the UK, have now adopted measures close to those recommended under Kyoto. The McCain-Lieberman Bill, which would introduce a similar structure of controls to those of Kyoto, received 43 votes when it recently came up for debate in the Senate. We have to maintain our pressure on the United States by presenting the scientific evidence, because its people will be as much at risk as those in the rest of the world if there is not international action on climate change, including by the United States.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): As the Foreign Secretary has not had much success in persuading the current President of the United States of the science behind climate change and global warming, does he believe that the Democratic challenger will be rather more amenable to understanding the problem?

Mr. Straw: From what I read, both challengers for the presidency take a similar position on this issue. As ever in the United States—it is a federal state whose democracy is very widely spread—the headline that it is against Kyoto, which is true, tends to obscure the fact that there is a raging debate taking place in the country and increasing support for the UK's position. I am glad to say that we have now been joined by Russia, which means that the Kyoto protocol can now come into force.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): I recently returned from leading a delegation to Russia, where this matter was discussed. May I tell my right hon. Friend that the Kyoto ratification proposed by President Putin is hugely controversial in the Duma; its members believe that it will jeopardise Russia's rapid economic growth? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that hard promises to Russia of technical assistance and co-operation are made and kept, so that the Kyoto protocol will come into effect and the United States will no longer have the excuse that it is not a reality, as it will be a reality if Russia ratifies?

Mr. Straw: Yes, we will. When I was in Russia in July, I spelled out to my Russian colleague, Sergei Lavrov, and to the other members of the Government and Duma whom I met, that Russia has more to gain than to lose from Kyoto. I also drew their attention to the fact that hard-headed multinational American companies such as DuPont are now taking a lead on this matter and are working as though Kyoto were in force. The tide is therefore moving; we have to ensure that the build-up continues so that Kyoto is implemented fully, and then persuade the US federal Government to come in behind it.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that he will be in no position to
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take a robust line with the US Administration if we do not get our own house in order? Is he aware that CO 2 emissions in this country have risen since 1997?

Mr. Straw: With respect, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that our record on emissions is good, and I shall be happy to write to him with the details.

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