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24 Jan 2005 : Column 146W—continued

Burma

Mr. Hayes: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the oral statement of 15 December 2004, Official Report, columns 1674–82, on European Affairs, if he will name the state to which he refers in column 1679 as holding strong commercial interests in Burma; which
 
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companies are involved; what representations he has received from these companies; and if he will make a statement. [207116]

Mr. Straw: No. I have nothing further to add to my statement.

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will urge the Association of the South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) (a) to suspend Burma from the organisation and (b) not to proceed with Burma's chairmanship of ASEAN in 2006. [209055]

Mr. Alexander: The terms of membership of ASEAN is an internal matter for its members.

However, we take advantage of our regular bilateral and multilateral contacts with all ASEAN nations to encourage substantive change in Burma. The prospect of Burmese chairmanship of ASEAN in 2006 makes the need for change all the more pressing.

Mr. Simmonds: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment has been made of the scale of the impact of the Asian tsunami disaster on Burma in addition to the official reports of damage and casualties made by the Burmese Government. [209369]

Mr. Alexander: Burma has been largely spared the destructive forces of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami. The initial emergency needs have been met by the Burmese regime and by the aid community. The assessment of the scale of impact by the Tsunami Assistance Co-ordination Group (chaired by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and made up of representatives of the UN organisations and various other international NGOs) is in line with the Burmese Government's own findings with a death toll of approximately 60–80 people. It is estimated that 5,000–7,000 have been directly affected through a loss of their homes, with a further 10,000–15,000 suffering a loss of livelihood.

Non-governmental organisations in Thailand estimate that up to 2,500 Burmese migrant workers may have been killed in Southern Thailand.

Mr. Simmonds: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the Burmese chairmanship of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2006; and what the implications of the Burmese chairmanship are for the UK's relations with ASEAN. [209370]

Mr. Alexander: We are concerned about plans for Burma to take over the Chairmanship of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2006 unless there is real progress towards genuine democratisation in Burma. We use our regular bilateral and multilateral contacts with all ASEAN members to encourage them to press the military regime in Burma to enter into a meaningful dialogue with the democratic movement and ethnic groups as soon as possible. The prospect of Burmese chairmanship of ASEAN makes the need for change all the more pressing.
 
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Mr. Simmonds: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the UN Security Council regarding human rights abuses in Burma. [209371]

Mr. Alexander: We have raised our concerns on the situation in Burma, including the many human rights violations there, in the UN and with our Security Council Partners. However, there is no consensus at present to bring Burma before the Security Council.

Departmental Staff

John Mann: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what percentage of his Department's staff is based in London. [208035]

Mr. Alexander: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) employs approximately 6,000 UK-based staff and approximately 9,500 locally engaged staff. All locally engaged staff work overseas. At any one time, approximately 2,000 staff (12.9 per cent.) work in the FCO's buildings in London and about 1,200 (7.7 per cent.) at Hanslope Park, near Milton Keynes.

European Constitution Referendum

John Cryer: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on his Department's plans for the proposed referendum on the constitutional treaty for the European Union. [208547]

Mr. MacShane: The Gracious Speech on 23 November announced that a Bill would be introduced to give effect to the treaty establishing a constitution for Europe, subject to a referendum. The Bill will set out provisions for the holding of the referendum.

Free Trade Unions

John Mann: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs which countries have been assisted by his Department in the development of free trade unions. [208975]

Mr. Alexander: Free trade unions can have a vital role to play in the development of democracy, human rights and economic prosperity. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has sought to promote the development of free trade unions in many parts of the world. For example, the FCO has supported the development of better labour market practices through programmes within the Global Opportunities Fund. These countries have included China, Serbia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. The delivery of the programmes has often involved close working between the FCO and the UK trade unions. The FCO has also provided logistical support and briefing to UK trade unions in their own work in seeking to promote the development of free trade unions in various countries. These have included Iraq, China, Zimbabwe, the Occupied Territories and Israel. The FCO has established a strong partnership with the Trades Union Congress in Britain in support of many of these activities and initiatives. For example, the FCO set up a conference for regional trades unionists in Antigua in 2004 in close consultation with the TUC.
 
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Illegal Logging

Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what action he is taking in conjunction with other Government Departments to encourage developed countries to collaborate to discourage (a) the practice of illegal logging and (b) trade in forest products. [209379]

Mr. Rammell: The UK plays a key role in international efforts to combat illegal logging and to encourage sustainable forest management. This will be an objective for our presidencies of the G8 and EU in 2005.

The UK is working with EU partners on the development of the EU Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan. This includes the development of EU legislation to prevent illegal timber from entering into the European market and negotiation of Voluntary Partnership Agreements with key timber producing countries. These agreements will require partner countries to establish schemes to license legally produced timber. Timber originating in FLEGT partner countries will not be permitted to be imported into the EU without such licences. The UK also supports Forest Law Enforcement and Governance regional initiatives in Africa and Asia to help developing countries strengthen their forest governance and trade.

As part of this overall approach, the UK Government have been seeking, since July 2000, to purchase their timber from legal and sustainable sources and have been promoting the benefits of this policy to other countries, particularly those that import significant quantities of timber.

The UK works through key multilateral environment agreements and other international fora, including the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species, Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Forum on Forests, to encourage sustainable use of forest products and protection and conservation of endangered species.

Iraq

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs which UK private security firms and personnel are employed in Iraq. [209281]

Mr. Rammell [holding answer 20 January 2005]: The Government employ Control Risks Group and ArmorGroup to provide security for our staff in Iraq. ArmorGroup are also contracted by the Government to provide 40 international police advisers in southern Iraq. There are a number of other UK based security firms and personnel working in Iraq which are contracted to other employers.

We do not have a list of these firms. However, we encourage all British nationals in Iraq to register with the British embassy in Baghdad or the offices of the British embassy in Basra and Kirkuk.

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on his Department's assessment of the allegations of corruption in connection with the operation of the United Nations' oil for food programme in Iraq. [210255]


 
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Mr. Rammell: The Government take very seriously all allegations of corruption surrounding the UN's Oil for Food (OFF) programme in Iraq. The Government are concerned about the assessment made by the Iraq Survey Group on the likely nature and scale of OFF corruption in its report of 6 October 2004. The Government are co-operating fully with the Independent Inquiry Committee appointed by the UN in April 2004 to investigate these allegations. It would be inappropriate to comment on any specific allegations of wrongdoing until the inquiry is completed.


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