|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
David T.C. Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many official holidays staff at the Department's offices in (a) Bangladesh and (b) Pakistan receive per annum. 
Dr. Howells: All locally engaged and UK-based staff at our missions in Bangladesh and Pakistan take 14 days of official/public holidays each year. These are taken on approved schedules which respectively take account of both British and local public holidays.
Mr. Douglas Alexander: The Government support the assessment of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe's election monitoring mission and deeply regrets the atmosphere of intimidation and suppression in which the elections were conducted. As the European Council made clear, they were fundamentally flawed.
We applaud those in Belarus who stood up for democracy through the elections and through peaceful protest afterwards. We deplore the unjustified action taken to prevent demonstrators and opposition leaders
29 Mar 2006 : Column 1024W
from exercising their right of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, and support calls for the immediate and unconditional release of political prisoners.
We remain concerned about the prospect of further action being taken against the opposition and its supporters as well as the continuing suppression of civil society. We are actively discussing with our partners the specific restrictive measures that will be taken against those responsible for the violation of international democratic standards, as well as how to intensify our support for civil society and the democratic process.
Dr. Howells: The UK strongly supports UN Security Council (UNSC) action to address the issue of children affected by armed conflict. UNSC resolution 1612 (July 2005) urges member states, UN entities, regional and sub-regional organisations and other parties concerned to take appropriate measures to control illicit sub-regional and cross-border activities harmful to children, including illicit trade in small arms.
Each arms export licence is assessed on a case by case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Export Licensing Criteria and other relevant international
29 Mar 2006 : Column 1025W
commitments. Consideration is given to the risk that respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the final country of destination would be contravened, as well as the risks that the export would prolong armed conflicts or aggravate existing ones and the risk to regional peace, security and stability. A licence will not be issued where to do so would be inconsistent with the criteria or other relevant commitments.
Mr. Walter: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the Chinese Government about the imprisonment and treatment of house leader Xu Shuangfu. 
Ian Pearson: China and Russia continue to develop closer bilateral ties, strengthening trade links and furthering economic and energy co-operation. The two sides have also agreed how to settle border disputes and have worked together to tackle problematic issues, such as water pollution, in the region. The two countries are also moving towards greater co-operation and co-ordination on security and international issues, as shown by last year's joint military exercise.
Mr. Douglas Alexander: As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said publicly on 22 March, the Government welcome the announcement of a permanent cease-fire by ETA, which took effect on 24 March. We hope to see the commitments made in ETA's statement delivered and hope that ETA has turned its back on terrorism for good.
All internal decisions about talks are entirely a matter for the parties on the ground. However, the Spanish government is aware of the UK's full support and that we stand ready to help in any way we can.
Mr. Greg Knight: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how much has been paid by the UK in fines for non-compliance with European Union regulations for each year since 1997; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Douglas Alexander:
Article 228 of the treaty establishing the European Community enables the European Court of Justice to impose a lump sum or
29 Mar 2006 : Column 1026W
penalty payment on member states in certain circumstances. The court has only done so on four occasions, and never against the UK.
Ian Pearson: The Gambian government has confirmed that security forces thwarted an attempted coup by a group of army officers on the night of 21 March. Arrests have been made of several of those suspected. There appears to have been no fighting and no injuries were reported during the arrests. There has been no civil unrest and business has returned to normal.
The political situation in Gambia remains generally tense ahead of Presidential elections in October this year and Parliamentary elections early in 2007. Following an initiative by President Obasanjo of Nigeria and the Commonwealth Secretariat, all major parties have signed up to an electoral code of conduct. The UK will assist with electoral preparations, to help ensure they are as free and credible as possible.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the implications of the recent agreement between China and Iran on drilling rights in Yardavaran region of Iran. 
Dr. Howells: China and Iran have significant mutual energy interests. Iran has approximately 9 per cent. of the world's oil reserves; China imports around 13 per cent. of her oil from Iran. In October 2004, China and Iran signed a Memorandum of Understanding on exploiting the Yadavaran oilfield in southern Iran, which has proven crude reserves of more than 30 billion barrels. According to official Chinese media, this provides for Chinese commercial involvement in developing the field on a buyback basis, and for China to purchase from Iran 10 million tons of liquefied natural gas a year over 25 years. The details of commercial arrangements between China and Iran are a matter for those two countries.
We co-operate closely with China on policy towards Iran. We welcome China's support for the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors resolutions, most recently on 4 February. We are presently discussing with China and other members of the United Nations Security Council next steps in regard to Iran's nuclear programme. We will continue to work closely with the Chinese authorities over the coming months.
Peter Luff: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent assessment he has made of the treatment of members of the Baha'i faith in Iran; and what representations he has made to the Iranian Government on this matter. 
Dr. Howells: We continue to have serious concerns at Iran's treatment of religious minorities including the Baha'is. The Baha'i International Community report a marked deterioration in the situation of their co-religionists in Iran during the past 12 months. Baha'is have reportedly faced arbitrary detention, harassment, destruction of property and a hostile campaign in the media. On 20 March, the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief, Asma Jahangir, expressed concern about an alleged instruction by Iran's Supreme Leader ordering the command headquarters of the armed forces to identify Baha'is and monitor their activities.
We have pressed the Iranian authorities to address the problems faced by the Baha'i community on many occasions, both bilaterally and through the EU. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary did so when he met Iran's Foreign Minister, Manuchehr Mottaki, in September 2005. The Austrian ambassador to Tehran did so on behalf of the EU on 31 January 2006.
We have also taken action at the UN. All EU member states co-sponsored a resolution on human rights in Iran adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2005. This expressed serious concern at, inter alia,
the escalation and increased frequency of discrimination and other human rights violations against the Baha'i, including cases of arbitrary arrest and detention, the denial of freedom of religion or of publicly carrying out communal affairs, the disregard of property rights, the destruction of sites of religious importance, the suspension of social, educational and community-related activities and the denial of access to higher education, employment, pensions, adequate housing and other benefits."
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|