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27 Nov 2006 : Column 465W—continued

Colombia

John Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment she has made of the consequences of the recent breakdown of the humanitarian accord talks between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the government of Colombia. [101568]

Mr. Hoon: There have been no formal talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (RARC) for over four years. In recent months, both sides have made positive gestures towards a possible humanitarian accord, which gave rise to increased optimism that an exchange of RARC prisoners held by the government for some of the many hostages held by the guerrilla group might take place. But following a succession of RARC attacks against Colombian security forces, including one which left 19 policemen dead, it is now unlikely that a discussion will resume in the short term. We have always maintained that the only solution to the conflict is through a negotiated settlement. We consistently urge illegal armed groups to enter into talks with the government.

Colin Burgon: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what (a) representations her Department has made and (b) advice it has offered to the embassy of Colombia on
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adopting a professional public relations strategy to counter concerns on human rights in Colombia expressed by British trade unions to the Government. [103712]

Mr. Hoon: We have ongoing discussions with the Colombian Government, both through our respective embassies and through ministerial contact, about UK policy towards the country. Most such discussions cover human rights, among other issues. We frequently raise specific human rights cases with the Colombians, including human rights concerns brought to our attention by British trade unions. We have not made specific representations or offered advice to the Colombians about adopting a public relations strategy to counter British trade unions’ concerns over human rights in Colombia. But we believe that it is important for an accurate picture of the human rights situation to be available to inform our discussions with the Colombian Government, British and Colombian trade unions, a view which is shared by the Colombian trade unions with which we have regular contact.

Cuba

Dr. Gibson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions have taken place between her Department's officials and officials from the US Administration on Cuba. [101213]

Mr. Hoon: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) regularly holds meetings with US administration officials that include discussions about relations with and policy towards Cuba. In those meetings, FCO officials discuss US policy towards Cuba, whilst explaining UK/EU policy: namely that we favour constructive engagement with the Cuban authorities, and we do not support sanctions and isolation. On 8 November 2006, we again voted to adopt the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly on the necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the US against Cuba.

Colin Burgon: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether it is her policy to support the activities of the US Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba. [103713]

Mr. Hoon: The US and EU both share an aim for Cuba—to encourage a peaceful transition to a pluralist democracy. However we differ on how to achieve that aim. The US favours isolation and sanctions against Cuba, while the UK is committed to the EU Common Position of 1996, which seeks constructive engagement and dialogue, with both Government and civil society. The UK therefore maintains a policy which is distinct from that of the US Commission to a Free Cuba.

Colin Burgon: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs which representatives of the UK Government met the US Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba on 16 August 2006; where the meeting took place; what the purpose of the meeting was; and what further such meetings are planned. [103714]


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Mr. McCartney: Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) officials did not meet with any member of the US Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba on 16 August 2006.

However, on that day, FCO officials met in Washington with Caleb McCarry, an official of the US State Department dealing with Cuba under the title ‘Transition Co-ordinator’. It is routine for FCO officials to meet diplomatic contacts from the US State Department to discuss matters of mutual interest.

Discussion at the meeting with Caleb McCarry concerned UK/EU and US policy in Cuba. This included ways of encouraging a process of peaceful transition towards a pluralist democracy in Cuba—in line with the EU Common Position. Both sides agreed that Cuban people living on the island should define the country’s future. Differences between UK and US policy towards Cuba were also discussed.

There are currently no planned meetings with US politicians in their capacity as members of the US Commission to a Free Cuba.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what action the UK Government took (a) unilaterally and (b) multilaterally towards ensuring that the general election in Congo was free and fair. [102325]

Mr. McCartney: The UK provided £30 million in bilateral support to the election process. UK officials also participated in the elections steering committee, advising the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) on voting procedures, transparency and logistics to assist them in holding free and fair elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The UK funded Congolese election observation networks and observers sent from the UK, including eight hon. Members in the UK missions, supported the EU Electoral Observation Mission in both rounds of elections. Throughout the electoral process, the UK and international partners pressed candidates and political parties to respect the need to follow the CEI code of conduct and to ensure free and fair elections. We have encouraged any complaints on the conduct of the elections to be made through the appropriate legal channels.

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if she will make a statement on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo; and whether she plans to press for the intervention of the International Criminal Court where appropriate. [103418]

Mr. McCartney: The security situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) remains fragile, especially in the east and northeast. Kinshasa is tense following violence on 11 and 21 November linked to the announcement of provisional election results.

Congolese armed forces continue to be poorly paid, lack equipment and training and pose a threat to civilians. Congolese militia and foreign armed groups continue to operate in eastern DRC, and are responsible for abusing local populations.


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The UK fully supports the International Criminal Court's (ICC) involvement in the DRC and its action to bring to justice alleged perpetrators of war crimes. Thomas Lubanga, a Congolese militia leader, is the first to be put on trial by the ICC. His indictment sends a strong message to armed groups in the DRC on the need to end impunity.

Departmental Staff

Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many staff were employed through employment agencies in (a) her Department and (b) each of its agencies in each of the last five years for which information is available; and what the (i) average and (ii) longest time was for which these temporary workers were employed in each year. [102964]

Mr. Hoon: We do not have a central record of the numbers of staff employed under contract from agencies or the length of their contracts, and it would incur disproportionate cost to obtain this information. We do, however, have the costs for the past five financial years, which are:

Financial year £

2001-02

1,933,841

2002-03

1,850,779

2003-04

2,357,123

2004-05

1,114,873

2005-06

2,299,111


Diplomatic Service

Chris Ruane: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if she will estimate the cost of electronically contacting (a) heads of missions and (b) governors of overseas territories to ascertain their region of birth. [100703]

Margaret Beckett: The approximate cost of contacting heads of missions and governors of overseas territories and collating the information requested is £1,200, which is double the cut-off figure for disproportionate cost.

Chris Ruane: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs who the current members of the internal selection board for appointing heads of mission for her Department are; and in what region each was born. [100720]

Mr. Hoon: Ambassadors and other heads of mission are mostly selected by internal competition at various boards. Individuals bid for specific posts and selections are made on the basis of a competitive process. Appointments are agreed at the appropriate political level.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) staff sitting on these internal selection boards are all drawn from the senior management structure (SMS) of the FCO.

The No 1 (Selection) Board makes recommendations for head of mission appointments in the SMS at Pay Bands 3 (Director-General) and 2 (Director). The
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members of the board are the five Directors-General on the FCO Board of Management listed on the FCO website (www.fco.gov.uk?About_us?FCO_Board) and one of the non-executive members of the FCO Board also takes part. The board is chaired by the Permanent Under-Secretary. They were born in:

The No 2 (Selection) Board makes recommendations for head of mission appointments in the SMS at Pay Band 1 (Deputy Director). Members of this board are drawn rotationally from a list of FCO Directors (who are also listed in the public domain). Membership of this board is voluntary. The current members were born in:

The Band D (Selection) Board makes recommendations for head of mission appointments in the Delegated Grades. Members of this Board take part voluntarily.

Specific appointments will sometimes be made on an ad hoc basis by selection boards appointed for that purpose, particularly at the most senior levels.

Horn of Africa

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what her assessment is of the (a) security and (b) political situation in the Horn of Africa; and if she will make a statement. [101976]

Margaret Beckett: I am concerned at the increasing tension in the Horn of Africa. The Union of Islamic Courts is threatening the Transitional Federal Government in Somalia. Tension continues between Ethiopia and Eritrea over their disputed border. Further conflict would have severe humanitarian consequences and could destabilise the entire region. We are continuing to work with our international
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partners and with regional governments to achieve peaceful solutions to these disputes.

Human Trafficking

Mr. Hayes: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent assessment she has made of the level of human trafficking in the Great Lakes region; what steps her Department has undertaken to facilitate the combating thereof; and if she will make a statement. [101633]

Mr. McCartney: Within the Great Lakes region, armed groups, particularly those operating in north-eastern and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and Northern Uganda continue to abduct and forcibly recruit children and adults to fight as combatants, or to work as porters or sex slaves.

We continue to raise human rights issues with regional governments, in particular the need to protect vulnerable groups. We also support the robust implementation of the mandate of UN peacekeeping forces deployed in the region to disarm foreign and domestic militias. When the newly elected Congolese Government is in place, we will insist that improving respect for human rights and disarming armed groups are top priorities.

Iran

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations were made by Iran to the EU High Representative during recent P5+1 discussions on the (a) P5+1 set of proposals agreed in Vienna on 1 June, (b) conditions of negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme and (c) suspension of nuclear enrichment by Iran as resolved by the UN Security Council; and if she will make a statement. [101963]

Margaret Beckett: On 6 June, the EU High Representative, Javier Solana, presented proposals to Iran on behalf of the ‘E3+3’ (France, Germany, UK plus China, Russia, US). The proposals are far-reaching and intended as the basis for a long-term agreement. They would give Iran everything it needs to develop a modern civil nuclear power industry, including active support for the building of new light water reactors; co-operation in nuclear research in areas that are not proliferation sensitive and possible provision of a light water research reactor; and legally binding assurances relating to the supply of nuclear fuel.

In return, the E3+3 asked that Iran should refrain from all uranium enrichment related and reprocessing activities until international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its programme has been restored. Such activities are not essential for Iran to develop a modern civil nuclear power programme, but would allow Iran to develop know-how that could be used to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. The suspension is a requirement of the International Atomic Energy Agency Board and the UN Security Council.


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