Written Answers to Questions

The following answers were received between Wednesday 20 December 2006 and Friday 5 January 2007

Education and Skills

Childhood Obesity

Dr. Kumar: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what research he has commissioned into the link between childhood obesity and consumption of fizzy drinks. [110093]

Caroline Flint: I have been asked to reply.

The Department, which is co-ordinating action on obesity, has not commissioned nor has specific plans to commission research on the effects of consumption of different food products on weight gain, excess weight and obesity among schoolchildren.

The Food Standards Agency is developing a strategy to help consumers achieve energy balance.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Anschutz Entertainment Group

Mr. Swire: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether (a) officials and (b) Ministers in her Department have met representatives of the Anshutz Entertainment Group. [110017]

Mr. McCartney [holding answer 18 December 2006]: Ministers and officials met representatives of Anshutz Entertainment Group on the following occasions:

Date

February 2003

Official(s)

July 2004

My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and officials

November 2004

Official(s)

February 2005

Official(s)

April 2005

Group Chief Executive of UK Trade and Investment and officials

April 2005

Official(s)

July 2005

Official(s)


Anti-conversion Laws

Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment she has made of the impact of anti-conversion laws in (a) Malaysia, (b) Indonesia, (c) Pakistan and (d) India; and what assessment she has made of the recent development of women's rights in each of these countries. [109089]


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Mr. McCartney: The Malaysian Federal Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. However, Muslims are subject to Shari'a law with respect to family matters which includes apostasy. Muslims can only change their religion with the permission of a Shari'a Court who will often not allow this, and may order periods of rehabilitation and other penalties for those who attempt to do it. In addition, the application of Shari'a is a state, rather than federal matter and so varies around the country—the State of Negeri Sembilan allows apostasy. This complicated issue impacts on a minority of people who wish to leave Islam—a recent survey by an academic found that there were only 100 applications to the Shari'a Courts to apostatise between 1994-2003. The majority of applicants are from people who had previously converted to Islam for the purpose of marriage.

There are no anti-conversion laws in Indonesian civil law. The constitution of Indonesia guarantees freedom of religion.

There are anti-conversion laws in India. However, to date, nobody has raised with us specific cases of abuse, where anti-conversion laws have been used to prevent someone from willingly changing their religion.

There is no anti-conversion legislation in Pakistan, although converts from Islam to other religions are subject to various social pressures and harassment and the blasphemy laws are often abused in this context.

The Government, along with our EU partners, follow closely developments in states where anti-conversion laws exist. We condemn all instances where individuals are persecuted because of their faith or belief, wherever they happen and whatever the religion of the individual or group concerned. We urge all states to pursue laws and practices which foster tolerance and mutual respect and to protect religious minorities from discrimination.

The Malaysian Federal Constitution was amended in 2001 to provide against discrimination on grounds of gender.

The Malaysian Government ratified Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1995 and presented their first report to the CEDAW committee earlier this year. There are concerns that the rights of women in divorce and inheritance are not equal to those of men in the Shari'a Courts. There are also concerns that the proposed new Islamic Family Law Act will do little to alleviate this, with a widespread perception that it is even more detrimental to the status of Muslim women than existing laws, including making polygamy easier. However, the Government are re-examining the bill following concerns by non-governmental organisations and are consulting women's groups on the revision.

The Indonesian Government, through the Ministry of Women's Affairs, are actively working to increase the participation of women. In general, women play a significant and growing role in Indonesian society.

In India, there is increasing awareness of women's rights issues. The Government are working with a number of organisations, including the National Commission for Women, to highlight and address these issues. One example includes a sponsored visit to the UK earlier this year by the chairperson of the National Commission for Women.


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We welcome the passing of the Women's Protection Bill in Pakistan, which marks a significant step forward on the “enlightened moderation” agenda. We will follow with interest the progress of further proposed reforms to improve women's rights.

China

Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations she has made to (a) the EU and (b) her counterpart in Beijing on China's fulfilment of its World Trade Organisation commitments. [109088]

Mr. McCartney: We want to encourage China to act as a responsible member of the international community and support its closer integration into the international system, including through multilateral institutions such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO). To that end, Ministers raise WTO issues regularly in bilaterals with their Chinese counterparts, as indeed I did in July in my visit to China. Most recently, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry visited China from 26 to 30 November. He emphasised the need for China to play an active role in the current WTO round and to continue opening up its markets.

The WTO is an important pillar of the multilateral system and we encourage all WTO members to abide by their WTO obligations. At the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council on 11 to 12 December, EU Foreign Ministers adopted conclusions welcoming the Commission Communication “EU-China: Closer Partners, Growing Responsibilities” and the Commission working paper “Competition and Partnership”. The Commission documents stress the mutual benefits of enhanced trade and economic relations between the EU and China, and the importance of China fully implementing its WTO obligations. The UK worked with other member states to ensure that the Conclusions reflect our position.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Mr. Streeter: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if she will make representations to the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for the release of Marie Therese Nlandu detained on terrorism charges after election to the DRC Parliament; and if she will make a statement. [109834]

Mr. McCartney: Our ambassador in Kinshasa has spoken to the Interior Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo and advisers to President Kabila on several occasions regarding the detention of Marie Therese Nlandu. We and European partners raised our concerns that Mme Nlandu's human rights, particularly her access to legal representation, were not being respected.

Subsequently Mme Nlandu was granted access to a lawyer and has now been charged with several offences and is due to stand trial. We have pressed that her case be dealt with fairly and quickly. We will continue to monitor her situation and treatment.


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Departmental Annual Report

Mr. Hayes: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what the purpose was of the expenditure denoted in relation to (a) Reuniting Europe, Table 15 and (b) Universal Postal Union, Table 18 of her Department's 2006 annual report. [109460]

Mr. Hoon: The Reuniting Europe Programme supports EU enlargement. The programme funds projects in candidate countries, the Western Balkans and the European neighbourhood, with a particular focus on improving governance, judicial reform, tackling corruption and encouraging economic growth. The programme supports the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Strategic Priority 4—building an effective and globally competitive EU in a secure neighbourhood.

The UK is one of the five major financial contributors towards the work of the Universal Postal Union (UPU), paying £960,000 in 2005. The UPU sets the standards and rules for international mail exchanges and makes recommendations aimed to stimulate growth in mail volumes and improve the quality of service for customers. It is the primary forum for co-operation between postal-sector players worldwide, and fulfils advisory, mediation and liaison roles, as well as providing technical assistance where required. UPU activities are funded jointly by the 191 member states. The UK contribution to the UPU reflects the importance we accord to the international conveyance of mail within the context of a universal postal service obligation.

Engagements

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what official meetings were held by the Minister for State for the Middle East during his recent visit to Washington; and if she will make a statement. [110280]

Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Middle East (Dr. Howells) had meetings with senior officials from the United States State Department, Department of Defense and National Security Council and participated in a lunchtime discussion on Afghanistan at the United States Institute of Peace. He also met Senator Carl Levin, Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Discussions covered areas of mutual interest including Afghanistan.

Ethiopia

Mr. Streeter: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment she has made of the prospects of the Government of Ethiopia handing back the offices of the Ethiopian Bible Society to their original owner. [109267]


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Dr. Howells: We are aware of this property dispute and our ambassador in Addis Ababa raised this issue with the Mayor of Addis Ababa recently. We will continue to make appropriate representations but this is a private matter which we hope can be resolved through negotiation with the relevant Ethiopian Government agencies.

Mrs. James: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions she has had with the Ethiopian Government about political violence and intimidation. [109857]

Dr. Howells: Our ambassador in Addis Ababa and embassy officials have frequent discussions with Ethiopian Government officials and Prime Minister Meles, most recently on 25 November, about the internal political situation, the detention of opposition leaders and civil rights. We continue to urge the Government of Ethiopia, and opposition, to exercise restraint, return to inclusive peaceful dialogue and continue the democratisation process.

But ongoing sporadic violence in rural areas of Ethiopia demonstrates the continuing political and social divisions in the community. We will continue to raise these matters bilaterally and together with EU partners, through the article 8 dialogue.

Iraq

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs which officials in her Department have given evidence to the Iraq policy review processes conducted in the United States by the (a) Iraq Study Group, (b) National Security Council and (c) Pentagon; and if she will make a statement. [110127]

Margaret Beckett: Our ambassadors in Washington and Baghdad held discussions with the Iraq Study Group in the course of its work.

The US Administration is currently conducting its own internal review of US policy. No Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials have given evidence to the National Security Council or the Pentagon. To our knowledge, they are not formally ‘taking evidence’ from anyone, but we are in constant dialogue with US officials about Iraq—in Washington, Baghdad and elsewhere.

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether a formal review of UK policy in Iraq is taking place within the Foreign Office; and if she will make a statement. [110281]

Margaret Beckett: The Government keep their policy on Iraq under constant review, above all in response to events on the ground and the views of the sovereign Government of Iraq. I set out our strategy to the House on 22 November 2006 in the course of the debate on the Queen’s Speech, Official Report, columns 548-58. There will be a further opportunity for the House to address the issue in next month’s debate on Iraq and the Middle East.


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Lebanon

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations she has received from her Israeli counterpart on the impact of the current political instability in Lebanon on the implementation of UNSCR 1701. [110128]

Margaret Beckett: I have discussed with my Israeli counterpart the situation in Lebanon. Israel’s concerns about the need for full implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1701 are well known. Israel’s Foreign Minister made clear, when visiting the UK on 21 November, that Israel shares the UK view that the democratically elected Government in Lebanon should be able to exercise sole authority throughout the country, and parties in Lebanon should co-operate with the Government to that end.

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment she has made of the impact of the current political instability in Lebanon on the implementation of UNSCR 1701; and if she will make a statement. [110129]

Margaret Beckett: In a letter to the Security Council dated 1 December, reporting on the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1701, the UN Secretary-General has noted that the military and security situation in the UN Interim Force in Lebanon’s area of operation has further stabilised. The cessation of hostilities continues and there have been no serious incidents or confrontations.

The UN Secretary-General also reported that in parallel with the withdrawal of Israeli forces, Lebanese troops in co-ordination with the UN Interim Force, have deployed throughout the south of Lebanon in areas vacated by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). Liaison and co-ordination between the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, the Lebanese armed forces and the IDF has been very effective in addressing military and security issues.

The Government of Lebanon have a number of important tasks under UN Security Council resolution 1701. Clearly, domestic political stability will be required to continue to carry out these tasks. We have urged all parties in Lebanon to co-operate with the elected Government in seeking the stability that Lebanon needs to secure its future.

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps have been taken in Southern Lebanon on the disarmament of Hezbollah in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1701; and what role the Lebanese armed forces have played in this respect. [110282]

Margaret Beckett: The UN Secretary-General, in his letter of 1 December to the Security Council reporting on implementation of UN Security Council Resolution
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1701, said that liaison and co-ordination between the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, the Lebanese armed forces and the Israeli Defence Force has been very effective in addressing military and security issues within southern Lebanon. The Lebanese armed forces have confiscated some weapons belonging to Hezbollah.

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the answer of 27 November 2006, Official Report, column 473W, on Lebanon, which parties are represented on the informal co-ordination group in Beirut. [110297]

Margaret Beckett: The informal nature of the coordination group is such that it has no fixed membership. In addition to the UK, the United States, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Poland, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Denmark and the delegation of the European Commission have attended meetings or asked to be informed of the group's work so as to help them target their own support to Lebanon's security sector. Group members have encouraged participation from other countries—European, non-European and Arab—engaged in or considering assistance to this sector.


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