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Burma

21. Gordon Banks: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps he is taking to increase diplomatic pressure on the Burmese regime. [175912]

Meg Munn: The United Kingdom is working closely with the United Nations, EU and regional neighbours to bring about diplomatic pressure for change in Burma. We support the United Nations Secretary-General’s Good Offices mission, and have secured stronger EU sanctions. Our ambassador in Rangoon regularly raises our concerns with the Burmese Government. We urge Burma’s regional partners and China to play a leading role in pursuing political reform in Burma.

Darfur

22. Robert Neill: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent progress has been made in establishing a UN peacekeeping force for Darfur. [175913]

David Miliband: The AU-UN mission in Darfur (UNAMID) assumed authority on 31 December. We are working with the UN, key allies and troop contributing countries to ensure UNAMID is an effective force. UNAMID consists of over 9,000 personnel, out of an eventual strength of 26,000 when fully deployed. It will grow throughout 2008. We have urged the Sudanese Government to co-operate fully on all aspects of force composition and deployment.

Middle East

Lyn Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what account he takes of the need to ensure the security of Israel and its people and to reduce hardship among Palestinians in his middle east policy. [175906]

Dr. Howells: We understand Israel's security dilemma and recognise Israel's right to self-defence. However, Israeli actions must be consistent with international law and not cause suffering to innocent civilians.

In 2007, the UK gave £31 million in aid to the Palestinians and recently committed up to US$500 million over three years. Palestinian hardship and Israeli security can best be tackled through a political process that creates an economically and socially viable Palestinian state at peace with Israel.

Admiralty House: Official Residences

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1) for how long the right hon. Member for Ashfield had an official residence in Admiralty House while Minister for Europe; [176353]

(2) what the total value of payments made by his Department to the Cabinet Office were in respect of the residence of the right hon. Member for Ashfield in Admiralty House. [176354]


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Meg Munn: I refer the hon. Member to the answer given by my right hon. Friend the then Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Hilary Armstrong) to the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) on 6 November 2006, Official Report, column 860W. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office did not make any payments to the Cabinet Office in respect of the residence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon) in Admiralty House.

Alberta Tar Sands

Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with his Canadian counterpart on the environmental consequences of developing the Alberta tar sands; and if he will make a statement. [175660]

Dr. Howells: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has not had a discussion specifically on the environmental consequences of developing the Alberta oil sands with his Canadian counterpart. But my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken to his Canadian counterpart on a number of occasions to discuss wider environmental issues and the consequences of Climate Change. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary last spoke to Foreign Minister Bernier of Canada at the UN General Assembly on 28 September 2007. He last spoke with Canadian Minister of the Environment, Mr. John Baird, on 16 November 2007. On both occasions the need to address environmental issues in Canada was discussed.

Antarctic

Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he has raised concerns with the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat on pollution from the sinking of a passenger cruise vessel in Antarctic waters. [176880]

Meg Munn: The UK has not raised any concerns with the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat on this issue as the Secretariat has no executive powers to take action. This is a matter for Treaty Parties. We have consulted experts from the British Antarctic Survey, whose initial view is that the environmental impacts from the vessel are likely to be minimal. The M/S Explorer used marine gas oil, which is a light non-persistent fuel. The ship sank in open water, some 50 nautical miles from the nearest point of land and any penguin or seabird colonies. There have been reports of fuel leakage, but this has been dissipating quickly and evaporating in the open water. HMS “Endurance” is due to arrive in Antarctica shortly and she will use swath bathymetry to accurately locate the position of the vessel on the seabed and report on any visible signs of pollution.

Tourism and cruise ship safety in Antarctica will be major discussion topics at the next Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Kiev in June 2008. The UK will continue to engage fully with other Treaty Parties in these discussions and will pursue its proposals for measures to strengthen the contingency plans of cruise ships in the Antarctic.


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Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he plans to make a territorial claim on Antarctica; and what advice he has received on potential conflicts with the Antarctic Treaty Act. [176881]

Meg Munn: The UK has no plans to make any new territorial claim on Antarctica; nor would it do so as that would be contrary to the Antarctic treaty.

The UK has not made any announcements, or final decisions, about any approach to the UN Commission regarding delineation of the outer limits of the continental shelf pertaining to the British Antarctic Territory. The UK will make its intentions known to the Commission prior to the deadline in 2009.

In making any decision to submit information to the UN Commission for the limits of continental shelf, we will of course respect our obligations under the Antarctic treaty and related agreements. We remain fully committed to the treaty, including its protocol on Environmental Protection 1991, which prohibits indefinitely all activity related to mineral resources, other than scientific research, within the treaty area.

Armenia: Genocide

Andrew George: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what (a) discussions he has had with and (b) representations he has received from the Armenian Government on formally acknowledging the loss of life in Armenia between 1915 and 1923 as genocide. [175953]

Mr. Jim Murphy: The Armenian Government are aware of the Government's position on the events at the beginning of the last century in which so many ethnic Armenians’ lives were lost. The Armenian Government have not made representations to the Government to change their position.

Bolivia

Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether facilities were offered to Lord Ashcroft during his recent visit to Bolivia by the UK Embassy; and whether the Embassy incurred costs for entertaining him and his party. [176878]

Dr. Howells: Lord Ashcroft travelled to Bolivia as a member of the party of the visiting hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell). Our embassy in La Paz met and greeted the party at Cochabamba airport and booked (but did not pay for) travel arrangements from Cochabamba to La Paz and back. The ambassador provided accommodation at the residence for one night and hosted a lunch and a dinner for the party as part of their programme. The embassy also covered the costs of interpretation for meetings.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office guidelines recommend that British embassies overseas, as far as local conditions and circumstances allow, should offer the above facilities to the Leader of the Opposition, Opposition front bench spokesmen and the leaders of other political parties as a matter of course.


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Bosnia

Mr. Sarwar: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on the steps Serbia is taking to hand over those charged with the 1995 Srebrenica massacre for trial in the Hague; and if he will make a statement. [175584]

Mr. Jim Murphy: The issue of Serbia's compliance with its International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) obligations arises regularly in ministerial and official-level contacts with EU partners. I discussed this with the then Chief Prosecutor of the ICTY when I met her on 15 October 2007. The EU General Affairs and External Relations Council conclusions of June 2007 recalled that the pace and conclusion of the negotiations on the stabilisation and association agreement would depend inter alia on Serbia's full co-operation with ICTY.

Brussels

Kate Hoey: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how much his Department spent on (a) travel to and (b) accommodation and hotels in Brussels in each of the last 11 years. [175437]

Meg Munn: This information is not held centrally and it would incur disproportionate cost for officials to collate this information.

Climate Change: EC Action

Mr. Weir: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the effect of the Treaty of Lisbon, if ratified, on development of EU policy to tackle climate change. [175644]

Mr. Jim Murphy: At the Spring European Council in March 2007, EU leaders agreed that climate change and energy policies must be integrated to enable the EU to become the first high growth, low carbon global economy. This transition is essential to ensure economic, energy and climate security. The Treaty of Lisbon recognises climate change as an important strategic challenge and as a specific objective of EU policy. It provides a new legal base for the EU to act on energy security, liberalising energy markets and promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy, with the specific aim of preserving and improving the environment.

Deomcratic Republic of Congo: Armed Conflict

Mr. Sarwar: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the effects of fighting in eastern areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the people in the region; and what support his Department is providing to peace initiatives in those areas. [175513]

Meg Munn: The Government are gravely concerned at the situation in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which has severe humanitarian consequences, hinders development and has the potential to undermine
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peace and stability in the region. It has led to around 375,000 people being displaced since December 2006 and a widespread problem of brutal sexual violence and other atrocities.

The UK is committed to finding a lasting solution to the violence. My noble Friend the Minister for Africa, Asia and the UN, the right hon. Lord Malloch-Brown, and other Ministers have spoken with leaders from the region urging them to look for a political solution to the problems affecting the east of the DRC. We are closely engaged with our international partners in efforts to bring the violence to an end.

Departmental Christmas Cards

Mr. Burns: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how much his Department spent on (a) Christmas cards and (b) postage of Christmas cards in 2007. [176916]

Meg Munn: Statistics on the expenditure on Christmas cards and the cost of postage of Christmas cards are not collected and could not be obtained without incurring disproportionate cost.

Departmental Data Protection

Mr. Lidington: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on his Department's policy on the processing of personal data outside (a) the United Kingdom and (b) the European economic area. [176036]

Meg Munn: By the nature of its function, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) must process personal data both within and outside the United Kingdom and the European economic area. Whether this is carried out by FCO officials or by commercial partners, FCO guidance is written to ensure that all personal data are handled in a way that complies with our obligations under UK law.

Mr. Lidington: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether his Department or agencies accountable to his Department process personal data outside (a) the United Kingdom and (b) the European economic area. [176037]

Meg Munn: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office operates in countries around the world and consequently processes personal data outside both the United Kingdom and the European economic area. The main categories are: visa applications from foreign nationals; details of UK citizens requiring passport or other consular services; and Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff records.

Departmental Languages

James Duddridge: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many members of staff in his Department (a) speak Pashtun and (b) are training to speak Pashtun. [176085]

Meg Munn: Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) staff records list 27 current staff who hold, or have held, a language qualification in Dari, Pashto or Farsi (the languages commonly spoken in Afghanistan and Iran).

11 FCO officials are currently studying either Pashto or Dari. The FCO is also seeking to recruit Pashto speakers as part of a current campaign seeking external candidates with skills relevant to the FCO.


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Departmental Minimum Wage

Jon Trickett: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many London-based staff are employed by his Department on the national minimum wage. [175981]

Meg Munn: None.

EC Working Groups

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had on the European Commission’s working programme for 2008. [176847]

Mr. Jim Murphy: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has regular contact with the President of the European Commission and the College of Commissioners. During these contacts, they discuss a range of issues.

EU Development Policy

Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the likely effect of the Treaty of Lisbon, if ratified, on EU development policy. [175665]

Mr. Jim Murphy: The Government believe that, if ratified, the Lisbon Treaty would enhance delivery of EU development policy. It should give EU aid greater coherence and effectiveness.

For the first time the treaty provides for a clear definition of the legal framework for development co-operation, humanitarian assistance and co-operation with third countries. It places the eradication of poverty as the overarching primary objective of development co-operation, which is consistent with the UK's own International Development Act. The treaty will also enhance the consistency of the EU's external relations and the coherence of all EU policies with development objectives.

The treaty also promotes efficient and timely decision-making by extending qualified-majority voting to humanitarian aid. The new position of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy will also support better coherence and delivery of European external action, including development assistance.


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