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22 July 2008 : Column 1119W—continued

Departmental Retirement

Mr. Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether his Department has a standard retirement age; and how many employees have been asked to retire on reaching 65 years of age in each year since 2000. [218218]

Meg Munn: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has no mandatory retirement age for UK civil servants in the grades below senior management.

For staff in the senior civil service (SCS)/senior management structure (SMS), the civil service imposes a default retirement age of 65. No serving members of the SCS/SMS in the FCO have reached 65 since 2006 (when the retirement age for these grades was raised from 60).

Iran: Guided Weapons

Mr. Jamie Reed: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with middle eastern governments on the testing of long-range Iranian missiles. [219902]

Dr. Howells: The Government have not held any discussions specifically about the Iranian missile tests with middle eastern governments. However, we have a
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regular and ongoing dialogue with them at political and official level that includes how to respond to the threat to regional security posed by Iran and that will include developments such as this. We have made clear publicly that the tests only serve to reinforce international concerns about Iranian intentions.

Mr. Jamie Reed: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what communications he has had with the Iranian government on the testing of its long-range missiles. [219903]

Dr. Howells: We have not discussed the recent missile tests with the Iranian government, although we have made clear publicly that we feel the tests were an unwelcome move which can only serve to reinforce international concerns about Iranian intentions.

Mr. Jamie Reed: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with his (a) Israeli, (b) Russian and (c) American counterparts on the testing of long-range Iranian missiles. [219904]

Dr. Howells: The Government have not held any discussions specifically about the Iranian missile tests with Israel, Russia or the US. However, we have a regular and ongoing dialogue with them at political and official level that includes how to respond to the threat to regional security posed by Iran and that will include developments such as this. We have made clear publicly that the tests only serve to reinforce international concerns about Iranian intentions.

Iraq: Asylum

Mr. Moore: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the answer of 10 July 2008, Official Report, column 1826W, on Iraq: asylum, how many of the applications received under the Locally Employed Staff Assistance Scheme that were not from former Iraqi staff were from current Iraqi staff. [219741]

Dr. Howells: 220 applications for assistance under the Locally Employed Staff Assistance Scheme have been received from currently employed staff. Of these 183 were from staff of the Ministry of Defence, 24 from staff of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and 13 from staff of the Department for International Development.

Iraq: Peacekeeping Operations

Andrew Mackinlay: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many allegations of misconduct have been made to his Department in respect of (a) British nationals and (b) nationals of other countries, other than Iraq, who are employees of private military or security companies contracted to work in Iraq by his Department; what the nature of each allegation is; what action his Department has taken in response; and if he will make a statement. [220618]


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Dr. Howells [holding answer 21 July 2008]: There has been one allegation of misconduct by the Iraqi authorities against a private military and security company contracted by the Government to work in Iraq. A complaint was made in February 2008 that a weapon was discharged from a vehicle owned by a private military and security company contracted by the Government. We carried out an investigation and established that this was a case of mistaken identity, as none of the company's vehicles were in the area at the time.

The only other allegation of misconduct of which we are aware was made in December 2007, by a local employee of a private military and security company which we had contracted to support police training in Basra. This individual returned a quantity of surplus ammunition which he alleged had been sold to him improperly by two expatriate employees, one British and one Australian, of the same private military and security company. By the time the allegation was made the two individuals who were the subject of the allegation were no longer employed on the contract in Basra, which was in the process of being wound up, nor were they in the UK. We and the head office of the company concerned investigated, taking a formal statement from the local employee and also contacting the two employees who were the subject of the allegation. Taking into account the content of the individuals' statements and the absence of any independent evidence, we determined that there were no grounds for taking the matter further.

Iraq: Radioactive Materials

Mr. Dai Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether the US administration (a) sought permission and (b) gave prior notification to the Government in respect of the transport of uranium oxide from Iraq to Canada via Diego Garcia. [220443]

Dr. Howells: I can confirm that the US Administration did seek permission from the Administration of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) and gave prior notification in respect of the transport of natural uranium (“yellowcake”) through Diego Garcia for onward shipment to Canada.

The BIOT Administration agreed to facilitate the shipment in order to assist its removal from Iraq, where its continued presence raised proliferation concerns.

Israel: Overseas Trade

Dr. Starkey: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he has recently had discussions with UK retailers and trade bodies representing companies which source goods from illegal Israeli settlements. [219691]

Dr. Howells: We are concerned that goods from illegal Israeli settlements may be entering the UK under false pretences and without paying the correct customs duties. We take this issue seriously and have alerted HM Revenue and Customs to it so that they can take appropriate action. We have not had direct discussions with retailers or trade bodies.


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Mediterranean Region: EU External Relations

Mr. Clappison: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he made concerning human rights and in particular freedom of religion in the course of discussions on the EU-Mediterranean Union on 13 and 14 July; whether he made representations to the Algerian government on treatment of Christians and the enactment of restrictive laws; and what conclusions the EU-Mediterranean meeting reached in respect of freedom of religion in participating countries. [220617]

Dr. Howells [holding answer 21 July 2008]: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary attended the Paris Summit from 12-13 July to launch the Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean. He held a range of bilateral meetings but was unable to find an opportunity to meet with the Algerian representatives.

At this first summit for the Union for the Mediterranean, talks focused on the development of the Union and on priorities for the Union. The summit agreed to take forward projects on tackling climate change, promoting energy security and education. There were no discussions on the issue of freedom of religion at the summit.

We continue to monitor the enforcement of religious laws in Algeria and are in contact with Christian leaders in Algiers. Since the laws came into effect there have been reports of people being arrested and sentenced for conducting 'evangelisation' campaigns. The laws have also led to the closing of some unauthorised places of worship, including those of Christian groups, and the arrest of unauthorised preachers. Our ambassador in Algiers plans to raise this issue with the Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and we will continue to monitor the situation, raising individual cases when it is appropriate.

Middle East: Armed Conflict

Dr. Starkey: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the effect of continuing Israeli settlement expansion on the EU aim of achieving a sovereign, independent, contiguous and viable Palestinian state. [220234]

Dr. Howells: Settlement expansion has a negative impact on the peace process and the EU's aim of achieving a Palestinian State. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at his press conference in Bethlehem on 20 July,

Middle East: Peace Negotiations

Mr. Dai Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assistance the Government intends to give to Israel to fulfil its commitment made in supporting the Final Declaration of the Union for the Mediterranean in Paris on 13th July to pursue a mutually and effectively verifiable Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction. [220447]


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Dr. Howells: We strongly support the declaration of the Union for the Mediterranean calling on all member states to pursue a Middle East zone free from weapons of mass destruction. We are working intensively with Israel and other states in the Middle East for a comprehensive regional peace settlement, and to ensure that Iran complies with its UN Security Council and International Atomic Energy Agency obligations. This would provide the best possible context in which to work towards such a zone. We continue to call on all states in the region to adhere to key non-proliferation agreements.

Middle East: Weapons

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what (a) diplomatic and (b) practical steps his Department is taking to support the establishment of a verifiable Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction and associated delivery systems; and if he will make a statement. [220104]

Dr. Howells: We strongly support the principle of establishing a Middle East zone free from weapons of mass destruction. We co-sponsored the resolution on the Middle East adopted at the 1995 non-proliferation treaty review conference and have consistently supported similar resolutions at the First Committee of the UN General Assembly. Our first priority is peace and stability in the region, including a resolution to the Middle East Peace Process. We are working intensively for a comprehensive regional peace settlement, and to ensure that Iran complies with its UN Security Council and International Atomic Energy Agency obligations. This would provide the best possible context in which to work towards a weapons of mass destruction free zone in the Middle East.

Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty

Jim Cousins: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans he has to propose changes to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty; and if he will make a statement. [219758]

Dr. Howells: The nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) has served the international community well. It remains the foundation of international non-proliferation efforts and a key contribution to collective peace and security. The UK does not plan to reopen the NPT for negotiation. But we are committed to a successful NPT review conference in 2010 and will work to promote consensus around key measures to strengthen the treaty’s three pillars: zero tolerance of proliferation; a clear forward plan on multilateral nuclear disarmament; and supporting the right to the safe, secure and peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Rwanda: Genocide

Mr. Tom Clarke: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports he has received of the Genocide Ideology Law recently passed in Rwanda; and if he will make a statement. [219647]


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Meg Munn: The Rwandan Parliament adopted a new law criminalising genocide ideology in June 2008. The law is currently awaiting presidential signature. We have taken a close interest in the adoption of this legislation, including holding discussions during its development with the Government of Rwanda and interested non-governmental organisations.

Turks and Caicos Islands: Politics and Government

Mr. Austin Mitchell: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what estimate he has made of the level of contingent liabilities for which the Government will be liable arising from any finding of systemic weakness in administration in the Turks and Caicos Islands. [220833]

Meg Munn: The recently announced commission of inquiry in the Turks and Caicos Islands will report on any systemic weakness in its administration.

Ukraine: Anti-Semitism

Mr. Amess: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he (a) has had recently and (b) plans to have with EU counterparts on anti-Semitism in (i) Ukraine and (ii) Russia; and if he will make a statement. [219555]

Mr. Jim Murphy: The EU has regular political dialogue with Ukraine at which we make clear our concerns about respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. On 28 November 2007 the EU carried out a demarche at the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry to express concern about racist and anti-Semitic attacks. Under the terms of its relations with the EU, Ukraine is committed to ensure respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rights of persons belonging to minorities in line with international standards. Together with EU partners we have made it clear that we expect Ukraine to abide by these standards and values if it is to make progress on its aspirations for closer relations with the EU.

We do have concerns regarding human rights and political freedoms in Russia, including the reported rise in violent attacks on ethnic and religious minorities. An outline of our assessment can be found in the 2007 Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Human Rights Annual Report.

We hold annual, bilateral human rights discussions with Russia. These were last held in January 2007 and they included discussion on the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. The next meeting is planned for later this year. We also raise our concerns through the EU/Russia human rights consultations, which were last held in April 2008. At the consultations the EU raised a number of concerns related to specific human rights and fundamental freedoms in the Russian Federation, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities and combating racism and xenophobia. We welcome President Medvedev's condemnation of "any ethnic or religious enmity" in his speech on 9 May.

The FCO supports projects in Russia which promote human rights, including strengthening state and civil society capacity to combat religious and ethnic discrimination. Last year we spent £15,000 on such projects (out of a total spend of £700,000 to support human rights, good governance and reform in Russia).


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The UK is committed to combating anti-Semitism and all forms of racism. At the 2007 Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, held in Warsaw from 24 September to 5 October 2007, we were the first country to report in detail on how we have implemented the Berlin Declaration on Combating Anti-Semitism. We urged other participating states of the OSCE to do likewise. We will continue to work with our OSCE partners, including Russia, on intensifying efforts to combat anti-Semitism.

Mr. Amess: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with the government of Ukraine on (a) anti-Semitism and (b) anti-Semitic (i) organisations and (ii) publications in Ukraine; what response was received; and if he will make a statement. [219704]

Mr. Jim Murphy: Our embassy in Kiev regularly raises issues relating to anti-Semitism with the Ukrainian authorities, including the specific concerns about the policies and publications of the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management. Our embassy in Kiev is also in close contact with local human rights organisations and representatives of the Jewish community with regard to issues relating to anti-Semitism in Ukraine. The UK has made clear that we expect Ukraine to abide by its commitments to human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the rights of minorities, as a member of the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Mr. Amess: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of levels of anti-Semitism in Ukraine; and if he will make a statement. [219705]

Mr. Jim Murphy: We are very concerned about the high level of anti-Semitism in Ukraine. A poll conducted in 2006 found that one in three Ukrainians do not want Jews to be citizens, while investigations into suspected anti-Semitic attacks often fail to result in arrests. President Yushchenko has spoken out strongly and frequently against anti-Semitism and stated that he would take a resolute stance on the matter. This has resulted in a number of welcome developments: the security service and Ministry of Interior have set up units to combat racism and religious hatred; and a task force for the development of a national action plan to combat xenophobia and intolerance has been established. In 2008 a number of proposals for legislative reform that could result in tougher action against anti-Semitism were tabled.


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