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Sri Lanka: Politics and Government

John Battle: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the causes of the escalation in violence between the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil Tigers; and if he will make a statement. [220717]

Dr. Howells: In our view, the substantial threat which Sri Lanka faces from domestic terrorism and the Sri Lankan Government’s abrogation of the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement, in favour of a policy of military suppression of terrorism, have been major contributory factors to the current levels of violence. The UK’s view is that military action alone cannot resolve the conflict; the violence is too high a price for the people of Sri Lanka. Inclusive political negotiations need to take place for a just settlement that can satisfy the legitimate aspirations of all communities in Sri Lanka and promote democracy, stability and the observance of internationally accepted human rights principles.

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During his visit to Sri Lanka, my noble Friend the Minister for Africa, Asia and the UN, Lord Malloch-Brown, reiterated the UK’s concerns to the Sri Lankan Government.

Terrorism: Victim Support Schemes

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps his Department has taken to inform the public that Exceptional Assistance Measures for terrorist incidents overseas will not be available to UK citizens travelling abroad without travel insurance. [209378]

David Miliband: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website has been updated and a new version of the publication ‘Support for British Nationals Abroad: A Guide’ will reflect these policy changes.

We will continue to work with our partners through the ‘Know Before You Go’ campaign. This is a joint venture with the travel industry aimed at ensuring British travellers are better prepared when they go overseas, to ensure that the public are fully aware of the need to take out comprehensive travel insurance.

For further information on Exceptional Assistance Measures, I refer the right hon. Member to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State’s written ministerial statement of 2 June 2008, Official Report, column 41WS.

The level of support that might be required if the Exceptional Assistance Measures are activated will be determined by the particular circumstances of the incident, and for this reason the measures remain flexible. Under the measures, the FCO can provide immediate support to British nationals in the country where the incident occurred and to assist their return to the UK, but often victims of major incidents overseas, or their families, need ongoing help after they return to the UK. To address this we have a working agreement with the Humanitarian Assistance Unit in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, who will work with the relevant agencies and services to help victims and their families access the ongoing support they need.

Tibet: Politics and Government

Harry Cohen: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make representations to the Chinese Government encouraging that government to participate fully in the eighth round of talks between its representatives and those of the Dalai Lama. [220602]

Meg Munn: We have consistently emphasised to the Chinese Government, both in Beijing and London, that the political difficulties in Tibet can best be resolved through dialogue between the Chinese Government and the representatives of the Dalai Lama. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary did this when he met the Chinese Foreign Minister on 12 June. We are pleased that the two sides have restarted the process of dialogue, meeting in Shenzhen in May and again in Beijing from 1-2 July. We look forward to the eighth round of talks taking place as soon as possible and hope this will lead to substantive progress on the issues involved.

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Turks and Caicos Islands: Politics and Government

Mr. Austin Mitchell: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what fiduciary risk assessment he has undertaken of the debts and liabilities of the Government of the Turks and Caicos Islands. [220832]

Meg Munn: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office carries out an annual economic review of the Turks and Caicos Islands, along with a number of other overseas territories. This assesses the state of the public finances, including the ability of the government to service its debt. The most recent review expressed concerns about the public finances, which I have communicated to the government, saying that improvements need to be made. In addition, the Turks and Caicos Islands also has an independent chief auditor, appointed by the Governor. Accounts are audited in accordance with local ordinance and laid before the House of Assembly. Audit reports, some of which have been critical of the Government, are discussed by the Turks and Caicos Islands public accounts committee.

Mr. Austin Mitchell: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment has been made of (a) the budget of the Turks and Caicos Islands and (b) the sustainability of the (i) current debt, (ii) fiscal claims and (iii) contingent liabilities in respect of the Islands’ administration. [220834]

Meg Munn: The Turks and Caicos Islands constitution allows its government to set its own annual budget. The 2008-09 budget was presented to the House of Assembly in April this year and was debated over a number of days before it was passed. The UK does not interfere in the budgetary process but has agreed borrowing guidelines with the Turks and Caicos Islands Government, which limit the level of debt that it can incur.

We do have concerns about the sustainability of the level of Government debt, including particularly the level of reserve funds, and I have made this clear to the Turks and Caicos Islands Government. I have stressed to the Government the importance of improving their public financial management and rebuilding its reserves before any additional borrowing can be permitted. We have also encouraged the Government to act on the findings of their own audit reports, which include recommendations on fiscal claims.

Venezuela: Drugs

Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with the Government of Venezuela on international drug trafficking. [220054]

Dr. Howells: The former Minister of State for Latin America, my noble Friend Lord Triesman, held useful discussions with the Venezuelan Minister for Europe in June 2007 on the importance of tackling together the flow of cocaine through Venezuela. I held discussions on the issue during my visit to Venezuela in October 2006.

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Officials from our embassy in Caracas, including our ambassador, continue to hold discussions with Venezuelan interlocutors to explore how our Governments can work together to reduce the harm caused to both countries by drug trafficking, along the lines of the informal UK-Venezuela bilateral action plan signed in June 2007.

Western Sahara: Politics and Government

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make it his policy to oppose any further enhancement of Morocco’s relationship with the EU until it complies with its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions in respect of the Western Sahara, with particular reference to the organisation of a referendum on the territory’s status. [221601]

Dr. Howells: The UK welcomes closer co-operation between the EU and Morocco, including the proposal for an Advanced Status Agreement currently under discussion between EU member states, the EU Commission and Morocco. The Agreement will provide for enhanced dialogue and practical co-operation on economic and commercial issues, justice and security, regional co-operation, cultural and educational co-operation and human rights. The UK supports this and the prospect of greater co-operation on a range of human rights issues, including elections, access to justice, women’s rights and the role of local human rights non-governmental organisations, as envisaged by the Agreement.

The UK continues to believe that progress towards a negotiated solution to the dispute in Western Sahara providing for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, is best achieved under the auspices of the UN. To this end and in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution (1813) of 30 April, the UK fully supports the efforts of the UN Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy to the Western Sahara, Peter van Walsum, and the negotiation process currently under way.

Zimbabwe: Embassies

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the written ministerial statement of 26 June 2008, Official Report, column 34WS, on diplomatic missions (non-domestic
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rates), what steps he is taking to ensure the payment of a business rates contribution by the Zimbabwean Government. [221272]

Meg Munn: The Valuation Agency (VOA) of HM Revenue and Customs is responsible for billing and collection of National Non Domestic Rates (NNDR). We continue to work with the VOA to press all diplomatic missions to pay their NNDR bills. The VOA issued an updated statement to the embassy of Zimbabwe on 8 July requesting that the embassy pay the sums due, which amounted to £79,883.28.

Zimbabwe: Foreign Relations

Dr. Kumar: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what his Department’s policy is on relations with Zimbabwe following the re-election of Robert Mugabe. [219852]

Meg Munn: We maintain diplomatic relations with the Government of Zimbabwe and use them to encourage positive policy change on the ground and to provide a consular service to the British community. The people of Zimbabwe clearly indicated on 29 March that they wish for a change of Government and President and we look forward to improved relations when that change comes.

Zimbabwe: Overseas Students

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many dependants of Zimbabwean officials subject to EU sanctions are (a) studying and (b) resident in the UK. [220681]

David Miliband [holding answer 21 July 2008]: We continue to gather information on those dependants who might be present in the UK. At the end of 2007 we had identified some 20 dependants, of which about half were believed to be studying. It is worth noting that some are British citizens and/or minors.

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