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12 Mar 2009 : Column 628Wcontinued
David Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how much expenditure was incurred in respect of overseas visits which (a) he, (b) other Ministers in his Department and (c) his Departments senior officials undertook in 2008. 
Gillian Merron: A list of overseas visits made by all Ministers costing in excess of £500 is published on the Cabinet Office website by financial year. Figures for this financial year will be available shortly. FY2007-08 details can be accessed at:
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office does not hold centrally records of travel expenditure broken down by senior grades. To provide this information would incur disproportionate cost.
Grant Shapps: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what (a) summits, (b) conferences and (c) seminars his Department has hosted since January 2008 at which a primary subject for discussion was the effect of the economic situation on matters within his Department's responsibility. 
Gillian Merron: Responsibility for global economic issues does not lie exclusively with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), but across a number of Government departments, including HM Treasury, the Cabinet Office and the Department for International Development.
There have been two ministerial-level conferences, where economic issues were extensively discussed. I hosted the annual Overseas Territories Consultative Council on 28-29 October 2008. This was a forum for discussion between elected leaders of the Overseas Territories and Government Ministers on policy issues of concern to the Territories and the Government.
In July 2008, The UK-Caribbean Ministerial Forum included dedicated sessions on 'Implementation of Millennium Development Goals', 'Implementation of Economic Partnership Agreements', 'Reform of Financial Institutions' and 'Energy and Food Security; Alternative Energy Sources'.
At official level, senior officials led a discussion on the London Summit at the FCO's conference for its climate and energy attachés from Posts overseas on 26-27 February 2009.
In February 2009, our embassy in Budapest hosted a seminar on Global economic crisis:challenges and opportunities for Europeframing the context with support from the Central European University of Budapest.
The FCO held its bi-annual conference for its economic officers in December 2008. The central themes were to understand the global economic crisis and how to support the Government's international policy responses effectively.
In October 2008 the FCO's Global Economy Group held an internal seminar on new risks facing emerging market economies in the financial crisis, covering economic risks, which countries considered and the impact on UK interests.
The FCO hosted a seminar on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) Africa Economic Outlook in June 2008 and co-hosted with HM Treasury a seminar on international financial institutions with external experts in May 2008.
Looking ahead, the FCO's Research Analysts are organising a seminar in conjunction with the London School of Economics (LSE) IDEAS Centre to discuss the Geopolitical Implications of the Global Financial Crisis to be held at the LSE on 5 March 2009.
Overseas posts have a significant degree of discretion to organise local conferences or seminars on their own initiative. There are no centrally held records of events hosted by FCO posts overseas and collating details of events worldwide would incur disproportionate cost.
Mr. Keith Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the level of threat to British interests from instability in the Horn of Africa; and if he will make a statement. 
Bill Rammell: There has been a long history of terrorist activity in East Africa, from the Nairobi and Dar Es Salam US embassy bombings in 1998 to more recent activity in Somalia. A continuing terrorist presence in East Africa is of recognised strategic value to al-Qaeda, who are likely to view UK interests as legitimate targets.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) works together with its partners in Africa and here in the United Kingdom to monitor the security situation throughout the Horn of Africa and how that might reflect on the security of the United Kingdom and its nationals.
Britons travelling to the four countries which make up the Horn of Africa should continue to monitor our travel advice which is constantly updated. We currently advise against all travel to Somalia.
The long-term goal of the FCO and the Government is an East Africa which has achieved good governance and political stability through support for government and civil institutions. The FCO continues to work towards the achievement of those goals.
Mr. Breed: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what decision he has made on the relocation of the British Embassy in Tel Aviv. 
Bill Rammell: We can confirm that we have withdrawn from negotiations on a lease for the Hakirya Tower premises and we continue to explore solutions to ensure that we have suitable embassy premises in Tel Aviv.
This decision follows discussions with Africa-Israel (owners of the Hakirya Tower) about our concerns of involvement in settlement activities by Africa-Israel and its subsidiary companies. The Governments firm stance is that the construction of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is unlawful under international law, and this is an important policy issue for the Government.
Mr. Stewart Jackson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what his most recent assessment is of the (a) economic and (b) political situation in Kashmir. 
Bill Rammell: Limited trade across the line of control began in October 2008, but the Composite Dialogue, the formal mechanism for discussion between India and Pakistan on a range of issues, including Kashmir and economic co-operation, has been placed on pause since the Mumbai attacks in November 2008. Elections in Indian-administered Kashmir were held in November/December 2008. These passed off peacefully with a reported turnout of over 60 per cent. A new state government headed by the National Conference came to power. The last elections in Pakistan-administered Kashmir took place in July 2006. On 6 January 2009, the Legislative Assembly approved a vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan, who has been replaced by Sardar Yaqoob.
Mr. Stewart Jackson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of progress in the bilateral talks between India and Pakistan on Kashmir. 
Bill Rammell: The Composite Dialogue, the formal mechanism for discussion between India and Pakistan on a range of issues, including Kashmir, has been placed on pause since the Mumbai attacks in November 2008.
Mr. Keith Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with the Kenyan Government on the establishment of a special tribunal in relation to the post-election violence in Kenya in 2008. 
Gillian Merron: The Government have been clear, both privately and publicly, in their support for the recommendations made by the independent Commission of Inquiry into Post-Election Violence, which include the establishment of a special tribunal. Our high commissioner to Kenya has discussed this subject with the Kenyan President, Prime Minister, other government ministers and with MPs and civil society groups.
Mr. Keith Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports he has received of the number of Kenyan people who have returned to their homes since the post-election violence in 2008. 
Gillian Merron: It is difficult to determine exactly how many Kenyans were displaced in the violence which followed the December 2007 elections and how many have since returned to their homes.
According to a survey conducted last year by the Kenyan Government in co-operation with UN High Commission for Refugees, a total of 663,921 persons were displaced by the violence, of which around 300,000 were in camps. Official figures from the Kenyan Government on 2 February 2009 state that 347,148 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been resettled since the violence, most of them returning to their homes, whilst 22,200 are living in 53 transit camps. According to official figures, only 2,582 still live in the two remaining official IDP camps. Another 28,979 IDPs are in so-called self-help groups, which have joined together to buy land.
The Government have provided £2.5 million to help deal with the humanitarian consequences of the post-election violence.
Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will undertake a value for money assessment of UK funding provided for the activities of Tony Blair as Middle East Envoy. 
Bill Rammell: We strongly support the valuable work done by the Quartet Representative, the right hon. Tony Blair. We are satisfied that our contributions to his office are an efficient way of seeking to achieve real improvements in the lives of Palestinians.
Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the answer of 2 March 2009, Official Report, column 1250W, on overseas trade: prices, what position he took on the future of the overseas price mechanism in his discussions with ministerial colleagues preceding the announcement of the comprehensive spending review. 
David Miliband: I refer the right hon. Member to the answer that I gave on 2 March 2009, Official Report, column 1250W.
Mr. Swire: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent assessment he has made of the security situation in the Straits of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf. 
Bill Rammell: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) regularly assesses the security situation in the Straits of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf.
The security situation was last reviewed in late February 2009 when media reports indicated that Iran had claimed sovereignty over Bahrain. The FCO welcomes the fact that the Iranian Foreign Ministry has made clear this is not the view of the Iranian government. The UK's view is clear and firm: Bahrain is a sovereign and independent state and a member of the UN. We refute any suggestion to the contrary.
Mr. Keith Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what (a) financial and (b) technical assistance the Government plans to provide to the International Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia. 
Gillian Merron: The UK has assumed a leading role in the international response to the threat of piracy off Somalia. UN Security Council Resolution 1851 called for the establishment of an International Contact Group for Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS). In turn the CGPCS called for the creation of four working groups on key focus areas. In February 2009 the UK chaired (in partnership with, and located at, the International Maritime Organisation) one of these, an international working group looking to enhance international co-operation and co-ordination of counter-piracy activities. The UK has not offered any direct financial assistance to the wider CGPCS given our commitment to this working group, and we continue to provide technical expertise to all four working groups of the CGPCS.
The UK is committed to continue to support the ongoing work of the contact group and will consider what further assistance to offer as that work matures.
Joan Ryan: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports his Department has received of the use of white phosphorus weapons by the Sri Lankan army; and if he will make a statement. 
Gillian Merron: We are aware of reports of the use of white phosphorus by the Sri Lankan army. The ongoing military hostilities and the lack of independent information coming from northern Sri Lanka make it difficult to verify these claims. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made clear, we urge all parties to the conflict in Sri Lanka to take action to avoid civilian casualties.
Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations he has made to the Sri Lankan government on access for humanitarian agencies and independent media organisations to areas of conflict and military operation in Sri Lanka; and if he will make a statement. 
Bill Rammell: As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made clear, our priority is for the safety of civilians trapped in the fighting in the north.
In his written ministerial statement of 21 January 2009, Official Report, columns 30-31WS, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary called for enhanced access
for humanitarian agencies to facilitate the delivery of adequate supplies of humanitarian aid. Our high commissioner in Colombo continues to raise this issue regularly with senior members of the Government of Sri Lanka.
We welcome the recent visit to Sri Lanka by John Holmes, UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, and hope this leads to an improvement in the humanitarian situation on the ground. We are aware that certain humanitarian agencies have been given access to camps for Internally Displaced Persons. We continue to lobby the Government of Sri Lanka on the need to ensure the safety of civilians and to allow full humanitarian access.
We have made representations to the Sri Lankan government on media freedoms in Sri Lanka.
Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent steps the Government has taken to promote a peace agreement in Sri Lanka. 
Bill Rammell: As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made clear, most recently during Foreign and Commonwealth Office oral questions on 24 February 2009, Official Report, columns 140-43, our view remains that a political solution is the only way to bring a sustainable end to the conflict in Sri Lanka. Our consistent position remains that for peace to be sustainable, an inclusive political process that takes into account fully the legitimate concerns of all Sri Lankan communitiesSinhalese, Tamil and Muslim, is essential.
Our high commission in Colombo takes every opportunity to convey this to the Government of Sri Lanka. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear in his written ministerial statement of 21 January 2009, Official Report, columns 30-31 WS, we continue to engage with all political parties across all communities in Sri Lanka to support progress in this direction.
Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent steps the Government has taken in co-operation with the international community to ensure the safety of aid workers in Sri Lanka. 
Bill Rammell: As my noble Friend Lord Malloch-Brown made clear in his statement of 10 March 2009, we are extremely concerned about the recent killing of an International Committee of the Red Cross humanitarian worker.
We have repeatedly called for a humanitarian ceasefire, which will allow civilians to leave the conflict area safely. We have also called for unrestricted access for humanitarian agencies so they can deliver assistance to those in need and evacuate the wounded without putting their own lives at risk.
We continue to call on both parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law which requires them to recognise impartial humanitarian actors and do everything possible to allow the safe and free passage of adequate humanitarian relief to those in need.
We welcome the recent visit by John Holmes, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, and hope this leads to an improvement in the situation for civilians on the ground. We continue to discuss the situation in Sri Lanka with international partners including the UN Department for Safety and Security and the Sri Lankan Government. The safety of aid workers must be guaranteed.
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