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Human Rights and Democracy Programme Fund

Volume 513: debated on Tuesday 6 July 2010

2. What plans he has for the future of his Department’s strategic programme fund for human rights and democracy. (5776)

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary announced a 10% reduction this year in the strategic programme fund for human rights and democracy, as a contribution to reducing public expenditure, while making clear our desire to sustain such programmes in future years. Programme funds are only one way in which the British Government uphold human rights, which are also a major focus of our overall bilateral and multilateral diplomatic activity.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but will he go a little further to allay the concerns of right hon. and hon. Members and say that there will be no further reductions in the funds available for this important project, which boosts human rights, democracy and the abolition of the death penalty in countries such as Iran, China and Russia?

I share all the hon. Gentleman’s objectives, and we wish to minimise the impact of this reduction. We certainly do not seek further reductions. It is worth making the additional point that programme funds are not the only means by which we deliver these policies. Our ambassadors and our network of staff around the world are delivering these foreign policy objectives for Britain every single day.

Earlier this year, the FCO facilitated a visit by Lord Judd and me to investigate the human rights situation in Chechnya. Sadly, we found evidence of abductions, executions, house burnings and a culture of impunity among the perpetrators. Will my hon. Friend meet me and Lord Judd to discuss our report and how the UK may be able to influence positively the dire human rights situation in Chechnya?

I am happy to welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post.

Nowhere is the battle against corruption and for good governance more important than in Afghanistan, where it is a key part of the combined civilian-military approach. In that context, does the Minister agree with the Secretary of State for Defence that our troops will be the last to leave Afghanistan?

Order. I say this with a degree of trepidation, but I am not quite sure how the right hon. Gentleman has managed to shoehorn his inquiry in question No. 2. Could he explain briefly?

As I said, the drive for good governance and against corruption in Afghanistan is a central part of our strategy, and it is combined with military effort. I am asking a simple question about whether the Minister agrees with the Defence Secretary that our troops will be the last to leave Afghanistan.

I will indeed, Mr Speaker. I assure you and all hon. Members that we attach the utmost importance to human rights and democracy in Afghanistan.

I am pleased to hear that. The Minister will know that an important part of the programme relates to the development of the peace jirga that was recently held in Afghanistan. The Foreign Secretary said of President Karzai’s peace jirga that it marked a

“comprehensive, inclusive and genuinely representative political process”.

He is certainly right that it is important. However, the two most internationally respected members of President Karzai’s Government—Interior Minister Atmar and spy chief Sahel—have resigned because of the failings at that jirga. Will the Minister explain whether the Foreign Secretary met opposition leader Abdullah when he was in Kabul and what he will do to ensure that these funds continue to be used for the vital task of building a political settlement in Afghanistan?

We continue to work closely with the Afghan Government. On the specific and narrow issue of programme funds, I can again reassure the House that our relations with the Afghan Government and our efforts in Afghanistan go way beyond anything that we are spending on programme funds. It is an absolute central top priority of the British Government.