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Volume 538: debated on Tuesday 17 January 2012

Having delivered bilateral support in Tunisia during the election process through help on voter outreach and through the United Nations Development Programme generally, the United Kingdom continues through its Arab Partnership to support efforts to rebuild democracy and freedom of expression in Tunisia and strengthen economic reform.

The Minister will be aware that local governors have been replaced by unelected governors in Tunisia. What efforts can be made to bring about local as well as national democracy there?

It is a good line. The Arab Partnership is interested in working with the Tunisian authorities on what they are looking for by way of re-establishing government. It enables us to draw on resources right across the UK—for example, institutions, NGOs and organisations such as the Local Government Association —that have expertise to offer. The hon. Gentleman certainly makes an interesting suggestion. It has not been raised directly with me in my visits to Tunisia, but I will certainly take it back with me.

Anybody who has been to Tunisia recently will have been impressed by the enthusiasm for the new democracy and the ideals of the revolution, but many challenges remain, particularly in the economy. What material resources and assistance are the UK Government therefore giving the constituent assembly in the drafting of the new constitution?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to put the focus on the economy. When we talk about the changes that have taken place in the Arab world we concentrate on the political, but unless the economics are right they will undermine the political changes that have been made. The UK provides support multilaterally through the G8, the Deauville partnership and the European neighbourhood partnership, and we have offered support for capacity building right across the board, including on constitution drafting and issues affecting economic reform.

Loathing of corruption was the immediate catalyst of the Arab spring, but the Tunisian Association for Financial Transparency states that the British Government need to do more to assist the current Tunisian Government by providing information, particularly about finance in the British overseas territories and the transactions of the previous Tunisian Government. What discussions has the Minister had with the current Tunisian Government about access to the British overseas territories and their finances?

I have had no discussions in the terms that the hon. Gentleman mentions, but I know that one part of the assistance that we are already actively providing is to the anti-corruption unit in the Tunisian Government. It has already taken advice and support from the UK on that matter. I will consider what the hon. Gentleman says specifically about the overseas territories, but so far that issue has not been raised with Ministers.