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Volume 576: debated on Wednesday 5 March 2014

The Department for International Development is working closely with the Foreign Office to support the democratic process in Tunisia. Through the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, UK funding is being used to train parliamentarians to better represent their constituents, and to support civil society in holding its Government to account.

Although the Arab spring has, in part, been disappointing, does my right hon. Friend agree that there are signs of hope and encouragement in north Africa, not least in Tunisia, where, as he has just said, democratic development is taking root and progressing? Is not reinforcing such success the sort of thing that this country should be doing?

Yes. May I acknowledge all the work that my hon. Friend has done over the years for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy? Through the WFD, we supported the drafting of the new Tunisian constitution, which was adopted on 26 January. The constitution protects freedom of expression and the rights of women, and is considered to be one of the most progressive in the Arab world.

In a bleak region, will the Minister commend the work of Mr Mustapha Ben Jafar in securing the constitution to which he just referred? Does he accept that Tunisia can be a beacon across the region as a broad, inclusive democracy that can achieve real progress?

I fully agree with the good sense expressed by the hon. Gentleman. Tunisia is a beacon and is well ahead of many other countries. I am delighted that DFID and Her Majesty’s Government have played a strong part in helping it on that journey.

The Arab spring started in Tunisia, so what can my right hon. Friend do, in conjunction with the Foreign Office, to embed democracy through local elections, as well as through national elections, in such countries?

We are actively working on the electoral processes, primarily through the United Nations Development Programme and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, to support the independent electoral commission and the Government of Tunisia to implement free and fair elections this year.

The Minister will be aware of the massive displacement, disadvantage and persecution of Christians in the north African region. In his discussions with the Tunisian authorities, will he ensure that that country’s role as a beacon extends to fair play and democracy for Christians to encourage their liberation in other countries that are close to the Tunisian people?

The hon. Gentleman is right that in a proper liberal democracy everyone should be treated equally and fairly. That includes people of different religions, including the Christian communities to which he refers.