My Lords, the chargé met the Prime Minister on 15 October and relayed our key messages: that the adoption of a new constitution is a milestone; that we hope dialogue continues to reach an agreed position that meets the concerns of all Nepali citizens; and the importance of resolving border blockages to enable the distribution of humanitarian assistance. My right honourable friend Hugo Swire wrote to former Prime Minister Pandey on 24 September and my right honourable friend Desmond Swayne made a statement on 13 October.
I thank the Minister for her reply. I know that she will join me in congratulating the Nepalese Government after many years of civil war, an earthquake this year and virtual political stagnation in this bicentenary year. However, is she not concerned about the effects of the fuel blockade on the Indian border and New Delhi’s possible interference? Does she agree that the UK needs to help Nepal to reassert her independence and to restore the confidence that business and tourism now demand?
My Lords, it has been the policy of this Government and preceding Governments to encourage a peaceful resolution of power and to support the development of a new constitution. With regard to the blockade to which the noble Earl refers, our acting ambassador in Nepal, along with EU and other like-minded countries’ heads of mission, has regular dialogue with the Indian ambassador to Nepal. Our British high commissioner to India, James Bevan, called on Indian Foreign Secretary Jaishankar on 7 October and raised with him the question of Nepal. We agreed that we would continue to engage with India and seek to work with it to help resolve the crisis of the blockade.
My Lords, I start by thanking Oxford University for translating the Nepalese constitution for me. Is the noble Baroness as pleased as I am to see gender rights and—for the first time in the region, as I understand it—LGBT rights enshrined in the constitution? Will the UK Government congratulate the Nepalese Government on this major step forward in human rights?
My Lords, it is true that the Nepali Government rely very heavily on the charges on goods going into their country. My noble friend is right to point out that Nepal relies heavily on aid from others, including from the UK, and I am sure it respects the importance of that. For example, on 25 June at the international donors’ conference in Kathmandu, the DfID director for Asia, Beverley Warmington, announced a commitment of £70 million in total from the UK. It is important that the Nepali Government work closely with us in delivering that.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the concerns that were recently expressed by the United Nations about the potential effects, as winter sets in, of the current fuel and food shortages in Nepal, and the likelihood of a very serious humanitarian crisis? Does she share the widely held view that the Nepalese Government are slow to approve aid distribution and are leaving the earthquake victims to fend for themselves?
My Lords, I have seen reports such as those that the noble Baroness has carefully described. The World Food Programme has an agreement with the Minister for Supplies to fly in fuel from Calcutta—that is a recent development—but there would still be challenges in storing and distributing the fuel once it had arrived. The noble Baroness points very properly to the importance of the Nepali Government ensuring that there is fair distribution.
My Lords, the Minister may be aware that the Dalits, who were expecting much greater representation under the new constitution, are bitterly disappointed by it. They represent some 13% of the population and have suffered centuries of discrimination and marginalisation. Will Her Majesty’s Government, in their relationships with the Nepalese Government, encourage them to take positive steps—economic, political and social—to ensure that the Dalits and other minorities are fully included in the development plans for the country?
My Lords, the noble and right reverend Lord raises a very important point. As I alluded to briefly in my first Answer, our view is that the constitution must be right for all the people of Nepal, not only the Dalits but the various groups along the Terai area of the border with India. I am aware that there are serious matters in that regard which still need resolution.
My Lords, we are very pleased that the new constitution has improved the position of women in Nepalese society, but can the Minister say whether it is true that under the new constitution it will be difficult for a single mother to pass on her citizenship to her child? Have the Government conveyed any opinion on this matter to the Nepalese Government?
My Lords, I am glad that the noble Baroness has raised that issue because we are concerned that the provision on citizenship by descent remains gender-discriminatory in its present form, and I hope that there will be further discussions about that. We are also concerned that the wording on religious conversions could be used to prosecute free expression by religious groups. So a good start has been made but there is much still to do.
Indeed, there are such concerns, and the UK has always supported the peace process in Nepal. We fully support the idea of a truth and reconciliation commission provided that it is independent and competent and that it abides by international law. We welcome the Supreme Court ruling earlier this year on the amnesty provisions of the Truth and Reconciliation Act, and we encourage the Government in Nepal to comply with this ruling.