Cuba

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 20 January 2015.

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Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Labour, Middlesbrough 11:30, 20 January 2015

What the Government’s priorities are for the UK’s relationship with Cuba; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

I visited Cuba in October, the first British Minister to do so in nearly a decade, and signed three memorandums of understanding to drive forward our bilateral relationship. We continue to encourage progress on economic reforms and human rights, and support a closer EU-Cuba dialogue.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Labour, Middlesbrough

Last December, online customers buying Cuban coffee from The Bean Shop in Perth were reported to US authorities by PayPal, which sent e-mails to those customers threatening to close their accounts if they continued to breach US law. In light of last month’s announcement of a new start to US-Cuban relations, will the Minister secure a guarantee from the US Government that UK companies and citizens will not be penalised for trading with Cuba?

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The hon. Gentleman refers to the Helms-Burton Act, which will, I have no doubt, be part of the discussion between the Americans and the Cubans. I am pleased that the US Assistant Secretary of State for the western hemisphere, Roberta Jacobson, with whom I discussed these matters in Washington before I went to Cuba, is in Havana this week. That is the good news. As for the question of bilateral trade between the UK and Cuba, if the hon. Gentleman has a company in his constituency that wishes to trade and to sort out such matters with Cuba, I would suggest that he gets in touch with Lord Hutton and the Cuba initiative, as they are putting together a multi-sector trade delegation visit later this year to support economic reforms in Cuba and to contribute to jobs and growth back here in the UK.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Following President Obama’s welcome Cuban initiative, what is the Minister’s expectation of improving human rights and political freedom in Cuba? Following on from his previous answer, what is the Government’s assessment of the opportunities for British businesses and for broader relations with Cuba?

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The three memorandums of understanding that I signed covered foreign policy, trade and investment and sport. I have referred already to the fact that Lord Hutton and the Cuba initiative are taking a large delegation there in a few months’ time. On the human rights front, I am particularly encouraged by the recent release of prisoners from both sides. I discussed human rights with Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the Archbishop of Havana, and I also met Mariela Castro, the director of the Cuban National Centre for Sex Education in Havana and an activist on gender and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights. We continue to stress the need to release prisoners of conscience and I also call on Cuba to ratify the UN covenants on political and economic rights.