Maldives — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:01 pm on 13th July 2010.

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Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour 3:01 pm, 13th July 2010

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their assessment of recent developments in the Maldives, including the arrest of parliamentarians; and what action they propose to take.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

My Lords, the Maldives Cabinet was reappointed on 7 July following its resignation on 29 June. This represents a step towards the restoration of political stability. We continue to monitor closely developments and press the Government and Opposition to co-operate on the key issues of national interest.

Two Members of Parliament have been released but the Deputy Speaker of the Maldives remains under house arrest. We have stressed to the Government the importance of all being treated in accordance with Maldivian law.

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

My Lords, does the Minister share my disappointment that President Nasheed seems to be reverting to the bad habits of his predecessor, which he criticised at the time, of arresting MPs-which has been declared illegal by the Supreme Court-and pressurising the Maldivian media and the courts? Will the United Kingdom Government use all their contacts-governmental, party and personal, as the Foreign Secretary is a good friend of President Nasheed-to ensure that all democratic freedoms are restored as quickly as possible?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

We are pursuing full encouragement through our high commission in Colombo and other means to ensure that democratic development continues. We regard the restoration of the Cabinet as a step forward. We have a friendly, constructive and supportive interest in the sound stability of the Maldives and we will continue on that path.

Photo of Lord Naseby Lord Naseby Conservative

Is my noble friend aware that the Maldives is no longer a protectorate of the United Kingdom? The country has gone from being a sultanate to a single party presidential system, to-with all our support-a democratic society. That being the situation, what role do we have at all to interfere in what is in fact the Maldivian exercise of democracy as they interpret it?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

The word "interfere" is wrong. It is supportive because we and other democracies have a concern about the dangers of extremism taking hold in communities such as this throughout the world. This would lead to immensely damaging consequences for neighbours and ourselves, so we have a broad concern and the idea of friendship and support. In return, the Maldives has been a good supporter of our interests in the whole region. The Maldives has of course been very strong in its support for sensible and balanced concerns over climate change, including having a Cabinet meeting underwater, though I understand there are no plans for the British Government to do the same.

Photo of Baroness Tonge Baroness Tonge Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I appreciate the Minister's concern for what is happening in the Maldives. However, can he turn his eye to what has happened in relation to Palestinian parliamentarians? The Government of Israel, having imprisoned 40 of them for four years, are now threatening to deport four of them for the crime of living in east Jerusalem.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

Of course that is a matter of concern, but it is miles outside the scope of this Question.

Photo of Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead Labour

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Government are working directly with regional governments, especially the Sri Lanka Government, who have been involved to some extent? Will he also confirm that the European Union, as a major donor to the Maldives, is actively working to assist in efforts to find a resolution to this crisis? Is this not essential, when so much is at stake, not least, as the Minister said, the threat to foreign investment and the need to deal with the massive fiscal deficits which the Maldives has?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

The noble Baroness is correct that the Sri Lankan Minister has been there and played an important part, as has the US ambassador. I am not sure about EU representation at the moment, but it obviously has an interest. We are working with all our partners in a proper concern to see that this republic prospers, without in any way interfering, as was suggested in an earlier question.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates Conservative

Does my noble friend agree that representations to the Government of the Maldives would be a lot easier to make if the diplomatic representation was present there rather than in Sri Lanka?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

That is certainly true, but there have to be constraints on our resources. The high commission in Colombo is very active and a British official is now in the Maldives and about to attend a major climate conference in the coming week.