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Written Answers

Volume 453: debated on Tuesday 28 November 2006

Written Answers to Questions

Monday 27 November 2006

Health

Brachytherapy

To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what representations she has received about extending availability of brachytherapy to men with prostate cancer; (101333)

(2) what assessment she has made of the availability of brachytherapy;

(3) what the total spending was on brachytherapy treatments for men with prostate cancer in the last year for which figures are available;

(4) what steps she is taking to widen access to brachytherapy for men with prostate cancer.

Since September 2005 the Department has received 13 letters and three parliamentary questions on brachytherapy.

On 22 November the Department issued advice to the national health service on the development of low dose rate prostate brachytherapy services in England. Copies have been placed in the Library.

This advice includes details of where prostate brachytherapy is known to be provided. It does not include information about total spend on prostate brachytherapy as this information is not collected centrally. However, it does include information about the potential costs of introducing and running a prostate brachytherapy service.

The document is aimed at strategic health authorities, cancer networks, primary care trusts and NHS trusts in England and recommends that each cancer network should be able to refer appropriate patients to facilities offering prostate brachytherapy. It also provides advice on what a prostate brachytherapy service should look like. Although the advice is not mandatory, the NHS is encouraged to take the advice into account as it develops, provides or commissions brachytherapy services.

Cancer/Heart Disease (Mortality Rates)

To ask the Secretary of State for Health pursuant to her Department’s press release of 27 September, entitled Mortality Rates from Cancer and Heart Disease Improve ref. 2006/0317, how her Department reached the figures of (a) 50,000 lives saved from the reduction in cancer mortality rates since 1996 and (b) 150,000 lives saved from the reduction in cardiovascular disease mortality rate since 1996; and if she will estimate how many lives were saved from the reduction in (i) cancer and (ii) cardiovascular disease mortality rates between (A) 1973 to 1978 and (B) 1978 to 1996. (101687)

Lives saved is an assessment of the cumulative effect of year-on-year reductions to the numbers of deaths in a specific age group and from a specific cause of death. In this case, it relates to deaths from circulatory disease and cancer at ages under 75.

It is calculated by subtracting from the number of deaths that occurred in the first year of the period, the number of deaths registered in each subsequent year, and then totalling the differences.

An estimate of the lives saved over the other time periods requested is as follows:

Lives saved at ages under 75

Persons aged under 75

Lives saved

Circulatory disease (100-199)

Neoplasms (C00-C97)

1973-78 (6 years)

17,000

0

1978-1996 (19 years)

535,000

65,000

Note:

Due to the different length of the time periods involved, the figures are not comparable with each other, or with the estimates for the period 1996 to 2005.

Carruthers Review

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what the terms of reference are for the Carruthers Review. (100846)

Sir Ian Carruthers has been asked by the national health service chief executive, David Nicholson, to lead a piece of work to review all existing planned reconfiguration proposals. The review will look to support strategic health authorities and the national health service locally in ensuring that the changes being proposed are fit for purpose and well-managed at a local level.

Correspondence

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if she will urge the managing director of the West Midlands South Strategic Health Authority to reply to the letters of (a) 22 August and (b) 17 October 2006 from the hon. Member for West Worcestershire on changes in Worcestershire health service provision. (103689)

This matter has now been brought to the attention of the chief executive of the NHS West Midlands.

Dentistry

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many patients received dental treatment at an NHS walk-in centre in each month since 1 April 2005. (103804)

Following the introduction of the dental reforms, regular information will be made available on the number of patients who receive care or treatment from national health service primary care dentists on one or more occasions within a rolling 24-month period.

The Information Centre for health and social care expect to publish the first information from the new measure at the end of this month. This is expected to give information on the 24-month periods ending respectively 31 March, 30 June and 30 September 2006.

The information on patients seen in the last 24 months will include patients receiving care or treatment in all dental primary care settings including dental access centres. It is not currently held in form that can be broken down into individual months or by type of service.

NHS walk-in centres are nurse led and do not normally provide dental treatment.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many patients visited an NHS dentist in each month since 1 April 2006. (103805)

Following the introduction of the dental reforms, regular information will be made available on the number of patients who receive care or treatment from national health service primary care dentists on one or more occasions within a rolling 24-month period.

The Information Centre for health and social care expects to publish the first information from the new measure at the end of this month. This is expected to give information on the 24-month periods ending respectively 31 March, 30 June and 30 September 2006.

The information on patients seen in the last 24 months is not currently held in a form that can be broken down into individual months.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what method her Department is using to measure patient access to NHS dental care following the end of patient registration upon the implementation of the new general dental services contract. (103806)

The Department will measure the number of patients who receive care or treatment from national health service primary care dentists on one or more occasions within a rolling 24-month period.

National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidelines recommend recall intervals of up to 24 months based on individual oral health. The old registration system required dentists to maintain their registration income and to recall all registered patients at least once every 15 months regardless of their oral health. The new system allows dentists to recall patients at intervals based on their individual oral health needs and the 24-month period chosen to measure access reflects this.

The Information Centre for health and social care expects to publish the first information from the new measure at the end of this month. This is expected to give information on the 24-month periods ending respectively 31 March, 30 June and 30 September 2006.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what guidance is given by her Department to primary care trusts regarding the administration of patient charges for NHS dental services. (103807)

Guidance for primary care trusts on the administration of patient charges was included in one of a series of factsheets (factsheet 4—PCT allocations for primary care dentistry 2006-07 and patient charge income) which were issued on 8 December 2005 and placed on both the Department's and the national health service primary care contracting’s websites, and copies have been placed in the Library.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what the projected shortfall is in patient charge revenue from NHS dental services. (103823)

We are not able to estimate with certainty the full levels of income likely to be raised this year from patient charges. It takes time for clear patterns to emerge, given the time-lags between dentists completing courses of treatment, dentists submitting data to the National Health Service Business Services Authority who are processing the data.

Deprived Wards

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many non-executive directors of (a) primary care trusts, (b) acute trusts and (c) mental health trusts live in wards categorised as being in the most deprived 20 per cent. of wards as measured by the normal index of deprivation. (103266)

Drug Analysis

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if she will direct the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency to publish on its website drug analysis prints containing details of yellow card reports submitted after 25 May; and if she will make a statement. (103135)

The Medicines and Health Regulations Agency (MHRA) are committed to making drug safety information derived from the yellow card scheme as accessible as possible. To this end, in January 2005 the MHRA published aggregated, anonymised data summarising the suspected adverse drug reactions (ADRs) reported for all medicines on its website. The information has been updated to include ADR data up to 26 May 2006. This information is available at:

www.mhra.gov.uk/mhra/DrugAnalysisPrints.

The MHRA is currently implementing a major upgrade of the drug safety monitoring database and data reporting systems. This upgrade includes a review of the presentation of aggregated drug safety information with a view to making the information easier to interpret. Subsequent to this redesign, the MHRA will update the adverse drug reaction data on its website on a three-monthly cycle.

EEA Nationals (Health Care)

To ask the Secretary of State for Health whether EEA nationals who obtain the right to reside in the UK under the Immigration (EEA) Regulations 2006 are entitled to free (a) hospital treatment and (b) general practitioner services. (100750)

Entitlement to access free national health service hospital treatment is based on whether someone is ordinarily resident in this country. Anyone who is not ordinarily resident is subject to the “National Health Service (Charges to Overseas Visitors) Regulations 1989”, as amended. These regulations place a responsibility on NHS hospitals to establish whether a person is ordinarily resident, or exempt from charges under one of a number of exemption categories, or liable for charges.

Those European Economic Area nationals who move to the United Kingdom to take up lawful residence will be eligible for free treatment either by being considered ordinarily resident here or by being exempt from charges under the taking up permanent residence exemption category within the charging regulations.

Any person who is living in the country on a lawful and settled basis may approach a general practitioner practice near to where they are living and apply to join its list of NHS patients in the same way as anyone else in the UK.

Hospital at Night Practitioners

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what risk assessment has been made in respect of replacing doctors with Hospital at Night practitioners in NHS hospitals. (102624)

[holding answer 23 November 206]: ‘The implementation and impact of hospital at night pilot projects: An evaluation report’ found that making use of the combined elements of the Hospital at Night model—multi-disciplinary handovers, bleep filtering and extended roles, and working as a multi-professional team—improved patient safety and led to better continuity of care.

While risk assessment is the responsibility of local national health service trusts, the Department commissioned the National Patient Safety Agency to develop a ‘Hospital at Night—Patient Safety Risk Assessment Guide’. This document provides an approach to risk assessment for hospital at night solutions to ensure that their design and implementation leads to safer patient care.

Copies of both documents have been placed in the Library.

Lyons Review

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many jobs in her Department have been relocated (a) to Liverpool and (b) elsewhere as a result of the Lyons Review; and on how many occasions Liverpool has been considered for the relocation of staff under this programme. (103694)

As a result of the Lyons Review there have been no posts relocated to Liverpool and there have been 550 posts relocated elsewhere. The Department does not hold information on the number of occasions Liverpool has been considered for relocation under the Lyons Review. Data are published twice yearly and is available in the 2006 departmental report.

Macular Degeneration

To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what estimate she has made of the prevalence of macular degeneration; and what estimate she has made of the number of such patients for whom intra-ocular pegaptanib sodium solution may be suitable; (100947)

(2) if she will take steps to provide funding for the provision of pegaptanib sodium solution as a treatment for macular degeneration prior to sight loss; and if she will make a statement;

(3) what estimate she has made of the number of people who lost their sight in England as a result of macular degeneration in each of the last 10 years.

Information on the number of people with macular degeneration is not collected centrally. A study sponsored by the Macular Disease Society in 2001 estimated that there were 182,000 people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) with a best eye visual acuity below that judged appropriate for certification as blind or partially sighted. There are an estimated 26,000 new cases of wet age-related macular degeneration each year.

The Department does not routinely analyse the causes of blindness. However, an analysis by the Office for National Statistics of those registered blind or partially sighted showed that in 1990-91 there were 6,765 people certified blind and 7,204 certified partially sighted with AMD. Further analysis carried out by Moorfields Eye Hospital in 2004 showed that of those registered blind or partially sighted in 1999-2000 there were 7,881 certified blind and 10,705 certified partially sighted with AMD.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) started its review of Macugen and Lucentis as a treatment for the wet form of AMD on 1 August 2006 and the final guidance is expected in October 2007. NICE will consider the clinical and cost effectiveness of Macugen and Lucentis for the classic and non classic forms of wet AMD and will include advice on where Macugen and Lucentis may be effective.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health whether her Department is funding research into (a) dry and (b) wet macular degeneration. (101314)

The main agency through which the Government support medical and clinical research is the Medical Research Council (MRC). The MRC is an independent body funded by the Department of Trade and Industry via the Office of Science and Innovation.

In 2003-04, the latest year for which figures are available, the MRC spent £5.6 million on vision research. This research includes a project on genetic susceptibility to age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The project aims to identify the genetic factors involved in AMD. The MRC also supports collaborative research efforts into the cell biology of ocular diseases, and degenerative diseases of the retina; and in 2004 awarded a total of £1.3 million for research into retinal stem cell therapy.

The Department funds research to support policy and to provide the evidence needed to underpin quality improvement and service development in the national health service and, through its health technology assessment programme, is currently funding a study on wet AMD and two studies concerned with both wet and dry AMD. Details of these projects can be found on the programme's website at www.hta.nhsweb.nhs.uk.

Over 75 per cent. of the Department's total expenditure on health research is devolved to and managed by NHS organisations. Details of individual projects including a number concerned with AMD can be found on the national research register at www.dh.gov.uk/research.

Midwives

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what estimate she has made of the number of midwives needed throughout the NHS; how many are employed in the NHS in (a) England and (b) Gloucestershire; what steps she (i) is taking, (ii) plans to take and (iii) has considered to reduce the shortage of midwives; and if she will make a statement. (103132)

Vacancy rates confirm that there is not a national shortage of midwives. The three-month vacancy rate for England has fallen from 3.3 per cent. in 2000 to 1.0 per cent. in 2006. The three-month vacancy rate in Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire Strategic Health Authority was 0.6 per cent. in March 2006.

We met the target for 2,000 more midwives by 2005 ahead of schedule, and expect further increases in the work force as a result of increased training and return to practise. The 2005 work force census confirmed that there are more than 2,400 midwives employed in the national health service than there were in 2000.

Local NHS organisations are responsible for developing maternity services in response to the needs of their local population, and for ensuring that they have sufficient staff, with the right skills, to offer appropriate choices.

The number of midwives employed in the NHS in England and Gloucestershire is shown in the table.

NHS hospital and community health services: Qualified midwives in England and each specified organisation as at 30 September 2005

Reference

Number

England

24,808

Of which:

Total specified organisations

266

Cheltenham and Tewkesbury PCT

5KW

1

Cotswold and Vale PCT

5KY

43

Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

RTE

222

Source:

The Information Centre for health and social care Non-Medical Workforce Census

NHS (Consultancy Work)

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many former chief executives of strategic health authorities are engaged in carrying out consultancy work for the NHS. (103265)

The Department of Health does not hold records on how national health service employees (including former strategic health authority chief executives) are employed once they have left NHS employment.

NHS Trusts

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what recent discussions she has had with the NHS Appointments Commission on increasing the number of non-executive directors of NHS trusts who come from areas of health deprivation; and if she will make a statement. (103264)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had no recent discussions with the Appointments Commission on this subject. However, the Appointments Commission is committed to ensuring that those appointed as non-executives are drawn from across the geographical areas served by national health service trusts.

Non-UK Nationals (NHS Care)

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what the cost was of treating non-UK nationals in the NHS in the last financial year for which figures are available, broken down by county. (100941)

Successive Governments have not required the national health service to provide statistics on the number of overseas visitors seen, treated or charged under the provisions of the “NHS (Charges to Overseas Visitors) Regulations 1989”, as amended, nor any costs involved. It is therefore not possible to provide the information requested.

PCTs

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many former primary care trust (PCT) chief executives are to be made redundant following the recent merger of PCTs; and what payments will be made to each. (101264)

Professor Mike Richards

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what Professor Mike Richards' role was in implementing information delivery of benefits to cancer patients; and if she will make a statement. (101312)

As National Cancer Director Professor Richards oversees the implementation of the national health service cancer plan, the Government’s strategy for improving cancer services in England. This includes providing appropriate information to cancer patients.

Providing cancer patients with information on benefits is an important issue and the Department has been working closely with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to explore options for publicising information about benefits. This includes signposting people with cancer to information about benefits through helplines and website addresses on information prescriptions. Information prescriptions for people with cancer will begin piloting in early 2007.

Additionally we have arranged for information to appear on the patient advisory liaison service (PALS) website with links to the DWP and Disability and Carers Service web pages to help provide PALS workers with information on benefits so as to better advise patients.

Royal Shrewsbury Hospital

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if she will intervene to stop the cutting of 16 tests in the maternity unit at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital. (101941)

Decisions about the configuration of local services are a matter for the local national health service.

Shropshire PCT

To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) which (a) posts and (b) services in Shropshire primary care trust (PCT) are under review as a result of the requirement on the PCT to find savings in the 2006-07 financial year; (101700)

(2) when she expects Shropshire primary care trust to announce what measures it plans to take in order to meet its revised budget.

Formal consultation on stage 1 of the primary care trust’s (PCT) strategic service plan closed on 29 September 2006. The NHS West Midlands reports that the consultation responses were considered by the PCT board at its meeting on 24 October 2006 and the following proposals were supported:

the implementation of the existing plan to transfer the Bishops Castle Community Hospital site to the not-for-profit organization, Coverage Care, in 2007-08. This is subject to resolution of the financial impairment issue relating to the building;

the closure of Whitcliffe mental health ward, at Ludlow Hospital;

the deferral of the proposals for general inpatient services on Clee Ward at Ludlow Hospital until June 2007 to enable the PCT to work with South Shropshire district council and others to evaluate their alternative vision for the community hospital;

the reorganisation of district nursing and health visiting services; and

the closure of six beds at Whitchurch Hospital.

Consultation is under way with staff on Whitcliffe Ward, Ludlow, and it is hoped that staff will be found suitable alternative employment.

Shropshire County PCT and Telford and Wrekin PCT are currently undertaking the second phase of the formal consultation on the strategic service plan which is due to close on 27 November 2006. This relates to the configuration of services between the two acute hospitals, the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and the Princess Royal Hospital. This will include children’s services and urology services. We would expect announcements to be made once the PCTs have considered the responses received following the consultation exercise.

Strategic Health Authority (London)

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what the selection process is for the chair of the new strategic health authority in London; and if she will make a statement. (100673)

The Appointments Commission, under direction from Secretary of State, undertook a full and open recruitment and selection process for all strategic health authority (SHA) chairs, including the London SHA chair. The process included the use of assessment centres and competency-based interviews.

Waiting Times

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what targets her Department has for waiting times for cataract operations; and what the waiting times were for such operations in each strategic health authority region in each of the last five years. (102431)

[holding answer 23 November 2006]: The maximum waiting time standard since December 2005 has been 13 weeks for first out-patient appointment and six months for in-patient treatment from decision to admit. Referrals that result in cataract operations are covered by the 18 week target for delivery in December 2008.

Waiting time data at sub-specialty level are not available centrally. The hospital episode statistics data, unadjusted for self-deferrals or periods of medical/social suspension, give an approximate measure at sub-specialty level including cataracts. Data for each of the five years up to 2004-05—the latest for which HES data are available—have been placed in the Library.

Treasury

Benefits Claimants

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer which options for payment are offered to new claimants of (a) child benefit, (b) child tax credit and (c) working tax credit; and if he will place in the Library copies of the relevant standard letters and leaflets. (102399)

Payment options for child benefit and tax credits are set out in the notes that accompany the claim forms, form CH2 for child benefit and form TC600 for tax credits. Copies will be placed in the Library.

Child Benefit

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what his estimate is of total real spending on (a) child benefit, (b) child tax credit and (c) child trust funds for each year since 1990-91 using 2004-05 prices; what estimate he has made of likely spending in 2006-07 in 2004-05 prices; and if he will make a statement. (101280)

Total real spending of (a) child benefit, (b) child tax credit and (c) child trust fund, using 2004-05 prices for the years requested are tabled as follows.

£ billion

Child benefit

Child tax credit

Child trust fund1

1990-91

7.3

1991-92

7.9

1992-93

8.3

1993-94

8.7

1994-95

8.6

1995-96

8.6

1996-97

8.8

1997-98

8.7

1998-99

8.7

1999-2000

9.7

2000-01

9.8

2001-02

9.8

2002-03

9.8

2003-04

9.7

9.1

2004-05

9.6

11.1

2005-06

9.5

12.1

0.8

2006-07

0.2

1 Government endowments.

For 2006-07, expenditure on child benefit is expected to be similar to that in 2005-06. No separate forecast is available for child tax credit.

Child Pornography

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) what recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Customs Consolidation Act 1876 in preventing child pornography from being imported into the UK; (100504)

(2) what action his Department is undertaking to prevent the import of child pornography into the UK.

The prohibition on the import of indecent and obscene material which includes child pornography is created by Section 42 of the Customs Consolidation Act 1876 (CCA). This Act places a prohibition on all visual material that is obscene or indecent including any material depicting a child under 16 years of age engaged in any form of sexual activity.

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will seize imports of child pornography breaching this prohibition under section 139 (1) of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 (CEMA). HMRC annually assesses the effectiveness of our enforcement responsibilities and since 2004 has reported seizure data for child pornography in the HMRC Annual Reports.

Departmental Expenditure

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what projection his Department has made of (a) the total level of public expenditure and (b) spending by each Government Department between 2015 and 2020. (102868)

The Treasury’s projections of public spending out to 2055 are available at chapter 5 of the “Long-term public finance report: an analysis of financial stability” which was published alongside the 2005 pre-Budget report. This document can be accessed via the Treasury website.

Departmental Statistics

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer which statistics have been put forward by the Treasury for consideration to become new national statistics in each of the last five years; and how many statistics sets the Treasury has produced in total in each of the last five years. (101641)

The current list of National Statistics produced by HM Treasury, and its departments and agencies, can be found on the National Statistics website at:

http://www.statistics.gov.uk/about/ns_ons/nsproducts/default.asp

A list of changes to the scope of National Statistics (additions and withdrawals) in each of the last five years can be found in the relevant National Statistics annual report available on the National Statistics website at:

http://www.statistics.gov.uk/StatBase/Product.asp?vlnk=1051

In addition to National Statistics, HM Treasury, and its departments and agencies, publish a wide range of other numerical information in a variety of forms including other data produced from the management and administration of the department and in research reports. There is no consistent definition of the term “statistics sets” and no centrally held information on the total published in each year on this basis.

Fruit Juices (VAT)

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will assess the merits of abolishing VAT on fruit juices; and if he will make a statement. (103274)

I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Stephen Williams) on 17 October 2006, Official Report, columns 1108-9W.

Gender Equality

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he expects to publish his Department’s gender equality scheme. (101468)

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what plans he has to carry out gender impact assessments of his Department’s major policy developments and new legislation. (101531)

The Treasury, in partnership with other Government Departments, will consider where it would be appropriate to conduct gender impact assessments in line with the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (Public Authorities) (Statutory Duties) Order 2006 (No. 2930).

HM Revenue and Customs

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what information HM Revenue and Customs shares with (a) the Department of Work and Pensions, (b) the Home Office and (c) the Serious Organised Crime Agency. (102882)

[holding answer 23 November 2006]: Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) are bound by a legal duty of confidentiality that restricts them from disclosing information to any third party, including other Government Departments.

Disclosures of information can only be made by HMRC in the very prescribed circumstances set out in statute. For disclosures to Government Departments these prescribed circumstances will normally be the consent of the person to whom the information relates or where legislation specifically authorises such a disclosure of information, (known as “gateways”) and HMRC have gateways with each of the Departments referred to in the hon. Gentleman’s inquiry.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether decisions may be taken on the future of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) offices before the end of the consultation process announced by the Acting Chairman of HMRC. (103695)

HMRC will not take final decisions on the future of any individual office until after the completion of the consultation period in each region. Ahead of final decisions being taken, it is possible that some work currently undertaken in individual offices will change. Where work is moved to another location, other work of a similar skill and grade requirement will be directed to the office.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what steps he is taking to ensure that HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) staff will be kept appraised of progress in the consultation process on the closure of rural HMRC offices. (103696)

The Review Programme announced by HMRC on 16 November 2006 confirmed its commitment to undertake consultation with staff before final decisions are taken on any office closure.

Proposals for each review will be widely communicated to staff through a variety of means—the staff intranet, written communications, and direct communications from managers.

A report outlining the responses to the consultation exercise for each review will be made available to all staff and sent to MPs with a constituency in the area.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many penalty notices sent out by HM Revenue and Customs were rescinded in (a) 2004-05 and (b) 2005-06. (101778)

The total number of self assessment penalty notices issued and cancelled in the years requested were:

Issued

Cancelled

2004-05

1,715,775

233,731

2005-06

1,658,883

190,407

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the cash equivalent transfer value is of the public sector pensions of (a) the acting chairman of HM Revenue and Customs and (b) the 10 highest paid HM Revenue and Customs staff; and if he will make a statement. (101305)

The current cash equivalent transfer value for the acting chairman is £1,704,650.

The current total cash equivalent transfer value for the 10 highest paid HM Revenue and Customs staff is £5,363,179. Five of these individuals are named in the Annual Report and Resource Accounts and cash equivalent transfer value of their public sector pensions is therefore reported annually. This information is already in the public domain.

Iraq

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer which programme will be funded by the additional £100 million for reconstruction in Iraq he pledged on 18 November; and from which sources the additional funding will be derived. (102461)

[holding answer 23 November 2006]: The Chancellor’s announcement of an additional £100 million for reconstruction in Iraq will primarily support the Department for International Development’s bilateral programme for Iraq. As well as funding from the Department for International Development assistance will also be provided through the Global Conflict Prevention Pool.

Lyons Review

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what remuneration Sir Michael Lyons received for chairing the review of the location of public sector departments. (104095)

I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave her on 8 November 2006, Official Report, column 1543W.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many meetings Treasury Ministers have had with Sir Michael Lyons in the last 12 months. (104100)

Treasury Ministers and officials have meetings with a wide range of organisations and individuals in the public and private sectors as part of the process of policy development and delivery. As was the case with previous Administrations, it is not the Government’s practice to provide details of all such meetings.

Pensions

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what criteria the Government will apply to ascertain whether a person has the right religious credentials to qualify for the alternatively secured pension. (103399)

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the future of alternative secured pensions. (104284)

I refer the hon. Gentlemen to the reply I gave the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) on 16 October 2006, Official Report, column 1056W.

State School Cadet Units

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what discussions he had with the Department for Education and Skills on the announcement made on 27 June 2006 on the creation of six new state school cadet units. (103358)

Treasury Ministers and officials have meetings with a wide range of organisations in the public and private sectors as part of the process of policy development and delivery. As was the case with previous Administrations, it is not the Government's practice to provide details of all such meetings.

Tax and Payroll Advice

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many small companies received direct help with administration of their tax and payroll in 2005. (102859)

Small businesses can obtain formal and informal assistance in complying with their tax affairs from a range of sources including Government Departments and agencies, accountants and other business advisers.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) provides direct assistance through a number of targeted services to companies of all sizes, including face-to-face advice in 281 Inquiry Centres, a dedicated employers helpline and EmployerTalk events. It is not possible to identify accurately from records held centrally the number of small companies benefiting from these services in any one year.

The following table gives the number of small businesses receiving direct assistance from HMRC’s education and support teams in 2005-06:

HMRC assistance

Number of small businesses

Workshops

75,365

One-to-one meetings

48,696

Exhibitions

19,159

Tax Credits

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many (a) men and (b) women in Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk constituency were in receipt of tax credit at (i) 30 December 2005, (ii) 30 March 2006, (iii) 30 June 2006 and (iv) 30 September 2006. (101389)

The information is not available for the dates requested. The following table shows the estimate number of (a) men and (b) women in Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk who were claimants in in-work families with tax credits awards in payment at 5 December 2005 and 3 April 2006.

Thousand

Men

Women

5 December 2005

6.5

7.7

3 April 2006

6.4

7.8

Note:

These estimates based on a 10 per cent. sample of single adults, and a 20 per cent. sample of couples, in tax credits awards. They are therefore subject to sampling uncertainty.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many tax credit renewals were outstanding in each month since April 2005. (102099)

The deadline for renewals was 30 September in 2005 and 31 August in 2006.

Outstanding reply-required renewals in the week ending:

Number

30 July 2005

1,500,000

3 September 2005

800,000

1 October 2005

300,000

1 July 2006

1,600,000

29 July 2006

1,100,000

2 September 2006

300,000

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many tax credit compliance team staff there were in each year since 2001-02; and if he will make a statement. (102101)

Full-time equivalent claimant compliance staffing figures are:

Number (around)

2003-04

1,200

2004-05

1,200

2005-06

1,220

2006-07

1,420

2007-08

1,420

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what estimate he has made of the number of individuals involved in large scale attempts to defraud the tax credits system. (102102)

HMRC successfully prevent many false claims going into payment, but it is not possible to estimate how many people may be involved in such attempts.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when the tax credits computer system software was last updated; and if he will make a statement. (102355)

The tax credit system is improved on a cycle of updates. The most recent update was 30 October 2006.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how calls between tax credits helpline callers and HM Revenue and Customs are (a) recorded and (b) archived; how many people are employed in such processes; and if he will make a statement. (102366)

All calls to the tax credits helpline are automatically digitally recorded and archived. There is no direct staff involvement.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) how many cases of tax credit fraud involving (a) giro cheques and (b) fake giro cheques his Department has investigated; (102400)

(2) what investigation his Department has undertaken into tax credit fraud involving giro cheques.

HMRC takes fraud very seriously and has a range of checks in place to identify fraud. HMRC do not keep separate statistics of fraud involving giro cheques.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many claimants received giro cheques for (a) regular and (b) exceptional payment of tax credits in each of the last four years. (102402)

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on his Department’s policy of distributing tax credits by giro cheque. (102648)

The information is not available in the format requested.

HM Revenue and Customs issue automated cash cheque payments in circumstances where it is not possible to pay tax credits into a bank, building society or Post Office Card Account.

Cash cheque payments are also made manually, in exceptional circumstances, to prevent hardship, or where a claimant is temporarily out of payment.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many people in the Beverley and Holderness constituency are in receipt of tax credits; how many receive tax credits by giro cheque; and if he will make a statement. (102649)

Estimates for 2003-04 and 2004-05 of the numbers of in-work families with tax credits awards by constituency, based on final family circumstances and incomes for 2003-04 and 2004-05 are published in “Child and Working Tax Credits. Finalised Awards 2003-04 Geographical Analysis” and the “Child and Working Tax Credits. Finalised Awards 2004-05 Geographical Analysis”. These publications and provisional estimates for the number of in-work families by constituency with tax credit awards as at selected dates in 2005-06 are available on the HMRC website at:

http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/stats/personal-tax-credits/cwtc-geog-stats.htm.

Information on number of people, in the constituency of Beverley and Holderness, who are receiving tax credits by giro cheque is not available except at disproportionate cost.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many compensation payments for maladministration and poor service were made by the tax credits section of his Department in each month from May 2006 to October 2006; what the total value of such payments was in each quarter since 1 April 2003; and if he will make a statement. (103991)

The circumstances in which HM Revenue and Customs will make compensation payments to its customers are explained in the Department's Code of Practice 1 “Putting things right” which is available at www.hmrc.gov.uk. The Department will pay compensation for reasonable costs incurred as a direct result of its mistakes or delays and to recognise worry and distress caused by those mistakes and delays. It does not keep separate details of compensation payments made specifically due to “maladministration” or “poor service”.

Tax Liability Assessments

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what tax liability assessments are made in respect of (a) people and (b) companies who buy and sell goods over the internet; what guidelines are in place on the level of trading which would constitute doing business; and if he will make a statement. (103271)

The same tax rules and assessment apply to internet trading as to any other form of trading. People and companies who trade over the internet are therefore liable to register for VAT and assessable to income tax or corporation tax on their profits through self assessment like any other trader or company. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) do not separately identify internet trading, and could not identify tax liability assessments on such traders except at disproportionate cost.

There is extensive guidance on the meaning of 'trade' for income tax and corporation tax on the HMRC website under:

http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/manuals/bimmanual/BIM20200.htm.

More specific guidance for online trading will be published shortly.

UK Payments System

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he will bring forward legislation to ensure that the UK payments system is open to new competition as announced in his Budget Statement on 21 March 2000. (103420)

Following Don Cruickshank’s report on competition in UK banking, the Chancellor announced in the 2003 pre-Budget report that the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) would set up a Payment Systems Task Force to examine UK payment systems. The Taskforce began work in spring 2004 and in September 2006 it reached agreement on a new model for payments systems governance. On 14 November 2006, the Chancellor approved the OFT’s recommendation to wind up the Task Force and to proceed with the creation of a new industry-led governing body to deliver improvements in payment systems, which will be reviewed after two years. In line with the Government’s better regulation agenda, the creation of this new body does not require legislation.

On 14 November 2006, I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dumbartonshire (John McFall) in his capacity as Chair of the Treasury Select Committee to inform him of these developments. A copy of this letter has been placed in the Library of the House.

Women Pensioners

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many women he expects to reach the state pension age (a) by April 2010 and (b) after April 2010. (102116)

The information requested falls within the responsibility of the National Statistician, who has been asked to reply.

Letter from Colin Mowl, dated 27 November 2006:

The National Statistician has been asked to reply to your question asking how many women are expected to reach the state pension age by (a) April 2010 and (b) after April 2010. I am replying in her absence. (102116)

The number of women within the United Kingdom expected to reach state pension age from April to April each year for 2006/07 to 2030/31 can be seen in the attached table.

The figures were derived from the latest official national population projections, which are based on the population at the middle of 2004 and were published in October 2005. These projections allow for the change in the state pension age for women from 60 at April 2010 to 65 at April 2020.

Estimated number of women in the UK projected to reach state pension age in years April to April allowed for increase in SPA from age 60 in April 2010 to 65 by April 2020

Females reaching SPA1 (Thousand)

2006-07

416

2007-08

418

2008-09

390

2009-10

374

2010-11

182

2011-12

179

2012-13

177

2013-14

176

2014-15

176

2015-16

176

2016-17

177

2017-18

177

2018-19

176

2019-20

175

2020-21

355

2021-22

366

2022-23

378

2023-24

385

2024-25

392

2025-26

406

2026-27

418

2027-28

430

2028-29

438

2029-30

442

2030-31

441

1 Rounded to the nearest thousand. Derived from 2004-based national population projections for United Kingdom (GAD).

Note:

The above figures give estimates for the numbers in the UK population reaching SPA in the financial years shown. They do not include those emigrating from the UK before reaching SPA and who may have entitlement to some UK state pension, but do include those migrating to the UK before SPA and who are resident in the UK on reaching SPA.

Work Force Statistics

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what proportion of the workforce was working (a) fewer than 16, (b) 16 to 20, (c) 21 to 25, (d) 26 to 30, (e) 31 to 35, (f) 36 to 40 and (g) in excess of 41 hours per week in each year since 1997. (103255)

The information requested falls within the responsibility of the National Statistician, who has been asked to reply.

Letter from Karen Dunnell, dated 27 November 2006:

As National Statistician I have been asked to reply to your parliamentary question about the workforces' usual hours worked per week for each year since 1997.

(103255)

The attached table gives the usual weekly hours worked for the requested hourly bands, covering those in employment, for the three month period ending June each year since 1997. Comparable estimates are not currently available for 1998 and 2000.

Estimates are taken from the Labour Force Survey (LFS). As with any sample survey, estimates from the LFS are subject to a margin of uncertainty.

People in employment by usual weekly hours of work1 1997, 1999 and 2001 to 2006 United Kingdom, not seasonally adjusted

Three months ending June each year

Total (thousands2)

Under 16 hours per week

16 to 20 hours per week

21 to 25 hours per week

1997

26,356

10.3

6.3

4.5

1999

26,876

9.9

6.6

4.8

2001

27,438

9.1

6.8

5.1

2002

27,617

9.0

7.2

5.2

2003

27,863

9.2

7.2

5.1

2004

28,024

9.0

7.1

5.4

2005

28,193

8.8

7.3

5.4

2006

28,339

8.8

7.1

5.4

Three months ending June each year

26 to 30 hours per week

31 to 35 hours per week

36 to 40 hours per week

41 or more hours per week

1997

4.4

6.3

27.1

41.0

1999

4.5

6.2

28.5

39.5

2001

4.6

6.6

29.2

38.6

2002

4.7

6.9

29.5

37.5

2003

5.0

6.8

30.2

36.5

2004

5.2

7.0

31.0

35.1

2005

5.1

7.3

31.3

34.8

2006

5.2

7.2

31.9

34.3

1 Main job only.

2 Includes those who did not state the number of hours they worked, but percentages are based on totals which exclude this group.

Note: Comparable data are not currently available for 1998 and 2000.

Source: ONS Labour Force Survey (LFS)

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Adapted Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what her position is on the proposal for an Adapted Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty; and if she will make a statement. (103571)

We, along with NATO Allies, are fully committed to the entry into force of the Adapted Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty and reaffirmed our position at the recent third CFE Review Conference. However, the Adapted Treaty cannot come into force until all 30 signatories have ratified it. We, and NATO allies, will ratify the Adapted Treaty once the Russian Federation has met the commitments it made with respect to Georgia and Moldova, on military withdrawals, at the 1999 Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe Summit in Istanbul. With NATO Allies we have welcomed the March 2006 agreement between Russia and Georgia for the withdrawal of Russian forces from Georgia as a further positive step, and continue to press Russia to meet its remaining commitments in full in both Georgia and Moldova.

Afghanistan

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress has been made in implementing the National Action Plan for Peace, Reconciliation and Justice in Afghanistan; and whether she expects the programme to meet commitments set out in the Afghanistan Compact. (101969)

The National Action Plan for Peace, Reconciliation and Justice, drafted by the Afghan Government in collaboration with UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, and adopted by the Afghan Cabinet in December 2005, sets out the Afghan Government’s strategy for transitional justice until 2008. It provides for the adoption of five interrelated ‘key actions’ in order to ensure redress for victims and prevent the future occurrence of atrocities in Afghanistan: public symbolic measures acknowledging the suffering of victims and their families; institutional reform; truth-seeking and documentation; promotion of reconciliation; and the establishment of meaningful and effective accountability mechanisms. The international community reaffirmed their shared commitment to implement the Action Plan at the London Conference on Afghanistan earlier this year.

The Afghanistan Compact provides that the Action Plan is to be implemented by 2008. While the Action Plan has yet to be formally launched, many of its ‘key actions’ are linked to progress in other areas, in particular the rule of law and efforts to tackle corruption, which are covered by the “Justice for All” Action Plan launched in January 2006. Efforts are underway to strengthen judicial institutions, enhance the capacity of key Afghan Ministries and develop a coherent and progressive legal framework, with the adoption in the last year of vital legislation on counter-narcotics, the Office of the Prosecutor, and the jurisdiction and organisation of courts.

African Union (Peacekeeping Forces)

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions she has had on contributing to an African Union force for peacekeeping in Darfur. (101759)

The Government are in regular discussions with potential donors as well as countries already supporting the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), to ensure that the mission receives the support it needs to carry out its operations. The UK is also a leading supporter of AMIS financially and politically. We have supplied vehicles, air transport and training to the force. We have also provided military observers and civilian police.

The high-level meeting that took place on 16 November in Addis Ababa, attended by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, called for UN funding of the force. Such funding is likely to be raised through assessed contributions from UN members, including the UK.

Bangladesh

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment her Department has made of the protections afforded to freedom of speech in Bangladesh; and if she will make a statement. (103186)

Although the press in Bangladesh is relatively free, there are areas of concern. These include issues of regulatory control and political influence over the business environment in which Bangladesh's media operates. A free and independent media requires governments to provide a fair and transparent regulatory environment and an equitable distribution of opportunities available to and accessible by all sectors of society.

That journalists have been killed because of their work, and that attacks on journalists took place during a cricket Test Match in April and at a convention at Kushtia in May, is symptomatic of the climate of intimidation and violence against journalists which continues. Media professionals should be able to work freely without fear of intimidation, violence or imprisonment. Despite this, the newspaper industry has we understand, continued to grow with at least 700 daily or weekly publications serving a population of 140 million. Add to this the expanding and continually evolving electronic media, and it suggests a noticeable increase in public access to information from a wide range of independent sources.

The UK lobbies for freedom of expression throughout the world and as part of our commitment we support a wide range of projects that aim to protect and encourage the development of a free media. Freedom of expression is an essential prerequisite for many of the values and human rights, which we and international partners strive to maintain and promote. All governments have a duty to eliminate barriers to freedom of expression and to create an environment where free speech and a free media can thrive. In this respect during his visit to Dhaka on 22-23 November, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade (Mr. McCartney), stressed to political leaders and to the press, the importance of open dialogue and issue-based campaigning, to the exclusion of violence.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations she has made to the government of Bangladesh on that country's human rights record. (103187)

During his visit to Bangladesh on 22-23 November, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Trade, Investment and Foreign Affairs made clear our concern for and commitment to support human rights in Bangladesh during discussions with leaders of the main political parties—as well as with human rights activists. He also highlighted human rights issues in a widely reported speech to an audience of politicians, businessmen, and civil society representatives—and also at a press conference. He specifically raised human security in the context of the current political violence and also the ongoing concern about extra-judicial killings. He urged a greater commitment to human rights work with particular attention to vulnerable and marginalised groups.

We give human rights related work in Bangladesh high priority. Our high commission in Dhaka is actively engaged in promoting human rights in Bangladesh. The high commission raised human rights issues on a regular basis with the previous government of Bangladesh, which ended its term in October. It will do so with the next government as well.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations she has made to the government of Bangladesh about the case of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury. (103252)

The Government have made no representations to the previous government or the current caretaker government of Bangladesh about this case, which we understand is the subject of an ongoing trial on charges of blasphemy, sedition and treason. We understand that Mr. Choudhury appeared in court in Dhaka on 13 November and that the trial has been adjourned until January 2007, at which time the prosecution is due to begin calling witnesses.

Bonus Payments

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how much was paid in bonuses to civil servants in her Department each year since 2001-02; and how many civil servants received bonuses in each year. (101042)

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) paid the following bonuses to staff in each of the last five years:

Number of recipients

Bonus element of pay award (£)

Devolved bonus scheme of bonuses (£)

Total value (£)

2005-06

5,097

5,589,900

399,200

5,989,100

2004-05

5,094

5,325,300

440,500

5,765,800

2003-04

1

5,181,400

385,700

5,567,100

2002-03

5,085

3,720,700

306,400

4,027,100

2001-02

4,753

2,771,800

1

2,771,800

1 Figures have been rounded up to the nearest 100.

The FCO has two categories of bonus awards. The majority are awarded during the annual pay round based on appraisal evidence of performance during the year. The appraisal rating and the rank of the individual determine the size of the bonus. The median bonus payment for delegated grades in 2006 was £900. The average award for staff in the senior management structure was £5,146.

The remainder are awards under a devolved bonus scheme, which allows Directorates to nominate staff in the delegated grades (particularly the most junior) for smaller bonuses during the year for exceptional contributions above and beyond their normal responsibilities. In financial year 2005-06, the average bonus under this scheme was £395.

In financial year 2005-06, bonuses comprised 2.4 per cent. of the FCO's total paybill.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what criteria a civil servant in her Department must fulfil (a) to be considered for a bonus on top of their regular salary and (b) to be awarded a bonus. (101043)

All staff in the delegated grades, junior and middle-management, who have completed a minimum of six months satisfactory service and who have a performance appraisal, are eligible to be considered for a bonus as part of the annual pay awards. Bonuses are awarded on the basis of appraisal of performance. The size of the bonus is determined by the appraisal rating and the rank of the individual. The median bonus payment in 2006 was £900.

Directorates also nominate staff in the delegated grades (particularly the most junior) for smaller bonuses during the year for exceptional contributions above and beyond their normal responsibilities. The average payment under this scheme was £395 in 2006.

For staff in the senior management structure the funds devoted to bonus payments and the mechanism for their allocation are determined centrally for Whitehall Departments based on recommendations from the Senior Salaries Review Board. Pay panels determine eligibility for bonuses based on relative performance against peers, with the most senior officers' bonuses being decided by an independently-chaired committee. They take account in particular of achievement of challenging objectives, responses to unexpected events and specific examples of corporate leadership. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in common with other Whitehall Departments, devoted 6.5 per cent. of its paybill for senior staff in 2006 to non-pensionable bonus payments.

Bulgaria

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when she last discussed the transfer of Michael Shields to the UK with the Bulgarian authorities. (103090)

I most recently discussed Mr. Shields' transfer with the Bulgarian Europe Minister on 23 October. My hon. Friend will be aware that Mr. Shields was transferred to the UK on 23 November.

Burma

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1) what assessment she has made of (a) the visit of United Nations Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs, Ibrahim Gambari, to Burma and (b) the effect of his visit on (i) human rights for the Burmese people, (ii) restrictions on humanitarian aid efforts, (iii) the use of forced labour and (iv) efforts to secure the release of political prisoners; (102322)

(2) when she expects United Nations Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari to brief the Security Council on his visit to Burma.

I met Ibrahim Gambari on 15 November to discuss his visit to Burma. Mr. Gambari called for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners; a credible and inclusive National Convention process; the lifting of restrictions on humanitarian aid agencies and an early agreement with the International Labour Organisation on forced labour. He also offered to send a UN interagency technical mission to Karen State.

Mr. Gambari also emphasised to Burma’s leaders that the UN and international community expected concrete actions. However, it is too early to assess the impact the visit has had on these key issues.

Though no date has been set, Mr. Gambari is expected to brief the UN Security Council shortly.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what preparations have been made to move the

In November 2005, the Burmese government informed embassies that plots of land would be available in the new administrative capital of Naypyitaw from the end of 2007 for those embassies who wished to have a presence there. We have received no further information or notification from the government. At present, we have no plans to move the British embassy.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent reports she has received of the Burmese regime targeting members of the Karen, Karenni, Shan and Mon ethnic groups; what recent discussions she has had with the UK Ambassador to the United Nations regarding the human rights situation in Burma; and if she will make a statement. (102509)

We receive regular reports of human rights violations against Burma's ethnic groups. I raised this issue with the Burmese ambassador on 16 June and in my letter to the Burmese Foreign Minister on 5 July. Our ambassador in Rangoon frequently raises our concerns with the regime, most recently on 23 October, when he met the Burmese Minister for Home Affairs.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has had no recent discussions about Burma with the UK's Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Our Permanent Representative raised the situation of Burma's ethnic groups when the UN Security Council formally discussed Burma on 29 September.

I also raised human rights in Burma with Association of South East Asian Nations ambassadors, including the Burmese ambassador, when I met them on 18 September. I discussed Burma in detail with the UN Under-Secretary General, Ibrahim Gambari, when I met him immediately after his visit there on 15 November.

Civil Service Relocation

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many jobs in her Department have been relocated (a) to Liverpool and (b) elsewhere as a result of the Lyons Review; and on how many occasions Liverpool has been considered for the relocation of staff under this programme. (103693)

As a result of the Lyons Review, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has relocated 124 jobs from London to Hanslope Park, Buckinghamshire. Hanslope Park is the FCO's established regional location and has the potential to accommodate further functions. We have not, therefore, considered relocating jobs to Liverpool under this programme.

Cluster Bombs

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment her Department's human rights monitors have made of the use of cluster bombs; why those used in the Lebanon-Israel conflict were not referred to in her Department's Human Rights Annual Report 2006; if she will ensure that such a reference is included in the next report; and if she will make a statement. (103570)

The UK continues to be concerned by levels of unexploded ordnance in south Lebanon.

Cluster munitions are legitimate weapons when used in accordance with international humanitarian law.

We are aware of allegations that Israel fired cluster bombs into civilian areas and have called on the Government of Israel to make a public statement about its use of cluster bombs during the Lebanon conflict.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office 2006 Human Rights Annual Report covers the period from July 2005 to late August 2006. At the time of writing, many of the details surrounding the Israel/Lebanon conflict were still unclear. A decision was made not to cover the conflict as a whole. However, we were able to insert a section about the UK's efforts to bring about a ceasefire and our plans to help with reconstruction. Additionally, two paragraphs were added to the section on Syria remarking on their unhelpful role in supporting Hezbollah. We intend to cover the Israel/Hezbollah conflict in greater detail in our next report.

Colombia

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment she has made of the consequences of the recent breakdown of the humanitarian accord talks between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the government of Colombia. (101568)

There have been no formal talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (RARC) for over four years. In recent months, both sides have made positive gestures towards a possible humanitarian accord, which gave rise to increased optimism that an exchange of RARC prisoners held by the government for some of the many hostages held by the guerrilla group might take place. But following a succession of RARC attacks against Colombian security forces, including one which left 19 policemen dead, it is now unlikely that a discussion will resume in the short term. We have always maintained that the only solution to the conflict is through a negotiated settlement. We consistently urge illegal armed groups to enter into talks with the government.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what (a) representations her Department has made and (b) advice it has offered to the embassy of Colombia on adopting a professional public relations strategy to counter concerns on human rights in Colombia expressed by British trade unions to the Government. (103712)

We have ongoing discussions with the Colombian Government, both through our respective embassies and through ministerial contact, about UK policy towards the country. Most such discussions cover human rights, among other issues. We frequently raise specific human rights cases with the Colombians, including human rights concerns brought to our attention by British trade unions. We have not made specific representations or offered advice to the Colombians about adopting a public relations strategy to counter British trade unions’ concerns over human rights in Colombia. But we believe that it is important for an accurate picture of the human rights situation to be available to inform our discussions with the Colombian Government, British and Colombian trade unions, a view which is shared by the Colombian trade unions with which we have regular contact.

Cuba

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions have taken place between her Department's officials and officials from the US Administration on Cuba. (101213)

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) regularly holds meetings with US administration officials that include discussions about relations with and policy towards Cuba. In those meetings, FCO officials discuss US policy towards Cuba, whilst explaining UK/EU policy: namely that we favour constructive engagement with the Cuban authorities, and we do not support sanctions and isolation. On 8 November 2006, we again voted to adopt the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly on the necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the US against Cuba.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether it is her policy to support the activities of the US Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba. (103713)

The US and EU both share an aim for Cuba—to encourage a peaceful transition to a pluralist democracy. However we differ on how to achieve that aim. The US favours isolation and sanctions against Cuba, while the UK is committed to the EU Common Position of 1996, which seeks constructive engagement and dialogue, with both Government and civil society. The UK therefore maintains a policy which is distinct from that of the US Commission to a Free Cuba.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs which representatives of the UK Government met the US Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba on 16 August 2006; where the meeting took place; what the purpose of the meeting was; and what further such meetings are planned. (103714)

Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) officials did not meet with any member of the US Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba on 16 August 2006.

However, on that day, FCO officials met in Washington with Caleb McCarry, an official of the US State Department dealing with Cuba under the title ‘Transition Co-ordinator’. It is routine for FCO officials to meet diplomatic contacts from the US State Department to discuss matters of mutual interest.

Discussion at the meeting with Caleb McCarry concerned UK/EU and US policy in Cuba. This included ways of encouraging a process of peaceful transition towards a pluralist democracy in Cuba—in line with the EU Common Position. Both sides agreed that Cuban people living on the island should define the country’s future. Differences between UK and US policy towards Cuba were also discussed.

There are currently no planned meetings with US politicians in their capacity as members of the US Commission to a Free Cuba.

Democratic Republic of Congo

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what action the UK Government took (a) unilaterally and (b) multilaterally towards ensuring that the general election in Congo was free and fair. (102325)

The UK provided £30 million in bilateral support to the election process. UK officials also participated in the elections steering committee, advising the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) on voting procedures, transparency and logistics to assist them in holding free and fair elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The UK funded Congolese election observation networks and observers sent from the UK, including eight hon. Members in the UK missions, supported the EU Electoral Observation Mission in both rounds of elections. Throughout the electoral process, the UK and international partners pressed candidates and political parties to respect the need to follow the CEI code of conduct and to ensure free and fair elections. We have encouraged any complaints on the conduct of the elections to be made through the appropriate legal channels.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if she will make a statement on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo; and whether she plans to press for the intervention of the International Criminal Court where appropriate. (103418)

The security situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) remains fragile, especially in the east and northeast. Kinshasa is tense following violence on 11 and 21 November linked to the announcement of provisional election results.

Congolese armed forces continue to be poorly paid, lack equipment and training and pose a threat to civilians. Congolese militia and foreign armed groups continue to operate in eastern DRC, and are responsible for abusing local populations.

The UK fully supports the International Criminal Court's (ICC) involvement in the DRC and its action to bring to justice alleged perpetrators of war crimes. Thomas Lubanga, a Congolese militia leader, is the first to be put on trial by the ICC. His indictment sends a strong message to armed groups in the DRC on the need to end impunity.

Departmental Staff

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many staff were employed through employment agencies in (a) her Department and (b) each of its agencies in each of the last five years for which information is available; and what the (i) average and (ii) longest time was for which these temporary workers were employed in each year. (102964)

We do not have a central record of the numbers of staff employed under contract from agencies or the length of their contracts, and it would incur disproportionate cost to obtain this information. We do, however, have the costs for the past five financial years, which are:

Financial year

£

2001-02

1,933,841

2002-03

1,850,779

2003-04

2,357,123

2004-05

1,114,873

2005-06

2,299,111

Diplomatic Service

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if she will estimate the cost of electronically contacting (a) heads of missions and (b) governors of overseas territories to ascertain their region of birth. (100703)

The approximate cost of contacting heads of missions and governors of overseas territories and collating the information requested is £1,200, which is double the cut-off figure for disproportionate cost.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs who the current members of the internal selection board for appointing heads of mission for her Department are; and in what region each was born. (100720)

Ambassadors and other heads of mission are mostly selected by internal competition at various boards. Individuals bid for specific posts and selections are made on the basis of a competitive process. Appointments are agreed at the appropriate political level.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) staff sitting on these internal selection boards are all drawn from the senior management structure (SMS) of the FCO.

The No 1 (Selection) Board makes recommendations for head of mission appointments in the SMS at Pay Bands 3 (Director-General) and 2 (Director). The members of the board are the five Directors-General on the FCO Board of Management listed on the FCO website (www.fco.gov.uk?About_us?FCO_Board) and one of the non-executive members of the FCO Board also takes part. The board is chaired by the Permanent Under-Secretary. They were born in:

West Midlands

East Midlands

Cheshire

Berkshire

Buckinghamshire

London

Lancashire.

The No 2 (Selection) Board makes recommendations for head of mission appointments in the SMS at Pay Band 1 (Deputy Director). Members of this board are drawn rotationally from a list of FCO Directors (who are also listed in the public domain). Membership of this board is voluntary. The current members were born in:

London (6)

Devon

New Zealand

Surrey

Strathclyde

Austria

Middlesbrough

Edinburgh (2)

Germany

Warwickshire

Jamaica

Cambridgeshire

Somerset

Lancashire.

The Band D (Selection) Board makes recommendations for head of mission appointments in the Delegated Grades. Members of this Board take part voluntarily.

Kent (3)

Yorkshire

Lincolnshire

Surrey (2)

London (2)

Gloucestershire.

Specific appointments will sometimes be made on an ad hoc basis by selection boards appointed for that purpose, particularly at the most senior levels.

Horn of Africa

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what her assessment is of the (a) security and (b) political situation in the Horn of Africa; and if she will make a statement. (101976)

I am concerned at the increasing tension in the Horn of Africa. The Union of Islamic Courts is threatening the Transitional Federal Government in Somalia. Tension continues between Ethiopia and Eritrea over their disputed border. Further conflict would have severe humanitarian consequences and could destabilise the entire region. We are continuing to work with our international partners and with regional governments to achieve peaceful solutions to these disputes.

Human Trafficking

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent assessment she has made of the level of human trafficking in the Great Lakes region; what steps her Department has undertaken to facilitate the combating thereof; and if she will make a statement. (101633)

Within the Great Lakes region, armed groups, particularly those operating in north-eastern and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and Northern Uganda continue to abduct and forcibly recruit children and adults to fight as combatants, or to work as porters or sex slaves.

We continue to raise human rights issues with regional governments, in particular the need to protect vulnerable groups. We also support the robust implementation of the mandate of UN peacekeeping forces deployed in the region to disarm foreign and domestic militias. When the newly elected Congolese Government is in place, we will insist that improving respect for human rights and disarming armed groups are top priorities.

Iran

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations were made by Iran to the EU High Representative during recent P5+1 discussions on the (a) P5+1 set of proposals agreed in Vienna on 1 June, (b) conditions of negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme and (c) suspension of nuclear enrichment by Iran as resolved by the UN Security Council; and if she will make a statement. (101963)

On 6 June, the EU High Representative, Javier Solana, presented proposals to Iran on behalf of the ‘E3+3’ (France, Germany, UK plus China, Russia, US). The proposals are far-reaching and intended as the basis for a long-term agreement. They would give Iran everything it needs to develop a modern civil nuclear power industry, including active support for the building of new light water reactors; co-operation in nuclear research in areas that are not proliferation sensitive and possible provision of a light water research reactor; and legally binding assurances relating to the supply of nuclear fuel.

In return, the E3+3 asked that Iran should refrain from all uranium enrichment related and reprocessing activities until international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its programme has been restored. Such activities are not essential for Iran to develop a modern civil nuclear power programme, but would allow Iran to develop know-how that could be used to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. The suspension is a requirement of the International Atomic Energy Agency Board and the UN Security Council.

The E3+3 proposals would establish a foundation for greater long-term political and economic co-operation between Iran and the international community, by providing assistance with Iran’s World Trade Organisation application and a strategic energy partnership and a Trade and Co-operation Agreement with the EU. These benefits would help develop trade and attract foreign investment to Iran. The proposals also offer support for a new conference on regional security issues and the possible lifting of US sanctions in some areas of great benefit to the Iranian economy, including civil aircraft, telecoms and agriculture.

The E3+3 made clear that in order for talks to begin, Iran would need to address the requirements of the IAEA Board and the UN Security Council, including the requirement that it should suspend all uranium enrichment related and reprocessing activities. We said that if Iran did so, we would be prepared to suspend further action in the Security Council.

Despite persistent efforts by Dr. Solana, the Iranians declined to engage substantively on the proposals during June and July, including at a meeting in Brussels on 11 July between Dr. Solana (supported by E3 and Russian Political Directors) and the Secretary-General of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Larijani (and the full Iranian negotiating team). Dr. Larijani did not ask any serious questions about the proposals, and would not say whether Iran was prepared to suspend uranium enrichment activities. Since it was over three months since the Security Council had asked Iran to suspend and there was no sign that Iran was willing to do so, we decided it was necessary to resume activity in the Security Council. On 31 July, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1696, which inter alia made the suspension legally binding and asked the IAEA to report on compliance by 31 August.

Iran formally responded to the proposals on 22 August. The lengthy response did not indicate that Iran would be prepared to meet IAEA Board and Security Council requirements. The IAEA reported on 31 August that Iran had not reinstated the suspension.

The E3+3 remain committed to a negotiated solution and have continued to show flexibility. Despite the passing of the 31 August deadline, Dr. Solana had a series of exchanges with Dr. Larijani in September to see if Iran could be persuaded to take the steps that would allow negotiations to begin. Dr. Solana indicated that the E3+3 might be prepared to be flexible about the modalities for opening negotiations if Iran was prepared to meet Security Council and IAEA Board requirements. But after some positive indications in early September, Dr. Larijani told Dr. Solana in Berlin on 28 September that Iran was not prepared to resume the suspension. President Ahmadinejad also said publicly on 28 September that Iran would not suspend ‘even for one day’. Iran has also given no indication that it is prepared to meet other IAEA Board requirements, such as the resumption of co-operation with the IAEA on Additional Protocol terms, which was also highlighted in our June proposals.

I chaired a meeting of E3+3 Foreign Ministers and Dr. Solana in London on 6 October to review the situation. We agreed that Iran’s failure to address Security Council requirements left no choice but to consult on the adoption of measures under Article 41 of the UN Charter, as envisaged in Resolution 1696. Consultations on a new Security Council Resolution have now begun. This does not mean the end of our efforts to find a negotiated solution. Ministers made clear in London that the E3+3 proposals remain on the table.

The IAEA Director-General’s latest report on 14 November again confirms that Iran has not taken any steps to reinstate the suspension. Indeed Iran began enriching uranium in a second 164-centrifuge cascade on 13 October. This is a move in the wrong direction. Iran needs to take steps that will build confidence; expanding its enrichment activities in defiance of the IAEA Board and the Security Council will only have the opposite effect.

I am placing in the Library of the House a copy of the E3+3 proposals and the Iranian reply of 22 August, both of which have been circulated as documents of the Security Council.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what her Department's policy is on the proposed extradition to Iran of the Iranian dissidents in Camp Ashraf, South East Baghdad; and if she will make a statement. (103575)

The residents of Camp Ashraf are subject to the laws of Iraq, including laws on residency and immigration. We would expect the Government of Iraq to implement these laws fairly and with due regard to the rights of those concerned. Camp Ashraf residents who have not personally been involved in illegal activities are free to leave the camp and return to their home countries if they have the appropriate travel documents. A number have already voluntarily returned to Iran, where they are now living. Some 300 of the approximately 3,500 residents of the camp have chosen to return to Iran with assistance and support from the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Maliki recently announced that he would establish a committee to look into the continuing residence in Iraq of those people living in Camp Ashraf, who in the main are not Iraqi nationals. But we are not aware of any plans to extradite Camp Ashraf residents to Iran.

Iraq

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether her Department has evidence of involvement by members of the Iraqi al-Da'wa organisation in the planning and execution of the terrorist attacks on the British Embassy and the British Club in Baghdad during the 1980s. (103092)

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has no evidence of involvement by members of the Iraqi al-Da'wa organisation in the planning and execution of the terrorist attacks on the British Embassy and the British Club in Baghdad during the 1980s. We are aware of press reports at the time of the al-Da'wa organisation claiming responsibility for the attacks. There is no indication that this link was ever proven.

Lebanon

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment she has made of the political and security situation in Lebanon; and what support the UK is providing to the Government of Lebanon. (103478)

The security situation has improved significantly since United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 stopped the conflict. The cessation of hostilities continues to hold and the reconstruction process is underway.

However, the political situation in Lebanon continues to be unstable with the assassination of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel and the resignation of six Shiia members of the Cabinet.

The UK is now focussed on assisting the Government of Lebanon in implementing UNSCR 1701, which provides a political framework for peace. To this end, the UK has committed £2.5 million to provide the Government of Lebanon with security sector assistance to allow it to exercise full control of its territory as called for in UNSCR 1701. As part of this the UK is in the process of giving 47 Land Rovers to the Lebanese armed forces. UNSCR 1701 also called on the international community to take immediate steps to extend its financial and humanitarian assistance to the Lebanese people. For its part the UK has contributed £22.3 million in humanitarian and reconstruction assistance.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what equipment requirements for the Lebanese armed forces the UK military team referred to in the answer of 4 September 2006, Official Report, columns 2046-47W, have identified; and if she will make a statement. (103697)

The Lebanese have a wide-ranging requirement for training, equipment, including weapons, ammunition, vehicles, communications equipment aircraft and vessels.

We are working with the Lebanese government and international partners to establish the Lebanese armed forces equipment requirements and to co-ordinate on how best to meet those requirements.

The UK was instrumental in setting up an informal co-ordination group in Beirut, which is working well. We will continue to co-ordinate with the government of Lebanon and international partners on extending the control of the government of Lebanon over all Lebanese territory as called for in UN Security Council Resolution 1701.

Madagascar

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions she has had with the British High Commission in Port Louis regarding the security situation in Madagascar. (102508)

Our high commission in Port Louis is following developments in the security situation in Madagascar. Following an attempt by General Andrianafidisoa to overthrow the President of Madagascar on 18 November, British residents and visitors have been advised to stay alert, as tension could rise during the build-up to the presidential election on 3 December.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment she has made of the actions of General Andrianafidisoa in Madagascar; and what (a) representations she has made and (b) further action she is taking towards ensuring that the general election to be held in Madagascar on 3 December 2006 is free and fair. (102511)

General Andrianafidisoa's attempt on 18 November to use force to displace President Ravalomanana was quickly dealt with by the Malagasy authorities. We understand that a warrant has been issued for his arrest. We have made no representations.

We encourage all parties in Madagascar to express their views by peaceful, democratic means in the lead up to, during, and following the presidential elections on 3 December. An EU election observation team has been sent to Madagascar to monitor the elections.

Middle East

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what work her Department is undertaking to examine economic aspects of the Middle East peace process. (102768)

We remain concerned at the economic situation in the Occupied Territories. The economic aspect of the peace process is important. We continue to call upon both parties to implement the Agreement on Movement and Access and the dismantling of checkpoints and roadblocks. We are also working closely with HM Treasury to take work forward to improve the economic situation. I refer the hon. Member to the answer my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary, gave to him on 1 November 2006, Official Report, column 541W.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions (a) she and (b) members of her Department have had with (i) the United Nations Secretary General and (ii) his representatives on proposals to resolve the status of the Shebaa Farms area in accordance with UNSCR 1701; and if she will make a statement. (103503)

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials have had wide ranging discussions with the UN Secretary-General and other UN officials about the situation in Lebanon, including the Shebaa Farms.

The UK supports UN Security Council Resolutions 1680 and 1701 which call for action by Lebanon and Syria to delineate their common border, especially where the border is uncertain or disputed.

The UN has confirmed that they are working to establish the cartographic, legal and political implications of a Lebanese proposal to place the Shebaa Farms under UN jurisdiction until border delineation and Lebanese sovereignty over them are fully settled.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what her assessment is of progress made in the formation of (a) a Palestinian unity government and (b) commitment to the Quartet principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel and commitment to previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. (103504)

We welcome Palestinian President Abbas' continuing efforts to form a new government. We will look at the programme of any government closely. We want to see a Palestinian government with which we can do business. It must be based upon the three Quartet (EU, UN, US and Russia) principles: renunciation of violence; recognition of Israel; and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap. We remain concerned that neither the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, nor Hamas as a movement, has committed to these principles.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether the publications available on the history of Israel's nuclear programme referred to in the answer of 2 May 2006 to question reference 68592 on the Middle East include all relevant documentation from the UK Government; and if she will make a statement. (103635)

I can confirm that the publications available on the history of the Israel's nuclear programme, referred to in my written answer to my hon. Friend on 8 May, Official Report, column 54W, include declassified files from the Government from the 1950s and the 1960s, which are now held at the Public Records Office at Kew.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions she has had with (a) Israel and (b) Syria on the future of the Golan Heights. (104251)

None. The roadmap remains the internationally endorsed route to a settlement of all three tracks of the Middle East Peace Process. It makes clear that issues such as the Golan Heights are for negotiation. Building momentum on the Palestinian-track in Phase I should lead to progress on all other tracks in Phases II and III. We are fully prepared to support this process, but it is essential that Syria works to support it too and not seek to undermine it by pursuing policies which reduce rather than increase the prospects of peace.

Minister for Europe

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on what dates since his appointment the Minister for Europe has attended Cabinet; and if she will make a statement. (102572)

[holding answer 23 November 2006]: I attend Cabinet each week. Following are the dates on which I have attended since my appointment on 5 May 2006:

11 May

25 May

1 June

22 June

29 June

6 July

13 July

20 July

14 September

12 October

19 October

26 October

2 November

9 November

16 November

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what responsibility the Minister for Europe has for Ugandan affairs. (102573)

[holding answer 23 November 2006]: I only have responsibility for Ugandan affairs where they relate specifically to European matters. These activities do not constitute a significant part of my ministerial workload.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what the Minister for Europe’s official job title is; what his full job title as set out on the official plaque on his office is; what the previous Minister for Europe’s full job title as set out on the official plaque on his door was; when that plaque was last changed; and what the cost of that change was. (102574)

[holding answer 23 November 2006]: My official title is Minister for Europe.

I do not have a plaque outside my departmental office.

There is, however, a plastic coated sign stating “Minister for Europe’s office” and listing the names of my private secretaries. This is the same sign used by my predecessor.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if she will list the overseas visits undertaken by the Minister for Europe since his appointment. (100474)

In line with his responsibilities, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe has visited the following member states since his appointment in May 2006 for discussions on key EU dossiers: France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Poland, and the Czech Republic. He has also visited Istanbul and Ankara for talks on Turkish accession and Gibraltar and Cordoba for negotiations on the Trilateral Agreement.

As his portfolio includes Russia, Central Asia, the South Caucasus and the Balkans, he has visited Moscow, Almaty, Astana, Tbilisi, Yerevan, Pristina, Sarajevo, Skopje and Podgorica for bilateral discussions.

He represented the Government at the EU-Africa Migration and Development Conference in Rabat in July and was in the ministerial team who attended the United Nations General Assembly in September. He also supported my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the EU-Latin America Summit in Vienna in May.

In addition, he is regularly present when the monthly General Affairs and External Relations Council in Brussels takes place as well as attending the European Parliament Plenary in Strasbourg. He represented me at the informal meeting of Foreign Ministers in Lappeenranta in Finland in September.

He will visit Dublin on 20 November to give a speech at the Institute of European Affairs.

NATO

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what her assessment is of the role of NATO in international relations; and if she will make a statement. (102566)

NATO remains the cornerstone of transatlantic defence, supporting security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area and beyond through its operations and missions, from Kosovo to Afghanistan. As this month's NATO summit will demonstrate, it is the key forum for transatlantic discussion and dialogue on political and security issues. Its deepening relationships with an expanding range of partners and institutions, from the European Union to Gulf countries, are also making an important contribution to meeting today's security challenges. NATO will continue this role in the future.

Nepal

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent reports she has received regarding the recruitment of child soldiers by Maoist rebels in Nepal; and what steps she is taking to seek an end to this practice. (103038)

Maoist recruitment of children has noticeably increased in recent weeks. We are receiving many troubling reports about this from various sources. The current recruitment drive is clearly related to the move of Maoist cadres into cantonment camps. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) are monitoring the situation closely. They have been able to verify a number of these cases and expressed their public concern with the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, on 19 November. We understand their direct intervention in local cases has seen the return of children to their families and out of harm's way.

The UK strongly supports the work of the OHCHR in its vital monitoring and prevention role. We welcome the role of the Personal Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General in Nepal. Both have voiced their deep concern over child recruitment directly to the Maoist leadership. During the visit of the EU Troika our European partners met with the Maoists and publicly condemned their ongoing abduction, extortion and political violence, in a statement on 17 November. The full text of the 17 November statement can be found at the following website:

http://europa-eu-un.org/articles/fr/article_6482_fr.htm

Recruitment of any such kind is in direct violation of the 'Comprehensive Peace Agreement' signed so recently.

Our embassy in Kathmandu will continue to work closely and robustly with the UN, the EU and other international partners to stop these practices.

Nuclear Disarmament

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if she will make it her policy to promote a UN Treaty on nuclear disarmament; and if she will make a statement. (103087)

The Government consider the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) the cornerstone of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime and the framework for nuclear disarmament. The UK has an excellent record in implementing its disarmament obligations under Article VI of the NPT and, in this regard, continues to press for multilateral negotiations towards mutual, balanced and verifiable reductions in nuclear weapons. The Government do not support any new process, including a UN Treaty on nuclear disarmament, which could risk cutting across the existing NPT regime.

Nuclear Weapons

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment she has made of the previous draft UN Nuclear Weapons Convention; if she will make it her policy to sponsor a UN resolution adopting the Nuclear Weapons Convention as a binding treaty for nuclear disarmament; and if she will make a statement. (102568)

I refer the hon. Member to the answer my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Kim Howells, gave to the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) on 9 May 2006, Official Report, column 183W.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps her Department (a) has taken and (b) is planning to take in the next 12 months to implement Article 6 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; and if she will make a statement. (102569)

The UK has undertaken many important steps in fulfilling its disarmament obligations under Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Since the end of the Cold War we have reduced the total explosive power of our nuclear forces by over 70 per cent. and we are the only nuclear weapon state to have reduced its deterrent capacity to a single nuclear weapons system, Trident.

We continue to press for multilateral negotiations towards both nuclear, and general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control, as required by Article VI of the NPT. On nuclear disarmament our current priority is to push for negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, without pre-conditions, at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, which we view as the next appropriate step towards achieving the goal of nuclear disarmament. On the conventional side, we remain committed to building support for a legally binding treaty on the trade in all conventional arms. The adoption on 26 October of a UN General Assembly First Committee resolution to set up a UN process, backed by a strong majority of states, is a major step forward. We will continue to work with international partners to turn this beginning into a treaty that will make a real difference.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what her assessment is of the possible effects of NATO’s (a) nuclear-sharing policy and (b) nuclear first-use policy on the proliferation of nuclear weapons; and if she will make a statement. (103070)

I refer the hon. Member to the answer that I gave the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) today (UIN 102567).

Pakistan

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1) what measures the President of Pakistan indicated would be taken to deal with the Taliban and reduce the level of activity across the border into Afghanistan during his meeting with the Prime Minister on 28 September; (101960)

(2) what representations have been received from the Pakistan Government on steps to secure the Pakistan-Afghanistan border; and what UK assistance is being considered.

President Musharraf made clear during his meeting with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 28 September at Chequers, and more recently on 19 November during my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's visit to Pakistan, his continued commitment to combating terrorism, and support for stability in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has moved considerable resources to the border regions to quell insurgent activity and prevent illegal cross border traffic. In addition the Pakistani authorities continue to arrest significant numbers of Taliban members and where appropriate extradite them to Afghanistan.

As part of a common effort to counter terrorism, the Government are providing training and capacity building to the Pakistan authorities in their efforts to counter Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan.

The Government are considering how it might complement the existing US Border Management Initiative, designed to help both the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan to manage border issues more effectively, in an effort to further reduce the Taliban threat.

The Government are supporting a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees project to register Afghans living in refugee camps close to the Pakistan/Afghanistan border. The ID cards project will be a significant tool for wider border management policies.

The UK also provides a wide range of bilateral and multilateral assistance to Pakistan as an important element in seeking to disrupt the activities of Afghan drug trafficking groups. This includes providing equipment and training, particularly to their Anti Narcotics Force, to assist with interdiction of opiates on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border.

Palestine

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions she has had with her US counterpart on proposals to strengthen Palestinian security forces; and what assessment she has made of (a) the US's proposals and (b) the extent to which agreement with the US was reached in such discussions. (103502)

We continue to support US Security Co-ordinator General Dayton's work on strengthening the Palestinian Security Forces. Officials remain in regular contact with General Dayton's team. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has had no discussions with her US counterpart on General Dayton's work.

I refer the hon. Member to the answer my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary gave to the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) today (UIN: 101959).