Written Answers to Questions
Tuesday 26 February 2008
Electoral Commission Committee
Double Reporting of Donations
The Electoral Administration Act 2006 contains amendments to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 which would remove the requirement on hon. Members to report certain donations and loans separately to the Electoral Commission.
However, these amendments cannot be brought into effect until the Commission is satisfied that the House has changed its own reporting procedures to require that hon. Members report the same information regarding gifts, donations and loans as they are currently required to report to the Commission under PPERA.
The Commission informs me that it has been working with the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner on Standards to achieve these changes to the reporting requirements as soon as possible.
The Electoral Commission informs me that, during its first six years of operations, it did not record specific cashable and non-cashable efficiency savings because it was going through a period of organisational change. However, the Commission remained within its agreed budget throughout this period.
Following a review commissioned by the Speaker's Committee, the Commission now plans and records its efficiency savings and during 2007-08 has delivered £625,000 of recurrent cashable savings.
Electoral Commission: Finance
The Speaker's Committee considered the Commission's budget for the four years 2007-08 to 2010-11 when it met in March 2007 and approved a cash flat resource budget of £3,995,000 (including the £2 million annual policy development grant budget) in each of the four years, subject to reconsideration only in the event that Parliament places new responsibilities upon the Commission during this period.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Bovine Tuberculosis: Devon
The following table sets out the number of cattle slaughtered under bovine tuberculosis control measures in Devon in the last five calendar years. A breakdown of the amount of compensation paid in Devon is not available.
Number 2003 3,767 2004 4,758 2005 6,660 2006 4,468 2007 5,383 1 Includes cattle slaughtered as reactors, inconclusive reactors and direct contacts. 2005-07 figures are provisional, subject to change as more data become available.
1 Includes cattle slaughtered as reactors, inconclusive reactors and direct contacts. 2005-07 figures are provisional, subject to change as more data become available.
Bovine Tuberculosis: Testing
There is currently no sensitive and reliable diagnostic test for bovine TB in live badgers in the field. Bovine TB is most reliably detected by post mortem examination or by the less sensitive method of taking clinical samples (for example, blood, urine, tracheal swabs and faeces) from anaesthetised live badgers. Tissue samples are then confirmed by culture of Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis ) in the laboratory. However, M. bovis grows very slowly so culture results can take six weeks to several months to come through. Various blood tests can be used to measure the immune response to bovine TB, one of which takes about 30 minutes, and has about 80 per cent. sensitivity in detecting severely infected animals.
The drawback of these tests for live badgers is the need to anaesthetise the badger in order to sample it, hence they are suitable for research purposes only.
Departmental Official Hospitality
DEFRA came into being in June 2001. The information requested for each of the last 10 years could be provided only at disproportionate cost. From information held centrally the amounts spent on hospitality by the core-Department are:
£ 2001-02 140,588 2002-03 344,822 2003-04 576,829 2004-05 381,138 2005-06 457,523 2006-07 405,482 2007-081 291,585 1 April to December
1 April to December
Direct year-on-year comparisons cannot be made because of Machinery of Government changes that have occurred.
The core-Department does not hold information centrally on hospitality expenditure by its executive agencies and non-departmental public bodies. The information could be provided only at disproportionate cost. The core-Department holds no information centrally on the expenditure category of staff entertainment.
Departmental Official Residences
DEFRA came into being in June 2001. The information requested for each of the last 10 years could be provided only at disproportionate cost. From information held centrally the numbers of fleet vehicles owned by core-DEFRA for the financial years 2001-02 to 2007-08 to date are:
Number 2001-02 289 2002-03 390 2003-04 418 2004-05 376 2005-06 306 2006-07 298 2007-08 (to date) 221
2007-08 (to date)
From information held centrally the numbers of pool vehicles owned by core-DEFRA and the Animal Health Agency for the financial years 2005-06 to 2007-08 to date are:
Number 2005-06 42 2006-07 41 2007-08 (to date) 42
2007-08 (to date)
The core-Department’s Regional Development Service (RDS) had 157 pool vehicles in 2005-06 but these became the responsibility of National England when the RDS was absorbed into the non-departmental public body.
We have helped to support local sourcing with funding for a range of measures, which allow regional and local food producers to overcome barriers to the effective marketing of their products. Examples include “meet the buyer” events, encouragement for food hubs and shared distribution facilities, and key training seminars.
Support from DEFRA has been boosted by the regional development agencies (RDAs), helping activities to do with the promotion of quality regional and local food culture. The level and type of RDA funding reflects each region's priorities as set out in regional economic strategies. RDAs also deliver aspects of DEFRA's rural development programme for England (RDPE). Support is available under the RDPE to improve the competitiveness of a wide range of rural businesses, which can include local and regional food producers.
We have also commissioned research aimed at enabling policy makers, support organisations and the supply chain to better understand the regional and local food sector. One of these projects will investigate the practicalities and benefits of local food production. Other work will examine consumer attitudes and actual purchasing behaviour. The results will be published on our website.
Finally, DEFRA's ongoing public sector food procurement initiative (PSFPI) was launched in 2003 to help deliver the Government's sustainable farming and food strategy. This aims to increase opportunities for small and local producers to tender for contracts to supply food to the public sector. Our funding for this initiative supports workshops for buyers and suppliers, regional pilot projects to develop the supply side, and a range of guidance materials aimed at both food producers and public sector buyers. More information on the PSFPI can be found on the DEFRA website.
Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004
The Gangmasters' Licensing Act 2004 creates two main offences: operating as a gangmaster without a licence and entering into arrangements with an unlicensed gangmaster. It also creates offences in connection with false documents, such as a licence or a document issued by the Gangmasters' Licensing Authority (GLA) in connection with a licence. The GLA enforces the 2004 Act on behalf of DEFRA.
In the last 12 months, one prosecution has been brought for the offences created by the 2004 Act. This prosecution has been brought in Scotland by the Procurator Fiscal for the offence of acting as a gangmaster without a licence. The trial date has been set for March.
In addition, the GLA is investigating 105 cases where offences under the 2004 Act may have been committed. The GLA has said that from the 2008-09 financial year it will be placing increasing emphasis on enforcing the 2004 Act now that it has completed the task of designing and implementing the licensing scheme for gangmasters.
Public Sector: Procurement
There are no central records for the years 2005 and 2006 giving the proportion of publicly procured food of British origin. We have however published data giving the proportion of domestically produced food used by Government Departments and also supplied to hospitals and prisons under contracts negotiated by NHS Supply Chain and HM Prison Service for the period July 2006 to 30 June 2007. The report is available on the PSFPI web site at:
and has been placed in the Library of the House.
Road Traffic Offences
DEFRA came into being in June 2001. The information requested for each of the last 10 years could be provided only at disproportionate cost. For the calendar years 2002 to 2007 inclusive the recorded number held centrally of parking tickets and speeding fines are;
Number 2002 21 2003 68 2004 61 2005 53 2006 26 2007 60
Parking fines are not recorded separately from other fines. It is departmental policy that drivers are responsible personally for the payment of fines incurred by them while using a vehicle on departmental business.
The Scotland Office was established on 1 July 1999.
Since that date, the following have been reported as lost or stolen.
Item Lost Stolen Value at date reported lost/stolen (£) 1999-2000 Laptop — Yes 733 2000-01 — — — — 2001-02 — — — — 2002-03 Mobile Phone Yes — n/a 2003-04 — — — — 2004-05 — — — — 2005-06 Multi Media Projector — Yes 766 BlackBerry Yes — 249 2006-07 Mobile Phone Yes — n/a BlackBerry Yes — 141 2007 (to date) — — — —
Value at date reported lost/stolen (£)
Multi Media Projector
2007 (to date)
It is not possible to determine the value of the mobile phone handsets.
Departmental Sick Leave
Departmental Temporary Employment
Efficiency in Public Services Review: Written Questions
The A57 Snake Pass is the responsibility of the Derbyshire county council as local highways authority.
I understand that the road was closed in the interest of road safety for a period of three weeks following a land slip which affected the road surface.
Following a period of stabilisation the road has been reopened with a 10 mph speed limit. Derbyshire county council is continuing to monitor the situation and, if no further movement occurs, will carry out resurfacing of the road in late spring.
The Secretary of State has not had discussions with the authorities of other states regarding the quality of fuel at airports used by aircraft flying to the UK.
UK airlines are required to use fuel which meets the detailed specifications contained in the flight manuals of their aircraft. The quality of fuel used, including that supplied by through sub-contractors, is monitored through the airlines quality system.
During 2006, the Department part-funded a research project to assess the potential role of biomethane as a renewable transport fuel, as well as commissioning a more detailed analysis of the potential benefits of including biogas in the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO). Copies of these reports have been made available in the House Libraries. The Government are also contributing funds to an International Energy Agency working group (IEA Task 37) which is considering the issues raised by biogas.
In recognition of the environmental benefits that it offers, biomethane already qualifies for a fuel duty incentive equivalent to around 40 pence per kilogramme. From April 2008, it will also be eligible for Renewable Transport Fuel Certificates under the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation.
Bridges: River Thames
The Department for Transport has started the first phase of a study into longer-term crossing capacity in the Lower Thames.
As part of an earlier consultation on a revised charging regime for the existing Dartford Crossing, we announced our intention to commence a study to look at options for addressing rising demand in the longer-term. The start of this study fulfils that commitment.
This initial phase of the study will advise on the future need for additional crossing capacity and identify possible options. It will also update the transport models to better understand the impacts of current and future demand, and review previous work on what can be done to improve traffic flow through the existing crossing in the short to medium term.
This phase is planned to be completed around the end of this year and will ensure that we have the latest information and forecasts of demand to be able to make an assessment of potentially viable future options.
Bus Services: Concessions
The number of residents in the borough of Stockport aged 60 and over who, from 1 April 2008 will be entitled to free off-peak bus travel in any part of England, is around 64,000. In the parliamentary constituency of Stockport approximately 14,000 people will be eligible.
National and local government and police forces work closely to achieve a high reporting standard for road accident data. Very few, if any, fatal accidents do not become known to the police. However, research conducted on behalf of the Department has shown that an appreciable proportion of non-fatal injury accidents are not reported to the police. There is no legal duty in Great Britain to report personal injury road accidents to the police, provided the participants exchange details at the scene.
Research has also shown that pedal cycle casualties are underrepresented in the road accident data (STATS19). In particular, accidents in which the pedal cyclist is the only participant are not likely to be reported to the Police. Recent research using Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) shows that many accidents not recorded in the police data are the result of a person (often a child) falling from a bicycle with no other vehicle involved.
This research was published by the Department in an article in Road Casualties Great Britain: 2006 annual report (pages 60-72). A copy of the report has been deposited in the Libraries of the House or can be found at the following address:
Cycling: Safety Measures
Rule 66 of the Highway Code recommends the fitting and use of cycle bells. The 2003 Pedal Bicycles (Safety) Regulations introduced various requirements relating to the supply and sale of cycles, including the obligation for a bell to be fitted at point of sale. While the regulations do not compel cyclists to keep a bell fitted to the bicycle after the machine has been purchased, it seems likely that many will retain it.
In view of the results of a previous public consultation exercise (2001-02), we consider that there is insufficient justification to make retrospective fitting of a bell obligatory on cycles already in use. Neither do we believe there is a strong enough case to require compulsory use of bells, as this would be impractical and difficult to enforce.
The requested figures are as follows. The majority of advertising investment by the Department and agencies is in support of the THINK! Road Safety, Act on CO2 and Continuous Registration (vehicle taxation) campaigns.
Total public expenditure (£ million) Advertising expenditure (£ million) Percentage 2002-03 11,726 18.8 0.16 2003-04 13,086 20.9 0.16 2004-05 13,391 18.9 0.14 2005-06 13,371 21.2 0.16 2006-07 15,838 24.0 0.15
Total public expenditure (£ million)
Advertising expenditure (£ million)
Departmental Telephone Services
The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the Driving Standards Agency and the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency are unable to identify the geographic origin of calls to them. As a result, they are unable to provide details of revenue generated from Scottish landlines.
The requested information, where available, is as follows:
Financial year Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency total leased vehicles Highways Agency total leased vehicles Highways Agency leased vehicle cost (£) 1998-99 1— 1— 1— 1999-2000 1— 1— 1— 2000-01 1— 1— 1— 2001-02 14 1— 1— 2002-03 18 1— 1— 2003-04 47 11 140,632 2004-05 38 23 635,251 2005-06 48 166 1,639,178 2006-07 39 171 1,865,175 2007-08 41 267 1,171,038 1 No data.
Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency total leased vehicles
Highways Agency total leased vehicles
Highways Agency leased vehicle cost (£)
1 No data.
The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency is unable to provide detailed information on costs as vehicle lease information is not recorded separately within their records.
Highways Agency data for 2007-08 is a year to date actual as of end of January 2008, not a full year forecast value.
Derwent Valley Railway Line
This is an operational matter for Network Rail, as the owner and operator of the national rail network. The right hon. Member should contact Network Rail's chief executive at the following address for a response to his question.
40 Melton Street
Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency: Telephone Calls
(2) what assessment she has made of the changes to legislation necessary to permit the use of electric personal assistive mobility devices on (a) the public highway and (b) public footpaths;
(3) what discussions she has had with her counterparts in EU member states on the potential effect on (a) carbon emissions and (b) road congestion of the use of electric personal assistive mobility devices.
If, as we understand, such devices are likely to be used mainly as an alternative to walking or cycling then their potential in terms of congestion relief and of carbon emission reduction is likely to be minimal. No detailed assessment of legislative requirements has been made but primary legislation would need to be amended to permit their use on public footpaths or on the pedestrian footway alongside the public highway. There is provision in section 44 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 that would allow the Secretary of State to permit by way of an order their use on the vehicular part of the public highway. The Secretary of State has no plans to make such an order. The Secretary of State has had no discussions with her EU counterparts on this subject.
Fuels: Renewable Energy
Detailed specifications and performance standards for road fuels are specified in industry standards set in Europe through the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN).
In addition to the standards for petrol and diesel (EN 228 and EN 590 respectively), standards for ethanol used for blending in petrol (EN 15376) and for Fatty Acid Methyl Ester used as pure biodiesel or for blending in diesel (EN 14214) have already been adopted. Key environmental parameters for petrol and diesel are regulated in the EU fuel quality directive (98/70/EC as amended) and transposed in the UK by the Motor Fuels (Composition and Content) Regulations 1999. The Government and their European partners are currently considering a proposal by the European Commission to increase the level of ethanol in petrol permitted by the fuel quality directive.
The Government are also keen that mandatory sustainability standards should be applied to all biofuels and are pressing for the inclusion of robust sustainability criteria in the relevant European Union legislation. The Government's intention is that only those biofuels meeting certain minimum environmental standards should qualify for credits under the Road Transport Fuels Obligation.
Government Car and Despatch Agency
I refer the hon. Member to the ministerial statement made by the Secretary of State for Transport on 26 July 2007, Official Report, columns 109-11WS. The statement gave information on the number and the contracted cost of ministerial cars and drivers provided by the Government Car and Despatch Agency (GCDA) for 2006-07, the last year for which figures are available.
The number and contracted cost of official cars and drivers provided to senior officials in 2006-07, the last year for which figures are available, are as follows:
Department Number of cars Contracted cost (£) Cabinet Office1 5 268,100 Commission for Equality and Human Rights 1 27,400 Crown Prosecution Service 1 61,000 Department for Constitutional Affairs 1 24,600 Department for Culture, Media and Sport 1 63,100 Department for Education and Science 1 59,200 Department for Trade and Industry 1 63,100 Department for Transport 1 61,000 Department for Work and Pensions 1 57,700 Department of Health 3 61,400 Export Credit Guarantees Department 1 57,700 HM Court Service 1 56,300 HM Inspectorate Of Constabulary 2 61,500 HM Revenue and Customs2 2 89,600 HM Treasury2 2 92,800 Home Office 2 137,000 Northern Ireland Office 1 60,400 Olympic Delivery Authority3 1 27,200 Office of Government Commerce 1 52,800 Office of Science and Technology 1 60,700 1 Figures for the Cabinet Office include the provision of an official car and driver for the Official Leader of the Opposition. Of the five cars and drivers that were provided during the year, one car and driver was provided for three months only. 2 One allocated car and driver transferred from HMRC to HM Treasury in August 2006. 3 GCDA services were provided to the Olympic Delivery Authority for five months only.
Number of cars
Contracted cost (£)
Commission for Equality and Human Rights
Crown Prosecution Service
Department for Constitutional Affairs
Department for Culture, Media and Sport
Department for Education and Science
Department for Trade and Industry
Department for Transport
Department for Work and Pensions
Department of Health
Export Credit Guarantees Department
HM Court Service
HM Inspectorate Of Constabulary
HM Revenue and Customs2
Northern Ireland Office
Olympic Delivery Authority3
Office of Government Commerce
Office of Science and Technology
1 Figures for the Cabinet Office include the provision of an official car and driver for the Official Leader of the Opposition. Of the five cars and drivers that were provided during the year, one car and driver was provided for three months only.
2 One allocated car and driver transferred from HMRC to HM Treasury in August 2006.
3 GCDA services were provided to the Olympic Delivery Authority for five months only.
Heavy Goods Vehicles
M1: Milton Keynes
M1: Speed Limits
The continued speed restrictions on the M1 Junctions 31 and 32 were kept in place until the final commissioning of the new electronic lane control signals was fully completed.
The electronic signals and signs were fully commissioned on 19 February and the speed restrictions were removed on the morning of 20 February.
Marine Management Organisation
Motor Vehicles: Safety
Network Rail: Portsmouth
The Secretary of State for Transport has made no representations to Network Rail on signal failures in the Portsmouth area in 2008. The prevention of signalling problems during major works at Easter is an operational matter for Network Rail as the owner and operator of the national rail network. The hon. Member should contact Network Rail’s chief executive at the following address for a response to his question:
40 Melton Street
London, NW1 2EE.
Northern Rail: Rolling Stock
The figures for the period 1999-2000 to 2006-07 quoted in the earlier reply include parking ticket costs for the entire Government Car and Despatch Agency’s fleet, including those vehicles allocated to other Government Departments. Information before 1999-2000 is not readily available and could be obtained only at a disproportionate cost.
Public Transport: Rural Areas
Local and central government are currently spending £2.5 billion a year on bus services, including those linking rural areas with nearby towns and cities. This total includes bus service operators grant (BSOG), the costs of mandatory concessionary fares, local authority subsidy of non-commercial services and capital expenditure on bus-related infrastructure schemes.
It is for local authorities to decide which particular bus services to subsidise in their area and how much of the resources available to them to devote to supporting bus services.
These resources include funding we have provided to local authorities in the form of rural bus subsidy grant (RBSG). This grant is currently supporting some 2,000 services many of which provide the vital links to nearby towns. A total of around 38 million passenger journeys are made annually on RBSG supported services. This year's allocations total £55.6 million, bringing the grant's total to nearly £450 million since its introduction in 1998.
The Local Transport Bill, now before Parliament, will benefit rural areas and urban areas alike by modernising the regulatory framework for buses, giving local authorities a bigger role where this is necessary and providing strengthened arrangements for partnerships between local authorities and bus operators.
The Bill also contains measures to expand the role of community transport and to enable private hire vehicle operators to provide local bus services, extending the existing taxibus provisions to this sector for the first time. Both these measures are of particular relevance to meeting rural transport needs.
Rail Accident Investigation Branch
The Rail Accident Investigation Branch was set up during 2005 and became fully operational from 17 October 2005. RAIB let a contract with Campaign Productions (Television Productions Ltd.) to produce a DVD for use by TV/media explaining the RAIB’s role in investigating certain rail accidents and incidents. In financial year 2006-07, the cost was £13,618.15 and in FY 2007-08, the cost was £363.82.
The Department for Transport’s strategy for increasing passenger and freight capacity through record investment in the railway is set out in the 2007 White Paper, “Delivering a Sustainable Railway”. A copy of this White Paper is available in the House Library.
The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) is considering concerns raised by heritage railways about the application of the Railway and Other Guided Transport System (Safety) Regulations 2006. I expect to receive briefing from ORR in late March on progress in resolving these concerns.
Railways: Carbon Emissions
The Department has not made such an assessment. We are aware of the claims made for the potential benefits of ultra light rail, but in order to assess these properly we would need to see a business case supporting its application in a specific location. Local authorities are welcome to submit innovative proposals to the Department for funding as pilot or demonstration schemes within the major scheme funding regime.
Railways: Public Participation
The Government’s response to the Select Committee’s report (HC 265, published on 29 January 2007) explained that the Department for Transport already has a policy of consulting with a wide range of statutory and other bodies, including passenger representatives, before inviting tenders for passenger rail franchises. That remains our approach and we have no plans to legislate in this area.
A recent survey showed that an average of around 70 passengers (per train operated) would require to change trains at Clapham Junction. Many times that number of people will benefit from the implementation of the full Thameslink service that is made possible by the service change.
This is currently only available in paper format. We will scan this study and release it on the Department's website in March. We have identified a number of further reports, released before web publishing was the norm, which we will also release in electronic format alongside this SACTRA study.
The Department has ensured that the findings of the 1994 report are reflected in assessments through advising promoters about appropriate modelling techniques. For the largest proposals, using multi-modal models means analysis takes account of the impacts of generated traffic in assessments. For smaller schemes, the Department has recommended the use of more proportionate but robust approaches.
The specific guidance for road proposals is introduced in TAG Unit 2.9, ‘Variable Demand Modelling—Advice Overview’. For the larger studies, the advice is introduced in TAG Unit 1.2.1, ‘Multimodal Studies: Introduction to Guidance on Multi Modal Studies’. These are available at:
The Highways Agency publishes an annual report on the safety performance of the trunk road network based on an examination of the road traffic accident statistics contained in a database of personal injury road accidents known as STATS19. This can be found at www.dft.gov.uk. The current report, Accidents on the trunk road network - 2006, was published in October 2007.
The Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) research report, 'Early Life Skid Resistance - An Assessment of Accident Risk', pertaining to the use of 'bespoke' proprietary thin surfacings on the trunk roads has been delivered to the Highways Agency to consider its recommendations and conclusions. The report will be available to the public and the highway authorities through TRL from April onwards. Stone mastic asphalt is not used on the trunk road network.
Roads: Repairs and Maintenance
The Department expects modelling for schemes to be robust and advice on criteria forms part of the New Approach to Appraisal. For road schemes, the details can be found on the transport analysis website at:
and also in the Highways Agency's Design Manual for Roads and Bridges.
For the South West region, the Government have provided almost £865 million, through the Regional Funding Allocation (RFA), to be spent between 2007-08 and 2015-16 for regionally significant transport schemes, including road investment.
The region undertook a prioritisation exercise and the following road schemes within Dorset are currently programmed for funding:
Scheme Scheme sponsor DFT contribution (£ million) Poole Bridge Regeneration Initiative Poole 13 A354 Wey mouth Relief Road Dorset 71 SE Dorset Bus Showcase Corridors, potentially including some road improvements SE Dorset 15
DFT contribution (£ million)
Poole Bridge Regeneration Initiative
A354 Wey mouth Relief Road
SE Dorset Bus Showcase Corridors, potentially including some road improvements
Additionally, the DFT has provided the following non-ringfenced capital allocations for the three years from 2008-09 to 2010-10 for routine highway maintenance in Bournemouth, Poole and Dorset:
Authority 2008-09 2009-10 20010-11 2008-09 to 2010-11 Bournemouth 932 1,025 1,179 3,135 Dorset 8,619 9,267 10,032 27,919 Poole 1,314 1,413 1,530 4,258 Whole of Dorset area 10,865 11,706 12,741 35,312 Percentage of regional total 9.9 10.2 10.1 10.1
2008-09 to 2010-11
Whole of Dorset area
Percentage of regional total
The Highways Agency is responsible for the A31 and A35 through the Dorset area. There are currently no plans for improvements to the A31 within Dorset. However, on the A35 there are proposals to improve the capacity at three roundabouts before the 2012 Olympics. They are as follows:
Route Improvement Estimated cost (£ million) A35 Weymouth Road Stadium roundabout 1.8 A35 Stinsford roundabout 0.7 A35 Bere Regis roundabout 0.3 Total 2.8
Estimated cost (£ million)
Weymouth Road Stadium roundabout
Bere Regis roundabout
Sea Rescue: Northern Ireland
(2) what assessment she has made of the effects on measures against illegal and illicit shipping in and around Northern Ireland waters of the decision of the Irish Republic to close the coast guard stations in Donegal; and if she will make a statement.
Should the Irish authorities decide to close coastguard stations in Donegal, provision of maritime search and rescue services in the waters around Northern Ireland will be unaffected. HM Coastguard will continue to provide 24 hr co-ordination of Search and Rescue in and around Northern Ireland waters from its station in Bangor.
Regular operational search and rescue liaison meetings are held between HM Coastguard and the Irish Coast Guard.
Seas and Oceans: Legislation
South West Trains
Transport: Voluntary Work
It is for local authorities to make decisions on how they procure or support volunteer transport services, taking into account the legislative framework and their local circumstances. Information is available to local authorities about volunteer transport services, including a review commissioned by the Department of voluntary transport and carried out in close association with the Community Transport Association.
Waterborne Freight Grant
[holding answer 25 February 2008]: Prior to 2007, the Department funded both the waterborne freight grant (resource) and water freight facilities grant (capital) schemes from a budget of between £8-12 million.
In April 2007, the mode neutral sustainable distribution fund (SDF) was created to fund rail and water freight grants and road efficiency schemes. £18.5 million of resource and £7 million of capital funding has been available from the SDF this year.
No waterborne freight grants have been awarded by the Department since the scheme's inception in 2004. This is not due to a lack of available budget but to the fact that potential applicants have difficulty in satisfying constraints imposed by the European Commission when the Government sought State Aids clearance. These require schemes to be viable without grant support within a three-year period.
The Department for Transport is currently reviewing the waterborne freight grant scheme.
Duchy of Lancaster
Sub-Committee on Health and Wellbeing
[holding answer 20 February 2008]: In my answer of 26 February 2008, Official Report, column 136W, to the hon. Member I set out the budget for the Humanitarian Assistance Unit in each of the last three years. It is not possible to split this budget up in terms of support for domestic incidents and support for international incidents.
The funding for the Humanitarian Assistance Unit all comes from the budget allocated to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
Afghanistan: Peacekeeping Operations
A total of 27 Desert Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles operated by UK forces in Afghanistan have been lost in the past 12 months. This number reflects the high operational tasking of this system. We continue to refine our operational procedures to minimise the loss rate, but it is inevitable that some losses will occur.
Departmental Public Expenditure
The near-cash budget in nominal terms (equivalent to direct resource DEL plus capital DEL) for each year of the comprehensive spending review (CSR) period is set out in table D14 of the CSR White Paper (Cm 7227), published in October 2007. For ease of reference the table is included as follows:
Financial year Budget (£ million) Change on previous year 2007-08 baseline 29,411 — 2008-09 30,763 1,352 2010-11 31,921 1,158 2011-12 33,628 1,707
Budget (£ million)
Change on previous year
Iraq: Peacekeeping Operations
Our records indicate that of the 52 media assignments to Iraq since April, 45 were for single individuals or media outlets. The others were group visits. All programmes take account of the operational situation at the time, security requirements and the preferences of the individual journalist or organisation and therefore differ from visit to visit.
Territorial Army: Recruitment
I am sorry that it is taking a significant amount of time to prepare a response. The issue raised by the hon. Member are complex and cover both transferred and reserved matters.
Under Schedule 3 to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 the foreshore, sea bed and subsoil and their natural resources (except so far as affecting harbours) are reserved matters. Thus, marine nature conservation in the territorial waters is the responsibility of the Secretary of State. However, at operational level, his functions are carried out by the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland (Environment and Heritage Service).
Given the delay, I would be happy to meet with the hon. Member to discuss the issue in more detail.
Armed Forces: Training
Departmental Sick Leave
The British-Irish Council (BIC), held its 10th summit meeting on 14 February at the Royal hospital Kilmainham, in Dublin, Ireland. It is customary for each summit to focus on a single theme. The focus of this summit was on misuse of drugs, which is a workstream led by the Irish Government. The next summit meeting will be held in Edinburgh in September 2008.
The UK leads the Environment Workstream and the last ministerial meeting was held in Northern Ireland on 1 February 2008. At that meeting, it was agreed that BIC should continue to intensify co-operation and exchange of information between the members on a number of important environmental areas including unavoidable climate change, understanding extreme weather events, integrated coastal zone management and managing radioactive waste. The next ministerial meeting of the BIC Environment will take place in Jersey in 2009.
Young People: Advisory Services
I have regular discussions with colleagues in the Welsh Assembly Government on all issues concerning education, including the provision of skills and opportunities for young people.
Connexions services are for England only. In Wales, Careers Wales, an independent organisation funded by the Welsh Assembly Government, provides this service. It has six local delivery companies providing a comprehensive careers advice and guidance service to people of all ages, operating across the Welsh regions. Similarly, the Youth Opportunity and Youth Capital Funds programmes also apply to England only. Youth service in Wales is provided through the Welsh Assembly Government via the National Youth Service Strategy, published in March last year.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
[holding answer 26 February 2008]: The appointment of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to Afghanistan is primarily a matter for the UN Secretary-General.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary discussed the matter with President Karzai during his visit to Afghanistan with US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, on 8 February 2008. On 25 January 2008, in the margins of the World Economic Forum at Davos, the matter was also discussed at a meeting between President Karzai, my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said to the House in his statement on Afghanistan on 12 December 2007, Official Report, column 307,
“Britain continues to push for the next step in this process: the appointment of a strong, UN envoy to bring greater coherence across the international effort in security, governance and development—and in relations with the Afghan government.”
[holding answer 22 February 2008]: The establishment of provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) is a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)-led process. The NATO Statement of Requirements identifies a need for PRTs in both Dai Kundi and Nimroz Provinces. There are no concrete plans at present to establish such PRTs.
The UN Security Council has not yet discussed the constitutional referendum announced by the Burmese regime for May 2008. The UN Secretary-General hosted a meeting of the Group of Friends of Burma on 13 February which discussed the announcement. During the meeting, the UK and other members of the Security Council expressed concern that the proposed referendum would not be inclusive or genuine. The Group of Friends pressed for the early return of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to Burma, Professor Gambari, to help facilitate national reconciliation and a genuine democratic process.
We will continue to work with our partners in the region, and in the Security Council, to bring about genuine progress towards democracy, national reconciliation and respect for human rights in Burma.
There are currently no plans for the UN to monitor the elections.
Burma: Diplomatic Service
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Meg Munn) met EU Special Envoy for Burma, Piero Fassino, at the margins of the EU/Association of South East Asian Nations summit on 22 November 2007 and hopes to be meeting him again in the near future, to discuss all aspects of the current situation in Burma, including the EU’s role in supporting UN efforts to bring about a genuine process of national reconciliation which includes all Burma’s opposition and ethnic groups.
The UK has been at the forefront of international efforts to bring about inclusive national reconciliation and the establishment of accountable, civilian government in Burma.
As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the UK has maintained the pressure for political change through active UN engagement and ensured that Burma remains on the Security Council’s agenda. The UK is also a member of the UN Secretary-General’s Group of Friends on Burma, which last met on 13 February. The group discussed the regime’s recent call for a referendum in May 2008 and elections in 2010. We stressed the need for the regime to demonstrate fundamental change before there could be international support for the process. The Group of Friends pressed for the early return of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to Burma, Professor Gambari, to help facilitate national reconciliation and a genuine democratic process.
In the EU, we have played a leading role in securing firm language on the newly announced referendum and election process at the February General Affairs and External Relations Council. The conclusions stated that only a process that involves the full participation of the opposition and ethnic groups will lead to national reconciliation and stability in Burma. The EU reiterated its call for the release of Aung Sang Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.
We keep in close contact with partners in the region, including the Association of South East Asian Nations, to build up constructive pressure on the Burmese government and their continued engagement on the Burma related issues. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has raised Burma with the Chinese and Indians on his recent visits to both countries. My right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Meg Munn, also reiterated our concerns to the Singaporean Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 18 February.
We have consistently made clear that only an inclusive process of national reconciliation can bring stability and prosperity to the country. The regime’s attempts to exclude Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from the political process are alarming and will exacerbate tension and instability in Burma. In our contacts with the military government, and those who have influence over them, we are stressing the need for all political actors, including Aung San Suu Kyi, to be allowed to play their full part in shaping the country’s future.
Discussions are ongoing, mainly at senior official level.
The EU listed companies with links to the military regime in its new package of measures agreed in October 2007.
EU member states are currently considering further restrictive measures against Burma, including a possible ban on all new investment and the imposition of restrictions on financial measures.
The UK is actively working with our EU partners to ensure a full discussion of further restrictive measures as agreed at the October 2007 General Affairs and External Relations Council.
Burma: Sequestration of Assets
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Meg Munn, spoke to the Singaporean Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 2nd Permanent Private Secretary Bilahari Kausikan, on 18 February to discuss recent developments in Burma.
Singapore, both nationally and in its current role as Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) chair, has made clear its concerns about the violent repression carried out by the Burmese authorities last year, its wish to see the regime engaging in genuine dialogue with Burma’s opposition parties, and its support for the UN Secretary-General’s goodwill mission. But Singapore and its ASEAN partners do not support the application of sanctions at this time. We continue to discuss this and other aspects of the Burma situation with the Singaporean government on a regular basis.
The UK and US share the same goal of transition to democracy in Cuba. UK policy is based on a 1996 European Common Position, which states that:
“The main objective of the European Union in its relations with Cuba is to encourage a process of peaceful transition to a pluralistic democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as improvement in the living standards of the Cuban people”
“the EU will intensify the present dialogue with the Cuban authorities and with all sectors of Cuban society”.
Cuba: Politics and Government
We do not envisage the resignation of Fidel Castro leading to major change in Cuba. UK policy remains unchanged and has been based on the EU Common Position since 1996. This policy aims to encourage a peaceful transition to pluralist democracy, greater respect for human rights and unconditional release of all political prisoners.
The UK does not support US economic sanctions on Cuba and makes its opposition to them clear through its Annual vote at the United Nations General Assembly. The last vote took place on 30 October 2007. The sanctions have had little positive impact on the regime. The UK and the US share the same goal over Cuba, transition to democracy, but differ on how to achieve it. The UK, through the framework of the EU Common Position, engages in dialogue with the Cuban Government and aims to encourage a peaceful transition to pluralist democracy, greater respect for human rights and unconditional release of all political prisoners.
The UK and the US discuss developments in Cuba regularly. The UK makes its opposition to the US embargo on Cuba clear through our vote every year at the United Nations General Assembly. The last vote took place on 30 October 2007. We also frequently reiterate our position through diplomatic channels with senior US representatives and will continue to do so.
Full access to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office intranet (FCONet) is only possible using the FCO's secure IT infrastructure. This is regularly monitored, but it would be inappropriate to disclose these arrangements in detail. Staff working outside FCO buildings may also access a limited form of FCONet through the internet. Staff may use any external computer to do this and the FCO therefore does not monitor the location of these terminals. Control of this limited access is by user authentication (password) and, where necessary, checking transaction records.
Departmental Sick Leave
Stress-related illness accounted for 8.5 per cent. of all working days lost to sickness absence by staff at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 2007.
The FCO recognises the importance of identifying and reducing sources of stress in the workplace. Our occupational stress policy, which aims to protect staff health and welfare, gives detailed guidance for staff and managers. The FCO also offers welfare support for staff and families, who may be suffering from stress, including access to a 24/7 counselling service.
Diplomatic Services: Forced Marriage
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has no role in relation to arranged marriages, where the families take a leading role in arranging the marriage but the choice whether or not to accept the arrangement remains with the spouses. But forced marriage, where one or both spouses do not consent to the marriage and some element of duress is involved, is wholly unacceptable. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office takes forced marriage very seriously. If necessary, we will assist and repatriate British nationals forced into marriage overseas.
Consular staff overseas and staff of the Forced Marriage Unit, are trained to assist victims and potential victims of forced marriage. They are provided with written guidance on case handling.
Eastern Europe: Human Trafficking
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has not had recent discussions with his counterparts in Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova on these issues. However, we remain concerned about all forms of human trafficking globally and are committed to tackling it wherever possible. The issue is raised regularly at EU Councils and is discussed at both ministerial and official level between EU partners. In addition, UK law enforcement agencies work closely with foreign counterparts in many source and transit countries, helping them to build enforcement capacity and to facilitate information exchanges. At the recent UN-Office on Drugs and Crime's Global Initiative on Fighting Trafficking forum held in Vienna, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Coaker) represented the Government, along with participants from the UK Human Trafficking Centre and HM Revenue and Customs.
Embassies: Republic of Ireland
Irish media coverage has reflected the fact that these redundancies were driven by UK Trade and Investment’s wider restructuring of their global network in line with new strategic priorities; that our embassy in Dublin has acted in accordance with Irish Labour Law throughout; and that the redundancy package the embassy has offered reflects good employer practice.
The Labour Relations Commission had offered its conciliation services to discuss “proposed redundancies” at our embassy in Dublin. Since the redundancies had already been effected, our ambassador declined the offer.
Our embassy and Unite, acting on behalf of the embassy’s Local Staff Association, reached a mutually satisfactory agreement on the consequences for staff of the restructuring of the UK Trade and Investment section on 21 February.
Three compulsory redundancies were made recently at our embassy in Dublin, as a result of UK Trade and Investment's (UKTI) wider restructuring of their global network in line with their strategic priorities.
Our embassy and Unite, acting on behalf of the embassy's Local Staff Association, reached a mutually satisfactory agreement on the consequences for staff of the restructuring of the UKTI Section on 21 February.
Three compulsory redundancies were made recently at our embassy in Dublin, as a result of UK Trade and Investment's wider restructuring of their global network in line with their strategic priorities.
The redundancy package offered reflected the different lengths of service involved. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is an equal opportunities employer: gender was not a factor. The embassy looked at the opportunities for redeployment, which might have involved retraining, but there were none.
The decision of UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) management in London to restructure the UKTI Section at our Embassy in Dublin was confirmed to the staff involved by the Ambassador on 11 January. Staff contacted the Unite trade union the same day and consultations began on 22 January.
Our Embassy and Unite, the union acting on behalf of the Embassy's Local Staff Association, reached a mutually satisfactory agreement on the consequences for staff of the restructuring of the UKTI Section on 21 February.
[holding answer 26 February 2008]: The Operating Standards and Instructions issued by UKvisas to our posts abroad do not contain specific guidance on queue management, but instead offer suggestions on how procedures can be implemented and how problems should be addressed depending upon conditions and circumstances. Several ideas are mentioned to help alleviate the problems associated with queues, such as use of ticketing machines. UKvisas has recently expanded its commercial partnerships overseas. Most applications are now submitted at Visa Application Centres, in many cases by appointment. The need for applicants to arrive early to queue has been significantly reduced and, in some cases, removed.
Additionally, entry clearance managers are advised to monitor public reception areas regularly to ensure the best possible standards of customer service and conduct are maintained and to identify sudden surges in the volume of visa applications so that prompt action can be taken to avoid a build up of queues. All staff are required to sign the code of conduct which states that staff must
“behave in a manner that demonstrates their complete impartiality and professionalism in dealing with visa applications”
so that, among other things, no favouritism is shown to one applicant above another.
A copy of these instructions is available on the UKvisas website, www.ukvisas.gov.uk
Equatorial Guinea: Simon Mann
[holding answer 22 February 2008]: Our deputy high commission in Lagos provides consular assistance to British nationals in Equatorial Guinea. In line with our consular policy, consular officials from Lagos will aim to visit Mr. Mann regularly and we are ready to provide further consular assistance to Mr. Mann including with regard to his treatment and welfare.
Eritrea: Religious Freedom
[holding answer 26 February 2008]: We monitor events in Eritrea closely and remain deeply concerned by reports of detentions of members of minority churches. While Orthodox Christians, Catholics and the major Protestant Churches (who make up an estimated 40-50 per cent. of the population of Eritrea) are usually able to worship openly, some church activities can be restricted and members of smaller churches are not free to pursue their faith.
This is unacceptable and contravenes international human rights agreements to which Eritrea is a party. Eritrea should allow all its citizens to worship as they wish, as set out in Article 18 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Our ambassador in Asmara raises these issues with the Eritrean government at every suitable opportunity. Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials do likewise with the Eritrean embassy in the UK. My noble Friend the Minister for Africa, Asia and the UN, the right hon. Lord Malloch-Brown, personally raised the issue of human rights abuses in Eritrea with the Eritrean ambassador on 18 February.
European External Action Service
(2) what recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on the European External Action Service; and if he will make a statement;
(3) pursuant to the answer to the hon. Member for Castle Point of 5 February 2008, Official Report, column 968W, on the European External Action Service, whether any meetings on the organisation and funding of the European External Action Service have taken place;
(4) what meetings he plans to hold with European counterparts to discuss the organisation and funding of the European external action service in 2008; and if he will make a statement;
(5) how many of his Department's staff will be seconded to the European External Action Service in each of the next three years; and if he will make a statement;
(6) what criteria will be used to nominate staff from his Department for secondment to the European External Action Service;
(7) what role personnel from his Department will play in the establishment and work of the European External Action Service;
(8) what estimate he has made of the size of the (a) staff establishment and (b) budget of the European External Action Service in each of the next three years.
There have been no discussions at ministerial or working level on the detailed organisation and functioning of the European External Action Service (EEAS). The functioning and organisation of the EEAS will be the subject of negotiation among the member states before a final, unanimous decision to launch the service, after the Lisbon treaty enters force.
Negotiations are due to start later this year and no decision has been taken on the size, structure or funding of the EEAS, or of the criteria used to nominate staff for secondment to the EEAS.
Income from third parties is a relatively small proportion of Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Services business. It is considered unlikely that FCO Services will not attract sufficient third party income; however, if projected growth is not achieved, FCO Services has well conceived contingency plans for cost reduction and can scale down investment plans if necessary to meet down turns in third party opportunities.
FCO Services: Data Protection
Data security in Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Services receives the closest attention and care. The FCO and FCO Services have implemented the latest Cabinet Office guidance on storing personal data. FCO Services makes a unique selling point of its secure services, so security is at the heart of everything it does.
The organisation holds and processes personal data for a number of reasons and strong measures are in place to protect all data. Systems are only deployed after Government security accreditation has been completed.
Security measures and accreditation include, but are not limited to, the following:
All sensitive data are held in secure conditions.
Systems are managed according to Government protective data marking.
Data transmission is minimised to essential levels and takes place across encrypted and protected networks.
In limited circumstances, data are transported by disk, but only when passwords or data encryption techniques are applied. Carriage is consistent with FCO policy.
Legitimate access to systems is restricted to authorised users by electronic and physical assurance processes.
Audit processes are in place to oversee the effectiveness of the information security policy and data access is monitored by an independent security function.
Laptops and hand held devices used for confidential data are installed with especially accredited and encrypted disks and secure communications facilities. Other laptops with unencrypted discs are used only for less sensitive material.
We remain concerned about all forms of human trafficking globally and are committed to tackling it wherever possible. The issue is raised regularly at EU Councils and is discussed at both ministerial and official level between EU partners. The Government's ratification of Albania's EU Stabilisation and Association Agreement, which will help reduce human trafficking and smuggling in the Balkans region, is a good example of our commitment to working with other governments. In addition, UK law enforcement agencies work closely with foreign counterparts in many source and transit countries, helping them to build enforcement capacity and to facilitate information exchanges; an initiative is currently taking place in a number of EU countries, led by the UK and Poland, under the auspices of the G6. The Government also part-funded the secondment of two Romanian police officers into a Metropolitan Police joint unit to exchange experience, skills and knowledge in the fight against the criminal exploitation and trafficking of Romanian children to the UK.
The Government raise human trafficking issues more widely at bilateral and international meetings beyond the EU. At the recent UN-Office on Drugs and Crime's Global Initiative on Fighting Trafficking forum held in Vienna, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Coaker) represented the Government, along with participants from the UK Human Trafficking Centre and HM Revenue and Customs.
Iran: Capital Punishment
The Government remain deeply concerned by the increasing use of capital punishment in Iran. We regularly make representations to the Government of Iran, in our bilateral contacts and through the EU, to express general concern about the use of the death penalty in Iran and to raise individual execution cases. In 2007, the EU presidency did this on more than 20 occasions in both meetings and public statements. The EU has issued two further declarations on the death penalty in Iran already this year. We also discuss human rights issues bilaterally with Iranian officials in London and Tehran. In the last 12 months we have raised serious concerns about the use of death penalty on seven separate occasions. This has included specific instances when capital punishment has been carried out in Iran, for example the executions of Mohammad Moussavi, Jafar Kiani, Makwan Moloudzadeh and Mohammad Reza Tork.
We are extremely worried by the growing numbers of executions taking place in Iran. We understand that approximately 300 executions were carried out in 2007, compared with 177 in 2006 and 94 in 2005. This has included growing numbers of public and collective executions (eg the execution of two men in central Tehran in August 2007), and the first confirmed execution by stoning for five years in July 2007. Iran continues to execute juvenile offenders—at least four were put to death in 2007. We have concerns that not all death sentences are the result of a fair trial and that capital punishment continues to be applied for charges such as adultery, rape and drug related offences. The Government will continue to raise concerns with the Iranian authorities about executions and the use of the death penalty in Iran. We will continue to press Iran to uphold its international human rights obligations including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states that
“in countries which have not abolished the death penalty, the sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes”
“no-one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.
The EU presidency, with strong UK support, has issued two statements about the use of the death penalty in Iran this year.
[holding answer 25 February 2008]: While calm has returned to most areas in Kenya, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) assesses that the security situation in the country remains highly volatile. The unpredictable nature of the current situation could lead to further outbreaks of violence. The FCO travel advice for Kenya remains under constant review. A full copy of the latest FCO travel advice is available at:
We are advising British nationals in Kenya to exercise extreme caution and avoid all public gatherings and meetings. British nationals intending to travel to Kenya should regularly check the travel advice. An easy way to do this is to subscribe at:
to receive free travel advice updates via email alerts. To ensure we can effectively communicate any changes in travel advice and other relevant information, British nationals in Kenya are urged to register with our high commission in Nairobi. The FCO has been in regular contact with British tour operators about the situation in Kenya and our travel advice.
Like many other British diplomatic missions, our high commission in Nairobi holds a civil contingency plan. In compiling civil contingency plans, the FCO's objective is to protect British nationals in a situation that poses a serious threat to their safety and, in a worst case scenario, to assist their departure to a place of safety. As part of this process, FCO missions continually assess the risk to British nationals and plan accordingly. Our high commission in Nairobi's civil contingency plan was reviewed and updated in February 2008.
Maldives: Politics and Government
My noble Friend the Minister for Africa, Asia and the UN, the right hon. Lord Malloch-Brown, has personally emphasised to President Gayoom the need to keep the reform process on track and the importance of the elections due this year being seen as free, fair, inclusive and enjoying the support of all the people of Maldives. As I made clear to the House during a debate on Maldives on 17 October 2007, Official Report, columns 935-42, we do not underestimate the challenges Maldives faces moving from a political system based heavily on patronage and state control to multi-party liberal democracy.
Officials from our High Commission resident in Colombo visit Maldives periodically. The UK has made clear our continued support for the reform process and willingness to provide practical support if that is the wish of the political parties in Maldives. We continue to underline the need for good faith among all political parties and for all to redouble efforts to implement democratic change in Maldives.
UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) operates an extensive network overseas that offers a full range of services to help British companies access business opportunities including in the Caribbean, Latin America and South East Asia. In line with UKTI’s five-year strategy “Prosperity in a Changing World”, key high-growth markets in South East Asia (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam) have benefited from additional resources to help achieve a step change in the UK’s profile.
(2) whether he has had discussions with the Pakistani government on the political representation of minorities in Pakistan.
[holding answer 26 February 2008]: In our regular contact with the Government of Pakistan at ministerial and official level, bilaterally and through the EU, we have stressed the need for free and fair elections. The elections, which took place on 18 February, were an opportunity for the people of Pakistan to exercise their democratic voice and participate fully in the process of electing their new government. We welcome the EU electoral observer mission (EOM) report, released on 20 February, which assessed that the elections were competitive, despite the well-documented procedural problems.
We will want to work with the new government to help build the institutional framework necessary for a sustained democratic transition and ensure that the fundamental rights of all Pakistani citizens particularly the most vulnerable (women, minorities and children) are guaranteed as laid down in the Constitution of Pakistan and in accordance with international human rights standards. An important part of this will be addressing the weaknesses in the electoral system identified in the EU EOM's report.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials recently met with representatives from the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement, a non-governmental organisation working on behalf of Christians in Pakistan, as part of our ongoing engagement with stakeholder communities. Officials remain in regular contact with them on minority religious rights issues.