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Written Answers

Volume 684: debated on Monday 17 July 2006

Written Answers

Monday 17 July 2006

Afghanistan: Helmand Province

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether there is any direct communication between the United Kingdom forces deployed in Helmand province, Afghanistan, and the commanders of Pakistani forces deployed in the immediately adjacent Pakistani province of Baluchistan.[HL6853]

UK forces operating in Helmand can communicate directly with Pakistan forces in Baluchistan, as can our coalition and NATO partners in the area.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What were the planning assumptions as to the numbers of trained members of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police in Helmand province able to co-operate with United Kingdom forces deployed there; and how the actual numbers compare with these assumptions.[HL6854]

The size and composition of the Helmand task force recommended by the Chiefs of Staff and announced by the former Secretary of State on 26 January 2006 was not dependent on either Afghan National Army (ANA) or Afghan National Police (ANP) strength.

There are now about 2,300 Afghan ANP and ANA forces in Helmand. ANA kandaks (battalions) are deploying to Helmand more quickly than originally anticipated, with further troops expected in coming months. As announced by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence on 10 July, we will increase the size of our operational mentoring and liaison team to help build their capability. The UK has also deployed a police adviser to work in the PRT to help support the reform of the Helmand ANP and identify how the UK might support the acceleration of capacity-building through training, mentoring and the provision of equipment.

Azerbaijan: Human Rights

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will make representations to the Government of the Republic of Azerbaijan and to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe about the reported persecution of journalists in Azerbaijan, including (a) the recent arrest of the journalist Sakit Zahidov and his detention after having published poems critical of the Government and senior public officials of Azerbaijan; (b) the kidnapping and alleged acts of violence against Bahaddin Haziyev, chief editor of the Bizim Yol newspaper; and (c) the murder of Elmar Huseynov, an Azeri journalist.[HL6842]

The Government were deeply concerned by the murder on 2 March 2005 of the journalist Elmar Huseynov. Our embassy in Baku, on behalf of the EU heads of mission, issued a press release on 3 March 2005 paying tribute to the contribution made by Elmar Huseynov to the development of a free media, democracy and pluralism in Azerbaijan. Our ambassador attended his funeral and the anniversary of his death. We have made known to the Azerbaijani authorities at senior level our concern at the lack of progress in identifying and bringing to justice those responsible for the murder.

In a meeting with the Sakit Zahidov defence committee on 4 July, embassy officials expressed concern at the arrest of Mr Zahidov and called on the Azerbaijani Government to follow due process in the investigation. At the same meeting, the officials also expressed concern about the circumstances in which Bahaddin Haziyev was injured. Our embassy is monitoring the case closely and has called on the Azerbaijani authorities to investigate the attack.

British Citizenship

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether it is lawful for a British consular post to refuse to accept an application for registration as a British citizen, for processing by the Home Office, on the grounds that the applicant has refused to surrender a travel document for retention or confiscation by the consular post after (a) being encouraged to do so, and (b) allowing the consular post to have sight of and retain copies of the travel document.[HL6903]

Our consular staff overseas should not refuse to accept an application for registration as a British citizen on the grounds that a travel document has not been surrendered. Our consular posts only retain travel documents which they believe to be fraudulent or were issued in error.

Burma: Rohingya People

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What representations they have made to the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights about the conditions in the Rohingya refugee camps on the border between Burma and Bangladesh; and [HL6789]

When they last made representations to the Government of Burma and the United Nations about the Rohingya people in Burma; and whether they will make joint representations with Governments of Islamic countries to raise the problems faced by the Rohingya to the appropriate United Nations bodies. [HL6790]

We have repeatedly raised the difficulties facing the Rohingya community with the Burmese Government. Our ambassador in Rangoon discussed issues concerning religious groups, including the Rohingya, when she called on the Burmese Minister for Foreign Affairs on 8 May. On 23 March, she wrote to the Burmese Foreign Minister drawing his attention to the interest that Parliament has shown in the issue. My right honourable friend the Minister with responsibility for trade, investment and foreign affairs, Ian McCartney, summoned the Burmese ambassador on 15 June and wrote to the Burmese Foreign Minister on 5 July, urging the Burmese Government to allow all Burmese citizens the freedom to express religious belief, including the freedom for the Rohingya community to build and repair mosques.

Embassy staff have raised the situation of the Rohingya with government officials during regular visits to Northern Rakhine State, the most recent of which took place in January 2006. They have also drawn the attention of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representatives in Burma to reports of abuses and encouraged them to raise them in their contacts with the local authorities. There are no plans to make to the UN joint representations with Governments of Islamic countries about the problems facing the Rohingya.

We have made no direct representations about the Rohingya to the UN. However, Professor Sérgio Pinheiro, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma, drew attention to the many problems faced by the Rohingya in his report of 7 February 2006. This report will be considered by the Human Rights Council in the session to be held from 18 September to 6 October.

Although we have made no representations to the UNHCR about conditions in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, the deterioration of conditions was noted by the director of UNHCR responsible for south Asia following a visit in May 2006. We continue to work closely with the UNHCR to find a practical and sustainable solution to this humanitarian problem.

EU: Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether manufacturers of products registered under the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive will be able to indicate on the label whether the products comply with organic standards of production; and, if not, what steps they will take to ensure that consumers of products registered under the directive are able to identify whether they comply with organic standards of production.[HL6840]

Article 62 of Directive 2001/83/EC provides that, in addition to other mandatory information, the outer packaging and the package leaflet of a medicinal product covered by the requirements of the directive may include other information compatible with the summary of product characteristics which is useful for the patient, to the exclusion of any element of a promotional nature. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is investigating the issue raised and in particular whether there are circumstances in which references to organic production could be compatible with the summary of product characteristics.

[The following Written Answer should have been printed on 14 July 2006]

Guantanamo Bay

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are holding discussions with the Government of the United States to establish a date for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.[HL6813]

We often discuss detainee-related issues, including the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, with the US Administration. We have long made clear that we regard the circumstances under which the detainees continue to be held at Guantanamo Bay as unacceptable. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said, Guantanamo should be closed. The US Government are well aware of our views and indeed President Bush has indicated publicly that he would like to close the facility. So far there is, however, no indication of when that closure might take place.

Gulf War Syndrome

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether for ease of reference the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Ministry of Defence will report periodically on the findings of the United Kingdom research programme into Gulf War illnesses, in particular those considered by the MRC to be scientifically robust.[HL6887]

The Medical Research Council (MRC) reviewed published and emerging findings from research into Gulf veterans’ illnesses in 2003, covering UK research and, as appropriate, wider international research. That review continues to direct the Government's efforts in this area. As part of the longstanding commitment to openness with Gulf veterans, it is the Ministry of Defence's policy to encourage researchers to publish their findings on Gulf veterans' illnesses in peer-reviewed literature which is available to everyone. Therefore, results are published as and when they are available.

Gulf War: Pensions

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Drayson on 28 June (WA 126), why, given that Ministers were briefed on the letter from the president of the Pensions Appeal Tribunals in preparation for the Starred Question on 8 June, why the Lord Drayson made no reference to that letter in his Answer.[HL6770]

It is not always possible to answer every point raised in an Oral Question in detail in the time available. The opportunity was taken to provide a more detailed response to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, when replying to his subsequent Questions of 26 June (Official Report, col. WA 126) concerning the letter from the president of the Pensions Appeal Tribunals and the Ministry of Defence’s reaction to it.

North Korea: Missile Testing

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What representations they have made to the Government of North Korea about its decision to test the Taepodong-2, and other missiles, on 4 July.[HL6788]

In common with other members of the international community, we made it clear to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) before the missile launches that this would be seen as a provocative act, which would add considerable tension to an already complex regional situation. Following the launch on 5 July, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary issued a Statement condemning the launch. The Statement can be found on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website at: www.fco.gov.uk/servlet/Front?pagename=OpenMarket/Xcelerate/ShowPage&c=Page&cid=1007029391638&a=KArticle&aid=1152008539175. We also made clear our views to the DPRK ambassador, who was summoned to the FCO, and directly to the DPRK Government in Pyongyang. The EU also issued a firm statement on 5 July protesting against the launches and we are working with EU partners to maintain a robust line. The EU statement can be found on the presidency website at: www.eu2006.fi/news_and_documents/cfsp_statements/vko27/en_GB/1152098594098/. The UN Security Council is discussing the matter.

Prisons: Condoms

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their policy in respect of the availability of condoms in prisons.[HL6709]

Prison doctors were advised in 1995 that they should make condoms available to individual prisoners on application if, in their clinical judgment, there is a risk of transmission of HIV and/or sexually transmitted illness infection during sexual activity. The Prison Service will issue revised guidance and instructions this summer. These will clarify the policy on condoms so that it is applied more consistently across the prison estate.

Prisons: Deaths in Custody

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the length of time between each death in custody and the completion of all inquest proceedings for that death in the past five years.[HL6740]

Software

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What representation there is from the free software movement on the steering committee of the Cyber Security Knowledge Transfer Network which is sponsored by the Department of Trade and Industry.[HL6648]

There is no member of the Cyber Security Knowledge Transfer Network's steering committee whose declared affiliation is to the free software movement. However, each member of the steering committee has expertise in one or more areas of cyber security and this cumulative expertise includes an understanding of free, open-source and proprietary software in the context of cyber security.

Sudan: Kordofan

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they will take with their international partners to prevent violence spreading to the Sudanese province of Kordofan.[HL6876]

We are very concerned about the reports of an attack on 5 July on Hamrat esh-Sheikh, a city in north Kordofan. The newly formed National Redemption Front claimed responsibility. However, it seems more likely to have been carried out by north Darfur rebel groups led by the Sudan Liberation Army/Unity with some Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) involvement. This is a clear attempt by spoilers to extend the Darfur conflict which has caused so much suffering.

It is totally unacceptable to spread the violence from Darfur to other regions. We call on all sides to implement the Darfur peace agreement and previous ceasefires, to which all in the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army and JEM have agreed. We urge the Government of Sudan to show restraint in the face of this attack to prevent any further escalation of conflict.

Taxation: Financial Services Sector

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What amount was raised from the United Kingdom financial services sector for each of the financial years 1996-97 to 2004-05 from (a) corporation tax; (b) income tax; (c) national insurance; (d) stamp duty; and (e) any other taxes.[HL6802]

Available information is given below. The estimates for corporation tax are published on the HMRC website at www.hmrc.gov.uk/stats/corporate_tax/table11_1.pdf.

Relevant information on income tax and national insurance contributions are available for income tax and class 1 contributions deducted through PAYE. These estimates are set out in the table below.

Financial intermediation (SIC 1992 Section J)

Year

PAYE deductions of income tax and class 1 NICs (£ billion)

1996-97

10.0

1997-98

11.5

1998-99

12.3

1999-00

14.4

2000-01

17.5

2001-02

16.3

2002-03

16.0

2003-04p

17.5

P = provisional

Estimates of receipts from stamp duty on land and property, where the buyer was a financial institution, are given in the table below.

Year

Stamp duty on land and property (£ billion)

1996-97

0.1

1997-98

0.1

1998-99

0.2

1999-00

0.2

2000-01

0.3

2001-02

0.2

2002-03

0.3

2003-04

0.2

2004-05

0.1

It is not possible to provide any breakdown by type of purchaser for stamp duty on share transactions.

On other taxes, most financial services fall with the exemptions for VAT.

The data for total insurance premium tax are published on the uktradeinfo website at www.uk tradeinfo.com/index.cfm?task=ipt.

HMRC does not collect information on excise duties and other taxes attributable to purchases of fuel, alcohol et cetera by the financial sector.

Taxation: VAT

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the cost of refunding VAT under Section 33 of the Value Added Tax Act 1994 to the three public broadcasting companies incurring most VAT in 2005–06; and [HL6924]

What was the cost of refunding VAT under Section 33 of the Value Added Tax Act 1994 to the national museums and galleries which made no admission charge in 2005-06.[HL6925]

Only one public broadcasting company receives VAT refunds under Section 33 of the Value Added Tax Act 1994. Section 18 of the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005 does not permit HM Revenue and Customs to disclose information relating to the tax affairs of individual taxpayers.

VAT refunds to national museums and galleries under Section 33A of the Value Added Tax Act 1994 amounted to £22 million in 2005-06.

Vehicle and Operator Services Agency

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many reports the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) has received of lorry engine control units being adversely affected by powerful radio signals; and what tests VOSA has undertaken to check such reports of electromagnetic interference from roadside radio signals.[HL6868]

Since the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) was formed on 1 April 2003, there have been no reports of lorry engine control units being adversely affected by powerful radio signals. VOSA has not conducted any tests to check whether a lorry engine control unit can be affected by electromagnetic interference from roadside radio signals.