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Guinea Bissau

Mrs. Gillan: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the safety of British citizens in Guinea Bissau. [47325]

Mr. Fatchett: We broadcast several emergency messages via the BBC World Service urging Britons to leave Guinea Bissau and giving them advice about how best to do this. We believe that all British nationals who wished to leave Guinea Bissau have now done so.

Mrs. Gillan: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the treatment of opposition parties by the Government in Guinea Bissau. [47327]

Mr. Tony Lloyd: Guinea Bissau is a functioning multiparty democracy.

Multiparty legislative elections were held for the first time in 1994. They were judged to be free and fair by international observers. There are 11 political parties registered in Guinea Bissau, including the ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC), of which 6 have seats in parliament. An Electoral Commission in which all parties are represented was set up in march this year, in preparation for the next legislative elections due in November 1998.

North Korea

Mrs. Gillan: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the Government of North Korea to respect human rights and the conduct of elections. [47385]

Mr. Fatchett: The UK does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea and no ministerial talks have been held. The question of human rights violations in North Korea was raised at official-level talks held in November 1997. Earlier rounds had covered our concerns at the consequences of personality cults and a description of the British electoral system.

The UK, as Presidency, also co-ordinated the EU's response to the DPRK's purported denunciation, which we cannot accept, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The DPRK has recently expressed an interest in political dialogue with the EU. We have replied that any talks would need to include the subject of human rights.

Eritrea (British Embassy)

Mrs. Gillan: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will remove responsibility for Eritrean affairs from the British Embassy in Addis Ababa. [47382]

Mr. Tony Lloyd: The responsibility for Britain's foreign policy towards Eritrea remains with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. There are no plans to replace the British Embassy in Addis Ababa as the superintending mission for the British Consulate in Asmara.

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Dr. Lynne Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports he has received relating to adverse health effects suffered by Iraqi people as a result of the use of depleted uranium shells to attack Iraq. [45759]

Dr. Reid: I have been asked to reply.

The Government are aware of a number of recent media reports which have suggested that there has been an increase in the incidence of ill-health, particularly cancers and birth defects, amongst the population in southern Iraq which some have attributed to the use of depleted uranium (DU) based ammunition by Coalition forces during the Gulf conflict. These suggestions were also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) during an adjournment debate on the Middle East on 27 March 1998, Official Report, columns 872-76. A copy of the Government's response to my hon. Friend, setting out the Government's position on this matter, has already been placed in the Library of the House.

More recently, on 24 May, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Mohammed Said Al-Sahaf, wrote to the United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, claiming the right to compensation from the UK for damage allegedly caused by the use of DU-based ammunition by UK forces during the Gulf War. In this letter, Mr. Al-Sahaf attributed a reported increase in ill-health in Iraq to the use of DU-based ammunition.

However, the letter contained no statistical information of any kind to substantiate these assertions. Since the Government have seen no epidemiological research data on the Iraqi population we therefore cannot comment on whether there may be an unusually high incidence of ill-health in southern Iraq. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the illnesses of the types listed in Mr. Al-Sahaf's letter--foetal malformations, bone deformities, hair loss, skin disease and child leukaemia--are uniquely associated with exposure to DU. We would of course consider carefully any medical or scientific data which was presented on this subject.

The UK Government responded to Mr. Al-Sahaf's letter on 16 June, rebutting Iraq's claims, in a letter from the UK's Permanent Representative at the UN, Sir John Weston, to Mr. Annan. I am placing copies of the Iraqi letter and Sir John Weston's response in the Library of the House.


Departmental Reviews

Mr. Allan: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will list, for each of the last four years, all departmental inquiries and reviews instigated by ministers which have been chaired by individuals outside his Department; and in each case if he will give the date of establishment and the name of the chairman. [46828]

Dr. David Clark: The only committee of inquiry or review established within the last four years in the Office of Public Service and chaired by an individual outside my Department was (in the then Office of Public Service and

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Science) the Committee to Review the Contribution of Scientists and Engineers to the Public Understanding of Science, Engineering and Technology, established in January 1995 and chaired by Sir Arnold Wolfendale FRS.

Gender Impact Assessments

Jackie Ballard: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will place in the Library copies of gender impact assessments which have been undertaken in respect of legislation introduced in this Parliament; if he will make it his policy to do so in respect of future legislation; and if he will make a statement. [47012]

Dr. David Clark: I refer the hon. Member to the answer given by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Women on 24 June 1998, Official Report, column 557-58.

"Opening Up Quangos"

Mr. Pickthall: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what response he has received to the consultation paper "Opening Up Quangos"; and if he will make a statement. [48002]

Dr. David Clark: I am pleased to report that the Government's consultation paper "Opening up Quangos" received a good response. Over 400 replies were received from a wide range of individuals and organisations and the great majority of respondents broadly supported the thrust of our proposals for keeping the number of quangos to a minimum and for making those which remain more open, accountable and effective. I believe this shows the wide support that exists for opening up this area of government hitherto perceived as undemocratic and unaccountable. Copies of all the responses received (apart from those where confidentiality has been requested) have been placed in the Library of the House.

The results of the consultation exercise--together with further proposals for improving the accountability and transparency of quangos--are published today in my paper "Quangos: Opening the Doors". The proposals in this paper take account of all the comments received during the consultation exercise.

The action proposed in "Quangos: Opening the Doors" will make the business of quangos more open and the appointments system more transparent and accessible. It will enhance the accountability of quangos to their stake-holders through increased consultation, open meetings and better links with local government. Taken as a whole, I believe that the reforms in "Quangos: Opening the Doors" will require all quangos to carry out their important work in line with the basic democratic principles by which we conduct public business in this country. The proposals provide a basis for quangos to command public confidence and attract new people into this important area of public life.

I am also pleased to announce the publication today of "Opening up Public Appointments" which provides details of the work in hand to support the Government's commitment to increasing the participation of under-represented groups in public life.

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The Government have agreed, in principle, the proposal for a 50:50 ratio of women and men for public appointments and a pro rata representation of members of the ethnic minorities. A central feature of this work is a plan of action requiring all Government departments to set robust targets with the aim of reaching this overall goal. As part of this process, departments have drawn up individual plans which contain specific goals and objectives for increasing the representation of women and

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members of the ethnic minorities on the boards of public bodies. These cover the period 1998-2001 and will be updated annually. Future plans will specifically address the Government's overall commitments to increase representation.

Copies of "Quangos: Opening the Doors" and "Opening up Public Appointments" will be sent to all right hon. and hon. Members as well as being placed in the Library of the House. The papers will also be made available electronically over the Internet.

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