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Asset Sales

Mr. Matthew Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will list the items in the National Assets Register sold by his Department, its agencies and associated public bodies since 16 February 1999, stating in each case the amount

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of money realised; if he will estimate the total amount raised from such sales to date; and if he will make a statement. [104488]

Mr. Hain: Since 16 February 1999 the FCO has sold 23 estate assets and 141 vehicles. Details are as listed. Total proceeds to date from completed sales amount to £29 million. Property sales are expected to realise a further £12 million in 1999-2000. Figures for this financial year are estimates.

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The FCO receipts from sale of assets from 16 February 1999 to date

CountryNumber of salesProceeds (£)
Staff accommodationBotswana, Gaborone1155,000
Staff accommodationChile, Santiago1103,000
Staff accommodationDenmark, Copenhagen2190,000
ResidenceFrance, Lille1289,000
Staff accommodationFrance, Paris1134,000
OfficeGermany, Bonn16,388,000
Staff accommodationGermany, Bonn1364,000
ResidenceIreland, Dublin1(6)9,900,000
Staff accommodationIreland, Dublin1297,000
Staff accommodationIsrael, Tel Aviv1159,000
Staff accommodationMalaysia, Kuala Lumpur131,000
Staff accommodationNew Zealand, Wellington1206,000
Staff accommodationSpain, Madrid1262,000
Staff accommodationSwaziland, Mbabane123,000
Staff accommodationSweden, Stockholm2126,000
Staff accommodationSwitzerland, Geneva2194,000
OfficeUK, London18,500,000
Wireless StationUK, Gawcott1355,000
Wireless StationUK, Poundon1477,000
ResidenceUSA, Cleveland1353,000
Heavy commercial3
Light commercial17 576,000
Motor cars121
Total Proceeds29,182,000

(6) A further £10.0 million will be received from this sale in March 2000, and a further £3.6 million will be received in 2001-02

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Mrs. Ellman: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1) if he will make representations to the Government of Iran concerning their support for groups opposed to the Middle East peace process; [106541]

Mr. Hain: Iranian opposition to the Middle East peace process and support for groups that oppose the peace process featured prominently in the discussions between my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and his Iranian counterpart during the latter's visit from 10-12 January. The Iranian authorities are fully aware of the importance that we and our EU partners attach to the Middle East peace process.

Mrs. Ellman: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the comments in Amnesty International's 1999 Annual report on violations of basic human rights in Iran. [106543]

Mr. Hain: We welcome Amnesty International's latest report covering the human rights situation in Iran in 1998. Given Iran's continued failure to invite the United Nations

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Commission for Human Rights Special Representative, Maurice Copithorne, to visit, Amnesty's reports represent an important source of information on human rights issues in Iran.

Palestinian Jihad

Mrs. Ellman: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the sources of funds for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. [106540]

Mr. Battle: Any assessment by HMG of the sources of funds could only come from intelligence and would, therefore, be exempted from disclosure under Exemption 1 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.

Departmental Staff

Mr. Stephen Twigg: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what percentage of his Department's staff were (a) registered disabled, (b) women, (c) from ethnic minorities and (d) from (i) independent, (ii) grammar and (iii) other schools in (1) 1970, (2) 1979, (3) 1989 and (4) 1999. [106761]

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Mr. Hain: As at 1 April 1999, the percentages were:

(a) Registered disabled2
(b) Women37
(c) From ethnic minority backgrounds4

It is not possible to provide the information for the earlier years. To provide information on types of schools staff attended would involve disproportionate costs.

Biosafety Protocol

Joan Ruddock: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on his Department's contribution to formulation of the United Kingdom and EU negotiating position being adopted at the Biosafety Protocol talks taking place in Montreal. [106959]

Mr. Hain: The FCO has worked closely with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and other Government Departments in preparing, with EU partners, for the resumption of negotiations on the Protocol. Two FCO officials are attending the talks in Montreal this week in the team led by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment. Along with our EU partners, we are firmly committed to achieving a Biosafety Protocol that secures worldwide protection from any adverse effects on the environment or human health from the transboundary movement of living or genetically modified organisms.


Benefit Review Procedures

Mr. Levitt: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans he has to change Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit review procedures; and if he will make a statement. [107149]

Angela Eagle: From April 2001, we propose to modernise the review procedures in Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit by bringing them into line with the arrangements for decision-making and appeals in child support and Social Security introduced under the Social Security Act 1998. Those arrangements have now been successfully implemented in other Social Security benefits. The Appeals Service has made--and is continuing to make--improvements to the level of service provided to appellants. We are proposing to extend that service to people who wish to appeal against local authority decisions on their Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit claims.

The changes will mean that, as now, people will be able to ask their local authority to look again at any disputed decision, but if the differences cannot be resolved they will have a right of appeal to a tribunal administered by the Appeals Service. People claiming Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit will also be expected to provide prompt evidence and information in support of their claims, in the same way as for other Social Security benefits.

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These arrangements will ensure a consistent approach to decision-making and appeals across the benefits. Satisfactory decision-making procedures are an important element in the rights guaranteed by the Human Rights Act 1998.

Retirement Pension

Laura Moffatt: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) what benefit arrangements exist for retired people awaiting assessment of retirement pension; [105909]

Mr. Rooker: Prospective pensioners are invited to claim Retirement Pension four months prior to attaining minimum State pension age. This period allows time for the customer to make a claim and the Benefit's Agency to obtain the information needed to put the correct Retirement Pension entitlement into payment.

There are times, particularly at the beginning of a new tax year, when the contribution information needed to confirm Retirement Pension entitlement is not available. In this circumstance, the Benefit Agency makes an award based on the contribution information available and makes arrangements for payments to be made at an interim rate until a full assessment can be made. When the contribution information is available a revised award is made. The customer will receive revised notification of their entitlement and payment of any arrears due.

The Benefits Agency aims to clear 95 per cent. of Retirement Pension claims in 60 days. This is measured from the date of receipt of a claim form to the date an award is recorded on the Pensions Strategy Computer System.

If my hon. Friend has any particular problems regarding pension assessments, I will be happy to look into them if she provides details.

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