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School Playing Fields

Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment how many school playing fields and what total land area of school playing fields have been sold in (a) the Lewes constituency and (b) East Sussex as a whole in each of the last 10 years. [146693]

Jacqui Smith: Before October 1998, there was nothing to prevent a local authority selling a school playing field if it wanted to. An estimated 40 playing fields a month were sold in this way under the previous Government. Section 77 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 was introduced, with effect from 1 October 1998, to stop the indiscriminate sale of school playing fields. Local authorities and governing bodies of all maintained schools are now required to obtain the Secretary of State's consent before disposing of playing fields, or any part of a playing field.

Applications to dispose, or change the use, of school playing fields are approved only when it is clear that any proceeds will be returned to education or used to improve or enhance sports provision. From this spring, all applications will be scrutinised by a new panel that has been set up, comprising representatives of the National Playing Fields Association, the Central Council of Physical Recreation, Learning through Landscapes, the National Association of Head Teachers and the Local Government Association.

Since October 1998, there have been no applications to sell playing fields in either (a) the constituency of Lewes or (b) East Sussex as a whole.



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FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH AFFAIRS

EU Decision-making Process

14. Dr. Ladyman: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the objectives of the Swedish presidency to increase the transparency of decision making in the European Union. [145048]

Mr. Vaz: This Government, like Sweden, place a very high priority on increasing transparency in the European Union. One of the presidency's key objectives will be to reach agreement on the draft regulation on public access to Council, Commission and European Parliament documents by May of this year. We will do all we can to support them in securing arrangements which provide greater openness and a user-friendly system.

Western Sahara (Peace Process)

15. Ms Kingham: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement regarding recent developments in the peace process for Western Sahara. [145049]

Mr. Hain: The UN is continuing its peace efforts in the Western Sahara through the Secretary-General who has expressed frustration with both main parties--Morocco and the Polisario Front--for lacking the political will to settle the dispute. We urge both sides to bring meaningful proposals to their next talks, now expected sometime in February.

EU Charter of Fundamental Rights

16. Mr. Ruffley: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the EU charter of fundamental rights. [145050]

Mr. Vaz: The charter was proclaimed on 7 December at the Nice European Council.

Promotion of human rights is something to be proud of. The charter sets out for the first time, clearly and in a single document, a range of fundamental rights, freedoms and principles recognised within the EU. People need to know their rights, and the EU institutions need to respect them. The charter will help on both counts.

The charter is a political declaration; it is not legally binding. It was neither incorporated, nor attached nor referred to in the treaties, just as we said.

The Government have made clear their support for the charter. We have also made clear our view that it should remain a political declaration.

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HIV/AIDS (Southern Africa)

17. Barbara Follett: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the role of his Department in the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic in southern Africa. [145051]

Mr. Hain: We worked hard to put HIV/AIDS high on the agenda of the G8 summit in Okinawa last year and to raise the profile of the issue in the United Nations. We are also working closely with the Department for International Development to ensure the extensive UK aid programme in southern Africa has the political support it needs.

UK-US Relations

18. Mr. Donald Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he expects to meet the new United States Secretary of State to discuss arms control. [145052]

Mr. Hain: The United States is Britain's closest ally and we enjoy excellent co-operation across a wide range of defence and security issues. NATO provides the cornerstone of our relationship. Co-operation between Britain and the US will continue after the change of US Administration, not least because a close working relationship is the best way of advancing our mutual interests and safeguarding our collective security.

20. Dr. George Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with the new Administration in the US on the future role of NATO. [145054]

25. Mr. David Heath: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with the incoming United States Administration on national missile defence proposals. [145059]

27. Mr. Savidge: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with the new United States Administration on issues relating to defence and disarmament. [145061]

31. John Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with the new United States Administration on strategic defence and disarmament. [145065]

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on UK-US defence co-operation. [145043]

Mr. Vaz: The United States is Britain's closest ally and we enjoy excellent co-operation across a wide range of defence and security issues. NATO provides the cornerstone of our relationship. Co-operation between Britain and the US will continue after the change of US Administration, not least because a close working relationship is the best way of advancing our mutual interests and safeguarding our collective security.

Zimbabwe

21. Mr. Kirkwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the situation in Zimbabwe. [145055]

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Mr. Hain: We remain very concerned about both political and economic developments in Zimbabwe. Violence again marred election campaigning in the run-up to the by-election earlier this month. We condemn all acts of violence and urge the Government and Opposition to work to ensure that elections are the free choice of the people of Zimbabwe, without violence, intimidation or fear.

The economic situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate with the key indicators pointing to a deepening crisis in 2001: more job loses, high inflation, shrinking growth, and shortages of foreign exchange. We look to the Government of Zimbabwe to take determined action to reverse Zimbabwe's economic decline.

Tibet

22. Tony Wright: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on recent discussions he has had with China on the future of Tibet. [145056]

Mr. Battle: We regularly discuss the future of Tibet with the Chinese authorities and urge them to engage in a meaningful dialogue with the Tibetan people, including the Dalai Lama, on a long-term political solution. During the last round of our bilateral human rights dialogue with China, held in London between 16 and 18 October, the Chinese side briefed us on the resumed contacts with representatives of the Dalai Lama. We welcomed this development and recent indications that the dialogue was continuing to take place. We will continue to press the Chinese authorities to advance the dialogue to a satisfactory conclusion.

Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent assessment he has made of the (a) extent of and (b) implications of migration of Han Chinese into Tibet. [146720]

Mr. Battle: We are monitoring the extent and causes of Han migration into Tibet. We addressed the issue during the last round of the UK/China human rights dialogue held in London between 16-18 October. We stressed the importance of ensuring that indigenous Tibetans benefit from the economic development driving the migration, and the need to preserve and promote Tibetan cultural, traditional and religious practices.

Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make it his policy to recognise the Tibetan Government in exile if the Chinese authorities continue to refuse to engage in meaningful dialogue with the Dalai Lama. [146715]

Mr. Battle: We do not recognise the Tibetan "Government in Exile", nor do we have any plans to revise this position.

We welcome recent indications that the Chinese authorities and representatives of the Dalai Lama have resumed a dialogue. We will continue to stress to the Chinese the importance this Government places on the two sides reaching agreement on a long-term political solution in Tibet.

Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent assessment he has made of the human rights situation in Tibet. [146718]

23 Jan 2001 : Column: 559W

Mr. Battle: The human rights situation in Tibet remains a matter of deep concern. Restrictions on the freedoms of religion, expression and association, the harsh treatment of dissidents and the erosion of Tibetan culture and traditional practices continue. We have welcomed the re-establishment of contacts between the Chinese authorities and representatives of the Dalai Lama since mid-2000, and hope that these will go on to address these important issues.

Tibet remains a major focus of our critical engagement with the Chinese authorities, at ministerial level and through the regular UK/China human rights dialogues. We will continue to press for a long-term political solution in Tibet between the Chinese authorities and the Dalai Lama, and the full respect for human rights in Tibet.

Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent assessment he has made of the impact of current Chinese policy on the culture and historic environment of Tibet. [146748]

Mr. Battle: We continue monitoring the effects of Chinese policy towards the cultural heritage and traditional practices in Tibet. Of particular concern is the "re-education" programme of Buddhist monks and nuns, restrictions on freedom of religion and the handling of Han migration into Tibet. We raise these and other issues relating to Tibet, in detail during our regular UK/China human rights dialogues.

With EU partners, we supported a demarche by the French ambassador in Beijing in August 2000, expressing concern at the expulsion of representatives of the Tibet heritage fund, which works to preserve religious sites in Lhasa.

We will continue to press the Chinese to work towards maintaining the unique culture and heritage of Tibet. We will do so again during the next dialogue round in Beijing between 12-14 February.


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