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Mr. Nicholas Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations Her Majesty's Government have made to (a) the World Health Organisation, (b) the United Nations and (c) the European Union in support of Taiwan's appeal to be granted observer status to the World Health Organisation; and if he will make a statement. 
Peter Hain: HMG have not made any representations to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations or the European Union on this matter. I understand that the Director General of the WHO has discretion to confer observer status on a non-state entity where its participation would be non-controversial. The Director General has not done so to date but it remains open to the Taiwanese to continue to pursue this.
Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps he takes to ensure that the responsibility placed on MI6 to protect the economic well-being of the country is not discharged in such a way as to (a) benefit big business at the expense of small business and (b) undermine the rights of pressure groups and individuals to pursue peacefully their political ends. 
Mr. Straw [holding answer 25 June 2001]: The Secret Intelligence Service carries out its functions under the Intelligence Services Act 1994 under my authority. I take my responsibilities in this respect very seriously. Any powers exercised by the Secretary of State under the Intelligence Services Act 1994, or under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 are scrutinised by
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independent judicial commissioners who make Annual Reports to Parliament. The finance, administration and policy of the security and intelligence services, including the Secret Intelligence Service, is overseen by the Intelligence and Security Committee. I would draw attention to the committee's Annual Report for 1996 (presented to Parliament in February 1997, Cm 3574) in which the committee
Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what the Government's policy is on the Scottish Executive's commitment to direct access to the European Court of Justice included in the Political Declaration of the Constitutional Regions signed on 28 May. 
In signing the Declaration, the Scottish Executive did not commit itself to a proposal to give regional governments direct access to the European Court of Justice. Instead, it supported the joint views of the co-signatories that consideration should be given to this topic, along with others, in the broad debate on the Future of Europe.
Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions have been held between Her Majesty's Government and the Scottish Executive concerning direct Scottish Executive access to the European Court of Justice. 
Peter Hain: HMG work closely and in co-operation with the Scottish Executive on all EU policy issues in line with the Memorandum of Understanding and the concordats on International Relations and European Union Policy Issues.
Mr. Lidington: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many work permits have been issued (a) under the fast track scheme for shortage occupations since the introduction of this scheme and (b) for shortage occupations expressed as a proportion of the total; and if he will make a statement. 
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Angela Eagle: Information is not available in the form requested. Between 1 October 1999 and 31 May 2001, the number of approvals made in respect of skills shortage work permit applications was 44,413. This figure represents 25 per cent. of the total number of work permit approvals made during the same period.
Mr. Lidington: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the Government's plans to introduce a green card scheme to govern the entry of workers into the UK. 
Angela Eagle: The United Kingdom has longstanding work permit arrangements that enable employers to recruit people from overseas. The system has recently undergone a comprehensive and successful review to ensure that it responds quickly and effectively to labour market needs.
Mr. Lidington: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many work permits have been issued to IT professionals in (a) the last year and (b) in the latest period for which figures are available; and if he will make a statement. 
Angela Eagle: In the 2000 calendar year, 18,259 work permit applications were approved in respect of information technology professionals. Between 1 January and 31 May this year, 10,700 approvals have been granted for that category of worker. Like most developed countries, the United Kingdom continues to experience a shortage of some skills within the information technology sector. The United Kingdom work permit system has the flexibility to respond quickly to emerging shortages.
Angela Eagle: The United Kingdom has a long- standing Seasonal Agricultural Workers' Scheme which enables non-European Economic Area students between the ages of 18 and 25 who are in full-time education to enter the United Kingdom to do seasonal agricultural work. The annual quota was raised in 2000 from 10,000 to 15,200.
There are no present plans to issue work permits for agricultural workers. However, we will wish to consider the place of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers' Scheme in the context of any proposed changes to the work permit system.
Angela Eagle: The Government are tackling religious discrimination in a number of ways, taking account of the two research reports on religious discrimination published earlier this year and responses to them.
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The Government are committed to implementing the Article 13 European Community Employment Directive outlawing discrimination in employment and training on grounds that include religion by 2 December 2003. The Government will consult on this and related good practice guidance in due course.
The Census Act 1921 was amended to include a question on religious identity in this year's census. This will provide central and local government with reliable data on our faith communities, which will help inform the planning and delivery of services sensitive to the needs of faith communities. The Human Rights Act 1998 also provides protection against religious discrimination.
But legislation alone is not enough, as the research participants recognised. They favoured a comprehensive approach in which education, training and a greater effort to teach more in schools about the diversity of faith would all play an important part. We are looking at how best to do this.
The research reports will help not only to inform policy, but to raise awareness of people's experience of religious discrimination, and of the sensitive and sometimes complex issues involved within the options for tackling it.
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