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John Mann: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will extend the scope of the Statutory Money Purchase Illustration Regulations that come into force on 6 April to include pensions sold to the public after that date. 
Mr. McCartney: The regulations apply equally to any member of a money purchase pension scheme, regardless of when they became a member of the scheme. This includes anyone who joins such a scheme after the regulations come into force on 6 April.
Mr. Cousins: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether the UK Government is in regular contact with the Iraqi opposition group known as SCIRI and the militia forces under its control. 
Mr. Mike O'Brien: Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials are in regular contact with Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), both in London and Tehran. SCIRI have also met FCO ministers as part of an Iraqi opposition delegation. We have no contact with the militia forces attached to SCIRI.
Mr. Malins: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he has had discussions with the Indian Government on applications to the Portuguese consulate in Goa for Portuguese passports from Indian residents, and the use of such passports subsequently to facilitate entry to the UK; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Mike O'Brien: We have had no discussions with the Government of India on this issue. We have discussed the matter with the Portuguese Consulate in Goa. We understand that some residents of the former Portuguese enclaves in India (Goa, Daman and Diu) are eligible to apply for a Portuguese passport. Holders of Portuguese passports are entitled to enter the UK freely as citizens of an EU member state.
Mr. Dhanda: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on Lord Avebury's recent visit to Bahrain, with particular reference to (a) his plea to King Hamed bin Isa Al Khalifa to pardon Richard Mechan, a British citizen and (b) the evidence of judicial irregularities presented to the King. 
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Mr. Mike O'Brien: On 10 January 2003 Lord Avebury wrote to my noble Friend Baroness Amos, informing her of his recent visit to Bahrain and his meeting with the Ruler, King Hamed. Lord Avebury handed the King a dossier compiled by Terry Mechan, about the case of his son, Richard Mechan, imprisoned for manslaughter. Lord Avebury has told us that the King agreed to review the case. In a further letter to Baroness Amos on 7 March, Lord Avebury asked if our Embassy in Bahrain could make inquiries with the King's Private Office as to what progress had been made. Our Embassy has been pursing this matter.
Mr. Mike O'Brien: Our High Commission in Dhaka monitors closely the regrettably frequent reports of human rights abuses in Bangladesh. We were concerned by reports of mistreatment of detainees, including deaths following detention, associated with the recent law and order drive, "Operation Clean Heart", and urged the Bangladesh Government to follow the due process of law in all cases. We regularly take up human rights issues with the Bangladesh Government, calling for all allegations of human rights abuses to be fully investigated and for perpetrators to be brought to justice.
Mr. Mike O'Brien: As I made clear in the House of Commons on 10 December 2002, Official Report, column 154, the UK does not encourage trade or investment in Burma. Companies wishing to trade or invest in Burma receive no assistance at all from the UK Government. Companies inquiring about trade or investment are told of our policy and advised of the appalling human rights situation and the economic incompetence and corruption of the Burmese regime. A combination of international opinion and the regime's economic incompetence means that there is hardly any new investment in Burma and that established companies, such as Premier Oil, have pulled out.
Mr. Win Griffiths: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports he has received on alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Burmese military against the Karen, Karenni and Shan civilians in Burma. 
Mr. Mike O'Brien: We receive numerous reports of very serious cases of human rights abuse in Burma. However, war crimes and crimes against humanity are carefully defined under law and these are not phrases that have been used by the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Burma to describe the situation.
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Mr. Win Griffiths: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports he has received about human rights abuses by the Government of Burma of the Karen, Karenni and Shan peoples. 
Mr. Mike O'Brien: We receive a regular flow of credible reports from non-governmental organisations and the United Nationsincluding the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rightsthat re-affirm our grave concern over the human rights situation in Burma, including abuses directed at the Shan, Karen and Karenni. The reports confirm that very little progress has been made by the Burmese regime to improve its human rights record.
Mr. Win Griffiths: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he and his European Union partners have made to the Government of Burma about that government's treatment of the Karen, Karenni and Shan people. 
Mr. Mike O'Brien: A core aspect of UK and EU policy is action to press for an end to human rights abuses. Burmese ethnic minority groups, including the Shan, Karen and Karenni suffer the effects of this abuse disproportionately. The EU co-sponsored a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly in November 2002 that condemned the regime's human rights record. We are currently preparing a further resolution for presentation at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in April. This is in addition to regular EU statements and demarches to the Burmese regime about the situation.
Mr. Win Griffiths: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans he has to help broker a ceasefire between the Burmese military government and Karen, Karenni and Shan resistance groups. 
Mr. Mike O'Brien: I have been encouraged by reports that some of the insurgent groups fighting the Burmese regime are prepared to consider negotiating a ceasefire. The EU has called for the peaceful end to the conflicts in Burma in resolutions at the United Nations General Assembly. We strongly support the idea in principle and stand ready to help assist the process in the most effective way.
Lynne Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what the reasons are for the change in the overall rate of refusal of family visitor visa applications; and what the reasons are for the changes in rates of refusal of family visitor visa applications made at entry clearance posts (a) in the Middle East, (b) in South Asia, (c) in Western Europe and (d) in Central Europe since 1 August 2002. 
Mr. Rammell: The number of refusals in Islamabad has increased with the resumption of interviews of family visit applicants on 2 December 2002. Previously these applications were being decided on the papers alone: many applications that would normally have resulted in an interview were therefore returned to the applicants unresolved.
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These figures do not show any undue deviation from what would normally be expected for Islamabad. The very low pre-November 2002 figures were rather unusual, reflecting the limited service then being offered.
Otherwise, the figures set out in the tables, which have been placed in the Library, show no significant increase in the refusal rate of family visit applications since August. The variations in the rate of refusal seen are not unusual. Each application is decided on the balance of probabilities and their individual merits in accordance with the Immigration Rules.
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