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6 Jan 2004 : Column 239W—continued

Block Grant

Mr. Peter Duncan: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what changes have been made to the coverage of the block grant arrangements since 1979. [144664]

Mrs. McGuire [holding answer 11 December 2003]: The arrangements for funding the Scottish Parliament are set out in the Statement of Funding Policy, which was first published by the Treasury in 1999. Revised Statements were published in 2000 and 2002. Information on the operation of the Barnett formula prior to 1999 is contained in the second report of the Treasury Committee for 1997–98, on the Barnett formula.

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Consolidated Fund

Mr. Peter Duncan: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what sums of money were (a) added to and (b) subtracted from the Scottish Consolidated Fund in each year since 1999. [144665]

Mrs. McGuire [holding answer 17 December 2003]: The operation of the Scottish Consolidated Fund is a matter for the Scottish Executive. Details of grant paid to the Scottish Executive are published in main and supplementary Scotland Office estimates, and in Scotland Office Department Reports.

Income Tax

Mr. Peter Duncan: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what estimate he has made of the costs that would fall on (a) the Government and (b) business if the Scottish Parliament voted to use its powers to vary the basic rate of income tax as specified in Section 72 of the Scotland Act 1998. [144667]

Mrs. McGuire [holding answer 17 December 2003]: The use of the tax varying powers, and related costs, are matters for the Scottish Executive. Scottish Executive Ministers have made it clear that they do not intend to use the tax varying powers during the course of this Scottish Parliament.


Brussels Summit

Mr. Cash: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement as to whether the 82 points referred to by Mr. Berlusconi as having been agreed to at the Brussels Summit were agreed; and whether they will be reopened. [145497]

Mr. MacShane [holding answer 5 January 2004]: I refer the hon. Member to the answer my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary gave to the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) today (UIN145406).

Civil Servants (Disabilities)

Mr. Goodman: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress has been made in meeting targets for the proportion of people with disabilities in senior posts in his Department. [146010]

Mr. Mike O'Brien: At September 2003, eight FCO staff in the senior management structure declared themselves to have a disability. This represents 1.7 per cent. of all staff at this level. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is on target to meet the 3 per cent. target agreed with the Cabinet Office for 2005. Staff advisory and support groups have been established and a diversity manager is in place to develop and implement policy.


Mr. Kaufman: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he will reply to the letter to him dated 10 November 2003 from the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton with regard to M. Sam. [145960]

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Mr. Mullin: I refer my right hon. Friend to the answer 1 gave him on 18 December 2003, Official Report, column 1107W.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Mr. Laxton: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the safety of asylum seekers from the Democratic Republic of Congo who are returned to their homeland after being refused asylum in the UK. [143661]

Beverley Hughes: The most recent information on the treatment of returned failed asylum seekers, as well as on other issues that most commonly arise in connection with asylum applications made by asylum seekers from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is contained in the Home Office Country Report on DRC that was published at the end of October. A copy of the Report can be found on the Home Office internet site at:

There is no objective evidence to support allegations of either systematic or arbitrary detention or ill treatment of returnees. The British ambassador in Kinshasa has seen no evidence that local human rights organisations have concerns about the safety of returns. Other EU countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands have also found no evidence that returnees face any ill treatment. The situation in DRC—including the treatment of returnees—is kept under review in consultation with the UNHCR and other EU countries. UNHCR's position is that they do not object in principle to enforced removals to Kinshasa of failed asylum seekers who have been found, following a full and fair asylum determination process, not to be in need of international protection.

If an asylum application is refused, the applicant has a right of appeal to the independent appellate authorities against that decision. If following any appeal the applicant has still not established a need for international protection, then we consider it reasonable to expect an individual in that position to leave voluntarily. If they do not, we believe it entirely proper for us to take the appropriate enforcement action.

Departmental Staff

Mr. Russell Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what percentage of staff employed within his Department are over 55 years of age; and what (a) number and (b) percentage of staff recruited over the last 12 months are over 55 years of age. [145932]

Mr. Mike O'Brien: At 1 June 2003. 9.76 per cent. of all FCO UK-based staff were over 55 years of age: 16 (2.8 per cent.) UK-based staff with a length of service of less than one year were over 55 years of age.

Draft EU Constitution

Keith Vaz: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the implications of the breakdown of negotiations for the European Constitution; when the next EU summit is scheduled to take place; and what items will be on the agenda. [146224]

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Mr. MacShane: The Intergovernmental Conference was close to consensus on the majority of issues relating to the draft Constitutional Treaty for the EU, although final agreement was not reached. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said to the House on 15 December 2003, Official Report, column 1321 "In time an agreement will be necessary to allow enlargement to work effectively". Until then, the business of the European Union will continue as normal under the existing Treaties. The Irish Presidency has undertaken to report on the way forward to the European Council at its meeting scheduled for 25–26 March 2004. The full agenda for that meeting has not yet been finalised.

European Council

Mr. Ancram: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the oral statement of the Prime Minister of 15 December 2003, Official Report, columns 1319–36, on the European Council, if he will list the points in the proposed European Constitution where consensus was close at the Brussels meeting of the European Council on 12 and 13 December; and if he will list the remaining points of disagreement. [145406]

Mr. Straw: Proposals published by the Italian Presidency on 9 December 2003 (and placed in the Library of the House) covered a wide range of separate issues of concern to one or more EU member states. In respect of most, though not all of these, the outcome was satisfactory for the United Kingdom, including on energy, and the "passerelle" clause and modalities for future revisions of Title III of Part III of the Treaty.

In his summing up at the 1GC on Saturday 13 December 2003. Mr. Berlusconi did not list each of the individual points on which there was near consensus, but did say that they included unanimity for taxation, criminal justice, own resources decisions and social security.

He did not, however, suggest that this was an exclusive list, and we had already made clear that there were some other outstanding issues on which we would require satisfaction before we could agree any draft Treaty on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also made clear at the IGC, as he did in his Statement on 15 December 2003, Official Report, column 132, that nothing was agreed until everything was agreed.

Overseas Posts (Performance Targets)

Mr. Malins: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what targets have been set for (a) processing entry clearance applications at British posts overseas for (i) permanent settlement and (ii) temporary purposes, (b) the dispatch of explanatory statements where an appeal against refusal is lodged and (c) the retention of explanatory statements by the Home Office before dispatch to the Immigration Appellate Authority; and how those targets have been met over the last 12 months for which figures are available. [144621]

Mr. Mullin: I can confirm that the following targets have been set:

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For settlement applications UKvisas' Best Practice gives a target of three months between the receipt of an appeal by the post abroad and its dispatch to the Appeals Processing Centre of the Home Office. For all non-settlement applications the target is one month. Figures for performance against these targets are done on a post-by-post basis and technical problems has meant that the figures are unreliable.

I understand that there are no targets set by the Home Office for the processing of entry clearance appeals once received by the Appeals Processing Centre. The processing of all appeals is dictated by the capacity of the Immigration Appellate Authority which is able to accept 7,100 cases per month. Ministerial priority states that 6,000 of these must be asylum cases, if these are available. This has been the case until October 2003. Significantly more entry clearance cases have been sent since then and this is set to continue over the next few months.

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