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27 Jan 2005 : Column 526W—continued


Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions his Department has had with the Syrian Government on Hezbollah and Hamas. [210699]

Mr. Alexander [holding answer 26 January 2005]: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary discussed these organisations with the Syrian Foreign Minister Shara'a on 18 October 2004 during his visit to London. During this and other discussions with the Syrian Government, we have urged Syria to use its influence with Hezbollah, Hamas and other groups such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad, to call on these groups to reject the use of violence.

UNHCR Staff (Nepal)

Ms Oona King: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the 2002 report by the Inspector General's Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) into alleged rape and child abuse by UNHCR staff in Nepal. [209719]

Mr. Alexander: The 2002 report made allegations of sexual abuse by 18 people, including 16 Bhutanese refugees and two Nepalese officials. None of the 18 worked for UNHCR. But three UNHCR staff were accused in the report of gross negligence for failing to respond adequately to the abuse. Following a rebuttal of these allegations by the three UNHCR staff as well as a legal analysis of the case, a final review in 2004 concluded that there had been no wrongdoing by UNHCR staff, that no instructions had been wilfully disregarded, and that the conduct of the staff did not justify disciplinary action. The Government take any such allegations very seriously. We welcome the steps UNHCR has taken since 2002 to review its staff code of conduct, reinforcing the need for a zero tolerance approach to sexual abuse.


Mr. Ben Chapman: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1) what steps are being taken to encourage the removal of the death penalty in Vietnam; [210523]

(2) what recent assessment has been made of the number of state executions in Vietnam; and if he will make a statement. [210525]

Mr. Alexander: The first EU-Vietnam Seminar on the Death Penalty, partly funded by the UK, took place in Hanoi on 24–26 November 2004. We are encouraged by Vietnamese willingness to enter into a dialogue on this issue and hope to build on this progress.

Total abolition of the death penalty is unlikely in the near future. But we welcome Vietnam's willingness to debate the issue, and to consider narrowing the use of the death penalty in the next two-three years.
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We regret that the death penalty is still widely used in Vietnam. It has one of the highest rates of death sentences and executions. 29 different offences, including non-violent ones, are capital crimes. More than 60 people are believed to have been executed in 2003, double that of 2002. On 5 January 2004, the Prime Minister of Vietnam declared death penalty statistics state secrets".

Mr. Ben Chapman: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assistance is being given to Vietnam to (a) strengthen the Civil Service and (b) eliminate corruption. [210524]

Mr. Alexander: Public administration reform and corruption are key areas for UK assistance to Vietnam.

The Department for International Development's (DFID) support to Vietnam is one of the fastest growing UK aid programmes in the world. DFID programme resources are projected to reach £55 million in 2005–06. This support includes helping the National Assembly to strengthen its oversight function. Recent results include the scrutiny of the draft Audit Law which has led to the State Audit department reporting to the National Assembly as opposed to the Government, and on-going revisions to the new law on anti-corruption. DFID is financing the Ministry of Planning and Investment's Inspectorate which has provided three pilot inspection reports to the Minister of Planning and Investment to review and take appropriate action. DFID also financed technical training in performance auditing for 30 people, and awareness training in planning and investment inspection for 140 officials.

DFID is contributing to a multi-donor effort to improve public financial management. This support has helped design a budgetary yearbook which will be made available to the public, and financed the recent public expenditure review which will be endorsed by the Government and made public at the end of January 2005. DFID is also supporting the introduction of a Treasury and Budget Management Information System to comply with international best practice in budget execution and reporting.

We took part in the Vietnam Consultative Group's (CG) main annual stock take on 1–2 December, together with representatives of the Government of Vietnam, donors, international agencies, international NGOs and the private sector. Corruption was one of the key challenges identified; and we welcome Vietnam's increasing openness in this respect.

This was the first such dialogue with donors. We will continue to support Vietnam's efforts to combat corruption and to strengthen its civil service.

Mr. Ben Chapman: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on human rights violations in Vietnam. [210526]

Mr. Alexander: The Vietnamese Government are well aware of the importance we attach to human rights. We raise our concerns over the human rights situation in Vietnam at every possible opportunity.
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We have an increasingly open dialogue with the Vietnam Government on human rights issues. The EU-Vietnam Death Penalty Seminar that took place in Hanoi on 24–26 November 2004 is an example of increasing Vietnamese willingness to discuss human rights issues.

The regular EU-Vietnam human rights dialogue meetings, the latest of which was in December, help improve mutual understanding and identify areas for co-operation; we hope this will lead to concrete progress.

We will continue to press the Vietnamese Government to adhere to its international human rights obligations at every suitable opportunity.


China (Cashmere Imports)

11. Sir Archy Kirkwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps she plans to take to increase the level of monitoring of the importation of cashmere knitted garments from China. [211122]

Mr. Alexander: Surveillance licensing of EU imports from China on a range of textiles and clothing products, including cashmere knitted garments, was introduced by the EU and implemented by the UK on 1 January 2005.

Postal Services

12. Ms Buck: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment she has made of the standard of postal services in inner London. [211123]

Mr. Sutcliffe: Improving the quality of postal services throughout the country is an operational matter for the Royal Mail Board. I have been assured by Allan Leighton that this is the Board's top priority and Adam Crazier, Chief Executive of Royal Mail, has taken personal responsibility for this improvement.

Energy Supply

13. Sir Nicholas Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment she has made of the UK's future energy generation capability. [211124]

Mr. Mike O'Brien: The Government's assessment, prepared jointly with Ofgem and National Grid Transco, is set out in reports of the Joint Energy Security of Supply Working Group. The latest version was published in November 2004 and copies are in the House Library.

The Secretary of State will also report to Parliament on security of energy supply this year as required under section 172 of the Energy Act 2004.

Employment during Pregnancy

14. Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what research she has commissioned on pregnant women's experience of employment and employers' attitudes towards them during pregnancy. [211125]

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Jacqui Smith: In 2001, DTI and DWP jointly commissioned a survey of new mothers and fathers to evaluate the provision, awareness, take-up, experiences and views of maternity and paternity rights and benefits in Britain. The mothers' survey explored how women who had worked as employees during pregnancy had been treated at work prior to taking maternity leave.

The report—Hudson et al, (2004), Maternity and Paternity Rights in Britain 2002: Survey of Parents, DWP Research Report No 131—is available at and has been placed in the Library.

The DTI is currently in the process of tendering for an interim survey of maternity and paternity rights, to be carried out in summer 2005. This survey will update the findings of the 2002 survey. Initial findings will be available in June 2005 and the final report in November 2005.

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