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22 Jun 2005 : Column 1082W—continued



Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Prime Minister what official engagements he has for July and August. [6058]

The Prime Minister: For security reasons, my future engagements are announced as and when appropriate.


David T.C. Davies: To ask the Prime Minister how much his Office has spent on taxis in each of the last five years. [6491]

The Prime Minister: For these purposes my office forms part of the Cabinet Office. I have therefore asked my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Hutton) to reply. A copy of the reply will be placed in the Library of the House.


Afghanistan (Participation of Women)

Joan Ruddock: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress has been made in Afghanistan in line with the Berlin Declaration with particular reference to provision for the participation of women in all sectors of the economy and society. [6039]

Dr. Howells: Women's rights have improved dramatically since the fall of the Taliban and progress continues to be made under the new government. Ensuring that women play a full role in Afghan society remains an important priority for the international community. In many areas ordinary women are now able to work and move about freely in a way that was impossible under the Taliban. The new constitution specifically protects women's rights and reserves a proportion of seats in parliament for women candidates. For last year's presidential elections, over 40 per cent. of those registered to vote were women. 40 per cent. of those who actually voted were women. Presidential candidates included one woman. President Karzai's cabinet includes two women, Dr. Massooda Jalal, Minister of Women's Affairs and Sediqa Balkhi, Minister of Martyrs and Disabled. Habiba Sarabi became Afghanistan's first female Governor (of Bamiyan) earlier this year.
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Securing the full participation of women in all sectors of the economy and society will take time. To this end, the UK has a regular dialogue with the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and is committed to working with the Afghan government and its international partners to improve women's ability to exercise their rights.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development have agreed a comprehensive Gender Strategy for 2004–05, a copy of which is available in the Library of the House.

Joan Ruddock: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps have been taken to ensure that gender equality is mainstreamed in all sectors, programmes and policies in Afghanistan. [6040]

Dr. Howells: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office/Department for International Development Gender Strategy for Afghanistan remains the cornerstone of our approach to gender equality in Afghanistan. The operational strategy for 2004–05 aimed to mainstream gender into "policy and programmes and targeted interventions". The priorities are:

A full copy of the Gender Strategy is available in the Library of the House.

Brussels Summit

Keith Vaz: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs which proposals the Government will place on the agenda for the Brussels summit on 16 and 17 June. [4058]

Mr. Douglas Alexander: The Government are not putting forward any specific proposals at the European Council. The Council will discuss, among other things, the Constitutional Treaty, the Community Budget for 2007–2013, enlargement, the action plan to implement the Hague Programme on freedom, security and justice, and the Union's Overseas Development Assistance commitments as we prepare for the UN Summit in September.

China (Religious Policy)

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the impact of China's new Provisions on Religious Affairs. [6342]

Ian Pearson: Since the passing of the new regulations on religion in March 2005 there has been little apparent change in the challenges facing religious groups and organisations in China. China's new provisions on religious affairs reaffirm existing restrictions on religious practice. They keep the requirement for all religious groups to register and set out penalties for non-compliance.
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We do not expect the new regulations to improve the situation for unregistered religious groups which continue to be put under pressure.

We raised our concerns about religious freedom at the latest round of the UK/China Human Rights Dialogue, held in London on 6 June.

Embassy Staff Levels

Lynne Featherstone: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many staff are based at each UK embassy. [6367]

Mr. Straw: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has a network of 233 diplomatic posts worldwide: 153 embassies and high commissions: 10 missions to international organisations such as the UN, the EU and NATO; and a further 70 consulates and deputy missions outside the capital cities in some countries. In addition there are 38 posts staffed entirely by local staff; 229 honorary consuls; and resident governors in nine of the 14 UK overseas territories.

Our embassies, missions and consulates are staffed by a mixture of FCO UK based staff, locally recruited staff and officers from other UK Government Departments.

There are approximately 6000 FCO UK based staff of whom about 2800 are based at our overseas posts at any one time. Overseas posts collectively employ about 10,000 locally engaged staff.

Figures are not held centrally on the total number of staff at each individual mission. This information could be compiled only at disproportionate cost.


Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans the UK has to recognise Hezbollah. [5128]

Dr. Howells: The UK has no plans to recognise Hezbollah. The UK only recognises states, not non-state actors.

Hezbollah is a political, social, religious and self-styled national resistance movement. The UK proscribed part of Hezbollah, the External Security Organisation, as a terrorist organisation in February 2001 under the Terrorism Act 2000. In this context we keep the behaviour of Hezbollah, and its status, under constant review.

In December 2001 our embassy in Beirut initiated contacts with Hezbollah, with ministerial approval. Since then there has been irregular contact. The last such contact with Hezbollah was in February 2005. In discussions with Hezbollah, British officials made clear the Government's well-known opposition to terrorism and the importance of Hezbollah's ending attacks on Israel and reducing tension along the Blue Line. No further such meetings are planned.

Hong Kong

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when a Minister last visited Hong Kong; and when he expects the next visit by a Minister. [6331]

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Ian Pearson: My hon. Friend the former Minister of State for Higher Education (Dr. Howells) visited in February this year, the former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Bill Rammell) visited in October 2004 and my right. hon. and noble Friend the Minister of State for Home Affairs (Baroness Scotland of Asthal) visited in December.

I will be visiting Hong Kong and mainland China in early July. A number of Ministers will be attending the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial in Hong

Kong later this year.

My hon. Friend may also be interested to know that Donald Tsang, visited the UK in October 2004 in his capacity as the then Chief Secretary and met my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor.

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