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United Nations

Andrew George: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development when the Government (a) made representations to and (b) held discussions with (i) counterparts in other UN member states and (ii)at UN meetings in respect of the future plans andmanagement of the (1) UN Emergency Fund and (2) UN Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs; and what proposals the UK put forward on these occasions. [18874]

Hilary Benn: Since I set out my proposals for reform of the international humanitarian system in December last year, DFID Ministers and senior officials have talked to a number of other UN member states, in particular about the development of a revised and expanded UN Central Emergency Revolving Fund (CERF). I attended the UN Millennium Review summit in September, and spoke at a humanitarian reform event at which Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Luxembourg announced contributions to the revised CERF totalling US$60 million, in addition to previously announced Norwegian and UK contributions of US$30 million and US$70 million respectively.

At a Good Humanitarian Donorship meeting with a number of donors on 5 October in Geneva, chaired by DFID, a range of humanitarian reform proposals were discussed, including the role that the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) should play in them. On 6 October, a meeting of the OCHA Donor Support Group was held, chaired by the US, at which the leading donors to OCHA (including the UK) discussed OCHA's future workplans, priorities and challenges with senior OCHA officials. The UK provides financial support to OCHA to improve its performance in planning and co-ordination of humanitarian responses, with emphasis on protection of vulnerable populations, and disaster management and risk reduction initiatives.


Disabled Access

Dr. Cable: To ask the hon. Member for North Devon, representing the House of Commons Commission whether the doorknobs in Portcullis House have been assessed as compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. [17833]

Nick Harvey: The design of Portcullis House complied with all statutory requirements when built, including the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. I am aware that some users find the doorknobs in Portcullis House difficult to operate. The Parliamentary Estates Directorate are engaged in discussions with Michael Hopkins Architects to identify a satisfactory solution.

Mail Screening

Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the hon. Member for North Devon, representing the House of Commons Commission what the cost of screening mail outside the parliamentary estate was in the last period for which
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figures are available; what the cost of internal screening was in the latest comparable period; and what turn-round time was built into the new contract. [17710]

Nick Harvey: The cost of screening mail outside the parliamentary estate for the month of September 2005 was some £100,000. Mail screening has not been performed internally since 1996 and therefore no comparable figures are available. Rather than specify turn around time, the screening contract requires a percentage of the mail to be available on each of the three daily deliveries in conjunction with the mail services contract. The target of making between 60 per cent. and 80 per cent. of mail available for the first internal delivery at 8am is by and large being met despite teething problems.

Portcullis House

Norman Baker: To ask the hon. Member for North Devon, representing the House of Commons Commission what the cost has been of providing a window cleaning service in Portcullis House in each year since its construction. [17338]

Nick Harvey: Until 2003, the component costs of cleaning windows in Portcullis House were not separately identified by the contractor and could be calculated only at disproportionate cost. Since August 2003, when the present contract was let to MITIE, the cost of cleaning internal and external windows including the atrium roof has been £115,000 per annum.


Harry Cohen: To ask the hon. Member for North Devon, representing the House of Commons Commission what action is being taken in response to the recent discovery of a non-passholder in an unauthorised location, the details of which have been communicated to him; and if he will make a statement. [18599]

Nick Harvey: The Commission is not responsible for the enforcement of the rules governing access to the estate, which is the responsibility of the Serjeant at Arms acting under the authority of Mr. Speaker.



Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps his Department is taking to ensure that the aid promised to Africa at the G8 summit will be used for the purposes for which it is intended. [16087]

Hilary Benn: I have been asked to reply.

The G8 agreed that additional resources will be focused on low income countries that are committed to growth and poverty reduction, to democratic, accountable and transparent government and to sound financial management. Where this is the case, it should be up to the country concerned to decide how best to use the resources to accelerate progress towards the
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Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which are focused on reducing poverty, improving people's access to education, health, water and sanitation.

In March 2005, the Department for International Development published a policy paper explaining our approach in more detail, 'Partnerships for Poverty Reduction: Rethinking Conditionally'. This states that an effective aid partnership should be based on a shared commitment to: reducing poverty and achieving the MDGs; respecting human rights and other international obligations; and strengthening financial management and accountability, to reduce the risk of funds being misused through weak administration or corruption. We will consider reducing or interrupting aid if partner governments deviate significantly from any of the three objectives. However we will try to strengthen countries' leadership of their own development by not making our aid conditional on specific policy decisions by partner governments. Our assessment of progress will be based on mutually agreed benchmarks, drawn wherever possible from national plans. The assessment will focus on overall impact, rather than specific policies.

Tony Baldry: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many Britishembassies have closed in Africa in the last 12 months. [17440]

Mr. Straw: I refer the hon. Member to my writtenstatement of 11 October 2005, Official Report, columns 21–23WS. In the last 12 months, the FCO has closed the British embassy in Antananarivo, Madagascar. The British High Commissions in Maseru, Lesotho, and in Mbabane, Swaziland, were also closed in this period.


Mr. Sheerman: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1) what steps he is taking to stop human rights violations taking place in Burma; [18206]

(2) what steps he is taking to bring the Burmese regime to justice for human rights violations. [18207]

Ian Pearson: The Government have strongly criticised the Burmese regime's abuses of human rights. The UK works closely with international partners to press for improvements to human rights in Burma and fully supports the efforts of the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Burma, Professor Sergio Pinheiro. Human rights violations have been highlighted by successive highly critical UK co-sponsored UN Resolutions on Burma, most recently at the UN Commission on Human Rights in April. We also support the efforts of the International Labour Organisation to end the use of forced labour. The EU has repeatedly condemned Burma's lack of progress on this issue.

There is currently no international tribunal with jurisdiction over Burma. Furthermore, we note that the National League for Democracy Central Executive Committee wrote on 27 December 2004 to Senior General Than Shwe proposing that past deeds should be deleted", i.e. the slate should be wiped clean.
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Committee of the Regions

Hywel Williams: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what the process is for agreeing nominations to the Committee of the Regions; and whether the Government will reflect proportionality between the UK's political parties in its nominations. [18317]

Mr. Douglas Alexander: The current Committee of the Regions (CoR) members' term of office ends on 25 January 2006, and member states need to submit their candidates for the new term by 28 October 2005. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has overall responsibility for ensuring that the UK is adequately represented in the CoR, and he therefore wrote in June to my right hon. Friends the Deputy Prime Minister (John Prescott) and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Peter Hain), and to the First Ministers for Scotland (Jack McConnell) and Wales (Rhodri Morgan), asking for their nominations by 30 September. All have now replied with the names of their candidates, after consulting local government bodies, and political parties, in accordance with established procedure. The next step will be for the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to approve the nominations. One of the factors which the Foreign Secretary takes into account when deciding whether or not to approve the nominations is the political balance of the UK delegation.

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