The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): Falling sick, being a victim of crime or facing an emergency are traumatic events under any circumstances. When such problems happen abroad they can be even more difficult and frightening. So there is no more important task for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) than its work to support British nationals in distress overseas.
British people now make some 65 million overseas trips a year, and some 13 million British nationals live overseas. Those numbers continue to increase, not least due to cheaper and easier travel and trade and the increasing diversity of our own societies.
Thankfully, the vast majority of British nationals who travel and live abroad do so without serious difficulty. However, a number of factors have led over the past years to a steady increase in demand for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's consular assistance to British nationals in difficulty. Among these factors are the growth in travel and especially in independent travel to more exotic and sometimes dangerous destinations; an increase in trips by more vulnerable groups such as the elderly; the rise of international terrorism; and the increasing number of British nationals caught up in natural catastrophes around the world such as the Indian Ocean tsunami or the recent hurricanes in the United States.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has worked hard over the past years to respond to these challenges. Rapid deployment teams are on stand-by to provide support in crises affecting British nationals around the world: they now include the first new regional teams, based in Hong Kong, which were deployed only a week after their launch to deal with British victims of the terrorist atrocities in Bali on 1 October. The FCO in London has greatly expanded the capacity of its 24-hour response centre to deal with such crises. We have reviewed and implemented changes to our Travel Advice to help people better make informed decisions about their safety overseas. We are ensuring that all our staff overseas have the right training in crisis management, and working more closely with organisations such as the police and the Red Cross.
British consular staff now deal with some 3.5 million enquiries and some 85,000 new cases requiring more acute support every year. Over the last year they included some 4,200 British nationals hospitalised overseas; 3,900 deaths; around 150 cases of child abduction and 250 of forced marriage; and support to almost 6,000 British detainees. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office issues travel advice notices on 217 countries and territories: our travel advice website
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receives 400,000 visitors a month. Our call centre receives some 8,000 calls every month, with flexible arrangements in place quickly to increase capacity to deal with major crises. FCO posts overseas issue over 450,000 full British passports every year, plus 11,500 emergency passports. Foreign Office staff also provide specific services such as the Hajj delegation to assist British pilgrims to the Holy places of the Islamic faith, and special deployments for major sporting events abroad.
In its manifesto for the last general election, the Government committed themselves, if elected, to consulting widely before drawing up a comprehensive statement of the consular assistance which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office can provide to British travellers and residents in difficulty overseas. Such a comprehensive guide to this support has not previously been available in a single document.
To ensure that we present this guide to our consular assistance in the best way possible. Our aim is to raise public awareness of what support our consular staff can offer to British nationals in difficulty overseas, and of the constraints on that help imposed for example by the very different conditions in which we operate around the world;
To foster a wider debate on the questions underlying our services. For example, to what extent should public money be used to help those who have got into difficulty abroad, including those who have not taken out appropriate insurance? How can we help British travellers and residents overseas better protect themselves against things going wrong?
I am today making available to stakeholdersincluding representatives from the travel and insurance industries, non-governmental organisations, Departments across Government and organisations with whom we work to deliver consular assistancea draft text of the guide, in preparation for a consultative event to be held at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 27 October. I am also placing copies of the text in the Libraries of both Houses and in the Vote Office. Members who would like further copies, or who wish to attend the 27 October event, should contact Katey Ma in the Consular Directorate, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London SW1A 2PA; firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 020 7008 1213.
I would above all welcome the views of noble Lords and of right hon. and hon. Members, all of whom will have a number of consular issues amongst their constituency caseloads, on the issues raised in this statement. Comments from right hon. and hon. Members should be sent to me at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Following the consultation I hope to make a further statement to the House to launch the final text.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Andy Burnham):
In accordance with Section 20(5) of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, I have placed the Committee's annual report
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for 2004 in the Library today. Among other things the report includes; changes agreed to the types of applications to be referred to the Committee for advice; the Home Office's responses to some of the Committee's completed reportson the use of Primates and on "Overbreeding"; progress by several working groups taking forward work that the Home Office has commissioned, including on humane euthanasia techniques, statistics of the use of animals and suffering and severity; progress on subjects that the Committee has identified as deserving of studyon Cephalopods; on lessons to be learnt from the BUAV allegations about primate use at Cambridge University and on the batch testing of botulinum toxin; and the results of research projects funded by the Home Office on the Committee's advice.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart): I am announcing today the publication of a consultation paper setting out the Government's proposals for restructuring probation to reduce re-offending.
In January 2004, the Government published "Reducing CrimeChanging Lives" which set out our strategy for improving the effectiveness of the criminal justice system and the correctional services in particular. The National Offender Management Service was established in June 2004 with the aim of reducing re-offending through more consistent and effective offender management. Since then a considerable amount has been achieved and this momentum needs to be maintained. The Government therefore propose to introduce commissioning and contestability into the provision of probation services to drive up standards further amongst existing providers and to enable new providers to deliver services where they can do so more effectively. The consultation paper seeks views on how we propose to do this.
The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): Following a request from the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) in a written question, to which I replied on 18 July 2005, Official Report, Column 1281W, I agreed to facilitate the setting up of briefing sessions on the work of Government Departments for new Members of Parliament.
Some Departments are not listed because they have already held briefing sessions for new Members of Parliament. Members wishing to be briefed on the work of a Government Department or agency not specified on the list should contact the relevant Minister's office directly.
The Minister for Pensions Reform (Mr. Stephen Timms):
I have today placed in the Library the latest quarterly progress report on pension credit, with figures to the end of June. The report gives the number of households and individuals receiving pension credit overall, broken down by guarantee credit and savings credit and by Government office region and parliamentary constituency.
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