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28 Oct 2005 : Column 632W—continued

Departmental Staff

Mr. Gibb: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreignand Commonwealth Affairs what training in (a) literacy and (b) numeracy is offered to employees of his Department. [21114]

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Mr. Straw: Employees of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) are required on entry to demonstrate a good standard of literacy and numeracy. The training offered focuses on developing these skills to a more advanced level in the context of the FCO's business, for example writing courses and financial management training, which are available to all employees. These courses will be revised in 2006 to build on the Professional Skills in Government Agenda. Occasionally members of staff bid for and receive funding to attend courses, for example at evening classes, to improve their literacy and numeracy.

EU Constitution

Mr. Brady: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what his Department's policy is towards the undertaking of preparatory work in anticipation of the ratification of the EU constitution by the Commission during the period of the UK presidency. [19630]

Mr. Douglas Alexander: As I said in my reply to the hon. Member on 14 October 2005, Official Report, column 640W, no formal or informal legislative proposals or other initiatives have been proposed by the European Commission which rely on the constitutional treaty as their legal basis. The focus of the UK presidency is on taking forward a broader debate, and taking forward the work of the European Union under the existing treaties.

Gershon Review

Mr. Francois: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress has been made, in terms of (a) headcount reductions and (b) cost savings, in achieving the efficiency objectives set for the Department by the Gershon review. [21299]

Mr. Straw: Efficiency gains for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), excluding the British Council and BBC World Service, in 2004–05 were £6.6 million against a target of £4.7 million. In 2004–05 the FCO reduced its staff by 50 after adjustments for additional burdens, as agreed with Her Majesty's Treasury. These additional burdens are due to increased visa and consular demand, and are thus self-funded.

Forecasts for 2005–06 will be published as part of the FCO autumn performance report later this year.

Mr. Francois: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs who in the Department has been made responsible for achieving the efficiency objectives set for the Department by the Gershon review. [21315]

Mr. Straw: Responsibility for achieving the efficiency objectives set for the department as a whole by the Gershon review lies with the Permanent Under Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Sir Michael Jay. Within this, individual efficiency projects, including those of the British Council and BBC World Service, each have their own project manager and senior responsible owner.
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Mark Simmonds: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the (a) transparency and (b) legitimacy of the recent election in Liberia. [21543]

Dr. Howells: The EU Election Observation Mission (EOM) in its preliminary assessment judged the elections to have been peaceful and generally well administered. The second round of the presidential elections is scheduled for 8 November; we expect the EU EOM to make a final report later that month, which we will consider together with other observers' reports.

Prince of Wales (United States Visit)

Andrew Mackinlay: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs which (a) Government officials and (b) diplomatic service staff will accompany the Prince of Wales (i) throughout and (ii) for a part of the Prince's next visit to the United States; and if he will make a statement. [22778]

Mr. Douglas Alexander: His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, and Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall, will be accompanied throughout the visit to the US by the ambassador, Sir David Manning. While in New York their Royal Highnesses will also be accompanied by the consul general Sir Philip Thomas, and in San Francisco by the consul general Martin Uden. At the UN event in New York, His Royal Highness will be accompanied by the UK permanent representative Sir Emyr Jones Parry. Their Royal Highnesses will also be accompanied throughout the visit by a limited number of junior staff from the embassy in Washington, and by staff from the posts in New York and San Francisco when in those cities.

Torture (Interrogation Methods)

Keith Vaz: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps his Department has taken to discourage the use of torture as an interrogation method in overseas countries. [21983]

Dr. Howells: The UK unreservedly condemns the use of torture as a matter of fundamental principle. We have worked hard with our international partners to eradicate this abhorrent practice. The UK abides by its commitments under international law including the UN Convention against Torture and the European Convention on Human Rights, and expects all countries to comply with their international legal obligations. We are active in pressing other countries to live up to their human rights obligations and to deliver on human rights commitments they have made.

International action against torture has been a priority for the Government since they launched an initiative to tackle torture throughout the world in 1998. We pursue the worldwide abolition of torture through diplomatic activity, practical projects and funding for research, This has included worldwide lobbying campaigns for the universal ratification of the UN Convention Against Torture and its Optional Protocol, This year the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has committed over £400,000 in our efforts to combat torture through concrete project work, which includes the production and dissemination of a new manual
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aimed at guiding police forces on alternative and more humane investigative techniques and a project to increase police professionalism in China.

Western Sahara

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the policy of the Government on MINURSO, in Western Sahara. [22029]

Dr. Howells: The UK fully supports the efforts of the UN Secretary-Genera) and his new Personal Envoy to Western Sahara, Peter van Walsam, to find a just, lasting and mutually acceptable solution to the Western Sahara dispute, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.

The United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara's (MINURSO) mandate is being discussed in the United Nations Security Council this week. The Government support the extension of MINURSO's mandate for a further six months. There are, however, no plans for a UN referendum to be held in the near future.



Dr. McCrea: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what support services are available for adopted children and their new families, with particular reference to children with psychological and behavioural difficulties. [21645]

Mr. Woodward: Under the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, health and social services boards and trusts have a statutory duty to ensure that an adoption service is in place to meet the needs, in relation to adoption, of children who have been adopted, parents and guardians of such children, and persons who have adopted or may adopt a child.

As part of this service, adoption agencies may pay adoption allowances where certain criteria are met, which include circumstances where children suffer from psychological and behavioural difficulties.

The Department's Adopting Best Care Report also recommended that boards and trusts make provision for fast-track" access to child and adult psychiatry and psychology services for looked after children, adopted children and their families.

Alternative Fuels

Dr. McCrea: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps he is taking to increase the use of alternative fuels in Northern Ireland. [21620]

Angela E. Smith: The draft Budget proposal announced on 25 October 2005 created a new energy and environment fund. This enhances Northern Ireland's ability to produce sustainable energy by securing alternative sources of fuel.
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The fund will complement and significantly enhance existing initiatives by allocating £10 million in 2006–07 and £25 million in 2007–08 for capital investment in renewable energy with a further £5 million and £10 million in the respective years being earmarked for encouraging research and development of renewable forms of energy. This will help secure energy from biomass, waste, geothermal, solar and tidal stream power sources and will also encourage scope for the use of bio-fuels. Furthermore, it will, in turn, raise innovation and skills levels and also offer significant opportunities for the creation of new rural businesses involved in renewable energy supply.

Additionally, householders will be assisted to incorporate renewable energy within their homes thereby reducing both their dependence on fossil fuels and also overall energy costs.

The renewable obligation which was introduced on 1 April 2005 will continue as the main means to stimulate the supply of electricity from renewable sources which has now increased by 120 percent. to reach 3.5 percent. of consumption.

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