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19 Dec 2005 : Column 2477W—continued

Democratic Republic of Congo

Mr. Holloway: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps his Department is taking to ensure that the 2006 elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo are free and fair. [37456]

Ian Pearson: We and our international partners are urging the Congolese transitional Government and Independent Electoral Commission to stick closely to the agreed timetable for elections, to ensure that they are as transparent as possible and that they reflect the will of the Congolese people. We are encouraging all political parties to participate in the process.

The UK has contributed £10 million to the United Nations (UN)-administered trust fund for elections, and will contribute £8 million to election security. Together with our international partners, we have secured $103 million of additional UN funding for UN peacekeeping force (MONUC) support to election logistics.

Departmental Consultants

Mr. Austin Mitchell: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many civil servants in each grade have left his Department in each of the last three years to join consultancy firms; and which firm each joined. [37364]

Dr. Howells: In many cases we do not know where staff go to work after they have left the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Where we do know, this information is not kept in consolidated form and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

Departmental Staff

Mr. Pelling: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreignand Commonwealth Affairs what steps are taken by his Department to support staff with mental ill-health. [36276]


 
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Ian Pearson: All Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) staff have access to a full occupational health service provided by Capita Health Solutions through the FCO healthcare contract with International SOS. This includes advice on adjustments to working arrangements as appropriate.

All FCO staff also have access to a confidential support and counselling service provided by an external employee assistance programme as well as access to professionally trained in-house welfare officers.

Detention Centres (US Flights)

Lynne Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the answer of 12 December 2005, Official Report, column 1647W, on detention centres (US flights), what information (a) he and (b) his officials have (i) received and (ii) sought about whether the United States transports detainees from one country to another for the purpose of questioning; and whether UK (A) air-space and (B) territory has been used in this process. [38314]

Dr. Howells: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer given by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to the right hon. Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) on 12 December 2005, Official Report, columns 1652–53W.

Diplomatic Cars (Clamping)

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make it his policy to clamp illegally parked diplomatic cars of countries who have refused to pay (a) parking fines and (b) the London congestion charge. [38836]

Dr. Howells: No. The Government cannot introduce a policy of wheel clamping of diplomatic vehicles as this would be in breach of International Law. Article 31.1 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961 states that

Provision for exemption from wheel clamping is also made for owners of vehicles with D" plates under Section 70 of the Road Traffic Act 1991.

Disability

Danny Alexander: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether a Minister in his Department is planned to be nominated to take responsibility for liaison with the Office for Disability Issues; and if he will make a statement. [37091]

Mr. Douglas Alexander: I welcome the launch of the Office for Disability Issues. As Minister responsible for Human Resources in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will take responsibility for liaison with this new Office.

The FCO looks forward to working with the Office for Disability Issues, in particular to ensure that we deliver the strategy set out in the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit report, Improving the Life Chances of
 
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Disabled People, and to deliver the new duties to promote disability equality set out in the Disability Discrimination Act (2005).

Danny Alexander: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the initial activity undertaken by his Department in response to those recommendations in the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit Report Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People where lead responsibility was assigned to all Government Departments. [37092]

Dr. Howells: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) administration, in consultation with the FCO's Disability Action Group (a group of staff with an interest in disability, chaired by the Board Champion for Disability), is addressing the recommendations set out in the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit Report, Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People".

Our goal is to be an employer of choice for disabled people by 2010. Our action plan and agreed priorities include:

Embassy Closures

Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the answer of 10 November 2005, Official Report, column 744W, on embassy closures, if he will publish (a) a report of discussions about the closure of the embassies and (b) the cost-benefit analysis relating to the closure of each embassy. [37836]

Dr. Howells: As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said in his written ministerial statement of 15 December 2004 Official Report, columns 137–140WS), changes to our overseas network to align our resources more effectively to our priorities were aimed at enhancing our effectiveness in representing British interests abroad, and helping to deliver an efficient service on behalf of the British taxpayer. It is not our practice to publish discussions about the closure of embassies.

The benefits of the work of British embassies and missions are not quantifiable in cash terms. Decisions are made on the basis of where resources best meet the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's strategic priorities.

Eritrea/Ethiopia

Mr. Laurence Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he plans to have with the Government of Eritrea on that country's expulsion of United Nations peacekeepers; and if he will make a statement. [36727]


 
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Ian Pearson: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer Igave my hon. Friend for Stroud (Mr. Drew) today (UIN 36932).

Ms Abbott: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1) what steps have been taken by his Department to advance the 2002 International Court ruling on Badme in the Eritrea-Ethiopia border demarcation dispute; [36150]

(2) what steps his Department has taken to support the implementation of paragraphs 1 and 2 of UN Resolution 1640 (2005) on Eritrea and Ethiopia; [36151]

(3) if the Government will support the Security Council's Resolution of 23 November threatening sanctions against both Eritrea and Ethiopia if they continue the deployment of troops on the Badme border; what sanctions are envisaged; and how soon after the specified 30 day redeployment period such sanctions will be enforced; [36152]

(4) if he will make a statement about recent progress in Ethiopia's implementation of the proposals of the International Arbitration Commission for its border with Eritrea. [36197]

Ian Pearson: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave my hon. Friend for Stroud (Mr. Drew) on 13 December 2005, Official Report, columns 1951–52W).

Richard Burden: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the human rights situation on each side of the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea; and if he will make a statement. [33407]

Ian Pearson: We are concerned about reports of serious human rights abuses which continue to occur in both Ethiopia and Eritrea. In Ethiopia these include the mass arrest of Opposition supporters and reports of harsh conditions and physical violence in the detention camps. We have called for an independent investigation of reports of lethal violence by security forces, which has cost many lives.

In Eritrea the prolonged detention of members of religious minorities and the arrest of family members of those accused of evading military service are examples of serious and ongoing abuses.

We raise these matters regularly in bilateral contacts with the governments concerned and in our capacity as EU Presidency. My noble Friend the Minister for Africa (Lord Triesman of Tottenham) did so most recently by letter to President Isaias on 6 October and with the ambassador of Eritrea on 18 October. He will also raise human rights directly with the Ethiopian Prime Minister when he visits Addis Ababa shortly.


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