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Valuation Office Agency

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how many residential properties the Valuation Office Agency has inspected in each year since 1997 to determine whether the property is used in whole or part for business purposes. [42604]

Mr. Woolas: The information requested is not held centrally, and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what geographical information system (a) products, (b) data and (c) software the Valuation Office Agency has obtained in the last five years; and if he will list the suppliers. [42619]

Mr. Woolas: The Valuation Office Agency does not have a Geographic Information System. The Valuation Office Agency does use digital mapping systems (Master Map and Land Line) provided by Ordnance Survey.

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether the Valuation Office Agency will have access to (a) the National Register of Social Housing and (b) information held in home information packs in carrying out its work. [42956]

Mr. Woolas: The Valuation Office Agency has had access to data held in the National Register of Social Housing.

No decisions have yet been taken on which, if any, organisations should be given access to the information held in home information packs. The Government intend to consider the views of stakeholders before deciding whether third parties, including other Government Departments and agencies, should have access to this information.

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister pursuant to Council Tax Information Letter 1–2005, if he will place in the Library a copy of the letter from the Valuation Office Agency sent to local authorities in relation to the sharing of planning information. [43032]

Mr. Woolas: The letter referred to was a draft sent by the Valuation Office Agency's Chief Executive's Office to listing officers around the country for their use where appropriate, seeking cooperation in ensuring property attribute data was kept up to date. Whether or not this was sent to local authorities in their area was a decision taken by individual listing officers. A copy of the draft has been made available in the Library of the House.
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Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what types of data the Valuation Office Agency (a) supplies, (b) makes available and (c) sells to the public. [43034]

Mr. Woolas: The Valuation Office Agency is statutorily required to publish the valuation lists for council tax and the rating lists for non-domestic rating. The lists are made available in a variety of formats including the Agency's website at: and no charge are made for these.

Alternative formats are available—for which a charge is made—for compilations of the published entries in the non-domestic rating lists for England and Wales and the summary valuations supporting the valuations in those lists. No equivalent is available for the council tax lists.



Mr. Ancram: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what the level of poppy cultivation was in Afghanistan in 2005; and what the latest estimate is for 2006. [42627]

Dr. Howells: The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) confirmed the poppy cultivation figures for 2004–05 from their annual survey in November 2005, UNODC reported a 21 per cent. reduction in poppy cultivation from 131,000 hectares (ha) in 2003–04 (4,200 metric tonnes) to 104,000 hectares in 2004–05 (4,100 metric tonnes). Although cultivation decreased significantly, the rise in yield in 2004–05 was due to good weather and an absence of crop disease. These overall percentages, however, mask significant variations between provinces. For example, Nangarhar (-96 per cent.), Badakshan (-53 per cent.) and Helmand (-10 per cent.) saw the most significant decreases. But other provinces, such as Balkh and Farah, saw increases. The US Office of National Drug Control policy also publicly released its cultivation figures in November, which match those of UNODC

It seems likely that cultivation may increase again this year—initial reports suggest that farmers in some provinces are threatening to return to cultivation. Our goal is to ensure that the downward trend in cultivation is maintained in the long-term. We are working hard with the Government of Afghanistan (GoA) and other international partners to ensure the GoA is able to deliver on this goal. An early indication of this year's
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figures will be reflected in the UNODC's Rapid Assessment Survey, which will be published in the next few weeks.

Consular Procedures

Mr. Keetch: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1) what the standard procedure followed by his Department's consular staff is in dealing with deaths of British nationals abroad; [43121]

(2) whether a date has been set for the introduction of a system of collecting detailed information on deaths of British nationals abroad; [43122]

(3) what steps are taken when consular guidelines for dealing with British nationals in difficulty abroad are not followed; [43123]

(4) what procedures are followed by consular staff when a British national is murdered abroad. [43124]

Dr. Howells: Consular staff deal with some 4,000 deaths of British nationals overseas each year. Not all such deaths abroad are reported to the local British mission. But when a death is reported, and their next of kin (NoK) is not present, we will ask the UK police to inform them. If they are not in the UK, we will ask our consular staff in the country where they are to perform this duty. In exceptional circumstances, we may inform the NoK by telephone. Following initial notification, consular staff in London will normally write to the NoK in the UK with further information on how deaths are dealt with in the country concerned and providing a point of contact in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.

Consular staff in London can pass on to our staff overseas the NoK's wishes about dealing with the body. They will do their best to ensure that these are carried out. Responsibility for the treatment of bodies, including storage, post mortems and removal of organs, remains with the local authorities and practices may differ from the UK. Where this is the case, consular staff will inform the NoK.

Consular staff can advise on the cost of local burial or cremation, including providing a list of local funeral directors, or the transport of the body and personal property back to the UK. They can help transfer money from friends and relatives in the UK to pay any necessary costs. They cannot pay any burial, cremation or repatriation expenses or settle any debts.

Where there is evidence of suspicious circumstances, consular staff can suggest to the NoK the best way to raise concerns with the local authorities. However, they cannot investigate deaths themselves. Consular staff will monitor the progress of investigations and, where applicable, any resulting court case. Consular staff can provide a list of lawyers if the NoK wish to appoint one to look after their interests in court.

Consular staff in London are available to meet family representatives, and will maintain contact and inform them if they are told of any new developments by the investigating authorities.
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From April 2006, a new consular database called Compass will be able to provide statistics of serious assistance casework. It breaks down causes of death into the following categories: accidental, execution, murder, natural and suicide.

Consular staff aim to follow the guidelines at all times within the constraints of local conditions. Where the guidelines have not been followed, without a good operational reason, and problems arise as a result, consular staff will aim to resolve them as quickly and effectively as possible. Consular Directorate takes all complaints very seriously and seeks feedback to ensure consular services are the best they can be.


Mr. Kemp: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the treatment of (a) dissidents and (b) pro-democracy campaigners in Cuba. [42437]

Mr. Douglas Alexander: We regularly express our concern to the Cuban authorities about the treatment of dissidents and pro-democracy campaigners in Cuba. My noble Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister responsible for the Caribbean, Lord Triesman of Tottenham, raised this with the Cuban ambassador at the All Party Parliamentary Group Cuba meeting on 8 November 2005. During our EU presidency, we issued a number of statements expressing our concern at the Cuban authorities' harsh treatment of the opposition.

According to the main non-official Cuban human rights organisation, there are currently 333 political prisoners in Cuba. We consider the imprisonment of such figures to be a violation of articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantee the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. We carefully monitor the situation of a number of political prisoners and the UK, along with EU partners, continues to urge the Cuban Government to release all political prisoners.

We are also increasingly concerned by a trend towards organised public attacks on the opposition and on the families of political prisoners. We continue to monitor this situation closely.

Mr. Kemp: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the prospects for the restoration of democracy in Cuba. [42440]

Mr. Douglas Alexander: UK and EU policy is to encourage a process of peaceful transition to pluralist democracy in Cuba as well as respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. As part of this policy we maintain a dialogue with pro-democracy campaigners in Cuba, as well as with members of the current regime.

In December we invited Oswaldo Payá, a leading civil society figure, to speak at the EU-non-governmental organisations forum on 'Freedom of Expression'. He is the author of a citizens' petition calling for greater fundamental freedoms and the holding of free and fair democratic elections in Cuba. Unfortunately, the Cuban Government refused to grant him permission to travel to the UK. The fact that over 25,000 people
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have already signed the citizens' petition, despite considerable state intimidation and lack of access to media, suggests that popular support for the restoration of democracy in Cuba is considerable.

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