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20 Mar 2006 : Column 76W—continued

Polling Stations

Rosie Cooper: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs how many polling stations for local government elections in 2006 will be accessible for disabled people; and how many will be in (a) caravans and (b) other temporary structures. [58413]

Ms Harman: This information is not held centrally. It is for the relevant local authority to designate their own polling stations, and to keep these under review to ensure that, as far as possible, they are accessible to the local community, including voters with disabilities.

The Electoral Administration Bill will extend the duty to review polling places. Under clause 20, a local authority will have to carry out a full review at least every four years, and appeals can be made to the Electoral Commission.


Africa (Good Governance)

John Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with the Government of (a) Mozambique, (b) Kenya, (c) Nigeria and (d) Angola regarding (i)good governance and (ii) corruption. [58820]

Ian Pearson: We maintain a close dialogue with Mozambique on good governance and corruption under the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding governing cooperation between Mozambique and the group of 18 direct budget support donors. This sets out as key underlying principles a continuing commitment to democracy, good governance and the rule of law.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, discussed efforts to tackle corruption and promote good governance in Kenya with President Kibaki on 17 January 2006.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary discussed a range of issues with President Obasanjo and other senior Nigerians during his visit to Nigeria 13–15 February, including issues of good governance and corruption.
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We also maintain a close dialogue with Angola on good governance and corruption, which includes its programme of activities to increase budgetary transparency, particularly in the area of oil revenue management.

John Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with the Government of (a) Equatorial Guinea, (b) Sao Tome", (c) Congo-Brazzaville, (d) Gabon and (e) Madagascar regarding (i) good governance and (ii) corruption. [58843]

Ian Pearson: Our outgoing non-resident ambassador to Equatorial Guinea made his farewell call on President Obiang on 5 December 2005, and they discussed governance issues, particularly in relation to electoral reform. We encourage the Government of Equatorial Guinea to take steps to tackle corruption within the country and to implement the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

Our non-resident ambassador to Sao Tome and Principe presented his credentials to President Fradique de Menezes on 5 December 2005, and discussed the conclusions of the Commission for Africa, which include promoting good governance and tackling corruption.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary met President Sassou-Nguesso on 27 February 2006. They discussed the need to create an environment conducive for successful development in Africa. Our ambassador in Kinshasa, who is accredited to the Republic of Congo, works with EU partners to encourage the Congolese Government to address governance and corruption issues.

Our ambassador designate to Gabon met the Gabonese ambassador in London in February 2006 and encouraged Gabon to pursue good governance, transparency and respect for human rights.

Our former ambassador to Madagascar repeatedly promoted good governance and anti-corruption during his tenure, which ended in August 2005. Our ambassador-designate has not yet been invited to present his credentials to the Government of Madagascar.


Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with the Bangladesh Government on levels of politically-inspired violence; and if he will ensure the UK participates in monitoring elections there due at the end of the year. [59038]

Dr. Howells: We maintain a regular dialogue with the Government of Bangladesh on political and extremist violence. I raised these issues in detail during my visit to Bangladesh in November 2005. On 7 March, I issued a statement, a copy of which has been placed in the Library of the House, welcoming the arrests of alleged extremist leaders including Siddiqul Islam, and Abdur Rahman and the need to deal with terrorism and extremism in a sustained and effective way while respecting human rights and the rule of law. I also discussed these developments with Saifur Rahman, the Finance Minister of Bangladesh in London on 8 March.
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More broadly, on the elections due in Bangladesh by January 2007, we continue to urge the Government and the opposition to engage in constructive dialogue on the key steps to ensure a level playing field, and free and fair and peaceful elections with full participation. The Government of Bangladesh welcome international election monitoring and we are considering with EU partners an EU election observation mission to Bangladesh and other potential assistance.


John Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of reports of mass poisonings at schools in the Shelkovsk district of Chechnya. [58845]

Mr. Douglas Alexander: The exact causes of the illness affecting a number of children and adults in Chechnya remain unclear. There is insufficient verifiable information to make an independent assessment of the situation. Russian Press reports refer to 93 cases, mostly in schoolgirls from Shelkovsk but some also in Grozny and Urus Martan. They have displayed a variety of symptoms, particularly neurological, spasms and fits, and respiratory, breathing difficulties and nosebleeds. The Russian authorities have sent experts in toxicology and forensic psychiatry from Moscow to the region. They consider that those affected are suffering from a form of hysteria associated with the extreme and chronic stress of the Chechen conflict and its aftermath. Some non-governmental organisations in the region assess there is a toxic cause. We understand that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has experience of a similar incident involving Albanian schoolchildren in Macedonia in 2002. After investigating that incident they found no evidence of poisoning and concluded that a form of mass hysteria was a plausible explanation. The WHO has not been asked for assistance in this case but remains in contact with the Chechen authorities. We continue to monitor these cases closely.

John Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the appointment of Ramzan Kadyrov as prime minister of Chechnya; and what assessment he has made of the implications of the appointment for (a) the transition to democracy and (b) respect for human rights. [58846]

Mr. Douglas Alexander: Ramzan Kadyrov's appointment raises concerns in light of reports that Chechen security forces under his control have committed human rights abuses in Chechnya. This is an issue we have raised with the Russian authorities both in bilateral and EU/Russia human rights consultations, most recently during the latest round of the EU/Russia consultations in Vienna on 3 March. Ramzan Kadyrov's appointment followed soon after the visit to the region, in February this year, of UN high commissioner for human rights, Louise Arbour. Following that visit, President Putin confirmed to high commissioner Arbour Russia's readiness to put into practice her recommendations, including those on the situation in the North Caucasus. Given the influential role of the Federal authorities in Moscow in Chechen affairs and political appointments, we would want to see
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this commitment positively influencing Mr. Kadyrov's premiership, both in terms of respect for human rights and the strengthening of democratic institutions.

Child Trafficking

John Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with the Government of India regarding tackling (a) child trafficking and (b) the child sex industry. [58806]

Dr. Howells: The most recent discussions with the Indian Government on the issue of child trafficking were held when the UK, as presidency of the European Union, raised this issue during discussions on child labour during a human rights dialogue with Indian Government officials in Delhi on 1 December.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office funded a National Criminal Intelligence Service Foundation course in understanding child sex offenders for Indian police and non-governmental organisations working on child rights. The course took place in February 2006 in Goa, Maharashtra State.

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