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18 July 2006 : Column 338W—continued


Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what observation of the recent elections in Mexico was undertaken by her Department (a) directly and (b) through the EU;
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what the cost was of (i) the observation and (ii) the UK contribution to it; where the observers were deployed; and what conclusions were reached. [84945]

Mr. Hoon: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has not been involved in formal election observation of the recent elections in Mexico, although 10 officials from our embassy in Mexico City and one from our consulate in Monterrey registered as Foreign Visitors with the Mexican Federal Electoral Institute. They did not observe any significant irregularities.

The EU undertook a formal Electoral Observation Mission (EOM) to Mexico for the recent elections. They had around 80 observers from 21 members states (including one from the UK). The EU observers were deployed to 31 states and the federal district in Mexico. The EOM issued a preliminary declaration on 3 July and a press statement on 7 July which, among other things, makes clear the electoral institutions in Mexico have behaved with professionalism, transparency and independence. The EOM will remain in Mexico until 20 July and will then produce a final report. The budget allocated to this EOM to Mexico under the European Initiative for Democratisation and Human Rights (EIDHR) budget is €2,474,034. The UK contribution to the EIDHR budget is approximately 17 per cent.

Middle East

Richard Burden: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether the UK plans to participate in the United Nations fact-finding mission headed by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories which was agreed at the UN Human Rights Council on 6th July. [85874]

Dr. Howells: The UN Secretariat will assist the fact-finding mission being carried forward by John Dugard, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories. As the mission will not be an intergovernmental process, the UK will not be participating.

North Korea

Mr. Lancaster: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment she has made of the recent missile testing by North Korea. [84969]

Dr. Howells: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright) on 14 July 2006, Official Report, columns 2138-39W.

Sierra Leone

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if she will make a statement on the human rights situation in Sierra Leone. [85327]

Dr. Howells: In the fragile peace following its brutal civil war, the human rights situation in Sierra Leone is slowly improving. However, many of the root causes of
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conflict, including abject poverty, corruption and a lack of access to justice remain. These continue to have an impact on the spectrum of human rights.

The government continue to rebuild its institutions and UK programmes to retrain and restructure the armed forces and police have made a big impact on security, to the extent that UN peacekeepers left at the end of 2005. But Sierra Leoneans are still denied many basic rights, notably in the justice sector, which is inefficient and corruptible. We support a Justice Sector Development Programme aiming to tackle this and an Anti-Corruption Commission to tackle wider malfeasance. There is a free press, but the government can still react harshly to criticism.

We worked hard, with other partners, to achieve the transfer of Charles Taylor to the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which is a major success for defending human rights and ending impunity in the region. We want to ensure that the trial continues to have wide coverage in Sierra Leone so that the people feel that they retain ownership of the process.

The democratic principles of the government will be put to the test by the run-up to 2007 elections, which the UK will both help prepare for, through a UN basket fund, and assist in monitoring.


Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what estimate her Department has made of the number of Somali people living in exile in (a) Ethiopia and (b) Kenya. [84950]

Dr. Howells: Estimates are difficult because both Kenya and Ethiopia have large indigenous Somali speaking populations and many unregistered Somali exiles in addition to registered refugees. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates for Somali refugees in Kenya in 2005 were around 160,000, plus 30,000 to 50,000 unregistered, and in Ethiopia around 12,000, plus 15,000 to 40,000 unregistered.

Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions have been held with the Somali Transitional Government on recognition and diplomatic support; and if she will make a statement. [85005]

Dr. Howells [holding answer 17 July 2006]: My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Lord Triesman of Tottenham, met President Yusuf at the African Union Summit in Banjul on 1-2 July. With the rest of the international community we are engaging with the Transitional Federal institutions as the best process for restoring stability and good governance in Somalia.

The latest fighting in Mogadishu and more widely undermines efforts to restore peace and stability. We call on all parties immediately to end fighting and observe fully the ceasefire agreed between representatives of the Transitional Federal Government and the Islamic Courts in Khartoum on 22 June. We urge the Transitional
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Federal Government and the Islamic Courts’ Union to engage constructively in the next round of talks in Khartoum on 15 July.

Statutory Instruments

Mr. Amess: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on what occasions a statutory instrument sponsored by her Department has been reported by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments as defective since October 2005. [85187]

Mr. Hoon: There have been none.


John Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment she has made of the need for (a) a special envoy and (b) a panel of experts on Northern Uganda. [85342]

Dr. Howells: On 26 April the UN Secretariat briefed the UN Security Council on the threat posed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Along with Security Council and EU partners we welcomed the initial recommendations made. These included encouraging the Government of Uganda to accept the appointment of a Special Envoy with a regional focus and establishing a panel of experts to look at the sources of LRA funding. The UN Secretariat is now preparing a written report.

We think these proposals could support wider efforts to end the long-running conflict in northern Uganda and we look forward to receiving the written report shortly.

John Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when she plans to issue a response to the publication of the UN Secretary General’s report to the UN Security Council on the conflict in Northern Uganda. [85343]

Dr. Howells: The UN Secretary General’s report pursuant to resolutions 1653 (2006) and 1663 (2006) on how the UN agencies and missions could more effectively address the problem of the Lord’s Resistance Army is expected to be issued shortly.

We will then consider the recommendations and discuss with other members of the UN how best to take them forward.

Xu Shuang fu/Li Maoxing/Wang Jun

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if she will make representations to the Chinese government on the cases of (a) Xu Shuang fu, (b) Li Maoxing and (c) Wang Jun. [85140]

Dr. Howells: Xu Shuangfu, Li Maoxing and Wang Jun are members of an unconventional underground Christian group, the Three Grades of Servants, who have been accused of murdering 20 leaders from a rival religious group. The information we have from non-governmental organisations gives a cautious assessment of the group’s activities and status. We continue to monitor developments closely, but are
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unable to make representations to the Chinese Government on these cases until we receive evidence that their convictions are based on false grounds.

The Government have lobbied the Chinese Government in general terms to limit, and ultimately abolish, their use of the death penalty, and improve its provision of proper legal defence in criminal trials.


Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment she has made of the United Nations Secretary General's withdrawal as a peace-broker within Zimbabwe. [85037]

Dr. Howells: We welcomed the UN secretary-general's willingness to visit Zimbabwe to address the gathering crisis there. We regret Mugabe's apparent rejection of this offer. Zimbabweans are suffering, and urgently need their government to undertake significant economic and political reform. We will continue work with our international partners, including at the UN, to ensure effective international pressure on the Mugabe regime.



Dr. Fox: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the frequency, scale and sophistication of Taliban attacks on British forces in Helmand Province. [84562]

Nick Harvey: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what his most recent assessment is of the (a) strength and (b) fighting capability of (i) the Taliban and (ii) other illegal armed groups in Afghanistan. [84896]

Des Browne: We continuously monitor and assess all known threats to our forces. The frequency and scale of attacks against our forces has increased as we have deployed the Helmand Taskforces to the south of Afghanistan. These attacks vary in sophistication. However, disclosure of details would, or would be likely to, prejudice the security of the armed forces. Neither the Taliban, nor the range of illegally armed groups, currently pose a threat to the long-term stability of Afghanistan.

Mr. Harper: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will estimate the average extra flying hours for (a) attack and (b) support helicopters in Afghanistan since flying hours were extended; and by what methods these increased flying hours were achieved. [85110]

Des Browne: Flying hours are allocated on a monthly basis and were first extended in June. The increased hours are achieved by servicing the aircraft more frequently.

Hours have been increased by up to 39 per cent. depending on aircraft type. It would not be appropriate
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to go into the detail of how many hours this constitutes as to do so would give unnecessary advantage to enemy forces and put the lives of our personnel at risk.

As I announced on 10 July, a further uplift in both fixed wing and helicopter support is planned. There are a number of other helicopter assets operating in Southern Afghanistan, including Helmand province that the UK can draw on for support.

Mr. Harper: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether (a) ISAF and (b) British forces have (i) provided intelligence for specific anti-narcotics operations in Afghanistan, (ii) air-lifted and provided secure transport for Afghan forces taking part in anti-narcotics operations and (iii) provided protective cordons for Afghan forces taking part in anti-narcotics operations. [85754]

Des Browne: A key element of both the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) mission is to support the Government of Afghanistan and its security forces. British forces, along with ISAF forces operating in other parts of Afghanistan, have and will continue to support the Afghan forces in a number of ways. As well as the ongoing mentoring process, this includes the sharing of intelligence, provision of transport and protective cordons where appropriate.

Armed Forces Compensation Scheme

Mr. Harper: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what mechanisms are in place for evaluation of the armed forces compensation scheme; and what evaluation is made of this scheme in relation to patients suffering from mental health issues. [85113]

Mr. Watson: The armed forces compensation scheme was introduced on 6 April 2005 to provide compensation for personnel injured, made sick or killed through service on or after that date. An evaluation of the first year of operation is currently being carried out involving interested parties, including ex-service organisations and the three services. The evaluation will be in the light of experience and evidence of cases arising so far, including those who have suffered from mental health issues and will include discussions with charities which operate in this arena.

Armed Forces Doctors and Dentists

Mr. Streeter: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he plans to implement the pay award for armed forces doctors and dentists recommended by the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. [86031]

Des Browne: The Government are currently considering the recommendations of the independent Armed Forces Pay Review Body’s 2006 supplementary report on the pay of service medical and dental officers. We hope to make an announcement soon.

Armoured Vehicles

Dr. Fox: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many tanks were in service in each year since 1997. [84543]

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Mr. Ingram: The following table provides details of the numbers of Main Battle Tanks in-service with the armed forces during the period 1997-2006:

Challenger 1 (CR1 MBT) Challenger 2 (CR2 MBT)































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