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Mr. McCartney: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has had no recent discussions with the President of Nigeria about Darfur. However, on 22 September, the Nigerian Foreign Minister and my right. hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary met fellow Foreign Ministers in New York to discuss Darfur. They agreed on the need for concerted international action to get the Government of Sudan and the rebel movements to stop the fighting; to agree to the deployment of a UN force; to co-operate in bolstering the African Union in the interim; and the importance of rapid implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement. This meeting was preceded by discussions on 21 September between my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Lord Triesman of Tottenham, and the Nigerian Foreign Minister on these issues.
Nigeria has a key role to play in helping to address the appalling crisis in Darfur. Our High Commission in Abuja is in frequent contact with the Nigerian authorities on all aspects of the Darfur crisis. We are keen to work in close co-ordination with Nigeria and other African states, as well as other interested parties, to help address the terrible plight of Darfur.
John Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment she has made of the recent report by the UN on attacks on villages in South Darfur by the Janjaweed militia. 
John Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent estimate she has made of (a) the death toll, (b) the number of casualties and (c) the number of people who have been raped in Darfur since the conflict began. 
Mr. McCartney: In recent months, the UN and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in South Darfur have reported an increase in violence, rape and sexual attacks. However, no reliable figures exist for the total number of such incidents across Darfur since the conflict began.
However, every death, casualty or rape in Sudan is a tragedy. That is why we are pressing the Government of Sudan and the rebel groups to stop the fighting; to agree to the deployment of a UN force in Darfur; to co-operate in bolstering the African Union in the interim; to commit to and implement the Darfur Peace Agreement; and to ensure full humanitarian access for the UN and NGOs in Darfur.
Mr. McCartney: The UK is a leading supporter of the African Union (AU) Mission in Darfur (AMIS). We were its first donor and have to date provided £52 million of assistance. This has been used for budgetary support; to purchase vehicles and other equipment; and to airlift troops to and from Darfur. The AU has now decided to increase the strength of AMIS by two battalions (approximately 1,200 men). We stand ready to assist them in this. Meanwhile, at our urging the UN is helping to bolster AMIS prior to transition to a UN force. We are considering contributing additional personnel as part of the UN assistance package.
John Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment she has made of the reports that rebel groups operating in Darfur have begun to attack the civilian population. 
Mr. McCartney: The UN Sanctions Panel of Experts, established under UN Security Council Resolution 1591, reports widespread harassment and killing of civilians by all sides to the conflict in Darfur. Rebel groups have recently attacked and hijacked humanitarian convoys and seized aid intended for the 3.5 million people in Darfur in need of assistance.
We utterly condemn these attacks. We have consistently made clear to the rebel movements and the Government of Sudan that they must stop the violence and commit to a political solution, including co-operating with humanitarian agencies.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment she has made of when elections may be held to elect a new Government under the new Thai Administration. 
Mr. McCartney: On 1 October the King appointed an interim Prime Minister, retired General Surayud Chulanont, and approved an interim constitution, setting out a timetable for the drafting of a substantive, new constitution. The Council for Democratic Reform, which carried out the coup, and the interim Government which has since been appointed, have both pledged to hold new elections on the basis of the new constitution within one year.
The coup marks a setback for democracy in Thailand. Along with our EU and other international partners, we will urge the Thai authorities to comply with their human rights obligations, hold elections and restore accountable democracy, as soon as possible, to allow the people of Thailand as a whole to choose their Government.
Mr. Hands: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1) what representations her Department has made to the Uzbek Government following the arrest of journalist Ulugbek Khaidarov on 14 September; 
Mr. Hoon: Ulugbek Khaidarov and Djamshid Karimov are well known to our embassy in Tashkent. The embassy has met both journalists on numerous occasions. They last met Ulugbek Khaidarov on 21 July in Jizzakh. Our embassy keeps in close contact with the human rights groups who have been to see Ulugbek Khaidarov in custody. We are very disturbed by the sentencing of Ulugbek Khaidarov and concerned for his welfare. Human rights groups have suggested that the charges against him were trumped up. There has been no official confirmation of Djamshid Karimovs whereabouts from the Uzbek authorities. Press reports suggest that he may be in an asylum.
We have repeatedly and consistently drawn to the attention of the Uzbek authorities our concerns about the freedom of the press and the harassment of journalists. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) 2006 Annual Human Rights Report published on 12 October and available on the FCO website at: www.fco.gov.uk draws attention to the difficulties independent journalists experience in Uzbekistan, including in the Jizzakh region.
Mr. Hoon: The events of 12-13 May 2005 in Andizhan and the Uzbek government's response have dominated the political landscape in Uzbekistan. There have been a series of questionable trials accompanied by a clampdown on civil society, non-governmental organisations and the media. International organisations and media have been forced out of Uzbekistan. However, we welcome the abolition of the death penalty from 1 January 2008.
In response to the Uzbek Government's refusal to allow an international inquiry to clarify what took place in Andizhan, the EU adopted a visa ban and arms embargo against Uzbekistan which came into force in November 2005 for a year. We, and our EU partners, are currently discussing the question of whether these measures will be renewed in November 2006.
More details are available from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) 2006 Annual Human Rights Report published on 12 October, (chapter 2.19 covers Uzbekistan) on the FCO website: http://www.fco.gov.uk/Files/kfile/hr_report2006.pdf. Copies of the report are also available in the Library of the House.
John Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions she has had with the United States Administration about their arms embargo against Venezuela. 
Mr. Nicholas Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will list the top 100 constituencies ranked by the number of (a) incapacity benefit and (b) severe disablement allowance claimants. 
Mrs. McGuire: In the 2005-06 financial year, the Department for Work and Pensions spent £388,475 on directly invoiced taxi fares. This represents about 1 per cent. of the total £32.8 million spent in the year on business travel. The amount spent on taxis by staff and reclaimed as expenses is not collected centrally and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.
Mrs. McGuire: The Department appointed a commercial director in 2002 who has led the development of a corporate commercial strategy that applies to the Department for Work and Pensions, its agencies and associated non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs). The strategy sets out the vision, values, objectives and targets for the procurement function and has a general principle of continuous improvement. With board level agreement the strategy was strengthened in 2004 to respond to the challenges for departmental procurement under the efficiency review and again in 2006 to support the Department in delivering its services within budget allocations under the comprehensive spending review 2007.
(i) The first overall reduction in DWP commercial spendin 2005-06 spend with external suppliers reduced by 3 per cent. to £4.161 billion;
(ii) An increase in procurement value for money gains reported to the Office of Government Commerce from £326.5 million in 2004-05 to £471 million in 2005-06. The improvement derives from significant renegotiations of our IS/IT commercial relationships with EDS and BT and from improved procurement and contract management performance across other supply categories;
(iii) Board level engagement with our top suppliers to manage the relationship at a strategic level, identify ways to reduce mutual costs and develop a shared vision of future goals and objectives;
(iv) Improved professionalismthe proportion of professionally qualified staff in the Departments 634 key specialist procurement posts exceeded the 75 per cent. target by December 2005;
(v) Completion in September 2006 of a procurement modernisation programme that introduced category management, supply chain management and integration, benefits realisation and improved commercial intelligence. It also established better links between procurement and business and finance staff to identify ways to optimise business demand and specifications for goods and services. A new operating model, which will result in a 22 per cent. smaller and more highly skilled procurement organisation, will be in place by April 2007;
(vi) The launch in December 2005 of a DWP Sustainable Procurement Strategy with related targets to ensure the Department uses its purchasing power and market influence to further economic, social and environmental policy initiatives; and
(vii) Successful lead of collaborative procurements including a public sector-wide travel booking service and a Government-wide telephone interpreters framework.
Susan Kramer: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many disabled people were hired by his Department in each of the last five years for which figures are available; what percentage of the overall work force these figures represented in each year; and how many disabled people left their employment in his Department over the same period. 
Mrs. McGuire: The information is representative of disabled status as declared by individual members of staff. Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, disability status is self-declared on a voluntary basis and not all staff who consider themselves disabled declare themselves as such for departmental records, so the true figures may be higher than the figures shown.
|Entrants by disability status|
|Disabled||All entrants||Disabled leavers as percentage of all leavers||Staff in post|
|Leavers by disability status|
|Disabled||All leavers||Disabled leavers as percentage of all leavers||Staff in post|
Jim Cousins: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many housing benefit recipients there were in the North East Government office region in the last three years, broken down by (a) tenure type and (b) average weekly amount of benefit; and how many private tenants in receipt of housing benefit received less than their weekly eligible rent (i) because of single room rent, (ii) because of local reference rent restrictions and (iii) for other reasons in the same period. 
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