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8 May 2007 : Column 114W—continued

European Union: Communication

Mr. Hayes: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if she will place in the Library the latest annual EU communication plan,
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referred to on page II/1090 of the 2007 European Union budget; and what the latest communication goals are for the UK regions. [133086]

Mr. Hoon: Requests for information can be made directly to the European Commission Representation in the United Kingdom.

European Civil Peace Corps

Mr. Hayes: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what the current status is of proposals for the establishment of a European civil peace corps; and if she will make a statement. [133541]

Mr. Hoon: The European Parliament has made proposals for the establishment of a European Civil Peace Corps. These have not been taken up by the Council of the European Union or the European Commission.

European Union: Publicity

Mr. Hayes: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if she will place in the Library studies conducted by OPTEM at EU level since 2000 on the European Union’s public relations activities. [133542]

Mr. Hoon: A number of studies conducted by OPTEM have been published on the website www.europa.eu. Requests for further information about such studies can be made directly to the European Commission Representation in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Hayes: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what the cost was of operating mobile information centres on the European Union in the latest period for which figures are available; and in which countries they operate. [133544]

Mr. Hoon: Requests for this information can be made directly to the European Commission Representation in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Hayes: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what her Department’s role is in setting out the information strategy of the European Union. [133546]

Mr. Hoon: The Government are committed to engaging with the UK public on EU issues. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, along with other Government Departments, continue to support and initiate various activities to generate public awareness of EU issues and a mature debate about them.

The EU Institutions are also working to improve two-way communication between Europe and its citizens. Under established rules for the Scrutiny of EU documents, the Government keeps Parliament informed of developments on all EU policy areas, including information strategy.

Salah Gosh

Lynne Featherstone: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in what capacity Salah Gosh, Sudan’s Head of Military Intelligence, visited the UK in 2006. [134932]


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Mr. McCartney: General Salah Abdallah Al Ghosh was granted a visa to visit the UK for medical treatment. At present he is not subject to any UN or EU sanctions or travel restrictions.

Lynne Featherstone: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether communications took place between British officials and Salah Gosh when he visited the UK in 2006. [135255]

Mr. McCartney: General Salah Abdallah Al Ghosh was granted a visa to visit the UK for medical treatment. While he was here he discussed Darfur with UK officials. At present he is not subject to any UN or EU sanctions or travel restrictions.

Sri Lanka: Peace Negotiations

Keith Vaz: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions have taken place with the Norwegian government regarding the status of the 2002 ceasefire agreement between the Sri Lanka government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. [135961]

Dr. Howells: We fully support the tireless work of the Norwegian government to advance the cause of peace in Sri Lanka. Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials met the Norwegian Special Envoy, Ambassador Jon Hanssen-Bauer, to discuss the peace process on 24 April. We value our regular consultations with Norway and they tell us that our engagement on Sri Lanka is helpful.

Sri Lanka: Politics and Government

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent assessment she has made of the political situation in Sri Lanka. [135855]

Mr. Hoon: I refer my hon. Friend to the statement my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Dr. Howells) made to the House on 2 May 2007, Official Report, columns 1551-57.

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions she has had with her Sri Lankan counterparts on the Sri Lankan Government restarting negotiations with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. [135856]

Mr. Hoon: We are in frequent contact with the Government of Sri Lanka regarding the peace process in Sri Lanka. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary met the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Rohitha Bogollagama in March, and she emphasised our commitment to peace in Sri Lanka.

When my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Dr. Howells) visited Sri Lanka in February he made clear in meetings with President Rajapakse, the Foreign and Human Rights Ministers and other interlocutors our strong support for a negotiated settlement to the
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conflict, and our view that the conflict would not be resolved using military means alone. He discussed how the international community could help to create the conditions necessary to allow the peace process to move forward.

We are sharing British experience of the Northern Ireland peace process with the key players in the Sri Lankan peace process. My right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) visited Sri Lanka last autumn.

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment she has made of reports of the use of child soldiers in Sri Lanka. [135857]

Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Dr. Howells) heard worrying reports of the continuing recruitment and use of child soldiers from non-governmental organisations during his visit to Sri Lanka in February. The involvement of the Liberation Tiger of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in such practices is well established. There is strong evidence to suggest that the unlawful recruitment of children by the Karuna Group is taking place in government controlled areas. We will continue to underline to the Sri Lankan authorities as well as to the LTTE the unacceptability of the recruitment and use of child soldiers in violation of international law.

We fully support the UN Security Council Resolutions on children in armed conflict, including Resolution 1612 that set up a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers in a number of countries including, Sri Lanka. We are actively involved in the Working Group on children and armed conflict at the UN. We are also in discussion with the United Nations Children’s Fund about support to their child protection programmes in Sri Lanka’s conflict-affected areas.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what estimate she has made of the number of civilians who died as a result of the conflict between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Sri Lankan Government in March and April. [136386]

Dr. Howells: There are differing estimates as to the number of civilian deaths over the stated period. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission assesses that in March there were 116 civilian deaths, with a further 120 in April.

Sri Lanka: Terrorism

Keith Vaz: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations she has received from the government of Sri Lanka regarding the actions of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. [135959]

Dr. Howells: We are in frequent contact with the Government of Sri Lanka regarding the actions of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The details of our discussions are confidential.


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Sudan: Overseas Companies

Lynne Featherstone: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what guidelines her Department provides to British companies active within Sudan. [135258]

Mr. McCartney [holding answer 1 May 2007]: My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Lord Triesman of Tottenham, indicated on 30 April 2007, in another place, that decisions on investments in Sudan were a matter for businesses to decide, that such decisions should seek to avoid impacting on the people of southern Sudan, but that decisions to disinvest reflected a sound ethical principle, Official Report, column 868.

My right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and Secretary of State for International Development issued a statement on 29 April reinforcing the UK’s commitment to finding a solution to the appalling situation in Darfur. We are pressing the Sudanese to co-operate with the international community. If this is not forthcoming we are prepared to consider further sanctions. We are discussing the elements of a new UN Security Council Resolution with international partners, which would include further targeted sanctions against individuals engaged in violence or responsible for authorising it; an extension of the arms embargo to cover the whole of Sudan; and, measures to allow better monitoring of the illegal use of aircraft in Darfur.

Tamils

Keith Vaz: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations she has received from Tamil community groups in the UK. [135960]

Dr. Howells: We continue to receive frequent representations from members of the Sri Lankan diaspora, non-governmental organisations and hon. Members, which reflect a wide variety of views on the conflict and peace process in Sri Lanka.

Uzbekistan

Mr. Clappison: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports she has received on the prosecution of Christian leaders including Pastor Salavat Serikbaev in Uzbekistan; and what representations she has made to the Uzbekistan Government. [136000]

Mr. Hoon: We are concerned by the increasing reports of discrimination, harassment and criminal prosecutions of religious minorities, notably Protestant Christians and including the case of Pastor Serikbaev. Our embassy in Tashkent keeps in regular touch with representatives of religious minorities and non-governmental organisations which monitor freedom of religion in the country.

The EU is starting a Human Rights Dialogue with the Uzbek Government which will cover the main issues of concern, including freedom of religion. We hope that this will lead to substantive progress in lifting the restrictions on worship as well as a resumption of
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co-operation by the Uzbek Government with UN and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe experts.

Communities and Local Government

Home Information Packs

21. Mr. Hands: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what recent discussions she has had with HM Treasury on the introduction of home information packs. [135798]

Yvette Cooper: The two Departments have had regular discussions on the introduction of home information packs, including recently on the potential for the development of green mortgages linked to energy performance certificates.

Mr. Atkinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government if she will take steps to ensure that local authorities' charges for searches in relation to home information packs are fair and transparent. [136033]

Yvette Cooper: The Office of Fair Trading in its market study of property searches recommended that, if local authorities (LAs) were to set their own fees for property searches, then central government should provide clear guidance to them on how they should recover costs and how they should set charges to avoid distorting competition in the supply of property searches.

To address this, Communities and Local Government in its consultation paper, ‘HIP Update: Toward 1 June’ published in January 2007, announced that it would seek tenders for the production of a LA charging methodology with supporting guidance and review local land charge fees. The tendering process is complete and work is now about to commence. A public consultation is planned for later this year on the outcomes.

Tenancy Deposit Scheme

23. Martin Linton: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what estimate she has made of the number of tenants who have participated in the tenancy deposit scheme. [135800]

Meg Munn: Tenancy Deposit Protection began on 6 April 2007. It applies to all assured shorthold tenancies in England and Wales. The latest estimate of the number of tenants whose deposit will require protection in a Government-authorised scheme is derived from the Survey of English Housing 2005-06. This revealed that there were some 1.7 million assured shorthold tenancies in England, of which 1.4 million tenants had paid a deposit. The most recent figures for Wales—the 2004 Living in Wales Survey—indicates there were some 49,000 assured shorthold tenancies. It is not known how many of them had paid deposits.


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Reorganisation: North Staffordshire

25. Charlotte Atkins: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government if she will make a statement on the reorganisation of councils in North Staffordshire. [135802]

Mr. Woolas: We have not received any proposals for unitary status, or for councils to be two-tier pathfinders pioneering new models, from councils in Staffordshire. Accordingly, local government reorganisation in Staffordshire is currently not an issue that is being pursued.

Social Housing

27. Dr. Iddon: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government if she will make a statement on the future level of social housing stock. [135804]

Yvette Cooper: We are on course to deliver the target of 30,000 new social rented homes a year by 2008 and the provision of social housing will be a priority for the Comprehensive Spending Review 2007.

We are also supporting local authorities to take a lead role in developing more social housing, using surplus land.

Green Belt

28. Martin Horwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government whether the Government are on target to achieve a positive average annual change in the Green Belt in each region over the period 2002-07. [135805]

Yvette Cooper: The target is that there should be an increase or no net change in the area of designated green belt in each region over the period 2003-07. It is the responsibility of planning authorities to establish or review green belt boundaries through the plan making process.

Excluding the 47,300 hectares of green belt land which was designated as National Park in 2005, the total amount of green belt has increased across England by 7,500 hectares over the three-year period 2003-06.


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