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Somalia: Human Rights

Joan Ruddock: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports she has received on (a) the human rights situation and (b) compliance with humanitarian law in the last month in Somalia. [141515]

Mr. McCartney: We are concerned about the human rights situation in Somalia. In his report to the UN Security Council on 21 May, UN Emergency Relief Co-ordinator John Holmes spoke of

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He also spoke of major human rights violations, including abductions and unlawful killings; and concerns over the apparent arbitrary detention, deportation, and disappearance of individuals.

We condemn human rights violations wherever they arise. All parties in Somalia are aware of our stance on this issue.

Somalia: Peace Keeping Operations

Joan Ruddock: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps the Government have taken to encourage the deployment of an international peace-keeping force in Somalia. [141514]

Mr. McCartney: The UK has been very active in helping to deploy an international peace-keeping force in Somalia.

The UK sponsored UN Security Council Resolution 1744, which was adopted unanimously on 20 February and which authorised the African Union (AU) Mission for Somalia (AMISOM). The UK has supported the Ugandan contingent with £1.3 million, and has offered financial assistance to other troop contributing countries and to the AU planning cell in Addis Ababa. We strongly supported the EU funding of €15 million for AMISOM. We have also called on other potential donors to consider how they might assist troop contributing countries.

We also support plans for greater UN involvement in Somalia. At the meeting of the International Contact Group on Somalia in London on 6 June, the Group called on the UN to devise plans for a follow-on UN mission.

Somalia: Politics and Government

Joan Ruddock: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions she has held with other EU and NATO member states on the security situation in Somalia. [141516]

Mr. McCartney: We are discussing the grave security situation in Somalia on a regular basis with a range of EU, NATO and other international partners.

The UK hosted the International Contact Group (ICG) on Somalia on 6 June, I will send my hon. Friend a copy of the ICG communique following this meeting and place copies in the Library if the House. At this meeting, we and international partners recognised the relative improvement in security in and around Mogadishu but expressed serious concern about continued sporadic violence. Within the EU, Somalia was discussed most recently by Ministers at the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 23 April and subsequently by senior officials.

Timor-Leste: Elections

Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment she has made of the recent reports from the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste on the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Timor-Leste. [141657]

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Mr. McCartney: The reports of the UN Integrated Mission to Timor-Leste (UNMIT) show that the East Timorese presidential elections were concluded last month in a democratic and peaceful manner. This was facilitated by the effective security arrangements which exist between the Government of East Timor, UNMIT and the international security forces. UNMIT has indicated that the 30 June parliamentary elections will be a more complex process, but the conduct of the presidential elections is encouraging. We welcome the fact that the 16 competing parties have signed both an electoral code of conduct and a political party accord, committing themselves to due process in the elections and democratic principles of governance after them.

Uzbekistan: Human Rights

Mark Williams: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions (a) she and (b) diplomatic and consular staff have had with representatives of the Uzbek Government on the human rights situation in Uzbekistan. [142121]

Mr. Hoon: We remain seriously concerned about the human rights situation in Uzbekistan and closely monitor the situation there, with our EU partners. The first session of the EU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue took place in May. At that session, the EU discussed a range of human rights issues with senior representatives of the Uzbek Government. We hope that this dialogue will lead to constructive co-operation in areas of concern on human rights. EU Special Representative to Central Asia, Pierre Morel, visited Uzbekistan in May and raised human rights concerns with the Uzbek Government.

Our Ambassador in Tashkent, Iain Kelly, discussed UK concerns on human rights in Uzbekistan with both Foreign Minister Norov during his introductory meeting on 5 June and with President Karimov, during the presentation of his credentials on 8 June.

Uzbekistan: Children

Mark Williams: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if she will hold discussions with representatives of the Uzbek Government on child labour on cotton fields in Uzbekistan; and if she will make a statement. [142119]

Mr. Hoon: We closely monitor a range of human rights issues in Uzbekistan, including the rights of the child, with our partners in the EU and in the international community. The International Labour Organisation works on the issue of child labour in the cotton industry, which is deeply entrenched, and a sensitive issue in Uzbekistan. It affects education, migration and the process of democratisation.

The rights of the child are among the human rights issues covered by the EU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue which began in May. At the last session of the EU-Uzbekistan Sub-Committee on Justice and Home Affairs, in May, the EU delegation encouraged the Uzbek authorities to ratify the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children.

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In 2006 the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child reviewed the National Report of Uzbekistan on Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and issued recommendations to the Uzbek authorities e.g. on adopting legislation and ratifying international conventions. Committee members put questions to the Uzbek delegation including on the issue of child labour in the cotton fields. The Uzbek authorities are preparing new legislation, including a draft law on childrens’ rights which we hope will address the Committee’s concerns.

We will continue, bilaterally, with the EU and through the international community, to raise a range of human rights concerns with the Uzbek authorities, and to support efforts to improve the human rights situation in the country.

Uzbekistan: Forced Labour

Mr. Carmichael: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps her Department is taking to monitor the enforcement by the Uzbek Government of the International Labour Organisation's Convention on the Abolition of Forced Labour. [142543]

Mr. Hoon: As a permanent member of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Governing Body, the UK actively promotes and encourages all member states to ratify and implement the ILO core conventions which cover the elimination of the forced labour, child labour, discrimination in employment and the observance of trade union rights.

The UK also participates fully in the discussions of the ILO Conference Committee on the application of standards which each year discusses a selection of individual cases of member state compliance with various ILO conventions in detail.

Such discussions are based on reports submitted under Article 22 of the Constitution of the ILO which requires member sates to regularly report on conventions they have ratified. Uzbekistan has ratified both of the ILO forced labour conventions (29 and 105). The ILO’s Committee of Experts, which examines member states reports, has asked the Uzbek Government to make every effort to comply with its constitutional obligations and reminded the Uzbek Government that the ILO can provide technical assistance to help to prepare the annual written reports which are a requirement of membership.

This year the committee noted with regret that Uzbekistan was among those member states which had supplied no reports on ratified conventions for the past two or more years; and that because Uzbekistan was among those governments which were not represented at the conference, they were unable to participate in the committee’s examination of the cases relating to them.

Venezuela: Television

Mr. Vara: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports she has received on the recent closure of state television stations by President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. [142476]

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Mr. Hoon: Along with EU partners, the UK has been closely monitoring recent events in Venezuela. We are concerned at the Venezuelan government's decision not to renew the broadcasting licence for the private media organisation RCTV. The UK strongly supported the EU's statement of 31 May, which noted with concern the Venezuelan government's decision, and recalled the promises made by the Venezuelan authorities to hold an open competition for the successor licence.

With EU partners, we will continue to monitor the situation closely, including on Venezuela's upholding of the fundamental democratic principles of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.


Departments: Private Finance Initiative

Stewart Hosie: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what value of annual private finance initiative payments by her Department was classified as (a) identifiable and (b) non-identifiable in each of the last five years, broken down by project. [137810]

Andy Burnham: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave him on 7 June 2007, Official Report, columns 648-652W.

All payments made under private finance initiative (PFI) schemes are identifiable. Prior to a PFI contract being signed the profile of unitary charge payments is agreed between the contractor and the public sector, subject to the operation of the payment mechanism.

Mr. Hoban: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps she has taken to ensure value for money in the tendering process for private finance initiative contracts. [139818]

Andy Burnham: National health service trusts must follow European Union procurement regulations under which private finance initiative (PFI) contracts are always awarded on the basis of the most economically advantageous tender overall to the NHS, following a competitive bidding process. New EU regulations to decide the most economically advantageous bid, specifically applying to complex contracts such as PFI and other public private partnership (PPPs), were implemented in the United Kingdom from 1 February 2007 (known as the competitive dialogue procedure, succeeding the previous negotiated procedure). The Department is currently trialling this new process by shortlisting up to three bidders from which final priced bids will be invited from no less than two. In recognition of the additional work now required on the part of bidders to achieve full commercial and price certainty whilst still at this competitive stage, the EU legislation has specifically introduced a discretion to pay bid costs with the aim of ensuring that the costs of bidding are no greater then they would have been under the negotiated procedure.

Mr. Hoban: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) how much has been spent on (a) the establishment and (b) the running of the Private Finance Unit in her Department; [139819]

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(2) what the functions of the Private Finance Unit in her Department are; and how its performance is assessed; [139821]

(3) how many staff work in the Private Finance Unit in her Department. [139822]

Andy Burnham: The Department’s Private Finance Unit (PFU) are a group of specialists contracted to work for the Department. They include lawyers, financiers, bankers, accountants and technical staff and staff on secondment from the national health service. They report to the Department’s Director of Finance-Investment, a civil servant.

No costs were specifically incurred in setting up the PFU, who occupy space in the Department’s buildings. Their cost in 2006-07 was just over £2.4 million inclusive of salaries, travel costs, subsidence etcetera.

The function of the PFU is to offer expert advice to NHS trusts, or to Department’s Ministers and officials on all commercial aspects of the private finance initiative and the NHS local improvement finance trust (LIFT) contracts: the provision of loans to foundation trusts; the operation of NHS Shared Business Services Ltd, the joint venture that offers financial and accounting services to the NHS; and operational and commercial matters in a number of arms length bodies.

The PFU works alongside the Department’s officials and its performance is monitored by the director of finance.

Currently, 19 staff work in the PFU.

Harwich Hospital

Mr. Carswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment her Department has made of the reasons for the delay in providing the expected range of NHS medical services at the new Harwich hospital; and when the full range of services will be available. [140760]

Andy Burnham: I am advised by North Essex primary care trust that there has been a delay in making available the full range of services planned at Harwich hospital and that this issue is being addressed.

Health Services

Mr. David Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) when the Specialised Services National Definitions are planned to be updated; [141235]

(2) whether changes to the Specialised Services National Definitions set are to be subject to public consultation; and if she will take steps to ensure that patient representative groups are consulted on the changes. [141236]

Andy Burnham: A project has started to review the Specialised Services National Definitions Set, under the auspices of the newly constituted national specialised commissioning group hosted by NHS London. The initial phase of the project will cover those eight service areas which, under Payment by Results, attract a national tariff specialist top-up. As part of consultation, draft versions of the updated definitions will be circulated for comment to the wider stakeholder community, including patients’ groups.

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Health Services: Industrial Health and Safety

Mr. Yeo: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what her policy is on the closure of (a) hospital beds and (b) other services by primary care trusts on health and safety grounds. [122647]

Andy Burnham: This is a matter for local national health service organisations. However, the Department has issued guidance under section 10.1.6 of the Overview and Scrutiny of Health Guidance, published in July 2003, which states that NHS organisations can temporarily stop services without consultation, if they believe there is a risk to the safety and welfare of patients.

Hospitals: Transport

Mr. Cox: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment she has made of the effect of changes to charges on (a) the use of and (b) the willingness of volunteers to operate hospital transport services. [142540]

Andy Burnham: Non-emergency patient transport services should be provided, free of charge, to patients who have a medical need for transport. The local national health service may provide other transport services, and may charge for the provision of those services. However, decisions on provision, and on charges, are a local matter.

The hospital travel costs scheme, operating under the NHS low income scheme, provides financial assistance to NHS patients who do not have a medical need for ambulance transport, but who require assistance in meeting the cost of travel to and from their care.

No assessment has been made by the Department of the use of voluntary drivers. Any assessment of the impact of any change to the operation of voluntary car schemes would be for the local NHS to make.

Mr. Cox: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment she has made of the take-up of the Hospital Travel Cost scheme in (a) England, (b) the South West and (c) Devon. [142541]

Andy Burnham: The Department gathers information on the number of postal claims only, made in England under the Hospital Travel Costs scheme, as detailed in the following table.

Hospital fares—annual number of refunds authorised







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