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Afghanistan: Civil Service

Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what funds are available to facilitate the training of the next generation of Afghan civil servants in the UK or the US; and how many individuals have participated in such a scheme. [182191]

Dr. Howells: The Government are funding a number of projects to train Afghan civil servants to develop the necessary skills to support a stable and functioning administration in Afghanistan. Some attend courses in the UK, although the majority receive training in Afghanistan. Programmes under way with Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) funding include the following:

United States training is a matter for the authorities in the United States.

Afghanistan: Detainees

Mr. Tyrie: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with the Canadian Government on Omar Khadr’s detention at Guantanamo Bay and his forthcoming hearing before a military commission. [178828]

Dr. Howells: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has not discussed the case of Omar Khadr, who is a Canadian citizen, with the Canadian Government.

British Overseas Territories: Wildlife

Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs which wildlife species in Her Majesty's Overseas Territories exist solely in captivity. [183031]

Meg Munn: There are no wildlife species native to Her Majesty's Overseas Territories that exist solely in captivity.


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Christmas

Anne Milton: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how much his Department's agencies spent on (a) Christmas cards and (b) postage of Christmas cards in each year since 1997. [182440]

Meg Munn: Statistics on the purchase and postage costs of Christmas cards are not collected and could not be collated without incurring disproportionate cost.

Departmental ICT

Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what the (a) start date,
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(b) original planned completion date, (c) current expected completion date, (d) planned cost and (e) current estimated cost is for each information technology project being undertaken by his Department and its agencies; and if he will make a statement. [180568]

Meg Munn: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is running a wide range of information technology-enabled projects. Some are managed centrally, while others are initiated and managed by the holders of devolved budgets both in the UK or at posts overseas. For those centrally managed projects, and groups of projects marshalled together as programmes around a significant business change, the requested details are shown in the following table.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Current information technology projects > £2 million Start date Original planned completion date Expected completion date Originally planned costs (£ million) Estimated costs (£ million)

Future Firecrest (AIM)(1)

February 2005

February 2012

February 2012

332.0

347.0

FCONet 3(2)

March 2006

June 2007

February 2008

3.5

< 3.5

EDRM (eRecords/iRecords)(3)

September 2004

March 2010

March 2010

26.5

12.4

FCO Web Platform(4)

July 2005

November 2008

November 2008

13.5

9.7

Secure Video Conferencing

April 2007

March 2008

March 2008

2.5

2.5

Managed Reporting Service

January 2007

January 2008

January 2008

2.5

2.4

FTN (FCO Telecommunications Network) private finance initiative implementation and service 2000-10(5)

May 2000

May 2010

May 2010

180.0

240.0

Ocean (Telecommunications reprocurement)(6)

October 2007

May 2010

May 2010

> (7)2

UKvisas Biometrics

May 2005

December 2007

March 2008

121.7

45.5

(1) The cost of Future Firecrest has been increased by the obligation to implement central Government security policies instituted after the Future Firecrest contract had been agreed.
(2) Exact final project costs are being calculated, and are known to be less than the £3.5 million budget, but are not available at the time of writing.
(3) The scope of iRecords has been reduced in the light of financial constraints.
(4) The scope, and hence costs, were reduced on examination of the full business case.
(5) FTN is a service, chargeable by usage. The additional cost reflects a demand that has increased significantly since the original estimates of traffic volumes were drawn up in 2000. Unit costs have been reduced, but this is obscured in the headline figure.
(6) The scope, and hence the cost, of Ocean will be determined shortly; the cost of the procurement is likely to exceed £2 million.
(7) To be determined.
Note:
Implementation of the Prism system, reported on in previous answers, was completed in May 2006, two months later than originally planned, and the implementation programme was closed at the end of March 2007 following the recommendation of an Office of Government Commerce Gateway Review.

Foreign Relations

Mr. Hayes: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what bilateral summits the Government intends to participate in 2008. [181039]

Mr. Jim Murphy: To compile a schedule of projected Ministerial and senior official travel for 2008 would be disproportionately costly.

Iran: Bahai Sect

Mr. Carmichael: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what diplomatic steps are being taken towards the government of Iran on the human rights of the Baha’i community in Iran. [183413]

Dr. Howells: We regularly raise our concerns about the treatment of Baha’is with the Iranian authorities, both bilaterally and through the EU. Most recently, the EU presidency raised concerns about the treatment of Baha’is in a meeting with the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 22 January. The presidency specifically raised the case of a group of Baha’is recently arrested in Shiraz, including three individuals who were at the time imprisoned in the detention centre of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security. We understand that this group has since been sentenced for “anti-regime propaganda”.

The UN General Assembly passed a resolution about the human rights situation in Iran in December last year, expressing very serious concern about increasing discrimination against religious and other minorities in Iran, including in particular “attacks on Baha’is and their faith in state-sponsored media, increasing evidence of efforts by the state to identify and monitor Baha’is and prevention of the Baha’i faith from attending university and from sustaining themselves economically”. The UK, through the EU, co-sponsored this resolution.

The Government continue to press the Iranian authorities to take seriously their international human rights obligations, uphold the right to freedom of religion and belief, as described in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and address the discrimination suffered by Iranian Baha’is.


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Iran: Religious Freedom

Mr. Carmichael: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the safety of members of the Baha’i faith in Iran; and if he will make a statement. [178746]

Dr. Howells: We continue to be very concerned by the treatment of religious minorities in Iran, including Baha’is.

The Baha’i faith is not recognised under the Iranian constitution and as a result Baha’is routinely face discrimination and persecution. In recent years Baha’is have been subject to arbitrary arrests, confiscation of property and restrictions on employment. Denial of access to higher education has been a long-term problem for Baha’i students. We are also concerned about reports that Iranian newspapers, including hard-line Keyhan, have been carrying out a propaganda campaign against the Baha’i community.

We are concerned by the recent sentencing of 54 Baha’is for “anti-regime propaganda”. The EU presidency raised concerns about the treatment of Baha’is in a meeting with the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 22 January. They specifically raised the case of this group and requested the Iranian government to abandon all proceedings against them.

The Government continue to press the Iranian authorities to take seriously their international human rights obligations, uphold the right to freedom of religion and belief, as described in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and address the discrimination suffered by Iranian Baha’is. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and raise our concerns about the treatment of Baha’is with the Iranian authorities, both bilaterally and through the EU.

Iraq: Weapons

Mr. Baron: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1) with reference to his Department’s email, dated 25 January 2008, copied to the hon. Member for Billericay, on Coalition Information Centre documents, what the (a) origin, (b) recipient and (c) date of dispatch was in relation to each document referred to; [178786]

(2) further to the decision of the Information Tribunal of 22 January 2008, if he will reconsider his Department’s decision not to release documents relating to the Iraq dossier passed to and from the Coalition Information Centre in 2002 requested by the hon. Member for Billericay. [178835]

Dr. Howells: We continue to consider the information which the hon. Member requested to be exempt from disclosure for the reasons given to him in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s reply to his request of 13 September 2007.

USA: Iraq

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans there are for the UK to be associated with 26 November 2007 US/Iraq Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship
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of Cooperation and Friendship; whether discussions have been held with US and Iraqi counterparts on this matter; and if he will make a statement. [174794]

David Miliband: We are in close contact with the US and Iraq as they formulate their views on the detail and structure of their long-term relationship following the US/Iraqi declaration of principles. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in his statement to the House on 8 October 2007, Official Report, column 23, a decision on the next phase of our military presence will be taken in Spring 2008. We will ensure that future civilian assistance, and any future military assistance, to Iraq is based on a sound legal and political footing.

Uzbekistan: Human Rights

Mr. Carmichael: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the human rights situation in Uzbekistan; and if he will make a statement. [178652]

Mr. Jim Murphy: The overall human rights situation in Uzbekistan remains bleak, although there have been some positive steps over the last 12 months. On 1 January 2008, Uzbekistan abolished the death penalty and introduced a limited form of ‘habeas corpus’. The EU and Uzbekistan have established a human rights dialogue. These developments are outweighed, however, by continuing concerns in other areas. We continue to receive reports of violations of freedom of expression, religious freedom and the right to a fair trial. Civil society and the media remain under strict control. At least 14 human rights defenders are in prison; others suffer harassment and pressure that has forced some to leave Uzbekistan, or cease their activities. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s 2008 Annual Human Rights Report contains a fuller analysis of the human rights situation in Uzbekistan.

We repeatedly and regularly register our concerns about individual cases and the human rights situation in general with the Uzbek authorities, both bilaterally and with EU partners. In Tashkent, the EU discussed a range of human rights issues with senior representatives of the Uzbek Government at the first session of the EU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue in May 2007. In October 2007, EU Foreign Ministers called on Uzbekistan to demonstrate progress in key areas of human rights by May 2008. There will be another session of the dialogue in 2008 and a seminar on media freedom. The EU special representative for Central Asia, Pierre Morel, visits Uzbekistan regularly and raises human rights concerns with the Uzbek Government.

Our embassy in Tashkent also maintains regular contact with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and activists throughout Uzbekistan. We have helped hon. Members to make contact with NGOs in Uzbekistan to work on human rights issues and have helped to develop the capacity of NGOs, including to report on human rights violations. We will continue to monitor the human rights situation in Uzbekistan and make our concerns clear through a critical, but constructive, dialogue with the authorities. In November 2007, we funded an NGO to attend the UN Committee on Torture’s examination of Uzbekistan.


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Visas: Entry Clearances

Damian Green: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what the average length of time was for the processing of visa applications at each issuing post in the last five years for which figures are available. [181627]

Dr. Howells: As the information requested is lengthy I will arrange for it to be sent to the hon. Member and for copies to be placed in the Library of the House. The hon. Member will also wish to note that we are only able to provide figures for the years 2006 and 2007, as figures for previous years are not available.


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