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8 July 2008 : Column 1538W—continued


Information about action taken by the police is not held centrally and can be provided at only disproportionate cost.

Prisons: Drugs

Paul Flynn: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice how many prisons are free of the use of controlled drugs. [216576]

Mr. Straw: Prisons have achieved considerable success in reducing the level of drug misuse against a background of continuing high demand for drugs. Drug misuse as measured by random mandatory drug testing has fallen 63 per cent. since 1996-97, from 24.4 per cent. to 9.1 per cent. in 2007-08.

A single episode of drug misuse over a defined period, strictly interpreted, would deprive a prison of drug free status. Over the 2007-08 financial year, two prisons reported no drug misuse, as measured by random mandatory drug testing.

On average, 29 prisons reported no drug misuse during any one month of the 2007-08 financial year.

Prisons: Sign Language

Dr. Vis: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice how many British Sign Language users worked in each prison at the latest date for which figures are available. [216997]

Maria Eagle: Information on the number of prison staff or official visitors who are able to use British Sign Language is not collated centrally nor required to be recorded locally.

A number of staff based at prison establishments have chosen to learn British Sign Language (BSL), however there is no requirement for them to disclose or record this either locally or nationally. There are also organisations such as the Birmingham Institute for the Deaf (BID), the Royal Association of Deaf People, and the Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) who will put prisoners in touch with qualified signers who will visit the prisoner. Not all prisoners who have hearing difficulties will use BSL.

When a prisoner is identified as needing either an interpreter for BSL, or would benefit from receiving visits from someone who speaks BSL, the prison will arrange for an interpreter or suitable visitor through local or national support agencies.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Armed Conflict: Cultural Heritage

Mr. Hunt: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1) which territories his Department considers as having being occupied at some time since 1954 for the purposes of the draft Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill; and for what period in each case; [213834]


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(2) which territories his Department considers to be occupied for the purposes of the draft Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill. [213835]

Mr. Jim Murphy [holding answer 25 June 2008]: Under the draft bill the test for “occupied territory” is defined by reference to Article 42 of the 1907 Hague regulations respecting the laws and customs of war on land. This states that:

The draft legislation provides that, in cases where there are legal proceedings, a Secretary of State may issue a certificate as to whether particular territory is occupied. However, such a certificate need not be given in all cases. Alternative evidence may be provided to prove the status of a particular territory.

The Government do not plan to produce a list of territories deemed to be occupied since 1954 for the purposes of the Bill. We are not aware that any of the 118 states parties to the convention, including those with a common law system, has done so.

Departmental Marketing

Mr. Philip Hammond: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how much his Department and its agencies spent on branding and marketing activity in 2007-08. [212032]

Meg Munn: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and its agencies spent £1,229,788 on marketing and branding activity in the financial year 2007-08.

This total consists of £1,066,453 spent by Consular Directorate; £78,954 spent by Wilton Park; and £84,381 spent by FCO Services. Wilton Park and FCO Services are Executive agencies of the FCO, who undertake marketing and branding activities to promote their services.

Developing Countries: Security

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent steps the Government have taken to assist developing countries to improve their national security. [216042]

Mr. Jim Murphy [holding answer 3 July 2008]: In the National Security Strategy, the Government recognise our security as grounded in a set of core values including human rights, the rule of law, legitimate and accountable government, justice, freedom, tolerance and opportunity for all.

This broad concept of security extends to the Government's work internationally. For example, through the Conflict Prevention Pool, managed jointly by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and amounting to £112 million in 2008-09, the Government fund activities in developing countries ranging from security sector reform to programmes supporting political reconciliation, judicial reform, peacekeeping training and respect for human rights. Over 50 per cent. of these funds are to be
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dispersed in Africa. DFID's White Paper (2006) recognises security as a precondition for development and as a result DFID is committed to spending £135 million on security and access to justice in thirteen countries in 2008-09.

The Government also provide direct assistance to a number of countries to support their security capability development, for example through the FCO's allocation of £35 million in 2008-09 to support efforts to counter threats from terrorism and radicalisation, or the MOD's overseas training programmes.

The UK also contributes to international organisations' assistance to developing countries to improve their national security including, for example, EU security sector reform missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea-Bissau.

Lebanon: Elections

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether the UK plans to provide (a) financial and (b) technical support for the conduct of the 2009 parliamentary elections in Lebanon; and if he will make a statement. [216312]

David Miliband: The UK places great importance on free, fair and transparent elections in Lebanon in 2009, which take into account existing proposals for reform as agreed at the Doha conference.

The UK is working closely with the EU and UN, who have taken a lead on these issues. In June 2008, the EU sent two election experts to Lebanon to consider the technical feasibility of electoral reforms and to identify areas for EU support to help improve the electoral system in Lebanon. We fully support this and will continue to explore options to provide bilateral assistance in support of EU and UN efforts.

Lebanon: Security

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what support the UK is providing to security sector reform in Lebanon; and if he will make a statement. [216298]

David Miliband: The UK continues to support President Suleiman and the Government of Lebanon in their efforts to maintain peace and security in Lebanon. During my visit to Lebanon in June 2008, I announced that the UK will provide, from this financial year, a £2 million programme of support to the Lebanese security sector.

This assistance includes the provision of £1 million of technical and training support to the army, police, customs and immigration services to improve Lebanon’s border management. Last financial year, we provided some £500,000 of training and equipment to increase the ability of the Lebanese armed forces to maintain public order and made a contribution to an EU programme to improve the investigative capability of the Internal Security Forces. We are also providing a number of places on security courses in the UK to the Lebanese armed forces, including places at Sandhurst, Dartmouth, and the Royal College of Defence Studies.


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Middle East: Armed Conflict

Mr. Amess: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps the Government have taken since January 2008 to secure the release of the Israeli soldiers kidnapped by (a) Hamas and (b) Hezbollah in June and July 2006; what representations he has received since January 2008 about this issue; what response he gave; and if he will make a statement. [214053]

Meg Munn: The Government welcome the announcement made on 1 July that the Israeli government and Hizbollah have come to an agreement that will ensure the return of the remains of Eldad Regev and Eldad Goldwasser who were kidnapped in July 2006. We call for the swift implementation of this agreement.

The Government continue to call for the unconditional and immediate release of Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped by Hamas in January 2006. The UK supports Egypt's mediation work on his case and remains in close touch with the Egyptian government on this issue.

The Government have not received any specific representations about the fate of these Israeli soldiers since January 2008.

Mr. Amess: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he (a) has taken and (b) plans to take steps at the United Nations to seek to secure the release of the Israeli soldiers kidnapped by (i) Hamas and (ii) Hezbollah in June and July 2006; and if he will make a statement. [214055]

Meg Munn: The Government welcome the announcement made on 1 July that the Israeli government and Hizbollah have come to an agreement that will ensure the return of the remains of Eldad Regev and Eldad Goldwasser who were kidnapped in July 2006. We call for the swift implementation of this agreement. The UK maintained close contact with the UN appointed facilitator during the negotiations.

The UN has not been involved in discussions on the case of Corporal Shalit, where the Government of Egypt is mediating. We remain in close contact with the Egyptian authorities, as well as the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority and continue to offer our support.

Religious Freedom: Christianity

Lembit Öpik: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports his Department has received of incidents of the persecution of Christians in other countries on the grounds of apostasy during the last two years; and if he will make a statement. [213907]

Meg Munn: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has received a number of reports of incidents of persecution of Christians and apostasy that have taken place in different parts of the world including Iran, Pakistan, Egypt and Eritrea among others.

We condemn all instances of violence and discrimination against individuals and groups because of their faith or belief, wherever they happen or whatever the religion of the individual or group concerned.


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We have discussed the issue of human rights abuses on the grounds of apostasy with Christian Solidarity Worldwide. They have agreed to keep the FCO informed of instances where apostates have suffered human rights abuses.

Retirement

Lynne Featherstone: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what the standard retirement age in his Department is; and how many people worked beyond the standard retirement age in each of the last five years. [214128]

Meg Munn: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) does not impose a mandatory retirement age on staff below the Senior Management Structure (SMS)/Senior Civil Service (SCS). UK civil servants in these grades are free to choose when to stop working for the FCO.

The Civil Service has set centrally a mandatory retirement age of 65 for all staff in the SMS/SCS. No staff currently serving in the FCO in these grades has reached the mandatory retirement age since it was raised from 60 to 65 in October 2006.

Somalia: Peacekeeping Operations

Mark Pritchard: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will hold discussions with the chairman of the African Union on increasing the number of AMISON troops in Somalia. [214466]

Meg Munn: We welcome the peace agreement between the Transitional Federal government and the Alliance for Re-Liberation of Somalia initialled on 9 June in Djibouti. The agreement calls for the deployment of an international stabilisation force in Somalia. The agreement is a positive step and we look forward to all parties fulfilling their commitment to cease armed confrontation in Somalia.

My noble Friend the Minister for Africa, Lord Malloch-Brown, attended the African Union (AU) summit in Sharm el Sheikh from 30 June to 1 July. At the summit, my noble Friend Lord Malloch-Brown held a number of bilateral meetings with various members and representatives of the AU. As the main focus of the summit and bilateral meetings was Zimbabwe, the opportunity to raise the future of the AU Mission in Somalia did not arise. However, my noble Friend Lord Malloch-Brown did meet with Ethiopian President Meles and Somali President Yusuf, with whom he discussed a possible international stabilisation force in Somalia.

Terrorism: Victim Support Schemes

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1) if he will place a copy of the policy document Exceptional Assistance Measures for Terrorist Incidents Overseas in the Library; [209365]

(2) if he will place in the Library a copy of guidance issued by his Department to British embassies and consulates on the implementation of the Exceptional Assistance Measures for terrorist incidents overseas. [209377]


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David Miliband: Consular guidance is not placed in the Library of the House as a matter of routine. Guidance is meant for internal use only and is subject to change at any time.

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether there is a ceiling to the financial assistance offered under the Exceptional Assistance Measures for terrorist incidents overseas; and if he will make a statement. [209379]

David Miliband: As my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Meg Munn, made clear in her written ministerial statement of 2 June 2008, Official Report, column 41WS, financial assistance is available for appropriate costs incurred by victims or families. There is no ceiling on the provision of assistance under the Exceptional Assistance Measures.

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what provisions the new Exceptional Assistance Measures for terrorist incidents overseas contain for financial support for the family members of victims of such incidents; and if he will make a statement. [209381]

David Miliband: I refer the right hon. Member to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State’s (Meg Munn) written ministerial statement of 2 June 2008, Official Report, column 41WS.

Torture

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps the Government have taken to discourage other states from practising torture. [216045]

Meg Munn [holding answer 3 July 2008]: Although a large number of states have ratified various international conventions prohibiting torture, torture continues to be committed with impunity in many parts of the world. The UK remains fundamentally opposed to torture and continues to be one of the most active countries in the world in the fight to eradicate it.

For example, we continue to support wider ratification of the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT) and its Optional Protocol (OPCAT) through bilateral lobbying campaigns, EU demarches and our work in UN forums such as the Human Rights Council. We also use a combination of project work and diplomatic activity to encourage implementation of OPCAT, including by the establishment of national preventative mechanisms. Since OPCAT was opened for signature on 4 February 2003, 61 states have become a signatory. As of July 2008, 35 states have ratified OPCAT, most recently Guatemala in June 2008. This marks significant progress, although there is of course more to be done.

Further information on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's (FCO) work in this field can be found in the FCO's 2007 Annual Human Rights Report, which is available on the FCO's website at:


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