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21 Oct 2008 : Column 210W—continued

Colombia: Trade Unions

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations he has made to the government of Colombia on the treatment of trade unionists. [227645]

Gillian Merron: We regularly raise the dangers faced by trade unionists with the Colombian Government. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised the issue with the Colombian Foreign Minister when they met in London on 9 October, commenting publicly after the meeting:

We are matching this advocacy with practical support. We invited a delegation of Colombian trade unionists to the UK in March 2008. Following that visit, we sent a tripartite delegation from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) to Colombia in late September 2008, to explore how the UK can support and promote labour relations in Colombia. We await their report and recommendations.

Commonwealth Committee on Terrorism

Mr. Keith Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when the Commonwealth Committee on Terrorism next plans to meet; and if he will make a statement. [226084]

Bill Rammell: Commonwealth Foreign Ministers agreed on 24 September 2008 that counter-terrorism officials should meet before the end of 2008. The exact timing and format of the meeting are yet to be agreed.


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Democratic Republic of Congo: Politics and Government

Mr. Joyce: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations the UK has made in relation to the arrest and detention in the Democratic Republic of Congo of Gabriel Mokia, head of the Movement for Democratic Change political party. [224541]

Gillian Merron: UK officials and other international observers in Kinshasa are following Gabriel Mokia's case. Mr. Mokia has had access to legal representation, and officials from the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo have attended all sessions of the proceedings against him. It is not yet clear what charges, if any, he will face. While we have not yet made any specific representations in this case, we will continue to monitor its progress, share information with partners, and make such representations, as appropriate.

Mr. Joyce: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations the UK has made in relation to concerns raised by international observers at the conviction in the Democratic Republic of Congo of Freddy Bisimwa Matabaro and Mugisho Rwezangabo for the murder of the journalist Serge Maheshe and their requests for a renewed and effective investigation into his death. [224542]

Gillian Merron: The UK has worked closely with international partners in following the trial of the men accused of the murder of Serge Maheshe. We and EU partners believe that effective pursuit of this case by the Democratic Republic of Congo authorities will send an important signal that impunity is no longer tolerated.

The EU made representations to the Minister for Justice and Human Rights on 12 May 2008 after four defendants were convicted, and issued a further statement on 15 May, highlighting the EU's concern at irregularities in the appeal process and calling for fairness in the proceedings.

The convictions of Freddy Bisimwa Matabaro and Mugisho Rwenzagabo for the murder of Serge Maheshe were upheld on appeal on 21 May. Officials from the UN's mission in DRC are in contact with the authorities over this verdict. The defendants' lawyers are in the process of exploring options for a final appeal.

Departmental Conditions of Employment

Dr. Fox: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will place in the Library a copy of his Department's rest and recuperation leave policy for civilians working in operational theatres. [226984]

Gillian Merron: This policy is not set out in a single document or booklet.

We take very seriously the health and welfare of our staff and recognise the special pressures that deployment to an ‘operational theatre’ can bring. All Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) staff serving in Afghanistan and Iraq undergo a range of health checks, both physical and psychological, before, during and after their
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deployments. We review this process regularly to ensure that it complies with clinical best practice. We also have our own medical teams in Iraq and Afghanistan to provide primary medical care and pastoral support to staff.

In addition we require staff to take regular decompression breaks (of 10 to 14 days) outside of the operational theatre after every six to seven weeks in Afghanistan or Iraq. At the end of each tour of duty (6 to 12 months in Iraq and Helmand; 12 to 18 months in Kabul) we encourage staff to take an extended break, using leave accumulated before and during their posting, before they move to another job.

Departmental Procurement

Mr. Prisk: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what proportion of invoices for goods and services procured from small and medium-sized businesses were paid within 30 days of receipt by (a) his Department and (b) the agencies for which his Department is responsible in 2007-08; and if he will make a statement. [226489]

Gillian Merron: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office does not differentiate its suppliers by size, so we are not able to provide the information requested.

Of the invoices received, for goods and services procured from all suppliers in 2007-08, 93.1 per cent. were paid by the FCO and its agency FCO services and 98.3 per cent. were settled by Wilton Park, another agency of the FCO, within 30 days of receipt.

Departmental Sick Pay

Jenny Willott: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many staff in (a) his Department, (b) its agencies and (c) the non-departmental bodies for which it has responsibility have received sick pay for sick leave due to (i) stress and (ii) mental health and behavioural disorders in each of the last 10 years; what the average length of time was for which sick pay was paid in these cases; and if he will make a statement. [216117]

Gillian Merron: The number of UK civil servants employed by the FCO and by Wilton Park, an Executive Agency of the FCO, where stress or mental health illness has been given as the reason for the absence is set out in the following table.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Wilton Park

2005-2006

Number of Staff

137

6

Percentage of Workforce

2.3

8.1

2006-07

Number of Staff

128

10

Percentage of Workforce

2.1

13.5

2007-08

Number of Staff

119

10

Percentage of Workforce

2.0

13.5


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The following table provides the average period of sick leave in each year for stress and mental health disorders.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office (days) Wilton Park (days)

2005-06

18.2

12.3

2006-07

18.6

29.6

2007-08

26.4

62.5


The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) pays staff on sick leave their normal salary for up to a maximum of six months sick absence during any rolling period of 12 months. After that the FCO pays 50 per cent. of salary for up to a maximum of six months during any rolling period of four years or less. If the absence continues beyond this period, staff cease to receive any salary. It would incur a disproportionate amount of cost for us to investigate each individual instance of sickness to tell whether the officers had reached any of these thresholds.

The FCO does not hold records of staff sickness absence before 2005. Nor does it have access to the sickness absence records of non-departmental public bodies. Sickness absence figures for FCO Services, which became a Trading Fund on 1 April 2008, are included in the FCO total.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is committed to protecting the health, welfare and productivity of its staff. Our occupational stress policy provides guidance for staff and managers on recognising and dealing with stress and on reducing the causes of stress in the workplace. We provide further support through a team of welfare officers, referral to our Occupational Health service and access to a 24/7 confidential employee assistance programme.

Embassies: Non-domestic Rates

Mrs. Lait: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what sanctions may be imposed on diplomatic missions in the UK which do not pay non-domestic rates for which they are liable. [225556]

Gillian Merron: We expect all diplomatic missions to meet their national non-domestic rate obligations, and the vast majority do so. The Valuation Office Agency of HM Revenue and Customs sends monthly statements to all diplomatic missions which have outstanding debts. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has an annual process of formally raising outstanding debts with missions, and urging prompt settlement. Failure to do so leads to the missions appearing on the written ministerial statement which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary makes to Parliament each year.

The total amount of national non-domestic rates owed by foreign Missions in the UK fell by more than 50 per cent. between 2006-07 and 2007-08.

Georgia: South Ossetia

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports he has received of the number of (a) civilians in South
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Ossetia killed as a result of Georgian actions and (b) Georgian citizens killed as a result of Russian actions in the recent conflict; and if he will make a statement. [223179]

Caroline Flint: Human Rights Watch have estimated fewer than 100 (Ossetian) civilians were killed in South Ossetia as a result of Georgia's actions. The Investigative Committee under the Russian General Prosecutors Office, whose investigation is still under way, have reported that they have so far been able to identify 137 victims.

On 15 September the Georgian Ministry of Defence released official figures for the number of Georgians killed as a result of the conflict. They reported a total of 370 deaths, consisting of 188 civilians, 168 military personnel and 14 Ministry of Internal Affairs personnel.

Iran: Sanctions

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the answer of 21 July 2008, Official Report, column 872W, on Iran: sanctions, on how many occasions UK authorities have undertaken inspection of cargoes to and from Iran in accordance with the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 1803 since March 2008. [225627]

Mr. Woolas: I have been asked to reply.

UK authorities undertake daily inspections of cargoes to and from Iran on the basis of risk and intelligence. UK authorities have undertaken no inspections in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 1803 since March 2008. Inspections in the UK are triggered at a lower level of confidence than the wording of the resolution which calls upon states to undertake inspections only where there are ‘reasonable grounds to believe’.

Kosovo: Politics and Government

Jo Swinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on what occasions Ministers have made representations to other governments on the recognition of Kosovo. [222823]

Caroline Flint: We have been engaging actively both in bilateral discussions and multilateral forums, working closely with and alongside the government of Kosovo, and with like-minded international partners to encourage further recognitions.

Jo Swinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress has been made in transferring equipment and resources from UNMIK to EULEX in Kosovo. [222824]

Caroline Flint: On 18 August, a technical agreement was signed between the UN and EU, paving the way for the transfer of equipment and resources from the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) to the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX). The transfer is now in progress.

Jo Swinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he expects the transition from UNMIK to EULEX in Kosovo to take place; and if he will make a statement. [222826]


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Caroline Flint: The transition from the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) to the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) is currently in progress. Although some technical issues are still to be resolved, the European Council expects EULEX to become fully operational by late November 2008.

Palestinians: Oppression

Greg Mulholland: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports he has received on whether students from Birzeit University in Palestine are being imprisoned as a result of their political beliefs; and if he will make a statement. [226383]

Bill Rammell: We are aware of reports of students from Birzeit university being detained earlier this year and have raised our concerns with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

We continue to follow Israeli detention operations closely and monitor the situation with regard to all Palestinian prisoners. We believe all Palestinian prisoners should have access to a fair trial, and call upon Israel to ensure that any actions they take are in accordance with international law.

The Israeli Prison Service (IPS) has stressed its commitment to honouring its international obligations with regard to the humane and dignified treatment of prisoners.

Piracy

Mr. Keith Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress has been made in establishing an EU-led multi-national naval mission to deal with incidents of piracy around the Gulf of Aden; and when he last discussed the matter with his EU counterparts. [226071]

Bill Rammell: My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Defence, met other EU Defence Ministers on 2 October to discuss incidents of piracy in the Gulf of Aden. A further meeting will take place in mid-November.


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