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26 Nov 2008 : Column 1746W—continued

The marked increase in stationery expenditure for 2005-06 was a result of the UK's EU Presidency from July to December 2005.

Jo Swinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many members of staff at the British embassy in Vienna are employed to work on correspondence; and what the average response time to written correspondence was in the latest period for which figures are available. [239370]

Caroline Flint: No members of staff at our embassy in Vienna are employed to work specifically on correspondence. The appropriate member of staff replies to the correspondence depending on the subject matter. There are no records available for the average response time to written correspondence, but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office expects all correspondence to receive a response within 20 days.

Jo Swinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what financial monitoring the British embassy in Vienna carries out to avoid waste and promote the efficient use of resources. [239371]

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Caroline Flint: Effective financial monitoring and efficient use of resources is a high priority at the British embassy in Vienna, as it is in all posts in Europe and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Given the importance of effective financial monitoring, the Head of Mission is accountable at each post for the sign off of expenditure and receipts and the day-to-day management of post budgets being overseen by a management officer. The network of posts in Europe is at the forefront of FCO efficiency programmes with a savings target of £15,000,000 by the end of FY 2010-11. These efficiencies, which are under regular review, will be realised by reprioritising the use of posts' budgets and redeployment of frontline staff.

British Embassy: Moscow

Jo Swinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many receptions were held at the British embassy in Moscow in each of the last five years. [239373]

Caroline Flint: The number of receptions held at the embassy are:

Number of receptions











Belarus: Children

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports he has received of the agreement signed by Italian and Belarusian Government, to allow Belarusian orphan children to travel to and from Italy and guarantee their safe return; and if he will make it his policy to enter into an analogous agreement with the Government of Belarus. [236827]

Mr. Woolas: I have been asked to reply.

The Government have received a copy of the agreement between the Italian and Belarusian Governments. Belarus has sought a similar bilateral agreement with the UK. The Government already facilitates the safe travel of Belarusian children to the UK. The UK Border Agency has written to the Belarusian Ambassador offering further discussions in order to maintain those arrangements.

Bosnia: Peacekeeping Operations

Dr. Fox: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will place in the Library a copy of the most recent six monthly report of the EU High Representative on Operation Althea. [237811]

Caroline Flint: We are not able to place a copy of the six-monthly report on Operation Althea by the EU High Representative Javier Solana in the Library. The document is owned by the EU High Representative and is not in the public domain.

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Bosnia: Politics and Government

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent assessment he has made of the (a) political and (b) security situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina; and what his policy is on each. [236386]

David Miliband: EU Foreign Ministers discussed Bosnia and Herzegovina at the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) on 10 November and expressed their deep concern regarding the political situation in the country, including ongoing ethnic nationalist rhetoric from political leaders and actions which challenge the structure of the state. I agree with this assessment.

Following this discussion, I visited Sarajevo, where I relayed the European Union’s concern at the pace of reform and the political climate. I urged Bosnian politicians to focus on making the reforms necessary to allow for transition of the Office of the High Representative and further EU integration. I also met with High Representative/Special Representative Lajcak. The UK Government strongly support his efforts to facilitate reform and uphold the Dayton Peace Agreement.

The security situation in Bosnia remains stable. The UK Government continue to support the work of the EU Peacekeeping Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (EUFOR) in maintaining this stable security situation. While our concern over the current political situation does not give rise to concern over the security situation, we believe that any decisions on EUFOR draw-down should only be taken once there is clarity on the future of the international presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

British Council: Fraud

Mr. Llwyd: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what the cost has been to the British Council of fraud over the last three years, in relation to its operations in Africa; and if he will make a statement. [230864]

Caroline Flint: Incidents of theft or fraud are rare across the British Council’s global operations. Over the last three years, the British Council’s Africa operations suffered losses from theft, fraud and other misappropriations of approximately £248,000 (out of a total regional income for sub-Saharan Africa of around £124 million). Three individual incidents accounted for £230,000:

Sierra Leone—£182,000:



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The remaining eight incidents of fraud total £18,000 over three years, comprising five internal and three external cases. The internal frauds involved the theft of cash. The external frauds comprised two cash thefts and the use of a counterfeit cheque.

As well as implementing lessons learnt from individual cases, the British Council has been introducing a new global finance and business system, which significantly strengthens financial controls and fraud prevention and detection capabilities.

Burma: Christianity

Mr. Touhig: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the status and safety of Christian communities in Burma; and if he will make a statement. [238748]

Bill Rammell: We condemn the marginalisation or persecution of any community based on their religious beliefs, and remain concerned about reports that the mainly Buddhist Burmese authorities restrict freedom of religion. There are Christians among a variety of ethnic groups in Burma, though their persecution by the authorities appears to be based largely on their ethnicity rather than their faith. The plight of the Karen and Chin Christians is particularly apparent.

We emphasise regularly to the Burmese regime, and to countries in the region, the need for the full and fair participation of ethnic nationalities in the political process as key to a durable solution to Burma's problems. There can be little prospect of national reconciliation without genuine recognition of their political, economic and social rights.

Burma: Human Rights

Mr. Touhig: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps are being taken in the United Nations Security Council to prosecute the human rights abuses of the Burmese Government. [238710]

Bill Rammell: The UK has consistently supported firm action in all UN bodies on the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Burmese regime. The UN General Assembly Third Committee passed a further Resolution on Burma on 21 November 2008 which strongly condemns the ongoing, systematic violations of civil, political, economic and social rights of the people of Burma. The Human Rights Council passed its strongest ever resolution on Burma, with active UK support, on 18 June 2008.

In the UN Security Council, the UK helped to secure unprecedented action on Burma in the form of a strongly worded Presidential Statement passed unanimously on 11 October 2007. The Security Council called on the Burmese regime to release all political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi; start a genuine and inclusive dialogue with the Opposition and ethnic groups; give its full co-operation to the UN; and take all necessary steps to meet the political, economic and human rights aspirations of its people. These demands were reaffirmed by a further Presidential Statement in May this year. Work will continue to keep Burma as a focus for discussion in the Security Council.

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Burma: Political Prisoners

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the Government of Burma on the recent decision to sentence 14 political dissidents to 65 years each in prison in that country; and if he will make a statement. [237242]

David Miliband: As my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs said on 11 November, we are deeply concerned by the regime’s decision to sentence members of ‘1988 Generation’ and other pro-democracy activists to up to 65 years in jail. Reports that many are being sent to remote prisons far from the support of family and friends increases our concern. Those detained did nothing more than call for a better future for Burma’s people. Our ambassador in Burma has made clear to the Burmese Foreign Minister that we consider the harsh sentences imposed to be completely unacceptable, and that all political prisoners must be released in line with Security Council demands. We welcome the strong statements from the EU, US and UN Secretary-General condemning the regime’s actions.

As EU Foreign Ministers underlined on 10 November, only an inclusive political process involving all Opposition and ethnic groups will begin to solve Burma’s many problems.

Burma: Politics and Government

Mr. Touhig: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent assessment he has made of the (a) leadership and (b) political objectives of the Burmese Government. [238711]

Bill Rammell: The military have held power in Burma since 1962. Under their current guise of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), power is concentrated in the hands of General Than Shwe and a handful of senior generals. In spite of recent internal challenges, such as mass protests last September, the SPDC has retained a firm grip over the country and continues to preside over gross economic mismanagement and systematic human rights abuses.

Following a flawed constitutional referendum in May, the regime appears intent on pressing ahead with elections in 2010 designed to entrench military rule in all but name. The recent sentencing of around one hundred monks and political activists to long prison terms underlines the regime's determination to snuff out dissent in advance of the poll. Unless elections are conducted in an atmosphere free from political repression, with the full participation of all Burma's political and ethnic groups, they will lack all credibility and perpetuate the country's many problems.

Chile: Overseas Students

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what financial commitment the UK will make to the UK-Chile Scholarship Agreement signed on 14th November 2008; and what estimate he has made of the number of Chilean students who will participate in the next 12 months. [237955]

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David Miliband: The Agreement, negotiated by the British Council, will be funded by the Chilean government's "Fondo Bicentenario de Capital Humano" (Bicentennial Fund for the Development of Human Capital), which was announced by the President of Chile earlier this year. It is estimated that, as a result of this Agreement, approximately 300 Chilean postgraduate students will study in the UK in the coming year.

China: Tibet

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what short-term objectives he has set for progress that can be achieved to improve the position in Tibet. [237783]

Bill Rammell: In his written ministerial statement of 29 October, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear our interest in various aspects of the Tibetan issue. These include the need for respect for Tibetan culture, language and religion. We believe that the talks on Tibet between the Chinese authorities and representatives of the Dalai Lama offer the opportunity to make progress in all of these areas, as well as on wider issues of human rights, including the right to freedom of peaceful expression. We are disappointed that to date the dialogue has failed to make progress on any of this, and urge both parties to redouble efforts and engage on the substance of the issues.


Mr. Philip Hammond: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how much (a) his Department and (b) its agencies have spent on Christmas (a) cards, (b) parties and (c) decorations in the last 12 months. [237487]

Gillian Merron: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office does not hold dedicated accounts for official expenditure of this nature. The required information could be obtained only at a disproportionate cost.

All Foreign and Commonwealth Office expenditure is incurred in accordance with the principles of Managing Public Money and the Treasury handbook on Regularity and Propriety.

Mr. Roger Williams: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what estimate he has made of the proportion of (a) lamb, (b) beef, (c) chicken, (d) pork, (e) turkey, (f) other meats, (g) vegetables and (h) fruits to be served by his Department at Christmas functions which will be sourced from British producers. [239725]

Gillian Merron: The information requested is not collected.

The Government will shortly be publishing a report on the proportion of domestically produced food used by Departments and also supplied to hospitals and prisons under contracts negotiated by NHS Supply Chain and National Offender Management Service (previously HM Prison Service) between 1 April 2007 and 31 March 2008.

This report will be available on the PSFPI web site at

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