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Tuesday 6 September 2011


Energy and Climate Change

Consultation on Electricity Transmission in Somerset

The Petition of residents of Wells and others,

Declares that the Petitioners believe National Grid’s consultation on proposals to erect 152 feet high pylons is flawed; that the proposal would blight the beautiful unspoiled Somerset countryside; and further declares that the Petitioners accept that electricity transmission is essential but the Petitioners are concerned that National Grid is offering consultees a choice between two unacceptable routes, chosen by National Grid solely on the basis of cost, to the exclusion of other viable options such as undergrounding, under the Bristol Channel or along the M5 corridor.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to take all possible steps to encourage National Grid to stop the current consultation into electricity transmission in Somerset and consider other viable options.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Tessa Munt , Official Report, 18 July 2011; Vol. 531, c. 762 .]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change:

The Government recognise the importance of effective consultation taking place with the communities affected by proposed electricity network infrastructure projects. It is also important to note that new electricity network infrastructure projects will allow new generation to connect and add to the reliability of the national energy supply.

National Grid has a statutory duty under the Electricity Act 1989 to develop and maintain an efficient, co-ordinated and economical system of electricity transmission. Under the same Act it is also required to have regard to a range of impacts any of its proposals may have, and to do what it reasonably can to mitigate them.

The Planning Act 2008 makes extensive provision about the consultation which developers must carry out with local authorities, local communities and statutory bodies before making an application for new electricity network infrastructure. I am aware that local authorities and local people have responded to National Grid’s consultation on the Hinkley Point C connection project.

Decisions will be taken with regard to the energy National Policy Statements which set out national policy and typical impacts against which proposals for major energy projects will be assessed. In respect of electricity networks, in circumstances where visual impact of overhead lines is particularly significant developers are required to give consideration to alternatives including underground or subsea cables. Decision makers are required to take alternatives and other mitigation measures into account when examining and determining applications.

Subject to the Localism Bill receiving Royal Assent the IPC will be abolished in April 2012 and I, as the relevant Government Minister, will be responsible for

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determining the proposed National Grid Hinkley to Seabank grid connection application. It would therefore not be appropriate for the Government to intervene in this matter before National Grid’s application has been made and examined.

International Development

Ethiopia (Human Rights)

The Petition of Ethiopian refugees resident in Britain,

Declares that more than one third of Ethiopia’s budget consists of foreign aid; notes that Ethiopia has made progress towards achieving some of the UN Millennium Development Goals; notes that the Petitioners believe that there is a systemic disregard for human rights by the Ethiopian Government; and notes with concern the systemic violation of civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights enshrined in the Ethiopian constitution and guaranteed in UN conventions to which Ethiopia is signatory, in particular: detention without fair trial of political opponents and critics of the Government; politically motivated extra-judicial killings; routine torture and rape of detainees; crimes against humanity committed by Ethiopian forces in the Somali region and in Gambella, Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region; discriminatory distribution of state assistance, including internationally-funded aid; forced relocation of farmers and pastoralists for the benefit of local and foreign investors; restriction on the activities of civil society, and surveillance and harassment of refugees in the diaspora.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to withdraw unconditional political and financial support to the Ethiopian Government and to exert effective diplomatic pressure on the Ethiopian Government to: release or subject to fair trial by independent judiciary all political detainees; investigate and punish those responsible for the killing, torture and rape of perceived political opponents, and repeal or amend the Charities and Societies Proclamation and take positive steps to encourage independent civil society, democratic pluralism and a culture of respect for human rights in Ethiopia.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Malcolm Bruce , Official Report, 19 July 2011; Vol. 531, c. 7P .]


Observations from the Secretary of State for International Development:

From a low base, Ethiopia’s growth and expansion of basic services in recent years have been among the most impressive in Africa. The Government of Ethiopia (GoE) is committed to growth and development, and is a proven partner in making rapid progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In the last five years, with substantial support from the UK and others, Ethiopia has: halved the incidence of malaria; deployed 32,000 more health extension workers; doubled the immunisation rate; rolled out an innovative social safety net to protect almost 8 million of the most vulnerable people; and put 4 million more children in primary school.

Over the next four years, UK aid will help 2 million children go to school, 1.4 million people gain access to water, and deliver 500,000 safe births. We will focus on the delivery of results for the poorest and most vulnerable

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people in Ethiopia, drive greater value for money for UK taxpayers and become more transparent in the way we work.

Ethiopia became a democracy in 1991, only 20 years ago. The Government of Ethiopia have made some progress towards a fully functioning democracy and increasing respect for human rights, but there is still a way to go. Improved political space in Ethiopia is vital to Ethiopia’s long-term stability and development. The UK Government believe that opening political space and ensuring vital human rights are protected can best be achieved through constructive, but honest, engagement with GoE, and not by withdrawing our support which we know is improving the lives of millions of poor and vulnerable Ethiopians.

Publically and privately, the UK has been at the forefront of advocating on a range of human rights issues in Ethiopia, including the release of opposition and civil society leaders in 2007. During visits in recent months, the Foreign Secretary, International Development Secretary and Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State from the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have raised democracy and human rights with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. During the lead-up to the 2010 elections, we supported the media to provide a more neutral coverage, we initiated and funded a code of conduct, and issued clear and critical statements following the election. We also have a long history of support to improve justice and the standards in prisons.

The Government take very seriously all allegations of politically-motivated detentions, torture and extra-judicial killings. We have previously called on the Government of Ethiopia to allow an independent investigation into allegations of serious human rights abuses in the Somali Region, and continue to raise concerns about the restrictions placed on humanitarian access to this part of Ethiopia. We have lobbied, and continue to lobby, the Government of Ethiopia to adopt the Optional Protocol on the UN Convention against Torture, as well as seeking to ensure that the Convention is implemented in practice.

We are unaware of any cases of the Ethiopian diaspora in the UK being the subject of surveillance and harassment. Were such allegations found to be true, we would take swift and firm action with the relevant individuals and authorities.

We are in regular contact with human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch, and take their concerns about aid to Ethiopia very seriously. When allegations of misuse of aid in Ethiopia were first made early last year, we took immediate action. Working with other donors, we launched a detailed study into the systems for delivering aid to some 60 million poor people in Ethiopia. That study, published a year ago, found that there were good safeguards for preventing distortion of aid, and made recommendations on how to further strengthen systems and safeguards and improve transparency and independent monitoring. We are now working with other donors and the Government of Ethiopia to put these recommendations into practice.

The UK Government currently support seven state institutions, including the Human Rights Commission and Anti-Corruption Commission, which are designed to underpin democracy, but are still relatively new and weak. At the same time, we also support independent,

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non-governmental organisations such as Justice for All-Prison Fellowship, Transparency International, and the Human Rights Institute at Addis Ababa University, which advocate on and directly support people’s political rights and access to justice. We plan to expand our support to civil society and democratisation significantly during the next few years.

DFID monitors the relocation of farmers and pastoralist communities under the Government of Ethiopia’s Commune Programme in Gambella, Somali, Benishangul-Gumuz and Afar regions. The programme is designed to increase access to services and strengthen the food security of voluntarily resettled communities. At this time, neither DFID nor the wider international community has received evidence or verified reports that resettlement has been forcibly implemented. However, we recognise the potential risks associated with the implementation of this plan and have engaged in the development of guidelines and principles for all relocations of communities. These guidelines emphasise consultation, compensation, redress and the centrality of a voluntary process in all resettlements across the country. They have been agreed with the Government of Ethiopia.

We share the concerns of many civil society organisations about the possible impact of the Charities and Societies Proclamation on the effective functioning of civil society across the country. In response, we are working with other donors to provide evidence-based advocacy to the Government of Ethiopia concerning the impact of this law, and are strengthening the capacity of the Charities and Societies Agency for constructive engagement with civil society.


Living Wage (Royal Household)

The Humble Petition of residents of London and others,

Declares that cleaners working for the Royal Households in London are paid £6.45 per hour even though the London Living Wage was set at £7.85 until April 2011; declares that cleaners in the House of Commons and House of Lords are paid at the rate of the London living wage; further declares that the Petitioners believe that as £30 million of taxpayer’s money is paid to the Royal family annually for the upkeep of the Royal Households it is clear that the London living wage of £7.85 is affordable.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to take all possible steps to encourage the Royal Households to ensure that all cleaners working within the Royal Households are paid the London living wage of £7.85 per hour, a rate that is supported by the Mayor of London.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.,—[Presented by John McDonnell , Official Report, 19 July 2011; Vol. 531, c. 908 .]


Observations from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Treasury:

The Government thank the hon. Member for Belfast South (Dr McDonnell) for his petition on the salaries of the cleaners who work for the Royal Household.

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The Government acknowledge the hon. Member’s passion for ensuring that people working in London and elsewhere should be paid a living wage. Indeed he raised the issue for consideration as part of the Committee stage of the Sovereign Grant Bill, which was debated in the House of Commons in July of this year.

The Royal Household employs a contractor to supply cleaning services to the estates in London.

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The Government fully support public sector contractors paying their staff fair and decent wages, subject to the constraints of efficiency and value for money for the taxpayer.

The Government take these issues seriously. However, it would be inappropriate for the Government to impose such constraints on specific contractors.