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Government Departments: Telephone Services

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Bach): All callers to the Defra helpline (0845 933 5577) are required to listen to a recorded message before they can speak to a member of staff. This message will last at least 30 seconds but possibly longer, depending on the nature of recent Defra business. For example, additional information about avian influenza currently forms part of an extended message that lasts 56 seconds.

Before speaking to a member of staff, callers to the Agricultural Wages Board Helpline (0845 000 0134)
 
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must listen to a recorded message that lasts 92 seconds; callers to the Countryside Agency's Open Access Contact Centre (0845 100 3298) must listen to a message that lasts 32 seconds; and callers to the National Fallen Stock Scheme Helpline (0845 054 8888) must listen to a message that lasts 12 seconds.

Callers to the Wildlife Administration Unit (0845 601 4523), the Moorland Line Representations Helpline (0845 605 6516), the British Cattle Movement Service (0845 050 1234) and the Pets Travel Scheme Helpline (0870 241 1710) will be able to speak directly to a member of staff.

There are no 0845 or 0870 numbers directly related to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

Honours

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): This is a matter for the prosecuting authorities.

House of Lords: Writing Room

Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked the Chairman of Committees:

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): In a Written Statement I have released today, I have informed the House about the decisions of the Administration and Works Committee with regard to the future use of the Lord Chancellor's accommodation. This includes information about the new Writing Room. I refer the noble Lord to that Statement.

The decision of the Administration and Works Committee is not open to review and there are no plans for special arrangements to allow Members to inspect and comment on the proposed new accommodation.

Immigration: Independent Monitor for Entry Clearance

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): Further to my Written Answer of 13 March (WA 118), the departures from the assessment of reasonable time experienced since April 2005 are as follows.

Between April 2005 and October 2005, an administrative backlog of entry clearance and family-visitor appeals built up with the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal (AIT), totalling approximately 39,000 cases. Those cases experienced a delay in initial processing (acknowledgement and issue of papers to
 
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the respondent requesting the appeal bundle) of up to 16 weeks. The administrative backlog was cleared by the end of December 2005.

Since October 2005, the initial administrative action on all entry clearance and family visit appeals received by the AIT has been timely. As bundles are received by the AIT from entry clearance and visa officers abroad, appeals are listed for hearing. There are departures from the reasonable timescales for the respondent to provide the AIT with an appeal bundle, but they are not consistent and could not be assessed without incurring disproportionate cost.

As a result of workload volumes, and the clearance of backlogged cases, the AIT is currently listing entry clearance and family visit appeals at 16 weeks from receipt of the appeal bundle. This represents a departure of between eight and 12 weeks from anticipated reasonable timescales.

For years prior to April 2005 and the implementation of the AIT, appeals were subject to different lodging and handling arrangements. Appeals were all lodged at first instance with the respondent. Timescales comparable to those quoted from April 2005 are not available, but for the period April 2004 to March 2005 an immigration-related appeal (including both in-country and entry clearance cases) took on average 54 weeks from lodging, with the respondent, to decision by an immigration adjudicator.

Israel and Palestine: Divided Families

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): The UN, as part of the Quartet, regularly produces reports on the humanitarian situation in the occupied territories through the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs. In its report in January 2006, it noted that,

They have estimated that as a consequence of these actions 50,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem will find themselves on the West Bank side of the barrier. This will seriously limit their access to education, employment and healthcare services in the city. Magnetic cards have now also been issued to those living in the area between the barrier and the Green Line limiting their movement.
 
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Israel and Palestine: Road Map

Lord Dykes asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): We, along with our EU partners, will continue to call on the Palestinians and the Israelis to make progress against the road map to which both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Israeli Government have committed themselves.

We will continue to work with our EU partners to develop ideas on how to push the peace process forward.

Maldives: Human Rights

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): We are concerned about human rights in the Maldives, including freedom of expression. We share the view that some recent trials of political activists appear to have political motivations. Such cases are also potential impediments to progress on political dialogue and democratic reform in the Maldives. We regularly raise the cases of Mohamed Nasheed and Jennifer Latheef with the Government of the Maldives. We did so most recently on 21 March, when Foreign Minister Dr Shaheed called on Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials.

We commend and fully support the work of the Commonwealth Secretary-General's Special Envoy and the Commonwealth Secretariat to facilitate dialogue between the government and political parties on constitutional reform in the Maldives.


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