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Further to the answer by Baroness Ashton of Upholland on 10 June (Official Report, House of Lords, col. 480), whether the Cabinet Office's attention has been drawn to Mr Liam Byrne not replying to a letter of 26 July 2007 from Lord Grenfell as chairman of the European Union Committee on an amendment to the long-term residents directive until 7 July 2008, despite reminders, as well as delays in answering Written Questions. [HL5585]
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): The consulate-general in Hong Kong raised this case of a UK citizen, who was denied entry to Hong Kong on 24 August, with the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government's Security Bureau, which is responsible for immigration policy. The consulate-general expressed concern that such exclusions risked giving the impression that freedom of expression in Hong Kong was being compromised.
A security bureau official said that Hong Kong immigration officers had not been satisfied that on their arrival in Hong Kong on 24 August, they could adequately substantiate the purpose of the visit. They were also concerned that they might engage in other activities not conducive to public good while in Hong Kong, and they were denied entry. The security bureau also told the consulate-general that Hong Kong immigration does not maintain a blacklist of individuals to deny entry to; and that had the immigration officers concerned been satisfied with their answers to the questions on arrival in Hong Kong, they would have allowed the UK citizen entry.
How many British citizens have been denied entry into the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region since 1 January 2007; and what reasons have been given to the British consulate-general for their exclusion in each case. [HL5362]
Lord Malloch-Brown: Figures provided by the Hong Kong immigration department show that in 2007, four UK visitors were refused entry. The reason given for the refusal was that they were improperly documented.
Between January and August 2008, eight UK visitors were refused entry. The reason given for two of the visitors was that they were improperly documented. The remaining six visitors were refused entry on the grounds of doubtful intention.
What assessment they have made of the practicality of all government dwellings with fewer than four bedrooms due to be put on the market being offered for sale as part-owned and part-rented affordable housing; and whether they will make the necessary arrangements to do so. [HL5462]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): The Government have encouraged departments to look creatively and flexibly at the options for making best use of their land and property assets. However, the framework for government departments selling their assets is set out in HM Treasury's Managing Public Money. Once land and property have been identified as surplus, irrespective of the size of the site or the number of bedrooms in existing dwellings, these must be recorded on the Register of Surplus Public Sector land. This is maintained by English Partnerships, the national regeneration agency, and disposals must be at market price. It is the responsibility of each department to ensure that it observes Treasury's guidelines on asset disposals.
We recognise the difficulties facing many families with regard to the current housing market and that is why my right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced on 2 September 2008 a number of measures the Government are taking forward to help alleviate the continuing challenges of the housing market. These measures are specifically aimed at assisting first time buyers, supporting vulnerable households facing repossessions and maintaining housing delivery especially through the affordable housing programme. This includes a new £300 million shared equity scheme through HomeBuy Direct which will enable many first time buyers currently frozen out of the mortgage market to get on the property ladder. The new Homes and Community Agency which will come into existence in December 2008 brings together the functions and activities of English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation. The new agency will keep under review what further opportunities can be explored in the provision of housing accommodation.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): The Housing Corporation is not seeking to merge all BME-led housing associations. All decisions concerning the merger of housing associationsBME or otherwiseare taken by the governing bodies of those associations. Where a new group structure is created or an existing one amended, the corporation will need to approve the registration of any new body or the constitutional changes required to effect the new structure. When considering proposals for new group structures and mergers, the corporation's registration committee takes into account a number of factors including how simple, clear and straightforward the governance structures are.
There were 56 BME associations in 1998 and 65 in 2008. These figures are derived from Housing Corporation regulatory and statistical return (RSR) data. BME associations are defined by having either 80 per cent BME members on their board or self-declared BME association. Figures for 1997 are not available.
The Government recognise the contribution that all housing associations, including BME-led housing associations, make through housing and neighbourhood and community-focused services; and the need to ensure that they have the capacity to effectively respond to the needs of the diverse communities they serve. This will remain an important focus for the new Homes and Communities Agency and the Tenants Services Authority. Both agencies are committed to responding to the needs and circumstances of BME communities.
Unaccompanied children are detained only in exceptional circumstances for short periods while alternative arrangements are made for their care and safety. This would normally be no more than overnight.
What action they will take following recent air attacks by Turkey in northern Iraq; whether they have discussed those attacks in NATO; and what assessment they have made of their effect on the reputation of NATO. [HL5559]
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): We are carefully monitoring developments following the recent air strikes by Turkey in northern Iraq, which followed the deadly Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) attacks. The UK utterly condemns PKK terrorist attacks in Turkey. We strongly support efforts to resolve the situation peacefully, and continue to encourage Turkey to work with the Iraqi authorities to prevent northern Iraq being used as a base for terrorist activities.
The Turkish delegation to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) briefed the alliance's North Atlantic Council about the airstrikes on 8 October. However, these airstrikes were carried out by the Turkish military and not in a NATO context.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): Our officials at the consulate-general in Jerusalem visit Gaza regularly and have been there a number of times this year, most recently during the week beginning 10 August.
What steps they, the quartet and the quartet representative are taking to ensure that Gaza receives parts and equipment needed to maintain and repair water and sewerage services; and what further steps they will take to secure sufficient fuel to allow the Gaza electricity generating plant to operate at full capacity. [HL5514]
Lord Malloch-Brown: The quartet representative is developing a system whereby the relevant Israeli and Palestinian authorities agree a common list of the goods and materials essential to the maintenance of water and waste water facilities, and the import of these into Gaza is rapidly facilitated. The quartet representative continues also to facilitate the completion of the North Gaza emergency sewage treatment project, phase I of which will be complete on 4 November.
The European Commission (EC) is committed to continue to pay for delivery of 2.5 million litres of fuel to the Gaza power plant per week. The UK has contributed to this by providing £30.45 million to the EC temporary international aid mechanism and to its successor PEGASE in 2008. In addition, the UK accounts for 15.6 per cent of the EC's overall 2008
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What progress has been made in reducing the numbers of unauthorised settlement outposts and security checkpoints on roads in the West Bank, thus implementing previous international agreements; who is directly responsible for achieving implementation; and to whom they are accountable. [HL5515]
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): The UK considers that Israeli settlement building anywhere in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is illegal under international law. The road map was clear that Israel should freeze all settlement activity, including the so-called natural growth of existing settlements and all outposts erected since March 2001.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Due to the processes involved in making payments for expenses to officials, it would be possible to provide details of the reimbursement of taxi fares for each rank only at disproportionate cost.
The Northern Ireland Office keeps the cost of travel on official business under regular review. Departmental guidance requires all staff to use the most efficient means of transport taking account of travel costs, time and incidental expenses, for example, the cost of car parking. The use of taxis, when compared to all the alternatives including public transport, is at times the most cost effective means of travel for the purposes of official business. The policy applies to all grades of staff.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: This is an operational matter for the parades commission. I have asked the parades commission secretary to reply to the noble Lord directly, and will arrange for a copy of the letter to be placed in the Library in the House and the Official Report.
Whether they intend, within the Committee of Ministers, to support the recommendation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 3 October that the draft convention on access to official documents should be sent back to the Steering Committee on Human Rights for further consideration, in particular to consider (a) broadening the definition of public authorities to include a wider range of activities of public authorities so as to widen the scope of information made available; (b) including a time limit on the handling of requests; and (c) adding a paragraph to prevent the making of reservations to the convention by member states when signing it. [HL5453]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): The Government are content for the draft to be remitted back to the drafting experts (Steering Committee on Human Rights) for further consideration, including the three issues the noble Lord has identified.
The Government are content with the definition of public authorities set out in the current draft convention. Because of the constitutional position of the judiciary in the United Kingdom, courts and tribunals are not within scope of our domestic freedom of information legislation. We do not believe it would be appropriate to extend the definition in the draft convention in a way that undermined this position.
The Government would be content for appropriate upper time limits on the handling of requests to be included in the draft convention. However, the convention would need to recogniseas domestic legislation doesthat cases requiring consideration of complex issues such as the public interest in disclosure of information may require additional time.
Whether they will discuss with the Government of Pakistan the 1,321 cases of violence against women reported for the first three months of 2008, in particular the alleged burying alive of five women. [HL5421]
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): The UK, together with our EU partners, condemned the recent murder of five women in Baluchistan and called on the Government of Pakistan to bring those responsible to justice. We welcome the resolution adopted by Pakistan's senate for strong action to be taken against the perpetrators.
Through both multilateral and bilateral representation, we continue to encourage the Government of Pakistan to promote and protect women's rights in accordance with international standards such as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women which Pakistan has signed. The UK delegation to the UN Human Rights Council also raised this during the universal periodic review of Pakistan's human rights record in May.
Our high commission in Islamabad supports projects which promote women's rights and help obtain better access to justice, for example: by supporting community-based lawyer-activists who represent women in cases of forced marriage, domestic violence and other crimes; encouraging the creation of a lawyers' network of human rights advocates with prominent women advocates; improving investigative journalism in Pakistan to encourage impartial reporting on political, electoral and human rights issues; and raising awareness and teaching of human rights, including women's rights, in schools.
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