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Cars (Prices)

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what action he is taking to reduce further the price of cars. [153627]

Mr. Byers: Due to action taken by the Government following the Competition Commission report prices have fallen by around 10 per cent. in the past year.

We shall continue to take steps to ensure the public get value for money.

HOUSE OF COMMONS

Members' Office Costs Allowances

Mr. Sheerman: To ask the President of the Council what has been the percentage increase in hon. Members' Office Cost Allowance since 1997. [154426]

Mrs. Beckett: The OCA increases annually by the RPI percentage rate as at 31 March. Percentage increases in Office Costs Allowance (OCA) since 1997 are:

Percentage increaseAllowance (£)
April 19972.647,568
April 19983.549,232
April 19992.150.264
April 20002.651,572

Leader of the Opposition's Office

Mr. Sheerman: To ask the President of the Council what the percentage change has been in the money supplied to the Leader of the Opposition's office in each year since 1997. [154400]

Mrs. Beckett: The Leader of the Opposition's Office allowance started only in 1999, initially at a level of £500,000 per annum; this increases annually by the RPI percentage rate as at 31 March.

The April 2000 increase was 2.6 per cent., which increased the payment to £513,000.

Government Bills

Mr. Stunell: To ask the President of the Council how many (a) clauses there were in Government Bills as introduced and (b) Government amendments were tabled, in Sessions (i) 1996-97 and (ii) 1999-2000; and if she will give a ratio between both figures for both sessions. [154286]

22 Mar 2001 : Column: 315W

Mrs. Beckett: (a) Information 1 on the number of clauses and schedules is as follows:

YearClauses and Schedules on IntroductionPages on IntroductionPages on Royal Assent
1996-97(10)8961,0441,143
1999-2000(11)2,6372,7963,600

(9) The figures exclude Scottish, Consolidated Fund and Appropriation Bills.

(10) House of Commons sat for 86 days and the House of Lords for 79 days.

(11) House of Commons sat for 170 days and the House of Lords for 177 days.


(b) Information on Government amendments could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL

Appointments Commission

Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the President of the Council when the Appointments Commission will publish the employment status and occupation of applicants for a people's peerage. [154202]

Mrs. Beckett: I understand that the Appointments Commission has not asked applicants for non-political peerages for information about their occupation or employment status as it did not wish to discourage people with outstanding achievements in areas unconnected with how they might earn their living. However, the Commission wishes to encourage nominations from people in all walks of life and from all parts of the country and will look at the information it has received in this light. I understand that any information that the Commission decides to publish will be in its annual report and on its website.

Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the President of the Council when the Appointments Commission will publish its annual report. [154203]

Mrs. Beckett: I understand that the Appointments Commission plans to publish its annual report in the summer.

FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH AFFAIRS

Turkey

Mr. Ben Chapman: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on prospects for the Turkish economy. [154451]

Mr. Vaz: The new economic reform programme agreed with the IMF, which is based on fighting inflation, achieving sustainable public finances and enhancing structural reform, will, if vigorously implemented, put Turkey firmly back on the road to realising its full economic potential.

22 Mar 2001 : Column: 316W

Entry Clearance

Mr. Rooney: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when the explanatory statements relating to (a) Islamabad reference C4694 and (b) Dhaka reference 64550 will be dispatched. [154491]

Mr. Vaz [holding answer 19 March 2001]: In respect of Islamabad reference C4694, the entry clearance officer wrote to the sponsor's solicitor on 5 March 2001 deferring the application for three months to allow the sponsor to commence UK divorce proceedings to dissolve his first marriage. If evidence of the commencement of such proceedings is provided, the entry clearance officer will review the refusal, with a view to the possible authorisation of a fiancee entry clearance. If such evidence is not received, the entry clearance officer will draft the explanatory statement and the case will proceed to appeal.

In respect of Dhaka reference 64550, the entry clearance officer received the notice of appeal on 12 February 2001 and will despatch the explanatory statement within three months of that date.

Ms Blears: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress has been made in maintaining the achievement of clearing the backlog of outstanding correspondence on visa matters. [155445]

Mr. Vaz: As Minister responsible for entry clearance matters, I have been asked to reply on my right hon. Friend's behalf. I am very pleased to be able to inform the House that since my reply to my hon. Friend, the Member for Warrington, South (Ms Southworth) on 9 January 2001, Official Report, column 508W, the level of outstanding correspondence on visa matters remains at zero.

Visas

Mr. Ruffley: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1) how many contacts the Minister for Europe and his office have had with the entry clearance unit regarding objections to refusals of visa applications in (a) New Delhi, (b) Calcutta, (c) Bombay, (d) Nairobi, (e) Auckland and (f) Sydney in the last 18 months; [154918]

Mr. Vaz: Figures on ministerial overturns on visa cases were not kept centrally until I became Minister responsible for entry clearance in October 1999. Statistics were then kept at my request. I have overturned 49 decisions to date. In this period there have been over 2 million visa applications of which approximately 140,000 have been refused. I have therefore overturned decisions in 0.0025 per cent. of cases. I have done so on the basis that I am satisfied that the applicants qualified for entry clearance under the immigration rules. It would be inappropriate for me to divulge the names of applicants or details on individual cases on confidentiality grounds.

22 Mar 2001 : Column: 317W

This is in accordance with the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information. I can say however that the cases in which I intervened covered a wide range of nationalities. As well as cases from the sub-continent, I have overturned decisions made in a range of countries, from south America, to south-east Asia to north Africa.

Diplomatic Posts

Ms Blears: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will list those diplomatic posts that have been opened over the last four years; and what plans he has to open new diplomatic posts overseas. [155446]

Mr. Robin Cook: Since 1997, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has opened the following posts to support the delivery of the foreign policy objectives I set out on coming to office.








In addition, the British trade office in Hong Kong became a Consulate-General in 1997.













In addition, the following posts have been upgraded from ones with only locally engaged staff to ones with resident UK-based staff:


As a direct result of the additional resources secured in the spending review last year, I am able to announce that we shall open three new embassies with resident UK-based staff in capital cities in the near future:


In addition, we shall upgrade the posts in Bamako (Mali) and Asmara (Eritrea) to UK-staffed posts from the LE posts currently open; and upgrade the post in Lahore (Pakistan) to an entry clearance operation, from a British trade office. Pakistan is a country where we are already well represented, but Lahore is a city where we now need a stronger presence.

22 Mar 2001 : Column: 318W

Upgrading the post in Bamako will allow HMG to engage further with the Malian Government and to continue with our efforts to secure peace and stability within west Africa.

Upgrading the post in Asmara will be a cost-effective means of engaging more effectively with the Eritrean Government, promoting growing trade opportunities for British business and providing consular and visa services.

Opening in Bishkek will allow HMG to build up a strong bilateral relationship with the Kyrgyz Government and better to promote stability in the strategically important region.

In Chisinau, an Embassy will allow HMG to work with the Moldovan Government, and keep a close watch on the Transdniestria conflict.

In December I announced the establishment of diplomatic relations with the DPRK. Opening an embassy in Pyongyang will allow HMG to engage fully with the DPRK, improving our capacity to analyse political, economic and social developments and to help support recent positive developments in inter-Korean relations.

These new post openings mean that, net of closures, we shall since 1997 have expanded our diplomatic network of posts with resident UK-based staff by 12, in addition to having new locally staffed offices in a further 10 cities (net of closures seven). This strengthening of our global network will enable us better to promote UK interests and a strong world community.


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