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Whether the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has any arrangements to enable staff of that department to raise, in confidence, concerns about matters of financial reporting, disclosure of other information or value for money; and, if so, whether they will give details of the arrangements.[HL7651]
The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): The department has in place whistleblowing arrangements for staff to report their suspicions of fraud and other suspected anomalies.
These have been drawn up in accordance with the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. They aim to encourage staff to submit concerns in good faith in the knowledge that they will be protected from victimisation or harassment which may come about as a result of their disclosure. They comprise clear guidance available to all staff through the intranet; an e-mail hotline to a nominated director; and ultimate right of referral to the Permanent Secretary.
The department also has arrangements for raising concerns under the Civil Service Code where staff are encouraged to raise issues where they believe they are being asked to act contrary to the code. Under these arrangements staff are asked to talk to their line manager or to the department's nominated officers.
Whether, since its formation, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has had an underspend; if so, how much was underspent; and within which financial year the underspend occurred.[HL7968]
The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): Defra has underspent against its final departmental expenditure limit (DEL) each year since its formation, as follows:
Whether any local authorities have made gating orders since the Highways Act 1980 (Gating Orders) (England) Regulations 2006 came into force; and, if so, for which highways they have made the orders.[HL7858]
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): It is not possible to provide details of the number of gating orders made since the Highways Act 1980 (Gating Orders) (England) Regulations 2006 came into force because the data are not collected centrally.
The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): Filter maintenance is managed by the Parliamentary Works Services Directorate using the House's computerised facility management system. The frequency of filter inspections and replacements is specified in the operation and maintenance manuals provided after the commissioning of new filter installations. The frequency of inspections is reviewed periodically based on reports about the condition of filters.
What is the average length of detention of asylum seekers subject to the fast track process at immigration removal centres; and how this compares with the figures before the process was introduced.[HL7804]
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): At Oakington the average time to initial decision from date of application for the first two quarters of this year was 12 days. Following completion of the Oakington process at this stage claimants may be further detained after they have been served with a decision in accordance with general detention criteria or released on temporary admission.
The average length in detention in 2005-06that is, from 1 April 2005 to 31 March 2006for asylum seekers subject to the fast-track process at Harmondsworth who were removed from the UK in that period was 65 days. The equivalent figure for Yarl's Wood was 57.5 days.
Since the Oakington, Harmondsworth and Yarl's Wood fast-track processes are end-to-end processes from the initial asylum interview through to removal, meaningful comparisons with the figures before the process was introduced cannot be made.
How long victims of torture, rape and sexual violence have under the fast track process at immigration removal centres to obtain independent legal and professional advice in time for both their initial claims and their appeals; and what priority their cases receive.[HL7805]
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Onsite legal services are available to all claimants detained at Oakington for their application to be considered under the fast-track process irrespective of the basis of their claim for asylum. All claimants who enter the detained fast-track (DFT) process at Harmondsworth or Yarl's Wood are offered the services of a duty representative but they can instruct their own private firm instead if they wish.
Claimants detained at Oakington can be referred to the Medical Foundation by representatives in the same way as other claimants who are not detained. If the Medical Foundation agrees to accept a claimant for pre-assessment the claimant is taken out of the Oakington process. The referral is usually accepted within 24 hours. Similarly at Harmondsworth and Yarl's Wood, if a written confirmation of a Medical Foundation is produced before the initial decision is made, claimants are released from detention and the DFT process.
What guidelines they give to Department for International Development staff and human resources managers in India on caste-based discrimination; and how they ensure that there is no discrimination against Dalits in their employment policy.[HL7753]
The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): DfID India is committed to supporting the Government of India in their efforts to combat caste discrimination and social exclusion in all its forms through our development support. DfID India's employment policies seek actively to encourage applications from a wide range of applicants, and DfID India promotes diversity and social inclusion in all of its employment practices in line with DfID's people strategy.
Job advertisements for opportunities in DfID India, and selection processes, include clear diversity messages to promote DfID India's interest in reaching out to marginalised groups including Dalits. With the objective of attracting applicants from a diverse range of backgrounds, job vacancies are now widely publicised through national daily newspapers, Indian employment agencies, organisations and advocacy groups working to address discrimination. As part of this process, specific instructions are given to recruitment agencies working with DfID India in relation to marginalised groups including Dalits.
Further to the answers by the Baroness Scotland of Asthal on 7 January 2004 (Official Report, cols. 169-72), whether they are now in a position to seek the closure of websites which provide personal details of active opponents of fascist and racist parties. [HL7429]
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): The Home Office is currently working with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Crown Prosecution Service to review criminal activity relating to the websites of various extremist groups and consider what further opportunities may exist to take action against both websites and those responsible for them.
Many extremist groups take care to ensure that their websites remain inside the boundaries of the law and, although offensive to many, the material published may therefore not actually be illegal. However, effective voluntary arrangements exist with internet service providers in this country, who may be willing to remove material from their servers which is not illegal but is offensive if it breaches the terms and conditions of their service.
If a website that is hosted by a UK internet service provider publishes illegal material, we would expect it to stop hosting the site on request. There are challenges arising from the fact that these websites are often hosted abroad, and the ISP operates under different legislation to ours.
However, where material that incites criminal offences in the UK has been published or if illegal material was uploaded from the UK, those responsible may be prosecuted in this country, regardless of where the website is hosted.
Lord Rooker: The inquiry into the equality of opportunity aspects of the anonymous allegations made against InterTradeIreland has been completed and a draft report is being considered by the two sponsor departments and the InterTradeIreland board. No decision has yet been taken on the question of publication of the report.
The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): According to reports by the World Health Organisation (WHO) the percentage of underweight children in Gaza aged between nine and 12 months rose from 4.5 per cent in June to 5.6 per cent in August. Over the same period in Gaza, anaemia in children rose from 52 per cent to 70.5 per cent. In the West Bank, although August figures are not available, the percentage of underweight children aged between nought and 24 months rose from 3.4 per cent in January to 4.2 per cent in June. Anaemia in children rose from 43.9 per cent to 49.4 per cent over the same period.
The European Union-led temporary international mechanism (TIM) is helping to alleviate the difficulties faced by many Palestinian families in Gaza and the West Bank. So far, around 40,000 vulnerable Palestinians identified as needing social hardship support have benefited from cash payments. The TIM is being expanded to provide cash payments to an additional 50,000 Palestinians, identified by the World Food Programme as in need of food aid. In addition, the lowest paid public sector workers have also received payments through the TIM, including 11,900 health workers.
DfID is providing up to £12 million to the TIM, of which £9 million has been committed to specific programmes, including cash payments for poor Palestinians. DfID also made a contribution of £15 million to the United Nations Relief and Works
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However, aid alone cannot eliminate the suffering in the occupied Palestinian territory. The only way that life for the majority of Palestinians will improve is through progress towards peace with Israel. We hope that Hamas will commit to the quartet principles in order for the peace process to resume.
Lord Rooker: The Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) has reported a reduction in sickness absence rates from 7.25 per cent in June 2006 to 4.24 per cent in September 2006. Reduction in sick absence rates occurred within both the long-term and short-term sick absence monitoring categories as detailed in the following table.
|Month||Days lost||Per cent staff no. absence||Absence (per cent)||Short-term absence||Long-term absence|
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