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Sheikh al-Jamri

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): We have been asked by Sheikh al-Jamri's family to request a prison visit. As he is not a British national, there is no legal basis to request access. My honourable friend the Minister of State raised Sheikh al-Jamri's case during a recent meeting with the Foreign Minister of Bahrain.

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Guatemala: Murder of Bishop Conedera

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have offered condolences to Guatemala following the murder of Bishop J. Gerardi Conedera; and what is being done internationally to assist the implementation of the 1996 peace agreement and the resettlement of 1 million refugees and 200,000 orphans.[HL1784]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The UK presidency issued a declaration on behalf of the European Union on 30 April. This expressed condolences, urged the Guatemalan Government to make every effort to bring those responsible to justice and encouraged all Guatemalans not to let the murder distract them from full implementation of the peace accords. The international donor community committed US $1.9 billion to the peace programme in 1997, including 200mecu from the EC. The donor community will review progress on the programme at the next consultative group meeting in Brussels on 23-24 June.

The Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Tony Lloyd, has also sent a message to the Foreign Minister of Guatemala about the murder and our support for the peace programme.

Chittagong Hill Tracts

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking, together with other donors in the Bangladesh aid consortium, to monitor developments in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) following the recent agreement between the Bangladesh Government and representatives of the indigenous people of the CHT; and whether, as holders of the presidency of the European Union, they will request the Bangladesh Government to open up the CHT to aid agencies, human rights observers and journalists.[HL1844]

Lord Whitty: We continue to monitor the situation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Our Deputy High Commissioner visited recently and made a detailed report and briefed EU colleagues. We are also active in the sub-set of donors who have formed a working group with the Government of Bangladesh to identify the needs, priorities and mechanisms for providing development assistance in the area to underpin the peace process. A needs assessment team, sent by the working group, submitted its report on 14 May which is now being considered by government and working group members. The team, which included foreign expertise, was given unlimited access in the region.

Bangladeshi nationals, including aid agencies, human rights observers and journalists, already have full access to the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The major national non-governmental organisations (NGOs), such as BRAC and Proshika, are preparing new programmes in the area; small local NGOs have worked there for many years.

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The current "restricted area" status applies only to foreign nationals. However the Government of Bangladesh do grant permission to visit the area. Foreign staff working on the long-established projects of UNICEF and the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society visit the region on a regular basis. EU representatives in the working group have pressed the Government of Bangladesh for a speedy end to the application process to facilitate normal access and working in the area.

Sudan: Humanitarian Crisis

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their strategic policy towards the humanitarian crisis in Sudan covering bilateral and multilateral governmental programmes and co-operation with non-governmental organisations.[HL1864]

Lord Whitty: We provide support for bilateral and multilateral agencies, including NGOs, who can access those in need and who are experienced at working in complex political emergencies without favouring any of the factions involved in the civil war. Since February, we have committed more than £5 million to support the work of such agencies. Last week a further £5 million was made available.

Land Use Database

Lord Stallard asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress they have made in obtaining an assessment of the amount of previously developed land available for housing, announced in the policy document, Planning for the Communities of the Future, on 23 February.[HL1986]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) has worked with the Local Government Management Board, English Partnerships, Ordnance Survey and local authorities to establish a method of providing a consistent assessment of previously developed land which may be available for housing or other development as the first step towards a complete land use database for England.

Key features of the approach are to meet the needs of a number of organisations form a single data collection exercise, and to use information already held by the local authorities wherever possible, to avoid duplication of effort. Local authorities will be asked to draw up a list of previously developed sites along with information about the location, area, planning status and other relevant characteristics of each site. This will be done to a common format and using standard definitions that will be set out in guidance being developed jointly by DETR, Local Government Management Board, English Partnerships and Ordnance Survey following consultation with a number of local authorities. English

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Partnerships will contract teams of surveyors which will visit each local authority to complete the data collection and to collect additional information about certain sites on the potential for redevelopment. Ordnance Survey will provide quality assurance on the geographical attributes of the data, and develop the list of sites into a map database showing the site boundaries. Ordnance Survey will also develop a plan for extending the coverage of the database to other land uses, and for keeping the resulting National Land Use Database up to date.

Data collection will start in the summer. English Partnerships intends to publish information on an initial set of sites suitable for redevelopment by the end of the year; summary results for all sites should be available by March 1999. Meanwhile, local authorities will have consistent information on the amounts of previously developed land which may be available for housing to assist in the drawing up of national and regional targets for the reuse of land.

The database will also have value for other organisations. For example, officials are discussing with Urban Mines, an environmental NGO, which launches its own brownfield sites project today, to ensure the two projects are complementary. The intention is to secure agreements to make the information more widely available, including appropriate charging for commercial use.

We shall be discussing this work as it progresses with the Urban Task Force.

Welfare-to-Work Programme:Remploy and the DSS

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What recent contact Remploy has had with the Department of Social Security in relation to the welfare-to-work programme; and whether any meeting with Remploy is being considered by DSS Ministers.[HL1830]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): In developing the New Deal for Disabled People we are consulting widely with disabled people and the organisations that represent them, and with other interested parties. On 12 May I took part, with other Government Ministers, in a seminar where disabled people and others with an interest, including Remploy, were invited to express their views on the shape and scope of the personal adviser service for disabled people which we will begin piloting later this year. Following recent correspondence I have had with Remploy, officials from the department will be visiting one of its factories next month to learn more about its work and to inform further development of the New Deal.

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Christmas Bonus for Pensioners

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In what year the £10 Christmas bonus for pensioners was instituted; and what would be its value now if it had been index-linked.[HL 1898]

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The Christmas bonus was first paid in December 1972 at the rate of £10. If it had been increased in line with prices, it would be £70.80 at Christmas 1998.

Asylum Seekers: Social Security Benefits

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect to reach a decision concerning the restoration of benefits to asylum seekers whose cases have not been decided.[HL1785]

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: An inter-departmental study led by the Home Office has considered all aspects of arrangements for asylum seekers, including the provision of accommodation and support. The Government are currently considering the way forward. In the meantime the current mix of social security benefits and social services support means that no asylum seeker need be left destitute.

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