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Local Authority Election Voting

Lord Harrison asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Rooker: Parliament has determined that a citizen may vote in a by-election held to fill a casual vacancy and in an ordinary election held on the same day in separate local authorities, if they are registered to vote in both areas concerned. The Government generally believe, on grounds of equity, that it would be wrong, if some electors were able to vote twice on the same day at elections held in separate local authorities, but believe it is pragmatic to allow citizens to vote if one or both are by-elections.

Lord Harrison asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Rooker: The Government generally believes it would be wrong if some electors were able to vote twice on the same day at the same election. This would not be equitable since it would allow electors able to register in more than one location to have more voting rights than those who do not.

Software: Government Procurement

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The Government are intent on securing the best value for money in their IT procurements by encouraging the development of a flourishing IT industry which supplies both proprietary and open-source software solutions to the public sector. Government procurement decisions will be made on a value for money basis, based on the ability of the solutions to deliver effective and economic systems and services and seeking to avoid lock-in to proprietary IT products and services.

No information is held centrally concerning the proportion of open-source software procured for use by central and local government and the public sector. Such information could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

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EU: Turkish Accession

Lord Moynihan asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to take any action in response to the reported statement by the Chairman of the Convention on the Future of Europe that the admission of Turkey to the European Union would mark the end of the European Union.[HL57]

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): M Giscard d'Estaing is entitled to express his personal thoughts on the admission of Turkey to the European Union. This does not, however, reflect the views of this Government. We believe Turkey's accession to the EU would be in the best interests of Britain and indeed Europe as a whole. We have repeatedly made clear that we want to see Turkey in the EU in accordance with the conditions that all candidates have to meet.

Cyprus

Lord Moynihan asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What practical support they will be offering to gain backing for the United Nations Secretary-General's proposals for a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem.[HL58]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: On 11 November my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary issued a statement warmly welcoming the UN Secretary-General's decision to table his proposals for bridging the remaining gaps after the months of negotiations between the two sides. He said that the British Government believe that there is now the best chance to solve the Cyprus problem in decades, and that this opportunity is not likely to recur in the foreseeable future. We will be working with all those concerned for a positive outcome.

We have been making this case at all levels. The UK will maintain close contact with all the main parties, both at ministerial level, through diplomatic channels and through the work of our High Commission in Nicosia, to support the efforts of the UN. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary met George Papandreou on 8 November and both my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary met Greek and Turkish leaders last week. My honourable friend the Minister of State for Europe met Ioannis Kasoulides, the Cyprus Foreign Minister, on 26 November. Negotiations for a settlement of the Cyprus problem were discussed at all of these meetings.

Lord Hannay, the UK Special Representative for Cyprus, also travelled to Athens, Nicosia and Ankara last week to meet key players in the negotiations for a settlement.

Lord Kilclooney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the estimated population of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus; and how many of this population will have to be re-settled on the basis of

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    each of the two maps in the present United Nations proposals for the future constitution for Cyprus.[HL118]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The British Government welcome the UN Secretary-General's decision to table proposals to bridge the gaps between the two sides in Cyprus. The UN Secretary-General has asked that the specifics of the negotiations between the two sides are not openly discussed.

We estimate the total population living in the north of Cyprus is approximately 200,000.

"Prestige" Tanker

Lord Kilclooney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the "Prestige" oil tanker, in distress off the Galicia coast of Spain, was sailing to Gibraltar; and what advice has been given to the Government of Spain;[HL120]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The company that chartered "Prestige" has stated categorically that the vessel was not going to call in at Gibraltar but was going to Singapore via the Straits of Gibraltar. The records of the Gibraltar Port Authority also indicate that no notification of an intention to call had been made to the "Prestige".

We have made this clear to both the Spanish Government and the European Commission.

Guantanamo Bay Detainees

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the visits made in January, February and May by officials of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and security services to the seven or more British citizens detained without trial by the United States at Camp X-ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; whether these men were in good mental and physical health; when they are expected to be released, or whether they are suspected of war crimes or other offences; if so, when they will be charged; and by whom.[HL125]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: I refer the noble Lord to the statement made by my honourable friend the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office (Mr Ben Bradshaw) in another place on 21 January (Official Report, col. 623) and his reply to my honourable friend Mr John Robertson in another place on 4 March (col. 69W) and to the answer given by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office (Mr Mike O'Brien) to my honourable friend Christine Russell in another place on 13 June (col. 69W). The purpose of the visits was to ask questions relating to the identity, nationality and welfare of the detainees as well as questions relating to national security.

We continue to discuss the circumstances of the British detainees with the US regularly, to press the US

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as regards the future of the detainees and to encourage the US administration to move forward with the process of deciding how to deal with them. We have not been informed that any of the detainees now held at Guantanamo Bay has so far been charged with any offence by the US. The question of whether the British detainees might face criminal charges and prosecution in the UK is for the police and the prosecuting authorities.

Hungary

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will call upon the Government of Hungary to repeal Law LXXXXIV 2001 [PA 153] on the grounds that it may discriminate against minority religions and be incompatible with membership of the European Union.[HL131]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: We have made no representations to the Government of Hungary or any other government or international body concerning Law LXXIV, 2001 (PA 153), "Amendments of certain legislation regulating financial affairs", amending law CXXIV of 1997. We do not believe the law to be incompatible either with EU membership or with Hungary's obligations towards minority religions.

British Council: Work with Older People

Baroness Greengross asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What work the British Council has done or plans to do which is targeted at people over 50.[HL135]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The British Council recognises the value of older people in society. Examples of its work with this age group include a programme in Tanzania to help improve conditions for pensioners there and one to connect UK and Japanese organisations tackling the problems of an ageing population.


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