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8 Apr 2003 : Column WA17

Written Answers

Tuesday, 8th April 2003.

North Korean Refugees

Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will give further consideration to the allocation of funds to assist North Korean refugees who have fled to China.[HL2250]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): The Department for International Development provides funding to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for its annual programme budget. It believes that the UNHCR is best placed to decide how and where to deploy this funding.

The Department for International Development also responds to direct appeals from UNHCR for assistance with specific short-term refugee emergency situations and long-term reintegration programmes. To date, there have been no such appeals for North Korean refugees in China.

Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will raise with the Government of China the arrest and imprisonment of five South Korean aid workers, working as partners of Medecins Sans Frontieres, who have been gaoled by the Chinese for assisting North Korean refugees.[HL2252]

Baroness Amos: We raise a wide range of individual cases of concern, including North Korean border crossers, with the Chinese authorities. If more information on the five aid workers can be provided (incuding their names) we will consider how best to raise them with the Chinese authorities.

Medecins Sans Frontieres representatives based in Seoul did not raise these cases at their meeting with FCO officials last week.

China: Human Rights

Lord Alton of Liverpool: asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to re-evaluate their work with China on the issue of human rights in the light of criticisms made in the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee Human Rights Annual Report 2002.[HL2253]

Baroness Amos: We are currently considering the recommendations in the Foreign Affairs Committee report on our human rights dialogue with China.

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We and our EU and other major western partners share a common approach of critical engagement and dialogue with China on human rights. We believe this is the best way to promote human rights improvements in China.

Our objectives for the dialogue and a report on the dialogue process over the past year are set out in the FCO Annual Human Rights Report. Joan

China: One-Child Policy

Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty's Government:

    On how many occasions in the past five years they have raised the one-child policy with Chinese Government officials; and what has been the Chinese Government's response.[HL2254]

Baroness Amos: The Government have raised China's one-child policy with Chinese Ministers and officials on several occasions in the past five years, including at the UK-China Human Rights Dialogue.

In May 2002, the Chinese State Family Planning Minister told my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development that China's new population and family planning law, introduced in September 2002, would enshrine citizens' rights and the responsibilities of family planning officials. He indicated that the United Nations Population Fund's (UNFPA) human-centred reproductive health programme, in which birth targets and quotas have been abolished, would be expanded beyond the 32 counties included in UNFPA's current programme. The Minister added that China's eventual aim was to end the system of birth targets and quotas.

We do not question China's right (or need) to implement family planning policies but we have emphasised our view that this should be based on free and informed parental choice and not on coercion. We have condemned family planning abuses.

Guantanamo Bay Detainees

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they believe that the United States is treating the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay in accordance with the Geneva Convention.[HL2286]

Baroness Amos: The question of the status of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay under international humanitarian law is complex and has to be considered in the light of the facts relating to each individual detainee. Their treatment under the Geneva Conventions would depend on their precise status. We have made clear our position that, whatever their status, the detainees are entitled to humane treatment, and, if prosecuted, a fair trial.

The US has assured us that it is treating the detainees humanely and in accordance with the principles of the Geneva Conventions. British officials have visited the

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detainees on four occasions to check on their welfare, raising some issues which the detainees have asked them to with the US authorities. The International Committee of the Red Cross has access to the detainees and we understand can, if necessary, raise any issues of concern with the camp authorities.

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they believe that the prisoners currently held by the United States Government at Guantanamo Bay are being treated with dignity; and whether their human rights are being respected.[HL2317]

Baroness Amos: We are conscious of the importance of safeguarding the detainees' welfare and have visited them on four occasions to check on this. The physical conditions of their detention appear to be satisfactory in broad terms. However, we have raised with the US authorities a number of issues of concern which the detainees or their families have asked us to. The International Committee of the Red Cross has access to the detainees and can, if necessary, raise any issues with the US authorities.

The issue of the detainees' rights under international law is linked, at least in part, to the question of their status. It is not possible to determine the detainees' status without access to all the facts of the individual cases. We believe that, whatever their status, the detainees are entitled to humane treatment and, if prosecuted, a fair trial. We have made this clear to the US. The US has assured us it will treat the detainees humanely and consistently with the principles of the Geneva Conventions.bjc

Belfast Agreement: Equality of Treatment

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Privy Seal on 12 March (WA 85) concerning the Belfast Agreement of 1998, whether both governments will ensure equality of treatment to all groups.[HL2181]

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): Her Majesty's Government will seek to meet all their obligations under the agreement, including those relating to equality of opportunity, as we believe will the Irish Government.

Northern Ireland: Rate Relief

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will consider de-rating the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Loyal Orange Lodge and Gaelic Athletic Association premises as a method of supporting rural community development in Northern Ireland.[HL2183]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Existing legislation in Northern Ireland allows a measure of rate relief on any

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hall where the wider community uses the facilities. Typically uses such as Sunday schools, community based youth clubs, OAP clubs, playgroups and church meetings are considered "charitable" and apportioned out as exempt. The degree of relief available is in direct proportion to the use of the facility for charitable and broad community purposes. There is no upper limit on the amount of relief available if the relevant criteria are satisfied.

The position in relation to GAA premises, and indeed other sports clubs such as soccer, cricket, rugby etc, is different, as relief for certain properties used for recreation is available under Article 31 of the Rates (Northern Ireland) Order 1977. A reduction of 65 per cent of rates liability is allowed in respect of all, or part, of properties used for purposes of a recreation, specified by the Department of Finance and Personnel. The property has to be occupied by a club or society that is not established or conducted for profit and, broadly speaking, does not employ professional players.

The review of rating policy launched by the Executive in 2000 is reaching its final stages and I can confirm that existing reliefs including sport and recreational relief and that which allows exemption from rates for properties used for public, charitable and certain other functions such as "public religious worship" are currently under consideration. No decisions have yet been taken. It is intended that these issues will be addressed in a policy paper to be published later in the year. bern

Republic of Ireland Civil Servants Working in Northern Ireland

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Privy Seal on 12 March (WA 185), whether the Republic of Ireland civil servants working in Northern Ireland take an oath of allegiance to the Irish state.[HL2182]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: This is a matter for the Government of the Republic of Ireland. I would advise the noble Lord to write directly to the Department of Finance at Government Buildings, Upper Merrion Street, Dublin 2. The Department of Finance is the relevant authority for personnel matters in the Civil Service within the Republic of Ireland.


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