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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We are concerned about the reports of the detention and ill treatment of large numbers of Falun Gong adherents in China. We understand that many of those arrested since the group was banned in July 1999 have now been released but that a significant number are still detained without charge or awaiting trial. A small number have already been tried and given long sentences.
We have raised our concerns on this issue with the Chinese authorities in our continuing dialogue on human rights. My honourable friend the Minister of State did so recently with the Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister, Wang Yingfan, on 9 November in Peking. We shall continue to make our concerns known to the Chinese authorities.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Britain continues to do all it can, both individually and with the international community, to support the peace process in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Most recently we promoted an EU declaration on the DRC and were the first non-African country to contribute towards the cost of the Joint Military Commission.
Furthermore, my honourable friend the Minister of State, Mr Hain, who is visiting Washington and New York this week, will be discussing how best to ensure that the UN, the international community and Africa itself can work together to stop the conflict in the DRC. He will also announce a further UK contribution of £100,000 to the Joint Military Commission.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal : We have reviewed our policy on making representations about the convictions and sentencing of British prisoners abroad to the authorities of the countries where they are detained.
We are extending this to include those cases where fundamental violations of the British national's human rights had demonstrably altered the course of justice. In such cases, we would also consider supporting their request for an appeal to any official human rights body in the country concerned and subsequently giving advice on how to take their cases to relevant international human rights mechanisms.
We have decided not to change the policy on supporting clemency pleas. We will continue to base these pleas only on compassionate grounds, namely where a prisoner is terminally ill or when a close relative is terminally ill and their death will leave children or elderly relatives with no one to care for them.
Baroness Amos : The Department for International Development (DFID) has a substantial long-term programme in Orissa, which is one of DFID's four partner states in India. DFID has also committed £3.1 million towards immediate emergency needs following the cyclone.
DFID is urgently considering its contribution to rehabilitation efforts and is in close contact with the World Bank, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and other UN bodies who are considering contributions. Following a recent assessment mission, DFID if focusing on proposals in health, education, irrigation and rural livelihoods. The main criterion for settling priorities has been to maximise impact for the poorest.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton) : Copies of all responses to the consultation paper, Interception of Communications in the United Kingdom, have been published today on the Home Office website, where permission to publish was not withheld. A summary of all the responses has also been published and placed in the Library.
Lord Bassam of Brighton : My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has agreed that, with effect from 1 January 2000, responsibility for the confirmation of by-laws under Section 76 of the Public Health Act 1961 (in respect of seaside pleasure boats) and under Section 185 of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 (in respect of pleasure boats and vessels let for hire to the public) will be transferred to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr Prescott).
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency will deal with applications from local authorities for confirmation of these by-laws in England. A Home Office circular giving further details is being issued to local authorities.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: On 14 December 1998, (House of Commons Official Report, col. 356) my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced in a reply to my honourable friend the Member for Brighton Kemptown (Dr Turner) that we would be setting up a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) in Merseyside to implement Part V of the Police Act 1997. The function of the bureau will be to issue certificates to applicants, including people who wish to apply for posts involving working with children and vulnerable adults. On 20 July (House of Commons, Official Report, col. 464) my right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Home Department (Mr Boateng) announced in a reply to the honourable Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington) that he was reviewing the timetable for the delivery of the CRB and that he would inform the House of the results after the recess.
My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has confirmed that Bernard Herdan, the newly appointed chief executive of the United Kingdom Passport Agency, will also be in charge of the CRB. He will chair the CRB Management Board and account to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, to Parliament and to stakeholders for the CRB's performance. Some administrative support functions will be provided to the CRB by the United Kingdom Passport Agency, but in general it will operate as an entirely separate business unit and will be publishing its own business plan and annual report.
My honourable friend the Minister of State for the Home Department (Mr Clarke) has reviewed the delivery of the project to establish the CRB within the framework of a public private partnership. A dedicated team has been established in Merseyside to deliver the project. A business prospectus was issued on 8 October and a bidders conference was held on 14 October. My honourable friend is pleased to report that there has been a susbstantial amount of interest from potential private sector partners, and bids were received on 19 November and are under evaluation. Shortlisted bidders will be invited to take part in a technical design study next spring and we hope to be in a position to let the contract around the middle of next year. It will then take about six to nine months to install the necessary systems and recruit the staff before the bureau is ready to receive applications for registration from employers requiring access to the highest level certificates on behalf of their employees.
The aim is that the CRB should then move on to the next stage and start issuing certificates in July 2001. This is later than our original estimate, but this is a challenging programme and it is important that the timescale is realistic. Priority will be given to issuing the highest level of certificate, the enhanced criminal record certificate, for those seeking positions which involve regularly caring for, training, supervising or being in sole charge of persons aged under 18. The CRB's services will expand over the subsequent year so that by July 2002 it should be issuing all three levels of certificate provided for in the legislation.
In the course of the review, we have decided that it is not necessary to proceed with earlier plans to procure accommodation to house the whole of the CRB's staff. While it remains our intention to accommodate the bureau's core public sector staff in Merseyside, we think it right to give our private sector partner the flexiblity needed to produce the best, most cost-effective solution. The project will continue to be managed from Merseyside.
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