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Written Answers

Volume 568: debated on Monday 29 January 1996

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Written Answers

Monday, 29th January 1996.

Jerusalem: Access Restrictions

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they have protested, or will do so, against any attempts by Israel to cut off Jerusalem from the West Bank, particularly during the Palestinian elections; and whether they have made representations concerning the refusal by the Jerusalem Planning Authorities of permission for even one new Palestinian-owned hotel since 1967.

With our European partners we continue to raise the issue of access restrictions between the various part of the Occupied Territories. As to the possible impact upon the Palestinian elections, we await the report of the EU Electoral Unit, which would have observed events at the time. We understand that an area of East Jerusalem has been "zoned" for hotel development and a Palestinian businessman has received planning permission for a new hotel.

Central Asia: Uk Policy

asked Her Majesty's Government:What were the results of the Foreign Secretary's recent journeys in Central Asia, and what is their policy towards this area.

My right honourable and learned friend the Foreign Secretary's visit to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan underlined the UK's interest in strengthening bilateral relations with the newly independent states of the region, and our support for their continuing programme of political and economic reform. In Uzbekistan, the Foreign Secretary drew attention to the importance of co-operation in fields as far apart as the work of the BBC and the British Council, the fight against drugs, promotion of human rights and protection of the environment.The visit also provided a clear signal of support for British industry's growing involvement in trade and investment activities in the region. These countries provide important new markets for British companies, which, in turn, can make a valuable contribution to the region's economic development and prosperity. An Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement was signed with the Republic of Azerbaijan.The Government's policy towards the newly independent states of the region is based on support for their sovereignty and independence. Since 1993 we have opened six new, small embassies in Central Asia and the Transcaucasus. They are there to promote British interests; helping British companies win new business and encouraging the development of stable, market-based democracies.

Caspian Sea: Exploitation Of Oil Resources

asked Her Majesty's Government:What is the degree of their collaboration with the United States of America in matters concerning oil exploitation and pipeline development in and around the Caspian Sea, and whether this collaboration requires them to act in accordance with the United States' unilaterally declared "embargo" on economic relations with Iran, which they have in general not done, and whether this "embargo" on economic relations with Iran is in accordance with the provisions, etc., of the World Trade Organisation.

The exploitation and development of the Caspian Sea's oil reserves is a matter for the littoral states. The circumstances under which one member of the World Trade Organisation may take measures which affect the trade of another member are set out in GATT Articles XX and XXI.

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether a legal regime for the Caspian Sea and for the exploitation of its resources has yet been agreed; whether in their view the status of that sea and its seabed is a matter to be resolved by the littoral states of the Caspian Sea themselves; whether they consider it appropriate that the Azerbaijan Government should dispose of oil from the seabed of the Caspian without consulting the governments of the other littoral states; and meanwhile under what legal regime the relevant British firms are preparing to engage in exploitation of the oil resources there.

The legal status of the Caspian Sea and its seabed is not clearly defined in international law. There is, as yet, no generally agreed view of its status among the littoral states, to whom it falls to resolve the matter. Her Majesty's Government consider that, whatever the outcome of the debate on the Caspian Sea's status, commitments under existing contracts on exploitation of the Caspian's resources should not be called into question.

asked Her Majesty's Government:Which government is leading Western policy with regard to oil and gas exploitation and pipelines from Central Asia (including the Caspian) on to the world market, in what does this policy consist, and which governments and companies are participating.

The development and export of the region's resources are a matter for the governments of the countries concerned. Various consortia of local and Western companies have been formed, by agreement with those countries in the region directly involved, to exploit the oil and gas reserves of the Caspian and Central Asia.

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they ascertained the views of the Organisation of the Caspian Sea littoral states before supporting BP's plans for exploitation of the seabed of the Caspian Sea, whether Russia and Iran are as yet members of that organisation, and whether their agreement to BP's proposals is assured.

We understand that the proposal for an organisation of Caspian Sea littoral states was advanced at the initiative of Iran, during a meeting attended by the Deputy Foreign Ministers of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran in November 1995. It was envisaged that the organisation would deal primarily with economic matters and that all the Caspian littoral states would be members. We are not aware of any follow-up to this initiative.

Oil Dispersant Policy: Review

asked Her Majesty's Government:What are the conclusions of their review of oil dispersant policy.

In April 1993 the Government announced that it would conduct a review of oil dispersant policy. Two scientific reports were commissioned and published; we prepared a consultation paper setting out proposed improvements which was circulated to over 600 bodies. Sixty-four responses were received. We have responded on issues where suggestions were made; in general, there was broad agreement to our plans, and we have now prepared a final report (Testing, Approval and Use of Oil Dispersants—Final Report of the Government Review) completing the review.We have concluded that it would be fully justified to retain oil dispersants as the UK's primary means of combating oil spills at sea, in order to protect economic and environmental resources, although oil dispersants may not be appropriate in all instances. All products will continue to be required to pass efficacy and toxicity tests. These tests will, in future, incorporate some minor improvements designed further to protect the marine environment.My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, has initiated the development of protocols, in conjunction with the industry, that will enable bioremediation products to be licensed in the UK. These could in due course, make an important contribution to clean-up operations. There will also be new arrangements for labelling products in line with our policies on openness.In carrying out the review my right honourable friend has also managed to achieve modest deregulatory gains by enabling manufacturers to submit their own test results. My right honourable friend also intends to publish a booklet explaining the approval process, which will include a code of good spraying practice. A copy of the final report has been placed in the Library of the House.

Mr David Hart

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether Mr. David Hart, Special Adviser to the Secretary of State for Defence, is in any way funded by organisations in the United States or by non-governmental organisations in this country.

Gulf And Caspian Areas: Anglo-American Co-Operation

asked Her Majesty's Government:What currently is the state of association between British and United States forces in the Gulf area, and whether Her Majesty's Government are in any way, formally or informally, bound to co-operation, military or other, with the USA in that area and in the area of the Caspian, and if so in what way.

There are no formal UK/US Government to Government arrangements in operation in the Gulf area or in the area of the Caspian. UK and US forces participate in UN operations in the Gulf in support of the UN Special Commission (UNSPCOM) and the UN Iraq/Kuwait Observer Mission (UNIKOM). UK and US forces also operate as part of the coalition Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, the no fly zone operation which exists to deter Iraqi repression of the civilian population in Southern Iraq. The RN ARMILLA patrol operates with the US Navy and others in enforcing the UN sanctions imposed against Iraq. In addition UK and US forces regularly participate together in multinational exercises in the Gulf area.

Ministers: Payments From Public Funds In Personal Capacity

asked Her Majesty's Government:With reference to the non-disclosure of set-aside payments made to Ministers of the Crown, what other payments of taxpayers' money may be made to Ministers without disclosure.

Where Ministers of the Crown, in their personal capacity, receive payments from public funds on the same basis as other members of the public, information regarding their claims and payments is normally held under the same conditions of confidence as apply generally.

Prisoners: Central Database

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether there is now a centralised computer register of all persons detained in one of Her Majesty's penal institutions in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland respectively and if so whether any police force in the United Kingdom can access such a register directly and, if such a facility is not available, when the Government expect to make it available.

There is a centralised computer register of all persons detained in Her Majesty's penal institutions in England and Wales. This register has been operational since March 1991, and is updated electronically every day by each prison's local computer system. The central database does not include computer details of persons held in Scotland or Northern Ireland which are outside the jurisdiction of HM Prison Service in England and Wales.The system is not available on line to any police force but administrative arrangements exist to provide information from the system quickly whenever required.On-line access to police forces may well be included in future initiatives of the Committee for Co-ordination of Computerisation of the Criminal Justice System, relating to the transfer of information between the criminal justice organisations. A pilot exercise, involving the local forces, probation service, prisons and courts, to establish the benefits of transferring information by use of E-Mail, is under way in Suffolk and Hampshire.The Scottish Prison Service installed a networked Prisoner Records database in all Scottish prisons during 1995. This contains information on all prisoners in Scottish prisons and is accessible from all establishments and Scottish Prison Service headquarters. Some work has been carried out on the scope for developing an integrated communications network to enable Scottish criminal justice agencies, including prisons, police forces and the courts, to share information of common interest. No decision has been taken regarding an implementation date. Meanwhile, however, there is close co-operation between the Scottish Prison Service and Scottish police forces in matters of criminal intelligence.The Northern Ireland position is that at present a centralised computer register of all persons detained in HM penal establishments in Northern Ireland does not exist. However, we are currently considering options for the development of existing computer systems to provide a central register. Options for information sharing between agencies within the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland are also being examined.

Drink Drivers: Use Of Handcuffs

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether the allegation (emphasised on posters issued by the Portman Group) that a motorist failing a breathalyser test is handcuffed forthwith is misleading.

The use of handcuffs in any situation is an operational decision for each arresting officer. Handcuffs may be used when there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an unrestrained prisoner will use violence against the arresting officer or others; or there are reasonable grounds to believe that the prisoner will escape. Whether reasonable grounds exist will depend on the circumstances of each case. Such situations can arise with drink drivers.

Housing Benefit Proposals And Young People

asked Her Majesty's Government:Further to the Answer given by Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, (H.L. Deb., 9 January,

WA 15), on what evidence they relied in deciding that the proposed changes to housing benefit for those under 25 should not prevent young people from finding suitably priced accommodation.

Many young working people rent shared houses and bedsits and the frequency with which these groups change address does not indicate a shortage of this type of accommodation. The Government's proposals would limit housing benefit to the general level of rents payable in any given locality for the sort of non self-contained accommodation that young working people tend to occupy. The Government do not believe that this would prevent those intending to claim housing benefit from finding suitably priced accommodation.

Absent Parents:Child Support Agency Action

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether any absent parents who have given up their jobs following the intervention of the Child Support Agency have suffered a benefit penalty for doing so; and if so, how many.

Asylum Seekers:Withdrawal Of Welfare Benefits

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will publish the representations made by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in relation to the proposed withdrawal of welfare benefits from asylum seekers; and if not, why not.

The representations referred to were published in HC 81 of Session 1995/96, a report into benefits for asylum seekers, by the Social Security Select Committee.

asked Her Majesty's Government:What measures they intend to take to comply with the duty imposed by Article 22 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child to ensure that, despite the proposed exclusion of some asylum seekers from welfare and other benefits, children who are seeking refugee status in the United Kingdom will continue to receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance in the enjoyment of the rights set forth in that convention and in the other international human rights and humanitarian instruments to which the United Kingdom is party.

We are satisfied that the provisions of the Social Security (Persons From Abroad) Miscellaneous Amendment Regulations 1996 are consistent with the UK's continuing obligations under the convention.

Elderly People: Rail Fare Discount Schemes

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether senior citizens' railcards will continue to be accepted on all future privatised rail services.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport
(Viscount Goschen)

The Railways Act 1993 imposes a duty on the Franchising Director to require, through franchise agreements, participation in a discount fare scheme for elderly people. All franchise operators running privatised rail services will be required to sell and honour the relevant card.

London-Gibraltar Via Bordeaux Air Route

asked Her Majesty's Government:Further to the Answer by Viscount Goschen of 9 May 1995

(WA 5), whether Spain has any legal or technical right to object to scheduled flights between London and Bordeaux and Bordeaux to Gibraltar; and, if not, whether they will take the matter up with the Spanish Government.

Services between London and Bordeaux, and between Bordeaux and Gibraltar are not matters for the Spanish authorities. Rights to operate these services are available under the EC Third Aviation Package and the UK/France bilateral air service arrangements respectively. It is up to airlines to decide whether they wish to operate a combined London-Bordeaux-Gibraltar service. If a UK airline were to have difficulty operating services we would be prepared to take the matter up with the Spanish authorities.