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Written Answers

Volume 576: debated on Saturday 17 February 1996

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Written Answers

Tuesday, 17th December 1996.

Serbia: Annulment Of Election Results

asked Her Majesty's Government:What measures will be taken by them, either alone or with the European Union or the OSCE, regarding the annulment of 33 election victories for opposition candidates in the capital of Serbia, Belgrade, by the First Municipal Court, whose chairman, Dragoljub Jankovic, has promoted the cause of the Yugoslav United Left on television, and the rejection of an appeal to the Supreme Court against the decision by the City Election Commission and the Together Coalition.

We and our EU partners have made clear our serious concern about the situation in Serbia following the annulment of a number of the 17th November municipal election results. As the Dublin European Council conclusions state, respect for human and democratic rights will be a key factor in determining the European Union's future relationship with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). The EU has decided to freeze the award of autonomous trade concessions to the FRY.We note the invitation from the FRY Government to the OSCL to send a delegation to examine the results and hope a mission will visit Belgrade soon.

Unido

asked Her Majesty's Government:What are the financial implications of their latest policy towards UNIDO and whether these will now enable the United Kingdom to rejoin UNESCO.

The financial savings resulting from withdrawal from UNIDO will be approximately £4.7 million a year from financial year 1998–99. The use of these funds will be for Ministers to decide in the annual resource allocation round, the results of which will be set out in the Departmental Report to Parliament in 1997.

Israeli Defence Minister's Uk Visit

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether an agreement has recently been signed "to formalise the strategic dialogue" between the Israeli and British Governments, to "open a high level channel of communications … to enhance ties … between the defence industries and intelligence services" and "to hold annual meetings at the level of directors-general of the Defence Ministries", as reported in

Ha'aretz, on 28th November 1996; and

Whether any new agreement indicates that the British Government is content with, and supports, Israel's failure to adhere to its international commitments under the Oslo agreements, its use of torture on prisoners, its settlement policies in the occupied territories and in Jerusalem, and its continuing occupation of parts of Lebanon.

The article referred to described the visit to Britain of Israeli Defence Minister Yitzhak Mordechai on 21st November. No such agreement was signed or discussed during his visit. Israel and the UK have a range of defence contacts appropriate to the relationship between two friendly countries.

Haifa University Nuclear Weapons Seminar

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether any member of the British Embassy staff attended the seminar in Haifa University in April 1995 on the subject of Israel's nuclear weapons; whether they continue to have no knowledge of Israeli non-conventional weapons, particularly its nuclear weapons capabilities; and whether they brought up the subject during the discussions leading to this new agreement "to formalise the strategic dialogue" and if not, why not.

We have no record of any member of the British Embassy in Tel Aviv having attended the seminar at Haifa University in 1995. We continue to urge Israel to accede to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear-weapon state.

Iran And Iraq: Anglo-Israeli Counter-Proliferation Measures

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether the United Kingdom and Israel see "eye-to-eye concerning the threats posed to the region by Iran and Iraq and agreed to increase co-operation to curb the arms developments of those countries, particularly in the non-conventional sphere" and, if so, whether the co-operative policies they propose to pursue include collaboration on counter-proliferation and on ballistic missile defences.

We share Israel's concerns about reports that Iran and Iraq have been trying to develop weapons of mass destruction. We have, in the past, held informal discussions with Israel, as we have with other countries, on ballistic missile defence, but this did not extend to discussing collaboration on weapons systems.

Anglo-Israeli Defence Relationship

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether the newly formalised "strategic dialogue" with Israel has been discussed in the European Union, and with the European representatives to the Middle East, and what has been their views of these developments.

There is no such newly formalised "strategic dialogue". Britain and Israel have bilateral defence contacts of a type appropriate to the relationship between any two friendly countries.

Israeli-Palestinian Relations

Ha'aretz, the Foreign Office has been levelling "harsh criticism at Israel on the issue of human rights and the attitude towards the Palestinians" and if so what accounts for the apparent discrepancy between government departments.

The article referred to in Ha'aretz described the visit of the Israeli Defence Minister Yitzhak Mordechai. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary discussed human rights and Israeli/Palestinian relations with Mr. Mordechai, among many other matters. We regularly raise human rights issues with both Israeli and Palestinian authorities, focusing on individual cases.

Justice And Home Affairs Council, 28Th And 29Th November

asked Her Majesty's Government:What was the outcome of the Justice and Home Affairs Council held in Brussels on 28th-29th November.

My right honourable friend represented the United Kingdom at the Council. The main matters dealt with were as follows.The Council agreed as "A" points, among other things, a joint action creating a directory of competences in the fight against organised crime, and a joint action establishing a European Community funded incentive and exchange programme to combat trafficking in human beings and child sex abuse.The Presidency reported progress in negotiations on the draft External Frontiers Convention, and on the Europol draft regulations. The United Kingdom hopes to ratify the Europol Convention before the end of the year.Meetings were held with Ministers of associated Central and Eastern European countries and, separately, with Cyprus. These concentrated on the fight against drugs and the need to co-operate against trafficking in human beings and paedophile rings.Two reports were considered on the fight against organised crime, one dealing with the situation in 1995, the other looking forward to future possibilities for closer co-operation and assistance. The first report will be presented to the European Parliament in due course.

A joint action was agreed concerning action to combat trafficking in human beings and sexual abuse of children.

A draft report to the European Council on drugs in the European Union was discussed. Some amendments were agreed and the report will now be forwarded, via the General Affairs Council, to the European Council.

There was extensive discussion of a draft joint action, proposed by France, on approximation of laws and practices to combat drug consumption and drug trafficking. While a strong will was shown on all sides to combat drug trafficking, final agreement of the text of the action was deferred pending further consultations by several countries.

Agreement was reached on a draft resolution on sentencing for serious illicit drug trafficking. The text will now be submitted to the European Council.

The Presidency outlined proposals for settling the outstanding issue of European Court of Justice jurisdiction in the draft Convention on Corruption. More work was commissioned on these proposals.

Discussions took place on aspects of the draft Convention on the Service of Documents in Civil and Judicial Matters. In the absence of agreement, further work was commissioned.

A report to the European Council on achievements in the field of Justice and Home Affairs was briefly discussed. The text will now be finalised and forwarded to the European Council.

A brief summary was given of activities in the field of crime prevention, including the outcome of recent seminars and proposals for a follow-up seminar next year.

Priorities were outlined by the Netherlands for its Presidency in the first half of 1997. These included implementation of the Europol Convention, further work on action to combat drugs and organised crime, trafficking in human beings and abuse of the Internet, and development of the structured dialogue with the countries which are candidates for accession.

Conventions were signed allowing Sweden, Austria and Finland to accede to two conventions on jurisdiction and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters and on the law applicable to contractual obligations. Protocols were signed providing on an optional basis for European Court of Justice jurisdiction in the European Union Conventions on the Protection of the European Communities Financial Interests and on the Use of Information Technology for Customs Purposes.

War Pension Changes

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether as reported in the

Guardian on 5th December 1996, the Government's proposals to "simplify policy and procedures" in relation to war widows' pensions will leave the pensioners

£50 million poorer; and, if not, what is the true position; and

Whether they will ensure that their proposals to "simplify policy and procedures" in relation to war pensions will fully protect the existing rights and benefits of pensioners; and

What will be the impact of their proposals to "simplify policy and procedures" in relation to war pensions upon the existing rights and benefits of pensioners and the claimants for war pensions and war pension benefits.

The recent reports in the Guardian were misinformed and misleading. The changes to war pensions consist of two entirely separate elements.As part of the departments' Change Programme we are reviewing policies to make them simpler to administer and to reduce the cost of delivery. A package of proposals which are intended to simplify the administration of war pensions has been drawn up. The proposals are subject to consultation with members of the Central Advisory Committee on War Pensions. A consultation letter was issued to the members of that Committee on 26th November explaining the proposals and giving the members until 17th January 1997 to comment. A copy of that letter has been placed in the Library. No decisions will be made until after very careful consideration has been given to the responses to the consultation letter.The second change relates to a change in medical opinion. It was previously thought that a service related noise induced hearing loss could intensify the effect of a subsequent hearing loss due to other causes such as ageing. Authoritative medical opinion is now that such an interaction does not occur and that the maximum effect of service-related hearing loss is at release from service.Where a medical matter needs to be determined under the War Pension Scheme, the law requires that part of the claim to be determined by a medical officer appointed by the Secretary of State. Medical officers certify whether or not a disablement is due to or aggravated by service in the armed forces and also the degree of disablement due to service. In doing so medical officers must apply current medical opinion.No war pensioner in receipt of a war disablement pension or a war widow's pension will have their

198919901991199219931994199511996
Defendants dealt with by jury27,80925,72927,00826,24723,94823,78724,38818,991
Convictions216,02914,72915,37914,72812,41311,73712,3049,709
Percentage convicted57.657.256.956.151.849.350.351.1
1 January to October only.
2 Including jury verdicts where the defendant changed his plea to guilty during the trial.
I am sorry that the earlier figures did not make this distinction clear.

pension reduced or taken away as a result of either the simplification proposals or the change of medical opinion on noise induced hearing loss. If all the policy simplification proposals were to be implemented, the savings in 1997–98 would be £5 million. It is estimated that, as a result of the change in medical opinion, expenditure on war pensions will be about £10 million less in 1997–98 than it would otherwise have been. The latest estimates for expenditure on war pensions forecast an increase in overall expenditure from £1,335 million in 1996–97 to £1,342 million in 1997–98.

Crown Court Defendants Found Guilty: Corrected Statistics

asked Her Majesty's Government:Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Chancellor on 2nd December

(WA 34), to what they attribute the decline in the proportion of defendants tried in Crown Courts who have been found guilty each year since 1989.

The figures provided by the Chief Executive of the Court Service in the Written Answer on 2nd December have needed some revision and I have asked the Chief Executive to write again with details. The amended figures show that the percentage of defendants convicted following a jury trial was relatively stable for the years 1989 to 1992, fell in 1993 and 1994 but increased again in 1995 and the first part of 1996. There is therefore no consistent pattern from which to draw any firm conclusions. In any event, the conviction rate depends on the verdict of the jury based on the evidence put before them.

Letter to Lord Lester of Herne Hill from the Chief Executive of The Court Service, Mr. M. D. Huebner, dated 17th December 1996.

The Lord Chancellor has asked me to write to you again about the figures which I supplied in reply to your Question about the Crown Court conviction rate since 1989.

The figures which were included in the table as representing the total number of defendants dealt with by a jury included some where the judge had ordered a discharge before the jury was sworn. The revised figures are as follows:

Child Labour: Unicef Allegations

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they accept the findings of the United Nations Children's Fund report, summarised in

The Times of 12th December 1996, alleging that there are instances of child labour in Great Britain, including children working for only 10p per hour, in some cases in dangerous locations such as saw mills and building sites, and seven out of 10 British children working for money outside the family by the age of 16; if so, whether they will take steps to combat these practices; and, if not, whether they will state what they consider to be the accurate position.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health
(Baroness Cumberlege)

The extreme examples of child labour quoted in The Times do not reflect the accurate position, which is that the vast majority of children who choose to work do so within the parameters of the comprehensive and long standing legal regime which exists to protect them. Local authorities and the Health and Safety Executive have powers to take action against anyone found employing a child in unlawful circumstances.

Family Health Services: White Papers

asked Her Majesty's Government:What plans they have for the future of family health services.

The Government today publish a White Paper, Primary Care: Delivering the Future, which responds to many of the issues raised in the primary care debate launched by the Government last year. It sets out practical proposals to improve further the quality and accessibility of primary care services and to offer improved development and career opportunities for the professionals who work in them. Primary Care: Delivering the Future complements the proposals set out in the recent White Paper, Primary Care: Choice and Opportunity. Copies of both White Papers are available in the Library.

Bus Drivers: Use Of Mobile Phones

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether London bus drivers are permitted to use a mobile phone or radio while on the move.

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

Drivers of London Transport bus services are expected to comply with the Highway Code with regard to the use of mobile phones. I understand that some bus companies give their drivers mobile phones for use in emergencies or for service control.

The majority of the London bus fleet is equipped with two-way radios which have hands-free operation. The radio system is used in cases of emergency and for service control. All new London Transport bus route contracts require buses to be equipped with radios.

London Buses: Safety Enforcement

asked Her Majesty's Government:Which organisations are responsible for the safe operation of buses in London and what are their particular terms of reference in respect of each element of safety.

The South East and Metropolitan Traffic Commissioner is appointed by the Secretary of State for Transport and his safety responsibilities include enforcing the conduct regulations which apply to bus drivers, including those which regulate drivers' hours. He is also responsible, through the operator licensing system, for ensuring that every bus operator is of good repute and has sufficient resources to maintain vehicles and operate services safely.The Vehicle Inspectorate Executive Agency works closely with the Traffic Commissioner. Their examiners conduct regular spot checks on vehicles and have the power to issue either a prohibition notice for significant safety related faults or a defect notice for minor defects. They also test all buses annually for roadworthiness. These checks are monitored by the agency and can trigger disciplinary action by the Traffic Commissioner if results are persistently unsatisfactory.The Driving Standards Agency is responsible for the testing of all drivers and driving instructors for the whole of the United Kingdom.In addition to their law enforcement role relating to traffic offences, uniformed police officers also have powers to conduct spot checks of buses and issue immediate prohibitions if serious faults are found.The Health and Safety Executive has the power to inspect any workplace, including bus garages. In extreme cases breaches of health and safety regulations can result in the prosecution of the company and also of named individuals.Bus operators are responsible for the safety of their services. London Transport Buses have a statutory responsibility to ensure the proper care of passengers and third parties. LT Buses regularly assess the safety performance of operators as part of their contract management responsibilities, with the aim of identifying poor performance at the earliest opportunity so that action can be taken to maintain a safe service. In extreme cases they can terminate an operator's contracts and remove the operator from the list of operators invited to tender for future contracts.

Sulphur Dioxide Emissions: Protocol Ratification

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they are yet in a position to publish a strategy for meeting the United Kingdom's commitments under the Second Sulphur Protocol of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has today announced that the United Kingdom has ratified the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Second Sulphur Protocol. We are amongst the first handful of countries to do so. Achievement of the emission reduction targets in the protocol will mean even better protection for our sensitive ecosystems, forests, lakes and buildings, as well as benefits for our continental European neighbours. It will also lead to substantial improvements in the quality of the air we breathe, which will be good for asthma sufferers and for everyone who has breathing problems.The protocol needs ratification by 16 countries to become fully effective. So far, 28 countries have signed it but only five, including now the United Kingdom, have ratified. It is clearly important that all those who have signed the protocol should now ratify it. It is only by concerted action across the whole of Europe that we will deal effectively with the problem of acid rain.Our commitment is to reducing emissions of sulphur dioxide by 80 per cent. by 2010 compared with 1980 levels. We are publishing today a national strategy setting out how this will be achieved.The figures for 1995 reveal that emissions from the major sources—power stations, refineries and large industrial boilers and furnaces—have been reduced by 55 per cent. since 1980. This shows that we have already made enormous strides in tackling acid rain.We have buried the old myth that Britain is the Dirty Man of Europe. It never was true. Our policies on this and on a whole range of environmental matters show how serious is this country's commitment to the environment. We have a record of which we can be rightly proud.We are pleased to announce also that changes have been made to the National Plan which gives effect in the United Kingdom to the requirements of the European Community Large Combustion Plant Directive. The aim of these changes, which were widely welcomed by those who commented on the consultation proposals in the

Month of prosecutionVesselOffenceTotal fines £Country of registration
JanuaryNORINAFishing logbook10,000UK
LADY T EMIELFishing logbook10,000UK
LE DERBYFishing in six mile limit17,500French
ANTAEUSFishing in six mile limit22,500French
FebruaryCHRISTINAFishing logbook and landing declaration27,500UK
MarchNICOLA ANNEQuota and landing declaration11,000UK

summer, is to ensure that future allocations of emissions quota for both sulphur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen under the National Plan are more closely in line with regulatory consents under Integrated Pollution Control.

Executive Agencies

asked Her Majesty's Government:(a) how many executive agencies have been created between 1992 and 1996 to replace or supplement parts of the core Civil Service; (b) how many such agencies have been privatised; and (c) what has been the cost of each privatisation.

Ninety-one agencies have been launched between 1st January 1992 and 12th December 1996. However, none of them has replaced or supplemented parts of the Civil Service, as agencies are integral parts of the Civil Service, normally a part of a government department or in some cases a department in its own right.Of the 91 agencies launched in this period, three have been privatised: DVOIT; the Transport Research Laboratory; and Chessington Computer Centre.The cost of privatising DVOIT was £1.875 million, that of the Transport Research Laboratory was £1.4 million and that of Chessington Computer Centre was £630,000.The Next Steps project to improve management in government by establishing executive agencies was launched in 1988. There are currently 129 agencies, with three-quarters of the Civil Service operating under Next Steps arrangements.

Fishery Offences: Prosecutions

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will list the successful prosecutions for fisheries offences undertaken by them since 1st January 1996 which have resulted in fines of £5,000 or more, including details of the fishing vessels involved, country of registration and offences committed.

A list of the successful prosecutions and the details requested are set out in the following table. Where appropriate, the fines relate to the total fines against both the master and owner of the vessel. There are other prosecution cases but these are the subject of an appeal and are therefore not included in the table.

Month of prosecution

Vessel

Offence

Total fines £

Country of registration

ZEEDUIVELGear and undersize fish offences9,000Belgium
TIJLFishing 12 mile limit7,500Belgium
MARILYN JANEFishing logbook5,500UK
AprilBAFFIN BAYUnlicensed fishing5,000UK
KVITSJOENQuota5,000Norway
FISKEBERGQuota6,000Norway
VAN DIJCKFishing logbook5,000Belgium
MayATLANTIC CQuota9,500UK
JuneAROSAQuota12,000UK
JulyITXASFishing logbook and undersize fish15,000UK
MOUNT EDENQuota67,500UK
SOPHIE LOUISEFishing logbook and landing declaration17,000UK
AugustMERCURIUSGear and undersize fish8,000Belgium
SeptemberROWNLEAQuota8,000UK
TITANQuota8,000UK
FLOURISHFishing logbook11,000UK
OctoberATLANTIC CLicensing and quota30,000UK
NovemberAMARADIATranshipment licence and statutory declaration34,000Cyprus
DecemberALMA CFishing logbook and landing declaration10,000UK