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Written Answers

Volume 571: debated on Wednesday 1 May 1996

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Written Answers

Wednesday, 1st May 1996.

Natural Resources Institute

asked Her Majesty's Government:When the Natural Resources Institute will transfer to new ownership.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Conunonwealth Office
(Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

We have now completed negotiations for the transfer of the Natural Resources Institute to the University of Greenwich and for associated arrangements with the other members of the Consortium (the University of Edinburgh, Imperial College and Wye College). Contracts were signed on 30th April and became effective on 1st May.This is a very satisfactory outcome. It achieves the objectives I set—namely, maintenance of a multi-disciplinary centre of Natural Resources expertise, on which ODA and others can draw in order to help meet our aims for the overseas aid programme; value for money for the taxpayer; and a positive future for the staff. It also marks the first privatisation of a public sector research establishment by transfer to the university sector.

Iran And Libya: Uk Policy

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether, in the light of threats from (a) Israel (

The Times, 19th April 1996, "Israel sees Iran as next in line for punishment") and (b) the United States (Secretary of Defense Perry and others, International Herald Tribune, 20th April 1996, "America to Gadhafi: stop poison gas plant or face an attack"), they will state that Britain will not take part in any attack on any country, including Iran and Libya, except with UN approval.

The UK conducts its foreign and defence policy fully in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

Iraqi Refugees: Alleged Deportation To Iran

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will ask the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or some other international agency, to record the names and such other details as are necessary for purposes of identification of some 350 persons said by the Committee for the Release of Hostages and Detainees in Iraq to have been deported by the Iraqi authorities to Iran within the last month, and accommodated temporarily in a camp at Beesaton, 20 kilometres from Kermanshah, and to put those persons in touch with relatives wherever possible.

Neither we nor the UNHCR have any information about this alleged deportation of Iraqi refugees to Iran.

Oda: Review Of Ngo Funding

asked Her Majesty's Government:What arrangements are in hand to review the relationship between the Overseas Development Administration and non-governmental organisations working in the spheres of overseas development co-operation and humanitarian relief.

Following ODA's Fundamental Expenditure Review, various arrangements have been put in hand to take stock of our relationship with Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs), to review those agencies eligible for block grant status within the Joint Funding Scheme (JFS) and to look at external advisory arrangements in the context of JFS funding.On all of these, we are committed to consultation with the NGO community, a process which began in February and which will continue throughout this year.

Voluntary Sector And Charities: Transfer Of Departmental Responsibilities

asked Her Majesty's Government:When the transfer of ministerial responsibility for volunteering, the voluntary sector and charity matters from the Home Office to the Department of National Heritage will take place.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage
(Lord Inglewood)

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced on 1st April in another place (House of Commons Hansard, OR, WA, col 1) that these responsibilities would be transferred to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage from my right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department as soon as the necessary financial and other arrangements could be made. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has agreed with my right honourable and learned friend that she will take over ministerial responsibility from 1st May 1996. At the same date the staff who currently perform these functions in the Home Office will transfer to the Department of National Heritage.My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has decided that, following the transfer, my honourable friend the Minister of State will become responsible for the work of the National Lottery Charities Board alongside his existing responsibility for Lottery matters; and I shall become responsible for work on the voluntary sector, volunteering, charities, and community development.The Department of National Heritage will be seeking parliamentary authority in the summer supplementary estimates to enable it to make payments of grants and for the transfer of resources currently in the Home Office. Until such time as approval is given, the Home Office will remain accountable for the actual physical payment of these grants.

Human Settlements: Un Conference

asked Her Majesty's Government:What preparatory arrangements they are making for the Habitat II Conference in Turkey in June; who is the lead Minister; what are their policy priorities for the conference; and what machinery for follow-up they favour.

We are taking an active part in the preparations for the United Nations' Conference on Human Settlements.The Department of the Environment has co-ordinated the preparation of the UK's national report for the conference and is working closely with a wide range of organisations (local government, non-governmental and professional) through the UK National Council for Habitat II. The Secretary of State for the Environment, who is a member of the UN Secretary-General's International Advisory Group on Habitat, will lead the British delegation and will attend the high level segment of the conference.The Government's policy priorities are to promote internationally UK ideas, policies and best practice and use the conference to raise international and national awareness of the means to achieve sustainable settlement development.The follow-up process will need to be discussed at the highest level within the UN in the light of the conference conclusions.

Water Supplies

asked Her Majesty's Government:What water supply arrangements are being made in England and Wales in the light of the Environmental Agency's report published on 1st May.

The Environment Agency's report, Review of Water Company Plans to Safeguard Summer Water Supplies, underlines the exceptional lack of rainfall and consequent impact on water resources in many parts of the country during the past 12 months. It confirms the extent of the measures which the water companies are taking to maintain supplies even if this summer is as dry as last. Over £400 million of capital expenditure has been announced in England and Wales—investment which will be financed without increasing prices to consumers.The Environment Agency's assessment is that the companies are taking appropriate measures; and that, despite the present level of many reservoirs and aquifers, these measures should be sufficient to enable essential supplies to be maintained in all areas even through a hot, dry summer. But there is no room for complacency and, should dry weather continue into the autumn, further measures could be required.On 1st September last year, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment announced that he was putting in hand with the agency, the Director General of Water Services and representatives of the water companies a review of water resources and water supply in the longer term. This work is continuing and we expect to publish a report later in the summer.Provided, that the costs of supply are met, the environment is properly protected, and waste is avoided, the aim should be to provide consumers with the water they want. Within the framework of sustainable development, it will however be necessary to make sometimes difficult choices about the extent to which supply should be guaranteed in extreme droughts for inessential as well as for essential purposes. These are matters on which there is a need for dialogue between companies and their customers, in the light of the costs and benefits of different levels of security of supply.The work on the review so far suggests that the basic framework for making water resource and supply decisions is sound, and the water companies, the Office of Water Services (OFWAT), and the Environment Agency, with the involvement of the Government where necessary, should be able to reach satisfactory decisions on the management of existing resources and the provision of new resources where needed. In planning and managing water resources and supply, particular attention needs to be given to the following points:changing pattern and structure of demand for water use; it is essential that present and likely future requirements should be better understood.appropriate use should be made of the scope for influencing demand for water through tariff structures and selective metering. The high costs of meeting some water uses, particularly at times of peak demand, should be met directly and fully by those who make use of the water. It should be possible to do this without impacting on charges to meet basic household needs—whereas under present charging arrangements the costs of meeting peak demands are averaged across all consumers.water supply systems must be managed efficiently and economically. In particular, in the interests of customers and the environment, leakage levels should be reduced as rapidly as possible to economic levels. Methods of estimating leakage should be fully applied and improved. OFWAT has been discussing leakage reduction programmes with companies and will be publishing information on this shortly.increased efficiency in the use of water should continue to be sought. Immediate responsibility for this lies with domestic and industrial consumers, and manufacturers of domestic equipment. The Environment Act 1995 gave water companies a new duty to promote efficient water use by consumers, and the Director General of Water Services new powers to supervise the use of the duty; further information on the subject will be published the light of these factors and in consultation with the Environment Agency, water companies need to review urgently and comprehensively, if they are not already doing so, the reliable yields of each water resource system, with a view to establishing their adequacy and whether additional resources will be needed to meet properly-managed demand. These reviews should take account of the likely impact of climate change so far as it can be predicted. In some locations, new resources may well be needed and plans should be made to provide them in an environmentally satisfactory manner.The report will in particular seek to identify the issues on which further work is needed, the timetables for completing it, and who should be responsible for carrying each matter forward.The Director General proposes to put to my right honourable friend shortly proposals for changes in arrangements for compensation of consumers for failures of supply.

Firearms Control: Evidence To Inquiry

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether arrangements have been made to submit evidence on firearms controls to the inquiry being conducted by Lord Cullen into the events in Dunblane.

The Government submitted its evidence on firearms controls to Lord Cullen yesterday. With Lord Cullen's agreement, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland are today publishing the evidence. Copies have been placed in the Library. A copy of the evidence has been submitted to the Home Affairs Select Committee for its use in the separate inquiry which it is undertaking into handguns. Copies of the evidence have also been made available to the press, the police in England and Wales and Scotland, the Firearms Consultative Committee, the British Shooting Sports Council, and other shooting organisations. The Hone and Scottish Offices will provide copies on request to other organisations.

Painting Of House Of Lords In Session

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether the fee of £50,000 being paid to Mr. Andrew Festing for the painting of those members of the House in session who are prepared to pay to be depicted is all inclusive and whether any further payments to the artist are envisaged.

The fee agreed with the artist is all inclusive. However, if the project should end with a surplus through the sale of prints, any surplus will be split equally between the artist and the House of Lords' Works of Art Collection Fund.

Refugees: Free School Meals

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether it is their intention that, as a result of the Asylum and Immigration Bill, refugees no longer able to claim benefits will be deprived of the right to free school meals for their children; whether they believe such deprivation might create a risk to health; and whether, in their current negotiations with the local authorities, they will take any steps to allow such free school meals to continue.

The Asylum and Immigration Bill does not affect the benefit entitlement of refugees. The exclusion of immigrants from child benefit does not affect their potential entitlement to free school meals.Entitlement to free school meals depends upon receipt of income support. Asylum seekers with children who are excluded from income support may be helped by local authorities under the special grant arrangements announced by the Secretary of State for Social Security on 11th January. It is for local authorities to decide how to meet the needs they identify.

Income Support For Parent With Care

asked Her Majesty's Government:Further to the Written Answer of 2nd April, which included a letter from Miss Ann Chant (

WA 30), whether they will amend the income support rules, so that, in cases where the parent with care has been assessed to receive maintenance above the level of income support under the Child Support Act 1991 and the maintenance fails to arrive, the entitlement to income support can be reactivated without "costly extra administrative work" of making a new claim.

We have no plans to make such amendments. Income support is an income related benefit. When a person's income increases to a level which extinguishes entitlement to income support, payment ceases. If that person's income subsequently drops to a level where income support may again be payable, a further claim will be necessary to take account of any changed circumstances in the meantime. There is no reason for these arrangements to be altered because the person's income derives from child support maintenance rather than from another source.

Defence Secondary Care Agency

asked Her Majesty's Government:What are their plans for the creation of a Defence Secondary Care Agency.

The Defence Secondary Care Agency (DSCA) will form on 30th April 1996, when secondary medical care currently provided on a single-Service basis will be included within a joint Service agency under the control of a chief executive. Until a decision is taken on its final location, the headquarters of the DSCA will be based in London. The DSCA will include:

  • (a) The Royal Hospital Haslar at Gosport;
  • (b) The Duchess of Kent's Hospital at Catterick;
  • (c) Three Ministry of Defence hospital units within the NHS Trust Hospitals at Derriford, Plymouth, Frimley Park, Camberley, and Peterborough;
  • (d) The Princess Mary's Hospital at Akrotiri, Cyprus;
  • (e) The Defence Services Medical Rehabilitation Unit at RAF Headley Court in Surrey.
  • (f) In addition, DSCA personnel will be stationed in smaller facilities at other locations, both at home and overseas.
  • Each Service will continue to recruit to its own medical branch and will be responsible for issuing appointments and posting orders for personnel of the particular Service into, within and out of the agency after agreement with the Chief Executive and for an agreed duration. It is expected that uniformed secondary care personnel will spend the major part of their career working within the agency.The aim of the agency is to make available to Commanders in Chief appropriate medically trained secondary care Service personnel when required for training, exercises and deployments. In support of this aim, the agency will deliver timely and effective treatments consistent with expected outcomes by providing the best possible medical care to all agency patients.

    The Chief Executive, Mr. R. G. Smith, will be afforded greater responsibility and flexibility to build upon the professional ability and reputation for excellence of secondary care personnel from all three Service medical branches. This will ensure that the MoD retains the capacity to deploy trained secondary care staff on military operations, to provide the best possible medical care to all agency patients, and at the same time to maximise value for money in the delivery of secondary care for Service personnel in order to maintain their operational readiness during peacetime.

    The chief executive has been set the following key targets for the first year of the operation:

  • 1. From within available personnel resources, to meet the Services' requirements for secondary care skill mix in support of operations.
  • 2. To maintain the most appropriate clinical environment for all staff to ensure professional recognition and accreditation by statutory bodies in the light of their continually improving standards.
  • 3. To meet all milestones for Phase 1 of Project ICE Improving Clinical Excellence).
  • 4. To assess the Agency against Investors in People criteria within year one and produce an action plan for full accreditation.
  • 5. To develop average prices for Finished Consultant Episodes for each speciality, and at each site.
  • 6. To meet an efficiency target of 4 per cent. for financial year 1996/97.
  • Copies of the Agency's Framework Document have been placed in the Library of the House.

    Mark 1 Rolling Stock, Safety

    asked Her Majesty's Government:In the light of the concern expressed by Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate over the crashworthiness of Mark 1 rail passenger coaches, including the expectations (i) after the 1989 Clapham accident that virtually all such coaches would be replaced by 1997 and (ii) after the Cowden accident that II such coaches would be subject to a programme of improving their crashworthiness what action has been taken to implement the recommendations made after the Cowden accident, and whether they will confirm the statement made by the franchising director in awarding the seven-year franchise for Network South Central that the Railway Inspectorate is content that this rolling stock should remain in service until the end of the franchise.

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

    All rolling stock is maintained to operate safely and Mark 1 stock is not inherently unsafe. Network South Central's stock of this type has been on lease since April 1994 and the majority of this stock is expected to remain on lease until the end of the franchise in 2003. It was in this context that the franchising director's remarks were intended.In September 1995 the British Railways Board (BRB) submitted a report in response to a request from HSE for a position paper describing BRB's view of the future of Mark 1 stock. Following the Cowden report recommendation about further research on strengthening, HSE is considering the BRB report and the issues it raises, and has commissioned further research itself.In the light of this work, HSE will review the future of Mark 1 rolling stock and any action that may be needed if it is to continue in use beyond 1999.

    Channel Tunnel Rail Link

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Further to the Written Answer of Viscount Goschen of 19th March 1996 (

    WA 96), how the Channel Tunnel Rail Link can be said to accommodate standard continental rolling stock when it quotes connection only to existing railways having two different non-Continental loading gauges—namely, standard BR clearance and Eurotunnel shuttle clearance; and whether, in the light of the above, they will introduce legislation to ensure that the Channel Tunnel Rail Link will be built as is presently intended.

    Loading gauge refers to the space provided around and above railway tracks which define the largest size of vehicle which can use the railway. It is a condition of the Development Agreement with London and Continental Railways, who will construct and operate the CTRL, that the railway is designed to at Least UIC "C" gauge, the largest loading gauge in regular use on European main lines. The loading gauge of the Channel Tunnel is even larger, to accommodate the Shuttle trains, and does not therefore present a restriction.

    Liberia: Flag Of Convenience

    asked Her Majesty's Government:What is the present status of the Liberian flag of convenience.

    Liberia currently has the world's second largest fleet. It is not one of the flags specifically targeted for inspection by the Paris Memorandum of Understanding on port state control.

    Rights Of Audience: Law Society's Application

    asked Her Majesty's Government:

  • (i) whether they are satisfied that the Lord Chancellor is complying with his statutory obligations under the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 and in particular paragraph 11(4) of Schedule 4, in view of the fact that in June 1995 he received the written advice of his Advisory Committee on Legal Education and Conduct that the Law Society's application for authorisation to grant extended rights of audience in the High Court to employed solicitors be not approved; and yet the Lord Chancellor has not decided whether to accept or reject this advice; and
  • (ii) whether this delay is justified and if so, on what grounds.
  • I am satisfied that the Law Society's application is being dealt with in accordance with the procedure laid down in Schedule 4 to the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990.It is only right that the application he given due thought and consideration and this, needless to say, takes time. This application raises difficult issues. My advisory committee found great difficulty in reaching a conclusion and, as my noble and learned friend will be aware, their advice to me was accompanied by a substantial dissenting opinion.

    British Coal Land In Use For Sport And Recreation

    asked Her Majesty's Government:(a) what discussions have taken place between the Department of Trade and Industry and British Coal regarding the future of recreational sites in coalfield communities; and to what extent the Coal Industry Social Welfare and the National Playing Fields Associations have been involved; and (b) what guarantees of protection can be given to future owners of the sites regarding provisions for indemnity against historical contamination.

    My department has been engaged in detailed discussion with British Coal about the best means of achieving the Government's objective that British Coal land in active use for sport and recreation will be retained for those purposes. Both the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation and the National Playing Fields Association have participated actively in those discussions as prospective holders of the freeholds.British Coal sought to address concerns about land contamination by careful consideration of the legal mechanism for any transfer of ownership, by commissioning environmental research and by giving those bodies the option of excluding particular sites.