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Written Answers

Volume 572: debated on Tuesday 21 May 1996

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Written Answers

Tuesday, 21st May 1996.

Fire Safety Review

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will report on the interdepartmental review of fire safety legislation and enforcement, and on the implementation of the general fire safety aspects of the EC framework and workplace directives.

The review was established to examine what scope there might be for rationalising relevant legislation and enforcement arrangements while maintaining or improving standards of fire safety. It found that there were overlaps in present legislation and enforcement arrangements which could impose burdens on business and create uncertainty. Consultation on the report showed that while there was general agreement that existing legislation should be simplified and made more coherent, there was no consensus on what precisely should be done to effect those improvements.In the light of the consultation exercise we have decided,

  • that fire safety should, in general, be treated separately in legislation and that its enforcement should rest principally with fire authorities;
  • that the outstanding fire safety elements of the EC Framework and Workplace Directives will be implemented by regulations to be made under the European Communities Act 1972; we believe that the minimum safety standards required by the Directives broadly reflect the safety standards required by existing legal obligations on employers and therefore that the good employer has nothing to fear from the proposed regulations;
  • that monitoring, control and supervision of the fire safety aspects of the risk assessment and of the other actions that the regulations require employers to take will be the responsibility of fire authorities;
  • that Section 9A of the Fire Precautions Act 1971 will be disapplied by the regulations to the extent its provisions overlap with the specific requirements of the regulations;
  • that the powers provided under Section 5 of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 will be applied to the enforcement of the Fire Precautions Act 1971, to improve further the fairness, transparency and consistency of the supervision and control of the Act's requirements;
  • to consult, by July, on widening the scope for fire authorities to exempt premises which do not constitute a high risk from the need to have a fire certificate;
  • to consult on a revised fire certification system based on risk assessment to target it more accurately at premises where there is a high risk of loss of life from fire;
  • to invite the Health and Safety Commission to review in parallel the operation of the Fire Certificates (Special Premises) Regulations 1976 (for which it has policy responsibility);
  • to commence consultation in June 1996 on the elimination of overlaps between the physical fire standards in national legislation and fire safety provisions in Local Acts and bylaws;
  • to review physical fire standards and codes of practice to ensure greater consistency and simplification for business. We shall commence consultation in the Autumn;
  • to bring forward proposals by the summer to amend the building regulations to cover certain physical fire precautions currently covered by fire certification to provide a one-stop shop for developers;
  • to clarify the respective responsibilities of building control and fire authorities with the aim of streamlining current arrangements to help reduce costs for developers.

We are issuing today for consultation draft regulations intended to give effect to our remaining obligations under the EC Framework and Workplace Directives. The draft regulations will be made under the European Communities Act 1972. The draft aims to avoid imposing unnecessary burdens and so, where appropriate, follows as closely as possible the language of the Directives to ensure that the regulations go no further than strictly required. The duty imposed on all employers by the Directives to conduct a risk assessment for their workplaces has generally been implemented by the management of health and safety at work regulations of 1992. Employers will be able to carry out the fire safety element of the risk assessment either as an integral part of an overall risk assessment, or may undertake it separately.

Where an employer fails to comply with any duty in relation to fire safety, the fire authority may apply to the courts for an order requiring compliance or if the breach is a serious one, may issue an enforcement notice. If the breach is deliberate, reckless and is serious, the employer can be prosecuted.

The powers provided under Section 5 of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 will be applied to the Fire Precautions Act 1971 by means of a statutory instrument to be laid before Parliament by the end of 1996 and we shall identify other fire safety legislation where these powers could apply. The proposed new regulations to give effect to our Community obligations will also incorporate the principles underlying these powers.

We intend that rationalisation and simplification of the fire safety regime to reduce burdens on business while maintaining necessary safeguards, should be a continuing process. Subject to an analysis of the costs and benefits, we will be looking for further opportunities to rationalise both law and practice.

Copies of the consultation document, which includes the draft regulations, are being placed in the Library.

Sporting Club Police Raid: Media Presence

asked Her Majesty's Government:What was the strength of, and what is the explanation for, the media presence inside the National Sporting Club during the recent police raid.

The carrying out of police raids, and whether television and newspaper reporters are allowed to attend, is an operational matter for the chief officer of police for the area concerned, in this case the Commissioner of police of the Metropolis.

Deportation

asked Her Majesty's Government:In how many instances deportation measures in progress concern persons who (a) have never committed a criminal offence in the United Kingdom, and (b) are fully self supporting and so do not represent a cost to public funds.

Information is not available in the form requested and there is no record kept of such people who are fully self supporting. However, the latest provisional figures available for 1995 show that 1,812 people were removed from the United Kingdom following the start of deportation action, of whom 327 were deported as a consequence of a criminal conviction. However, all those who knowingly overstay a leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom, or who breach a condition of that leave are liable to prosecution under the Immigration Act 1971. Of those deported under the administrative powers in the Act, there is no central record of any other non-immigration related offences they may have committed.

British Council Restructuring Costs: Government Assistance

asked Her Majesty's Government:What assistance they propose to make available to the British Council to help with its restructuring costs and to avoid overseas post closures.

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

I have today written to the chairman of the British Council informing him that my department is prepared to meet 80 per cent. of the actual costs of redundancies among its grant-in-aid funded UK appointed staff this financial year. I propose to finance this from the ODA's contingency reserve. Since this reserve is higher than originally planned this can be accommodated without affecting our ability to respond to foreseeable emergencies or reducing planned aid programmes. That part of the funding which serves aid objectives will be provided directly through the ODA Vote. For the balance, I will be seeking parliamentary authority later this year to make the appropriate transfer between the ODA and the British Council Votes.In my letter to the chairman I have also assured him that an additional £5 million in 1997–98 and £9 million in 1998–99 will be made available to the council from within my departmental programme in order to avoid closures of British Council offices overseas, to help sustain their programmes in priority countries and to contribute towards their continuing redundancy costs.The British Council will of course be continuing with its existing programme of efficiency savings.

Eu General Affairs Council, 13Th-14Th May

asked Her Majesty's Government:What was the outcome of the EU General Affairs Council on 13th to 14th May.

The A Points in Document 7127/96 which will be placed in the Libraries of the House as soon as it is available, were approved.The Presidency noted the resolutions adopted by the European Parliament in Document 6216/96, PE-RE 33 and drew attention to Nos. 8 (cooperation on EU fisheries with Morocco), 23 (outcome of Turin European Council), 24 (Central and Eastern Europe Integration into internal market), 30 (Baltic Sea Cooperation) and 32 (EMU and Economic and Social Cohesion).The Council heard a progress report from the Chairman of the Consultative Commission on racism and xenophobia, Jean Khan, about the Commission's study on a possible EU Observatory on racism and xenophobia.The Council reached political agreement on draft negotiating directives for a new EU/Mexico Agreement. The Commission also presented draft negotiating directives for new agreements between the Community and Cambodia and Laos; and updated agreements between the Community and Bangladesh and Pakistan.The Commission gave a brief report on progress in the negotiations for "Euro-Med" agreements between the EU and Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon; progress towards opening negotiations with Algeria; and the Commission's exploratory contacts with the Palestinian Authority and Syria. The Council decided to reconsult the European Parliament on the text of the MEDA regulation.The Presidency reported on progress in the Middle East Peace Process and Ministers had a meeting in the margins of the Council with Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri, Ministers also discussed reconstruction aid for the Lebanon.

EU High Representative Carl Bildt briefed Ministers about the current situation in Bosnia. Mostar Administrator Casado briefed the Council on the Mostar elections. Ministers also had a brief discussion on Albania.

The Council agreed the EU/Russia Action Plan and adopted conclusions reaffirming its support for the reform process, looking forward to free and fair elections, and restating EU willingness to take part in observation of them.

The Council endorsed conclusions on preparation for the World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference in Singapore in December.

The Council also adopted conclusions on Niger, foreseeing progressive resumption of EU co-operation, subject to a review at the Council on 10th June of the results of the 12th May referendum and the lifting of the ban on political parties; and on Liberia, expressing concern at the humanitarian situation and affirming EU willingness to provide humanitarian aid.

My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary urged EU partners to agree to a relaxation of the ban on the export of gelatine, tallow and semen.

The second substantive ministerial meeting of the IGC also took place on 13th May. Ministers had before them a Presidency note (CONF 3847/96, which has been deposited in the Library of the House) which raised two broad issues for discussion: flexibility of the Union and the efficiency and balance of the institutions. On the former, Ministers considered the desirability of more flexible structures in the Union and whether treaty provisions were necessary to provide a framework for this. On the latter, Ministers considered a range of institutional issues, including the size of the Commission, the scope and weighting of qualified majority voting, the role of the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice, in particular in the light of future enlargement.

The ministerial session was preceded by an exchange of views with the European President and two representatives of the European Parliament.

There were Association Councils with Malta and Cyprus on 14th May, followed by a joint structured dialogue meeting and lunch.

St Helena: Demonstration

asked Her Majesty's Government:What were the circumstances of the riot on St. Helena, reported in the Sunday Telegraph of 5th May.

On 19th April a demonstration outside the Castle in Jamestown was organised to press demands for increased social security benefits. A number (about 60–70) of those demonstrators forced their way into the governor's office. They were eventually persuaded to leave: there was no damage to property or harm to the government servants involved. The ODA had sent an expert adviser on social security to St. Helena in March. He has recommended changes to the social security system on the Island which are being studied by the St. Helena Government.

Albanian Elections: Monitoring

asked Her Majesty's Government:What information they have about arrangements for independent monitoring of the elections in Albania, due on 26th May and 2nd June.

The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) is co-ordinating a monitoring mission to observe the Albanian elections. The United Kingdom, as well as Sweden and Italy, is providing a long-term monitor: ODIHR expect 40 short-term observers from the UK, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Denmark. The United States will be providing another 10 as part of their own projects.

Council Of Europe: Croatian Application

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will oppose the admission of Croatia to the Council of Europe until such time as there are an independent judiciary and free media, and democracy and human rights are fully respected in that country.

In the light of continuing concerns about Croatia's internal policies, EU Foreign Ministers agreed at the General Affairs Council on 13th May to postpone a decision on Croatian membership of the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe deputies at their meeting on 14th May decided to consider Croatia's membership at their next meeting on 30th May, on the basis of a document prepared by the Council of Europe secretariat setting out commitments and expectations, the fulfilment of which could be required of Croatia according to a timetable to be fixed. The UK has not taken the lead within the EU on this issue, but supports the decision on postponement, and the proposed process for further consideration by the Council of Europe of the Croatian application.

Dr Seyfettin Kizilkan

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will make inquiries and report on the whereabouts and welfare of Dr. Seyfettin Kizilkan, Chairman of the Diyarbakir Region of the Turkish Medical Association, who was detained recently on a charge of suspected PKK membership, a charge of which he was acquitted two years ago.

We have asked the Turkish authorities for information about Dr. Kizilkan. We understand he was arrested on 5th May and charged on 7th May with providing shelter for the PKK.

Europe: Human Rights Policies

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether their proposal to persuade the other members of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to join with them in passing a resolution on the approach of the European Court of Human Rights to the "margin of appreciation" is intended to influence the exercise of judicial functions by the court; and, if not, what is the purpose of such a resolution.

We want the Strasbourg institutions to give full weight to their own principle that free societies have the right, within limits, to choose for themselves the human rights policies that best suit them. The intention is to allow for diversity while maintaining the standards of the European Convention on Human Rights. A resolution by the Committee of Ministers might be one way of encouraging the consistent application of this approach.

Russia: Nuclear Safety

asked Her Majesty's Government:What assessment they have made of the environmental risks arising from the storage, handling and use of radioactive materials, including nuclear reactors, in northern Russia; whether they will evaluate the findings of the Bellona Foundation in the report

The Russian Northern Fleet and in particular their conclusions that "without international co-operation and financing, a situation will in all probability arise which can be pictured as a Chernobyl in slow motion," and whether they will ask the Chairman in Office of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation on Europe, Mr. Flavio Cotti, to take up with the Russians the imprisonment on a charge of high treason of one of the authors, retired naval captain Alexander Nikitin, and the general principle that information in the public domain cannot be treated as a state secret, if Russia is to stay in conformity with Helsinki provisions on freedom of expression.

The Government share concern about the whole range of nuclear safety issues in Russia, including the management of radioactive materials, and the disposal of nuclear components of obsolete vessels of the Russian Northern and Far Eastern fleets. The West has committed over £780 million in multilateral grant assistance to improve nuclear safety in the countries of the former Soviet Union and central and eastern Europe, including almost £80 million for nuclear fuel cycles and radioactive waste projects. The UK plays an active role in these programmes. AEA Technology are currently working on safe removal and storage of unstable nuclear fuel on board a Russian support ship in Murmansk harbour. One project of the international Nuclear Safety Account, to which we subscribe, aims to improve safety at the Russian nuclear power plant at Kola in NW Russia. 24 million ECU has already been committed to this.We and our European Allies are closely monitoring the case of Mr. Nikitin, in the spirit of the Helsinki Declaration. The British Ambassador raised the matter with the Russians last month. We expect Russia to follow the due process of law.

Mr Sam Rainsy

asked Her Majesty's Government:What steps they will take, either alone or with other governments of the European Union, to persuade the Cambodian Government to comply with the recommendations of the Inter-Parliamentary Council, in its resolution passed at the 95th Inter-Parliamentary Conference held in Istanbul from April 15th-20th concerning the case of Mr. Sam Rainsy MP and whether they will ensure that representatives attending the forthcoming Consultative Group meeting on Cambodia receive copies of the IPU's resolution and of the report on which it was based, together with any observations by the Cambodian Government on the matters raised.

We have studied the Inter-Parliamentary Council resolution on the case of Sam Rainsy. The Cambodian Government is well aware of the importance we attach to multi party democracy and freedom of expression. Distribution of the IPU resolution will be a matter for the IPU and not HMG.

Sifiso Mahlangu

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will explain the circumstances in which the United Kingdom failed to comply, in the case of Sifiso Mahlangu, with an indication from the President of the European Commission of Human Rights (under Rule 36 of the Commission's Rules of Procedure) that the boy should not be returned to South Africa pending the determination of his application to the Commission.

As soon as the Government learnt of the president's request, Counsel was instructed on behalf of the Attorney-General to inform the Court of Appeal of it, and to explain that it was the practice of the Government to comply with such requests where this was within its power. In private litigation, particularly concerning the welfare of a child, it would have been improper for counsel for the Attorney-General to attempt to influence the court in the exercise of its discretion.

Europe: Human Rights (Interim Measures)

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will take steps to enable British courts to give effect to recommendations made by the President of the European Commission of Human Rights for interim measures pending the determination of complaints to the Commission; and, if not, why not?

Although such requests for interim measures have no legal force, the Government have complied with them where this was within their power. The Government can also inform a British court of such a request, and the court can if it thinks fit give effect to it, but in litigation between private parties this is ultimately a matter for the decision of the court.

Christmas Island Tests: Atmospheric Effects

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will publish all evidence relating to the effects of radiation resulting from nuclear tests on Christmas Island and whether they are satisfied that all proper procedures to identify those effects have been carried out.

Since UK atmospheric tests at the Christmas Island range were completed in 1958, there have been a number of studies by distinguished scientific bodies, including the University of Washington Radiation Laboratory and the New Zealand National Radiation Laboratory, none of which has established any evidence of radioactive contamination or hazards to the test participants or the local population.Similar studies were also carried out by the National Radiological Protection Board in 1988 and 1993. These also showed conclusively that the tests had had no detectable effect on the participants' life expectancy: nor on their chances of developing cancer or other fatal diseases. The results of these studies are contained in reports published by HMSO. We do not believe there are grounds for any further studies.

Uk-Us Ballistic Missile Defence

asked Her Majesty's Government:What was the co-operation to which United States Secretary of Defence William Perry referred on 31st January when he said that in "formulating joint programmes in ballistic missile defence in which we [the United States, Japan and the United Kingdom] co-operate, we pool resources to arrive at a quicker and more economical ballistic missile defence for all countries involved".

UK co-operation with the US on ballistic missile defence takes place under the auspices of a memorandum of understanding which has been in place since 1985. UK involvement includes government-to-government research contracts; information exchange arrangements; joint trials and experiments and direct contracts with UK companies and universities.

Economic Activity: Definition

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether (a) housewives, (b) farmers' wives, (c) unmarried mothers without paid employment, are categorised in official statistics as "economically inactive" and what is their definition of "economic inactivity".

The official statistics based on the Labour Force Survey use the International Labour Organisation (ILO) guidelines for defining economic activity. All persons aged 16 and over who are in employment (including paid employees, the self-employed and unpaid family workers) or are ILO unemployed (not in employment, seeking work in the past four weeks and available to start in the next two weeks) are classified as economically active. People who are neither in employment nor ILO unemployed are classified as economically inactive.

Road Works: Advance Warning Signs

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will instruct the Highways Agency that when undertaking major road works they should erect suitable advance warning signs and remove those signs on the completion of the work.

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

No. This is a procedural matter of the Highways Agency, and I have asked their Chief Executive, Mr. Lawrie Haynes, to write to my noble friend.

Letter to Lord Finsberg from the Chief Executive of the Highways Agency, Mr. Lawrie Haynes, dated 21st May 1996.

As you know, the Minister for Aviation and Shipping, The Viscount Goschen has asked me to reply to your Parliamentary Question concerning the erection of suitable advance warning signs for major road works and the removal of these signs on completion.

It is already our policy to erect temporary advance warning signs for major road works, when it is likely that road users will encounter delays as a result. There are a range of signs available. These allow us to divert traffic from the current route to avoid delays and can assist drivers in planning their future journeys to take account of roadworks, as well as raising general awareness of possible hazards directly ahead related to road works. We do not erect advance warning of road works where any resulting diversions would affect road safety.

We already require contractors to remove advance warning signs on the completion of works.

Rail Freight Operations

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will list for each of the private or publicly-owned rail freight operators, any commercial restrictions placed on them in respect of the carriage of containers and/or swap bodies within the United Kingdom.

Privatised rail freight businesses are free to compete in any market. Commercial decisions regarding Freightliner and Railfreight Distribution, which have yet to be sold, are for the BR Board.

Mozambique: Oil Pollution Preparedness

asked Her Majesty's Government:What action they are taking to assist the Government of Mozambique in relation to sensitive coastal regions as part of the Africa programme (IMO-MEPC 37) to implement the Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Cooperation Convention; and whether any such action includes direct finance and the use of the DTI Breeze project.

Her Majesty's Government, through the Overseas Development Administration, is providing funding for a project to improve contingency planning for oil spills in Africa, which involves Mozambique. No support is being provided through the Department of Trade and Industry Breeze project.

Liberian Maritime Registry (Operation)

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether the present civil war in Liberia has any effect on the Liberian flag under which the world's second largest fleet sails.

The operation of the Liberian registry is a matter for the Liberian maritime authorities.

Post Offices

asked Her Majesty's Government:How many branch offices of the Post Office have been privatised since they announced that they were not going to denationalise it; and what reduction of staff has taken place since that date.

I understand from the Post Office that, since November 1994, 110 Crown post offices have been converted to agency status and that, since then, some 750 staff have chosen to leave Post Office Counters Ltd on voluntary redundancy terms for a variety of reasons. It is not possible to say how many of these staff did so as a result of the conversions.

Trade Marks: Retail Services

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will make freely available the opinion on the registration for retail service marks submitted to the Registrar of Trade Marks; and if not, why not.

The opinion commissioned by the Department of Trade and Industry contains information relating to individual trade mark applications which are pending. It would therefore be inappropriate for this opinion to be made freely available.

asked Her Majesty's Government:In the light of their Written Answer of 20th December 1995, whether the Government has considered the opinion of Mr. Christopher Morcom Q.C. submitted by the British Retail Consortium in relation to the registration of retail service marks; and, if so, whether this opinion differs from the opinion commissioned by the Department of Trade and Industry.

The Government has received the submission of the British Retail Consortium ("BRC") containing the opinion of Mr. Christopher Morcom QC concerning the registration of marks for retail services, and has passed the opinion to the Registrar of Trade Marks. The Registrar is considering both opinions in relation to his responsibilities under current legislation.

Scottish Fishery Management (Trout And Char)

asked Her Majesty's Government:Why there is no close season for rainbow trout.

Since rainbow trout do not normally reproduce naturally in Scotland, there is no statutory close season.

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they consider that the lack of close season legislation for rainbow trout and char is being exploited by unscrupulous anglers, to allow them to take protected brown trout out of season.

The Government have no evidence that this is a problem. However, as it is an offence to take brown trout in the close season whatever the pretext, those responsible can be prosecuted.

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they consider that fishery management and the operation of district fishery boards and protection orders are made difficult, if not impossible, by the lack of close season legislation for certain species.

Those responsible for the management of Scotland's freshwater fisheries have not made representations to that effect.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

  • Whether the species of char or Arctic char are covered by any close season legislation; and
  • Whether they have any plans to introduce a close season for rainbow trout and char or Arctic char.

There is no statutory close season for char, also known as Arctic char. The Government have no plans to introduce a close season for that species or for rainbow trout.