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Written Answers

Volume 597: debated on Thursday 18 February 1999

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Written Answers

Thursday, 18th February 1999.

Constitution Unit Conference: Constitutional Futures

asked Her Majesty's Government:What contacts they have had with the Constitution Unit regarding the one-day conference entitled "Constitutional Futures" on Thursday 25 February at the Senate House, University of London; what were the nature and subjects of the contacts; and on which dates they occurred. [HL868]

No comprehensive central record of contacts between the Constitution Unit and the government departments is held and could only be provided at disproportionate cost. However, I am aware that the Constitution Unit has sent publicity material about this and other forthcoming events to various contacts in government departments.

Labour Party Manifesto

asked Her Majesty's Government:What was the total number of commitments made in the Labour manifesto at the last general election. [HL993]

There were 177 commitments in the Labour manifesto at the last election. They were listed in full in the Government's Annual Report.


asked Her Majesty's Government:Further to the Answer by the Lord McIntosh of Haringey on 2 February (H. L. Deb., col. 1420) that "we are in control of our own fiscal policies", whether the United Kingdom is entirely free to decide the coverage of VAT and to set the applicable rates. [HL949]

The European Community's Sixth VAT Directive provides a framework for the coverage of VAT and the rates which may be applied by member states. Within that framework, the UK is able to decide a number of important issues, including the level of our standard rate above the 15 per cent. EC minimum which the last Government agreed to in 1992.

Tobacco Duty

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether, in the light of losses estimated to be £1.5 billion per annum to the Government's revenues due to tobacco smuggling, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will refrain from further increases in tobacco duty in his forthcoming Budget.[HL943]

Duty rates are a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget Statement.

asked Her Majesty's Government:What connection there is between cheap smuggled tobacco products entering the British market and unregulated sales of such products to children under 16 years of age; and whether they intend to reverse their policy of imposing increases of 6 per cent. above inflation in tobacco duties in the forthcoming and subsequent Budgets. [HL944]

Research shows that most children who smoke say that they buy their cigarettes from shops. The Government believe that the majority of shopkeepers do try hard to avoid illegal sales of cigarettes to children. The Government do, however, intend to work with local enforcement agencies to ensure more effective compliance.Duty rates are a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget Statement.

Heinrich Muller

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they have any direct evidence to support the view that SS Gruppenfuehrer Heinrich Muller, Head of the Gestapo, survived the Second World War. [HL880]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

Initial enquiries indicate that the answer is no. However, we are making further enquiries with other government departments, and should any direct evidence come to light as a result of these enquiries I will write to the noble Lord.

European Convention On Human Rights: Article 14

asked Her Majesty's Government:What progress has been made by the Working Group of the Committee of Experts of the Council of Europe in drafting an additional Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights to broaden the scope of Article 14 of the Convention by including an open-ended list of grounds of discrimination. [HL883]

The Council of Europe's Committee of Experts for the Development of Human Rights (DH-DEV) has continued its work on the drafting of an additional protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights broadening, in a general fashion, the field of application of Article 14 of the Convention. The Committee of Experts has considered a number of different variants and plans to report to the Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH) in time for the latter's next meeting in June.

Yemen And Aden: British Representation

asked Her Majesty's Government:How many members of staff in British diplomatic and consular representation in the Yemen in (a) Sana'a and (b) Aden are United Kingdom-based; and how many of them are Arabic speakers. [HL906]

There are nine United Kingdom-based officers in Sana'a and none in Aden. Three of the nine officers are Arabic speakers: the Ambassador, Political Second Secretary and Commercial Second Secretary.

Turkey: Council Of Europe Mission

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will place in the Library of the House copies of the report by the Council of Europe's fact-finding mission, which visited Turkey in 1998, when available. [HL907]

Her Majesty's Government have made arrangements for a copy of the Council of Europe Report of the Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States on Turkey to be placed in the Library of the House.

International Instruments: Violations

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they consider the United States is authorised and, if so, by what authority to act unilaterally against violations of international non-proliferation standards; and if so, what limits the Charter of the United Nations puts on such unilateral actions. [HL921]

Whether or not authority exists for unilateral action taken in response to a violation of international non-proliferation standards would depend on the precise circumstances both of the violation and the response.

asked Her Majesty's Government:In respect of the proposal made by the United States delegation to the most recent plenary meeting of the North Atlantic Assembly (in the context of NATO actions out of area), that member states should be required to act merely "in the spirit" of international instruments such as the United Nations Charter, United Nations Security Council Resolutions and Resolutions of the North Atlantic Council, instead of in accordance with them:

  • (a) whether they support this proposal;
  • (b) when they would expect to judge whether actions were "in the spirit" of such instruments; and
  • (c) whether they intend to introduce this concept into the domestic law of the United Kingdom. [HL923]
  • Member states of NATO must act in accordance with international law.

    Bbc World Service: Middle East

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether the BBC World Service has decided to close its posts of Middle East and Islamic Affairs Analyst; and, if so, why. [HL926]

    The Middle East is extremely important to the BBC World Service, which is committed as a priority to ensuring the best coverage of and about affairs in the region. Staff matters are for the BBC management to decide internally.

    General Pinochet: Vatican Representations

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they have received any representations from the Vatican about the arrest of Senator Pinochet. [HL927]

    Angola: Global Witness Report

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether, in pursuance of United Nations Security Council resolutions on Angola, they will take up the recommendations in the Global Witness report

    A Rough Trade: the role of companies and governments in the Angolan conflict with those to whom they are addressed, with a view to stopping the flow of contraband diamonds onto the market from Angola, and hence the financing of the civil war. [HL931]

    FCO officials have met representatives of Global Witness to discuss the findings of their report. The UK is already working actively within the United Nations Sanctions Committee on Angola to promote measures to improve the implementation of sanctions against UNITA, including the ban on the import of diamonds not controlled through the Certificate of Origin Scheme of the Government of Angola.

    European Commission For Democracy Through Law

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Further to the Written Answer by the Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean on 21 October 1997 (

    WA 207), what were the results of the review with respect to the United Kingdom's possible participation in the work of the European Commission for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission). [HL932]

    United Kingdom membership of the Council of Europe (CoE) European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) would fall to the FCO budget.Final decisions on FCO priority spending in future financial years are still under consideration. Existing inescapable commitments must remain our first priority.

    Iran: Mr Abbas Amir-Entezam

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will ask the Iranian authorities for permission to visit Evin Prison and talk to Mr. Abbas Amir-Entezam, the human rights advocate who was taken into custody on 8 September 1998 and allegedly charged with insulting Assodallah Lajevardi, the murdered former head of the prison. [HL942]

    There is no legal basis for a visit of this kind. Mr. Amir-Entezam is an Iranian citizen in an Iranian prison. We are, or course, aware of the case of Mr. Amir-Entezam, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1981 on various charges including espionage. He was placed under house arrest in 1995 and later released on parole, subject to certain conditions. But he was sent back to prison apparentlyfollowing complaints by the family of Assadollah Lajevardi that remarks by Amir-Entezam violated his parole conditions. The case was due to come to court on 16 February; we do not as yet have an account of the proceedings. The Iranian newspaper Khordad of 13 February carried an open letter by Amir-Entezam's wife addressed to the Iranian Bar Association calling on the association to ensure that due process was observed.We have in the past regularly raised the case of Mr. Amir-Entezam and other similar cases with the Iranian authorities. We and our EU partners will continue to raise with the Iranian authorities our concerns over certain areas of their human rights policies, as we did on 18 December 1998 during the latest round of the EU/Iran talks in Vienna. We continue to urge the Iranian authorities to show greater transparency in their judicial proceedings. We believe that by doing so, there would be greater trust in their judicial system.

    Eu Policy Planning And Early Warning Unit

    asked Her Majesty's Government:When they expect that the European Union's Policy Planning and Early Warning Units (PPU) and the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) High Representative will be in post and fully functioning. [HL962]

    The Vienna European Council on 11–12 December last year agreed that the High Representative should be appointed at the Cologne European Council (3–4 June). He or she will be expected to take up the post as soon as possible thereafter. The Policy Planning and Early Warning Unit will be set up once the High Representative is appointed.

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether the European Union's Policy Planning and Early Warning Units (PPU) will have sufficient personnel and resources, and a strong enough mandate, to analyse the impact on vulnerable countries of the aid, trade, military and arms export policies of the European Union member states, and to be able to make effective recommendations, in particular for conflict prevention. [HL963]

    The staffing of the Policy Planning and Early Warning Unit will be decided when the High Representative is appointed. One of the tasks of the Unit will be to establish appropriate co-operation with the Commission in order to ensure full coherence with the European Union's external economic and development policies.

    Eu Associate Members: Arms Export Controls

    asked Her Majesty's Government:What priority they are giving to enabling the 13 associate members of the European Union to establish effective control over arms exports, including end uses, and to prevent the illicit trafficking in weapons and ammunitions. [HL964]

    Her Majesty's Government plans to hold bilateral talks with a number of EU associate members on export controls in the near future.The UK welcomed the decision of the associate members to align themselves with the principles of the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports and of the EU Programme for Preventing and Combating Illicit Trafficking in Conventional Arms. In addition, the EU has agreed a joint action on small arms proliferation. This includes a commitment to combat illicit trafficking of small arms in affected states and to provide financial and technical assistance to relevant programmes and projects. We hope that the associate members of the EU will similarly align themselves with this joint action.

    Eu Middle East Special Envoy

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether the European Union special envoy in the Middle East, Ambassador Moratinos, has had some successful negotiations; if so, on what subjects; and on what issues he will concentrate in the coming months. [HL965]

    Ambassador Moratinos, EU Special Envoy, has played an invaluable role in promoting the European Union's positions and policies on the Middle East peace process. He has maintained good relations with the regional players involved in all tracks of the peace process. He has played a particularly key role in promoting the interim economic issues and the EU-Israel dialogue on problems facing the Palestinian economy, which has shown positive results. Ambassador Moratinos has also sponsored a programme of security co-operation between the EU and the Palestinian Authority to help the Palestinians meet their commitments under the Oslo Accords and We Memorandum.Since October 1998, Ambassador Moratinos has concentrated on EU efforts to support the implementation of the Wye Agreement. He attended the Donors Ministerial Conference in Washington on 30 November 1998, the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee on 4 February and has accompanied German Foreign Minister Fischer on his recent tour of the region. The EU will be reviewing how it can continue to support the peace process during the next period in the light of these contacts.

    Eu Policy: Palestinian Administration

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they are seeking to establish a common European Union policy as regards the final status of the Palestinian Administration and the end of the Oslo Declaration period on 4 May 1999. [HL966]

    The EU has consistently supported the Peace Process and full implementation of the Oslo Accords and subsequent agreements, including the Wye River Memorandum of October 1998 which calls for the immediate resumption of negotiations on the final status issues.Most recently the GAC on 25 January urged both sides to implement the Wye Memorandum fully and without new conditions. On behalf of the Presidency, Foreign Minister Fischer toured the region from 10–14 February. In the light of the Presidency's report, the EU will review how best it can support the Peace Process in the next period, including the implications of the expiry of the five-year Interim Period established under Oslo. It remains our strong wish, and that of our EU partners, that the EU should maintain a consensus approach to the Peace Process.


    asked Her Majesty's Government:What is their response to recent statements made by the Zimbabwean authorities that British agents have contributed to the undermining of that country's economy. [HL1012]

    Her Majesty's Government do not believe that President Mugabe was referring to agents of the UK Government in his televised speech on 6 February. The Government have always supported social, economic and political development in Zimbabwe in the interests of stability.

    Prison Service: Information Technology

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether it is still their intention ultimately to develop a common database of prisoners, ex-prisoners on parole or licence and former prisoners convicted of certain serious offences to be accessed by the Prison Service, the police and the probation service. [HL1015]

    The Inmates Information System (IIS) currently in use in the Prison Service is some 10 years-old and is expected to be replaced in the business change process which will be facilitated by the Quantum project. It is intended that the new system will allow for much greater and more timely exchange of information between the agencies of the criminal justice system. Whether this can best be achieved through a joint database or other possible solutions will be a matter for later study. The Prison Service is working closely with other agencies to determine the most effective way ahead.

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether it is now their intention to continue using the Local Inmates Database System (LIDS) for computer-based prisoner information in the Prison Service indefinitely; and whether they are satisfied that this system, and the others now to be retained beyond the year 2000, are Y2K compliant. [HL1016]

    The Inmates Information System (IIS) which incorporates the Local Inmates Database System is expected to be replaced as part of the business change process which will be facilitated by the Quantum project. The nature of the prison population is such that IIS has had to deal with dates beyond 2000 from its inception in 1989 and it was designed with this in mind. In addition, it has been subjected to exhaustive further testing as part of the Prison Service year 2000 programme and appropriate changes were implemented by the end of 1998 to ensure year 2000 readiness. Other Prison Service systems covering areas such as finance and personnel were similarly upgraded.

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they consider that the Prison Service has sufficient information technology expertise in-house to evaluate competently the proposals made to it by outside contractors [HL1017]

    I believe that, in conjunction with the Central Computing and Telecommunications Agency, the Prison Service can call upon personnel with relevant knowledge, experience and skills to evaluate proposals from bidders. To a limited extent, this may involve the use of outside specialist assistance.

    asked Her Majesty's Government:What plans they have to develop a web site for the Prison Service; why a separate Board of Visitors web site has been inaugurated; and what was the cost of this project. [HL1018]

    The Prison Service is currently undertaking the preliminary scoping work for setting up its own web site with a view to having a presence on the Internet by the spring of this year.The Board of Visitors web site was initially one page within the Home Office web site which became available in late 1996. The Board of Visitors site was redesigned and relaunched on 27 January 1999 at a cost of £7,000 to coincide with their new recruitment for volunteer board members.

    Police Stop And Search Powers

    asked Her Majesty's Government:To what they attribute (a) the 20 per cent. year-on-year increase in the use of police stop and search powers shown in the most recent national figures; and (b) the 60 per cent. increase in such areas as Devon and Cornwall and Kent while forces such as the West Midlands have decreased their use of these powers; and whether there is any evidence linking the level of use of stop and search to crime rates or clear up rate between areas; and [HL967]Whether, in view of the potential impact on community relations, they consider that a continuation of the current level of use of stop and search powers can be justified. [HL968]

    The use of stop and search powers is an operational matter for chief officers of police. Several factors may influence the recorded level of use of police stop and search powers in an area. The factors include local operational priorities; the extent to which policing is intelligence-led; and the accuracy of local recording and data collection. The stop and search statistics show the proportion of stop/searches leading to arrest, but it is not possible from this to say exactly what proportion led to a crime being cleared up. However, Home Office research has shown that 11 per cent. of all arrests resulted from a stop/search and that stop/searches led to a clear up by charge or caution at almost the same rate as arrests arising from other circumstances. It can be deduced from this that roughly 11 per cent. of primary clearances by way of charge or caution arise from a stop and search.The proper use by the police of their powers of stop and search is an important weapon in the fight against crime. Research published by the Metropolitan Police Service in August 1998 found that stop and search accounted for 7 to 8 per cent. of all clear ups for burglary and robbery; a quarter of all clear ups for possessing drugs with intent to supply; two thirds of all clear ups for drugs possession and almost all clear ups for possessing weapons (

    Stop and Search: Renewing the tactic published by the Metropolitan Police Service August 1998). Experience has also shown that there appears to be a relationship between the level of searches and the overall level of crime. For example, during an initiative in Tottenham in 1994 and 1995, recorded crime steadily increased as the level of searches fell. Similar findings have been noted in San Diego and the City of London.

    However, the continuing disproportionate use of stop and search on black people in particular, as revealed by the latest figures published under Section 95 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991, is a cause for concern. Getting to grips with this issue will be a key challenge for the police service as it works to maintain the trust and confidence of all sections of the community. Proper supervision and management of police officers' use of their powers is crucial. We welcome the initiative currently being piloted in the Metropolitan Police Service to manage the use of stop and search fairly and effectively. The revised PACE Code of Practice, which has recently been approved by the House, stresses that supervising officers should address any evidence that these powers are being used in a discriminatory way.

    Welsh Community Health Councils: Aggregate Budget

    asked Her Majesty's Government:What is the aggregate budget set for community health councils in Wales in 1999–2000 and in 1998–99. [HL992]

    The 1998–99 aggregate budget, including training and contingencies, is £1.317 million. The 1999–2000 budget will be determined in the light of my right honourable friend. the Secretary of State for Wales' spending decision for health.

    General Pinochet And Mod

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Gilbert on 26 January (

    WA 139–140) saying that members of

    Her Majesty's Government have not been in discussion with General Pinochet since 1997, whether any officials have had such discussions with General Pinochet in that time.[HL895]

    I can confirm that government officials have not discussed defence export matters with Senator Pinochet since May 1997.

    Airborne Stand-Off Radar

    asked Her Majesty's Government:What is the timetable for the announcement of the successful bid for the Airborne Stand-Off Radar (ASTOR) programme. [HL1021]

    The Ministry of Defence is currently in the process of evaluating bids for the full development and production phase of the Airborne Stand-Off Radar (ASTOR) programme. On current plans, we aim to announce a decision in the spring, and award a contract later this year.

    Vat On Postal Services

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will veto any proposal by the European Union to impose VAT on postal services. [HL918]

    The Government will give careful consideration to any proposals by the Commission taking account of liberalisation of postal services across the European Union and the reform package announced by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on 7 December 1998.

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether the recent increase in the cost of letters to other European Union countries from 26p to 30p was in response to European Union proposals to levy VAT on postal services; and what public consultation took place prior to this increase. [HL917]

    No proposals have been received from the European Commission on the levying of VAT on postal services. Last year's increase in the price of sending a letter to other European countries was prompted by increased handling costs and is in line with the agreement, set out in the European Postal Services Directive, that prices should be geared to costs. The increase was introduced by the Post Office following consultation with the Government and with the Post Office Users' National Council (POUNC).

    Standard Spending Assessments

    asked Her Majesty's Government:What is their current definition of and the purpose assigned to the term "Standard Spending Assessment" as applied to local authorities.[HL905]

    The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions
    (Lord Whitty)

    Standard Spending Assessments are the Government's way of dividing up total standard spending (not including specific and special grants) between local authorities. The formulas used to work out Standard Spending Assessments make use of information on the demographic, social and physical characteristics of local authority areas. They are set out in Section 4 of the Local Government Finance Report.

    Vehicle Excise Duty: Special Types Vehicles

    asked Her Majesty's Government:What is the annual rate of Vehicle Excise Duty for a "Special Types" vehicle used for moving abnormal loads; and how many vehicles are:

  • (a) registered as "Special Types; and
  • (b) currently taxed as "Special Types". [HL1042]
  • The current annual rate of Vehicle Excise Duty for a "Special Types" vehicle is £5,170.

  • (a) No specific registration figures are kept for these vehicles.
  • (b) There were 984 vehicles licensed in the "Special Types" taxation class on 30 September 1998.
  • asked Her Majesty's Government:What is the current interval between surrender of licence and payment of the refund for:

  • (a) "Special Types" vehicles; and
  • (b) "PLG" vehicles. [HL1043]
  • The time taken for the delivery from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency of a refund for a Special Types vehicles is normally within six weeks, whilst the time taken for the delivery of one for PLG vehicles is normally within three weeks.

    asked Her Majesty's Government:What they consider the likely effect of any significant delay of the refund of "Special Types" Vehicle Excise duty on:

  • (a) the cash flow of the haulage operator; and
  • (b) the willingness of an operator to tax a vehicle correctly and legally for an occasional "Special Types" abnormal load. [HL1044]
  • Whilst the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions does not collect separate figures on the number of operators who fail correctly to license vehicles to carry abnormal loads, there is no evidence to suggest that the current refund procedures are a factor in decisions about licensing taken by operators.

    Calf Processing Aid Scheme

    asked Her Majesty's Government:What discussions they have had on the future of the calf processing aid scheme. [HL1035]

    The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
    (Lord Donoughue)

    Farmers' organisations have pressed for continuation of the scheme in view of the uncertain situation facing the beef market. When my right honourable friend (the Minister) announced on 16 November 1998 a package of aid for the livestock sector, he extended the life of the scheme until 31 March 1999. He undertook then to keep the scheme under review. Following consultation within Government he has now concluded that, in view of market circumstances, we should further extend the scheme to 31 July 1999.In view of the need to give certainty about the final end-date of the scheme there will be no further extension. It will end on 31 July.

    Hormone Growth Promoters

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether the hormone growth promoters used by United States and Canadian firms in animal feed exported to the United Kingdom, or fed to animals exported to the United Kingdom, are excreted in any form that can read watercourses; and if so, what is their effect on fish, in rivers or estuaries or in the sea areas into which the latter flow. [HL1030]

    We are not aware of any hormone growth promoters which are routinely used in animal feeds In any case, the administration of hormone growth promoters to food producing animals has been banned in the European Community since 1988 and imports of feed containing growth promoting hormones would effectively be covered by that ban. In addition, any third country which permits the use of growth promoting hormones is required to guarantee that no animals, and no meat coming from animals, to which they have been administered will be exported to the Community. Imports must be certified accordingly and Commission inspectors verify compliance with all the requirements. These substances will not be excreted by imported animals and they cannot, therefore, affect watercourses or fish, in rivers, estuaries or in sea areas into which the latter flow.