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Written Answers

Volume 688: debated on Monday 22 January 2007

Written Answers

Monday 22 January 2007

Afghanistan: Helmand Province

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What targets are set for the reform and reconstruction of the Helmand province of Afghanistan during the United Kingdom's three-year deployment; and what progress the deployed forces have made on meeting these targets to date. [HL937]

A joint UK plan for Helmand was drafted by a cross-Whitehall team facilitated by the Post-Conflict Reconstruction Unit (PCRU) in December 2005. The Helmand plan is jointly owned and implemented by DfID, the FCO and the MoD. The Helmand Executive Group based in Lashkar Gah is responsible for the day-to-day implementation of the plan. The overall strategic aim of the joint UK plan for Helmand is,

“an effective, representative government in Afghanistan, with security forces capable of providing an environment in which sustainable economic and social development can occur, without substantial security support from the international community”.

The strategic objectives of the plan are broken down into four categories—governance, security, economic development and counter-narcotics. DfID is responsible for the economic development part of the plan. The objective of the economic development strand is,

“greater economic opportunities and access to public services to reduce poverty and a sustainable improvement in the legal economy of Helmand”.

The economic development part will be measured by 1) a higher level of household income, 2) increased food security, 3) better health and 4) more people educated. The way in which progress will be measured is by using a combination of the National Rural Vulnerability Assessment (NRVA) report and various UN reports. As development activities have been implemented in Helmand only since April 2006, it is too early to judge the impact.

DfID is providing £30 million over three years to support the Helmand Agriculture and Rural Development Programme (HARDP). This programme aims to increase economic opportunities for the rural poor of Helmand by supporting the Government of Afghanistan in the roll-out of existing successful national programmes in Helmand. Priority preliminary tasks have been undertaken and, by the end of March 2007, this programme will have constructed 200 wells in and around Lashkar Gah city, and 49 kilometres of road will be under construction by then.

In addition, DfID has committed £4 million to the UK Global Conflict Prevention Pool (GCPP) funding allocation of £6.5 million for the delivery of quick impact projects (QIPs) in Helmand to get short-term development results and help build a platform for longer-term activities. Of the £6.5 million available, over £4 million has already funded over 80 projects in Helmand. These funds have provided humanitarian assistance to victims of the drought, constructed permanent vehicle checkpoints to improve security, improved security around the shrine in Gereshk, reinforced the riverbank walls and provided flood defences for the Bowlan bridge.

Through the £3 million DfID-funded Research into Alternative Livelihoods Fund (RALF), the Restorative Agriculture and Rural Economy Research Project, implemented by Mercy Corps, in Helmand is working on export feasibility of grapes, tomatoes, mushrooms, eggplants and okra, and has made strong contacts with raisin importers (organic and fair trade). The programme is evaluating at least 10 different small-scale agri-processing industries, and producing case studies of enterprises that prove to have value added—for example, tomato paste.

Airports: Wheelchairs

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Which British airports impose charges on users of wheelchairs.[HL1322]

Whether they will make representations to British airports to adopt the provisions of European Union regulation 1107/2006 in respect of wheelchair charges in time for the 2007 holiday season, rather than wait until 26 July 2008; and [HL1323]

What steps they are taking to discourage airports from regarding wheelchair handling as a profit centre.[HL1324]

We are not aware of any UK airport imposing additional charges to individual passengers for provision of wheelchairs. Furthermore, the existence of established case law in this area should already deter airport operators from doing so.

Department for Transport officials are in regular contact with UK air transport industry stakeholders, including the Airport Operators Association, on accessibility matters and will be issuing a formal consultation later this year on the implementation of European Union regulation 1107/2006 within the UK. Under this regulation, the practice of charging disabled passengers for assistance will be unlawful.

Armed Forces: Procurement

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have undertaken any assessment of the likely impact of the merger of the Defence Procurement Agency and the Defence Logistics Organisation on current procurement programmes; and what measures have been put in place to reduce any identified impacts. [HL1127]

We keep under continuous review the impact of the merger on ongoing business. Support to operations and delivery of capability to the front line remains our top priority and is monitored closely by senior managers and at board level in the Defence Procurement Agency and the Defence Logistics Organisation.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress they have made since 3 July 2006 in identifying the core and non-core functions of the Defence Procurement Agency and the Defence Logistics Organisation in advance of the merger of the two organisations; and whether any targets towards the merger are outstanding to date. [HL1130]

Plans are progressing to establish a fit-for-purpose integrated procurement and support organisation on 2 April 2007, which initially will take forward all the functions presently carried out by both organisations, and will be named Defence Equipment & Support. As part of the bedding down of the new organisation in 2007, further consideration will be given to the case for transferring non-core functions elsewhere. We are on track to meet the targets for merger set out in the Enabling Acquisition Change report.

Arms Trade: Al Yamamah

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Which Ministers communicated with the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), or on whose behalf communications were sent to the SFO, about the investigation of offences of corruption in relation to Saudi Arabian arms contracts; and whether they will place copies of these communications in the Library of the House. [HL1089]

In December 2005, in accordance with the well established procedure known as a Shawcross exercise, I sought views from ministerial colleagues as to the public interest considerations raised by the SFO investigation. Such views were provided in December 2005 by the Prime Minister and the then Foreign and Defence Secretaries and updated in September 2006. Further such views were provided by the Prime Minister and the Foreign and Defence Secretaries in December 2006. I conveyed those views to the director of the SFO but (apart from the Solicitor-General and myself) no Ministers communicated directly with the SFO. In addition the Leader of the House of Commons raised the case with me in November 2006. The decision to discontinue the investigation was taken by the SFO in its capacity as the independent prosecuting and investigating authority.

The communications contain material which is sensitive from the point of view of national security so I am not in a position to place copies in the Library. However, consideration is being given to the question of disclosure in the context of requests under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Under what statutory authority the Prime Minister used his executive power to order the termination of investigations of possible corruption in dealings between BAE Systems and Saudi Arabia relating to defence contracts; whether there are any precedents for such use of executive power; and, if so, what are those precedents; and [HL1440]

What legal or other advice the Prime Minister sought before the decision was taken to terminate investigations of possible corruption in dealings between BAE Systems and Saudi Arabia relating to defence contracts; and [HL1441]

Whether the Cabinet was consulted before the decision was taken to terminate investigations of possible corruption in dealings between BAE Systems and Saudi Arabia relating to defence contracts. [HL1442]

The Prime Minister did not order the termination of the investigation. The decision to terminate the investigation was taken by the director of the Serious Fraud Office. The Cabinet was not consulted about that decision but, as explained in my Statement of 14 December 2006, the views of the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary were obtained as to the public interest considerations raised by the investigation. This was done in accordance with the well established procedure known as a Shawcross exercise.

Arms Trade: South Africa

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have any plans to instruct the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to stop investigations into arms sales to South Africa; and, if not, what are the differences between South Africa and Saudi Arabia which caused the Government to instruct the SFO to stop its investigations in the case of arms sales to the latter country. [HL1107]

There is no question of the Government giving any such instructions to the SFO, and they did not do so in relation to the SFO investigation with respect to the Al Yamamah programme with Saudi Arabia. As I made clear in my Statement to the House on 14 December 2006, the decision to discontinue that investigation was taken by the director of the SFO independently of government, on the basis of facts particular to the Al Yamamah contract investigations. The SFO's other investigations (including a number relating to BAE Systems) are continuing, and I have made clear to the director of the SFO that he should pursue those investigations vigorously.

Aviation: Frequent Fliers

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have given any consideration to enabling frequent fliers to obtain security clearance in advance in order to accelerate security procedures at airports. [HL1231]

No. It is a cornerstone of aviation security that passengers, flight crew and ground staff, and the items they are carrying, are subjected to security screening on each and every occasion they move from landside to airside at an airport.

Benefits: Housing

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why housing benefit payable to private landlords is not paid per calendar month instead of every four weeks. [HL1283]

Local authorities have some discretion in deciding how to pay benefit in any particular case and are expected to take into account the reasonable needs and convenience of the customer in determining the frequency and timing of payments. The general principle is that the timing of payments should reflect the nature of the customer’s liability.

Housing benefit paid direct to landlords is paid every four weeks. However, where the client has a monthly rent liability, direct payments may be made at calendar monthly intervals.

Community Interest Companies

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many community interest companies have been registered in each of the years since the coming into force of the Companies (Audit, Investigations and Community Enterprise) Act 2004. [HL1274]

The Community Interest Regulations 2005 and Part 2 of the Companies (Audit, Investigations and Community Enterprise) Act 2004 came into force on 1 July 2005. The number of community interest companies incorporated during the first year, 1 July 2005 to 30 June 2006, was 273. From 1 July 2006 to 16 January 2007, 396 community interest companies have incorporated.

Court Martial: Sergeant Selman and Others

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Following the cases of Sergeant Selman and others acquitted at court martial, whether the defence had access to their own (or independent) translation and interpretation services when provided with all statements taken during the course of the investigation. [HL1204]

The solicitors for Sergeant Selman employed a translator who undertook translation work both prior to and during the trial. The translations were made available to the other defence teams. A solicitor for one of the other defendants was able to read and write Arabic.

Diplomatic Passports

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Which member countries of the European Union issue diplomatic passports to their parliamentarians. [HL1232]

To answer the Question fully, officials would need to contact every member state in the EU to collate this information and this would incur disproportionate cost.

Elections: Voter Registration

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What powers electoral registration officers and returning officers now possess in the case of suspicions arising about the validity of voter registrations; in what circumstances they are advised to use such powers; and whether they can refuse to place such electors on the register until the checks have taken place to their satisfaction. [HL1266]

Electoral registration officers do not have to enter a person on the register until any checks they wish to conduct have been completed to their satisfaction. They have powers to request information from those applying for registration and to conduct a hearing of the application where they consider this necessary. They are not to enter a person on the register until the five-day period for making objections to the application to be registered has elapsed. The Electoral Administration Act 2006 clarified that objections to registration could be made not only to an application for registration, but to an existing entry in the register. The 2006 Act also conferred much broader powers on registration officers to review the entitlement to be registered of a person with an existing entry in the register. They can use this power, for example, if they are suspicious about someone's nationality or fraud. The 2006 Act also created a broader criminal offence of providing false information to registration officers in connection with electoral registration.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What advice they are giving to returning officers about the steps they should take and the procedures they should follow in the event of suspicions or objections arising over late applications to register as electors up to 11 days before polling day. [HL1267]

The Government are not intending to issue guidance on this point. Such guidance is usually issued by the Electoral Commission and we understand that it will be doing so as part of the wider guidance on the EA Act.

Embryology

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether paragraph 2.74 of the White Paper, Review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, regarding the possible need for “more basic research” means that basic research has already been unlawfully authorised. [HL1043]

Whether they will clarify the meaning of “basic research”, referred to in paragraph 2.74 of the White Paper Review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act; and which cases they have in mind; and [HL1044]

Whether, in the light of paragraphs 2.52 and 2.77 of the White Paper Review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act regarding the proposed removal of the restriction on altering the genetic structure or replacing the nucleus of cells which form part of an embryo, existing research using these techniques and permitted by the regulatory authority was unlawful; and, if so, how they will ensure that the proposed new regulatory authority will not also participate in such practices; and [HL1045]

Whether the provisions of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 are being followed in full; and, if so, why changes to the Act are necessary. [HL1046]

The Command Paper, Review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act: Proposals for Revised Legislation (including establishment of the Regulatory Authority for Tissue and Embryos), published on 14 December, sets out the Government’s proposals for revision of the law on assisted reproduction and embryology. The Government’s decision to review the law was based on, in particular, the rise of new technologies and probable changes in attitude since the passage of the original Act in 1990. Copies have been placed in the Library (Cm 6989). The proposals will go on to form a draft Bill to be published for pre-legislative scrutiny.

A wide range of factors were taken into consideration in bringing forward the proposals, preceded by public consultation in 2005. With regard to embryo research, these factors included, inter alia, recommendations from the House Of Lords Stem Cell Research Committee (Session 2001-02, HL Paper 83(i)) and the House Of Commons Science and Technology Committee (Session 2004-05, HC 7-I), relevant legislation enacted since 1990 and the scope of delegated powers already within the 1990 Act itself.

The proposals include revisions both to the purposes for which research projects using embryos may be licensed and to the scope of activities that may be authorised by a licence. These include the proposal to make clear that basic embryo research is permissible, subject to controls. Basic research, in this context, refers to research that underpins or enables applied research into, for example, serious diseases.

The Command Paper makes clear that, because of the considerable advances made in medicine and technology since the Act came into force in 1990, there are some areas within the remit of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 where greater clarity may be helpful. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has performed its duties well, working within the legal framework set out in the 1990 Act, and the Government remain confident that the authority will continue to do so, as will any successor body.

House of Lords: Fair Trade Products

asked the Chairman of Committees:

Further to his Written Answer on 18 December 2006 (WA 248), whether bananas are among the fresh fruit being examined in relation to the provision of fair trade products by the House of Lords Refreshment Department. [HL1348]

Fair trade bananas from the Windward Isles have previously been sold in refreshment outlets when they were available from the market. However, the increased uptake of fair trade bananas by supermarkets has reduced their availability to small-scale purchasers. As a result, the supply of fair trade bananas to the Refreshment Department has become unpredictable and the refreshment outlets have been unable to provide the fruit as a regular product. The supply situation will be kept under review.

Official Documents: Twelvetrees Crescent Warehouse

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether any files relating to the Millennium Dome were destroyed in the fire at the paper records warehouse in Twelvetrees Crescent, London, in July 2006. [HL1308]

I understand that 10 Millennium Commission documents destroyed in the Iron Mountain fire in July 2006 are likely to have contained references to the Millennium Dome. No duplicates of these documents were held by the Millennium Commission.

Passports

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many applications the British embassy in Dublin has received for British passports in each of the past few years; and how many were successful. [HL1340]

The number of passports issued, withdrawn, refused and lapsed at our embassy in Dublin in each of the past three financial years is as follows.

Financial year

Total number of passports issued

Number withdrawn

Number refused

Number lapsed

Total applications received

2003-04

10,024

16

26

0

10,042

2004-05

10,893

0

0

72

10,972

2005-06

10,817

10

0

15

10,825

Withdrawn applications are those that were withdrawn by the applicant subsequent to initially making the application.

Refused applications are those made by ineligible applicants.

Lapsed applications are those that are awaiting further documentary evidence of nationality or identity or awaiting unpaid fees.

Pay

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many people shared (a) the £10 billion employment-related income increases in the past year at the bottom of the income distribution; and (b) the £10 billion employment-related income increases in the past year at the top of the income distribution. [HL1307]

The information requested falls within the responsibility of the National Statistician, who has been asked to reply.

Letter to Lord Lea of Crondall from the National Statistician, dated January 2007.

The figure of £10 billion is an estimate of the level of bonuses paid in the financial intermediation sector during the period December 2005 to April 2006. The source of the data does not enable a further breakdown by income of the recipient as this information is not collected.

Pensions

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What would be the likely size of the final pot in today's terms, including tax relief, with prudent assumptions about investment growth, for a woman on median earnings if she and her employer have contributed 8 per cent for (a) 10 years; (b) 20 years; (c) 30 years; and (d) 40 years into (i) a contracted-in money purchase scheme, and (ii) a contracted-out money purchase scheme; and what would be the calculation for a woman on half median earnings. [HL1306]

The information is in the tables.

Contracted-in Money Purchase Scheme

Amount of contribution

Number of years of contribution

10 years

20 years

30 years

40 years

8 per cent of median earnings

£20,825

£54,359

£106,750

£186,700

16 per cent of median earnings

£41,650

£108,718

£213,499

£373,400

8 per cent of half median earnings

£10,413

£27,180

£53,375

£93,350

16 per cent of half median earnings

£20,825

£54,359

£106,750

£186,700

Contracted-out Money Purchase Scheme

Amount of contribution

Number of years of contribution

10 years

20 years

30 years

40 years

8 per cent of median earnings

£29,390

£80,561

£167,021

£302,309

16 per cent of median earnings

£50,215

£134,920

£273,770

£489,009

8 per cent of half median earnings

£13,610

£37,323

£77,518

£143,188

16 per cent of half median earnings

£24,023

£64,503

£130,893

£236,538

All figures are in 2006-07 prices.

Total contributions are split equally between employee and employer; thus the rows marked 16 per cent illustrate the case where both the woman and her employer each contribute 8 per cent.

Contributions are assumed to begin in 2006-07 for an individual aged 25.

Assumes a real investment return of 3.5 per cent a year for 40 years.

Figures are for women on median and half median earnings in 2006-07.

The figures already include the impact of tax relief since contributions are made on gross earnings.

The size of the contracted-in and contracted-out pension pots is not strictly comparable. This is because contracted-out individuals on both median and half median earnings also build up a reduced entitlement to state second pension (S2P). So their S2P should be taken into account along with their private pension when comparing to contracted-in individuals.

Railways: Freight

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in developing their contribution to the European Commission communication Freight Logistics in Europe—Key to Sustainable Mobility, they will ensure that paragraph 4.2.8 concerning loading standards includes specific provision for nine-foot six-inch containers to be conveyed by train from major ports in Great Britain. [HL1213]

The Commission proposal to develop an action plan to enhance the efficiency of freight logistics is supported by the UK Government. Freight logistics is a global industry and it is recognised that the industry is best positioned to select the type and size of container used to transport freight and that such containers should be able to move freely. The nine-foot six-inch-high container has been widely used throughout the world for many years and can already be transported inland by rail from the major ports in the UK using appropriate low-floor wagons where necessary.

We are currently considering a number of rail freight schemes for funding from the first round of the productivity strand of the Transport Innovation Fund. These include gauge enhancement that would allow such containers to be transported on standard rail wagons.

Royal Navy: Destroyers and Frigates

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many destroyers and frigates have been put into mothballs; and what is the total number of fighting ships of different types in service. [HL1076]

“Mothball” is not a term used by the MoD. I have interpreted it as referring to ships capable of being returned to operational service but for which there is no requirement to do so at this time. The only Royal Navy ship in this category is the aircraft carrier HMS “Invincible”.

The total number of each type of surface ship in the Royal Navy excluding Royal Fleet Auxiliaries is as follows.

Aircraft Carriers

3

Amphibious Assault Ship

1

Landing Platform Dock Ships

2

Type 42 Destroyers Batch 2

4

Type 42 Destroyers Batch 3

4

Type 23 Frigates

13

Type 22 Frigates Batch 3

4

Antarctic Patrol Ship

1

Castle Class Patrol Vessel

1

River Class Patrol Vessels

3

Survey Vessels

5

Sandown Class Minehunters

8

Hunt Class Minehunters

8

Archer Class Fast Training Boats (University Royal Navy Units)

14

Cyprus and Gibraltar Squadrons

4

Shipping: Light Dues

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the United Kingdom's contribution to the Republic of Ireland's light dues for each of the past five years; and what is the estimate for the contribution for 2006–07, and 2007–08. [HL1108]

The contribution from the General Lighthouse Fund to the provision of aids to navigation in the Republic of Ireland in the past five years and for the years 2006-08 is as follows.

£ million

2001-02

5.9

2002-03

5.4

2003-04

5.9

2004-05

6.6

2005-06

6.4

2006-07 (estimated)

6.8

2007-08 (estimated)

7.0

£ Figures supplied are converted from punts before 1 January 2002 and from euros thereafter, at prevailing daily rate of exchange.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What would be the estimated percentage reduction in light dues paid by ships entering United Kingdom ports if the United Kingdom made no contribution to the costs of operating Irish Lights. [HL1110]

The current contribution from the General Lighthouse Fund to the provision of aids to navigation in the Republic of Ireland is equivalent to the revenue from some 3.5p (10 per cent) of the current 35p per tonne rate of light dues. However, under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, the UK Government have a statutory responsibility to fund the Commissioners of Irish Lights, the general lighthouse authority that provides aids to navigation in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Whistleblowers

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What guidelines or regulations cover the treatment of whistleblowers in the National Health Service. [HL36]

Guidance on whistleblowing in the National Health Service was issued in September 1999 following the coming into force of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. The guidance states that every NHS trust and health authority should have in place policies and procedures which comply with the Act. These are required to include guidance to help staff raise concerns in an appropriate way and with the right individuals, and guarantee that staff who raise concerns responsibly and reasonably will be protected against victimisation.

A whistleblowing policy pack, So Long Silence, was issued to all NHS employers in July 2003. This includes an explanatory booklet on whistleblowing and a guide to introducing appropriate policies. A complementary pack tailored to general practitioners and their staff was issued to all general practices in August 2005.

The Public Interest Disclosure Act gives significant statutory protection to employees who disclose information reasonably and responsibly in the public interest and are victimised as a result.