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Written Answers

Volume 704: debated on Thursday 23 October 2008

Written Answers

Thursday 23 October 2008


asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they will take, following the consultation on the KPMG Review of the Social Responsibility Standards for the Production and Sale of Alcoholic Drinks, to combat alcohol-related harm; and whether they have reached a decision on a mandatory code for the industry. [HL5592]

The Government are currently considering the responses to the Department of Health consultation, Safe, Sensible, Social—Consultation on Further Action, which considers the KPMG report and mandatory code issues. An announcement will be made in due course.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many people in England and Wales were (a) fined more than £250, and (b) received the maximum penalty of £500 for refusing to stop drinking or to surrender alcohol in a public place in each year since 2005. [HL5671]

The number of people receiving a fine for refusing to stop drinking or refusing to surrender alcohol in a public place can be found in the attached table.

Data for 2007 will be available in November 2008.

Number of persons given fines for the offence of alcohol consumption in designated public places, by amount, all courts, England and Wales, 2005-061

England and Wales

Number of persons

Fine amounts

Offence description


Under £250

Over £250



Alcohol consumption in designated public places











These figures have been drawn from administrative data systems. Although care is taken when processing and analysing the returns, the detail collected is subject to the inaccuracies inherent in any large scale recording system.

1. Principal offence

Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, S.12

Source: OMS Analytical Services


Ref: sent381-08

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Against how many people in England and Wales proceedings were commenced for the offence of obtaining alcohol for a person who was drunk in each year since 2005. [HL5672]

The number of individuals proceeded against for the offence of obtaining alcohol for a person who was drunk can be found in the attached table.

Data for 2007 will be available in November 2008.

Number of persons proceeded against at magistrates' courts for obtaining alcohol for a person who is drunk, England and Wales, 2004 to 2006 (1) (2) (3)







(1) These data are on the principal offence basis.

(2) Every effort is made to ensure that the figures presented are accurate and complete. However, it is important to note that these data have been extracted from large administrative data systems generated by the courts and police forces. As a consequence, care should be taken to ensure data collection processes and their inevitable limitations are taken into account when those data are used.

(3) The statutes used in the above table are:

Licensing (Occasional Permissions) Act 1983 S.3 Sch. Para 7.

Licensing Act 2003 S. 142.

Arms Exports

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are the strengths and weaknesses of the current European Union code of conduct on arms exports; and whether they propose to make it more effective and legally binding.[HL5276]

The Government believe that the code of conduct provides an excellent framework within which decisions on conventional arms exports can be made. It produces clear statements of principle on issues relating to export control (including on human rights, conflict and sustainable development), and these set benchmarks for licences to be judged against. However, the code of conduct is currently only politically binding. We believe it should be given legally binding status. This can be done by adopting it, at EU level, as a common position. We continue to press other member states to try to achieve the necessary consensus to enable this to happen. The text of the common position has already been subjected to UK parliamentary scrutiny, so the Government could move quickly to adopt it once consensus is reached.


asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether all United Kingdom regulated banking subsidiaries of non-bank organisations that meet the requisite tier 1 capital requirements will be eligible to participate in the government guarantee on new wholesale funding obligations; and [HL5556]

Which of HM Treasury, the Financial Services Authority and the Bank of England will be responsible for determining whether the capital levels of banks and banking subsidiaries are appropriate for participation in the government guarantee on new wholesale funding obligations; and [HL5557]

In relation to determining eligibility for participation in the government guarantee on new wholesale funding obligations, whether there are other criteria in addition to meeting the capital requirements. [HL5558]

I refer the noble Lord to the announcements by HM Treasury on 8 and 13 October 2008 accessible at 08.htm and and the Debt Management Office's market notice of 13 October 2008 which is at 08.pdf.

Civil Partnerships

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will make representations to the Government of France to recognise United Kingdom civil partnerships in the same way that a French pacte civil de solidarité is recognised in the United Kingdom under the Civil Partnership Act 2004. [HL5212]

Our embassy in Paris is discussing the rights of British civil partners in France with the French Government. In doing so, we are working to agree as many benefits for British civil partners as is possible within the scope of French law.

Colombia: Human Rights

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will participate in a proposed visit by European Union heads of mission in Bogota to the Curvarado river basin, where according to recent reports, threats have been made against human rights defenders working for communities dispossessed of their lands. [HL5413]

The situation for human rights organisations in the Curvarado river basin is of great concern and we intend to participate in the visit to that region. We want human rights defenders throughout Colombia to be able to carry out their important and vital work safely.

Officials from our South America team, and our embassy in Bogota have met with Peace Brigades International, ABColombia and Justicia y Paz to discuss developments, and arrangements for the forthcoming visit to the area by EU embassies following a security assessment.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will raise, at the forthcoming United Nations Universal Periodic Review of Colombia, the large increase in the number of displaced persons between 2007 and 2008, reported by the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES). [HL5414]

The UK will indeed raise the issue of internally displaced persons with the Colombian Government in advance of the forthcoming UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review, reflecting our concern on the issue.

The Government are also taking forward a number of projects on internally displaced persons, including working with the UN in Colombia, funded by the UK Conflict Prevention Pool.

Egypt: Eritrean Refugees

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What representations they have made or plan to make to the Government of Egypt about their alleged “refoulement” of Eritrean refugees, the prison conditions under which they were held and the alleged denial of access to the staff of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; whether they will recall Egypt's obligations under the United Nations Conventions on Refugees and against Torture; and whether they will seek assistance from M. Louis Michel, the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, with both Egypt and Eritrea. [HL4297]

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has access to the Eritrean nationals currently in a camp in Aswan. It has received authorisation to resettle all but 11 of the 128 refugees there. The UNHCR does not have access to others, who have been convicted of crimes such as illegally entering Egypt. The decision to repatriate Eritrean prisoners or refugees to Eritrea is governed by Egyptian law and is a decision for the Egyptian authorities. We call on all countries to meet their obligations under UN conventions.

UK officials, working with the EU as appropriate, have a regular dialogue with and actively lobby the Egyptian authorities on a range of human rights issues. On 11 August officials from our embassy in Cairo met the Egyptian Deputy Minister for Human Rights to discuss human rights issues.

EU: Shipping

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their response to the proposals in the Sterckx report presented to the European Parliament which would establish a Community vessel traffic monitoring and information system; and [HL5439]

What is their response to the Vlaston report presented to the European Parliament on port state control; and [HL5440].

What is their response to the Kohlicek report presented to the European Parliament which would lay down the fundamental principles to be used in investigating maritime accidents. [HL5441]

These proposals relate to the proposed directive amending Directive 2002/59/EC establishing a Community vessel traffic monitoring and information system, Directive 2008/.../EC of the European Parliament and of the council on port state control (recast), and the directive of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing the fundamental principles governing the investigation of accidents in the maritime transport sector and amending Directives 1999/35/EC and 2002/59/EC, which are currently the subject of negotiations between the presidency of the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament. The Government support the Council's common position on these measures, and is working in concert with other member states to achieve an outcome which is consistent with the common position.

EU: Treaties

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, at the forthcoming European Union summit meeting, they will propose that there should be a procedural agreement for the future management of the Community of 27 nations, in order to allow for deliberate consideration of the existing treaties. [HL4298]

The UK ratified the Lisbon treaty on 16 July, and we want to see it enter into force. But the treaty requires ratification by all 27 member states before it can do so. Following the Irish referendum, the Irish Government have asked for time to decide on a way forward. We should respect that. The Irish Government are consulting both internally and with EU partners and presented an update to the European Council on 16 October.

Foreign Policy

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether their foreign policy embraces the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.[HL5307]

The UN Charter sets out the principle of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of states, but notes that this is without prejudice to the authority of the Security Council to apply enforcement measures under Chapter VII of the charter. All UN member states at the level of heads of state and government in the world summit outcome document of 2005 have acknowledged in this context that this principle does not and cannot preclude the responsibility of the international community to protect populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Georgia: Cluster Munitions

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What representations they have made either directly or through the European Union to the Governments of Georgia and Russia regarding their use of cluster munitions and cluster bombs during the recent conflict in Georgia. [HL5402]

We are concerned by the confirmed use of cluster munitions by Georgian forces, and the evidence of their use by Russian forces, which has been raised in EU-Russian discussions. So far, neither Russia nor Georgia has indicated an intention to join the Convention on Cluster Munitions that was adopted at Dublin in May. We believe the new convention is strong and will help to make the world a safer place. We will work with other countries that were not present at Dublin to encourage the widest possible support for the new convention and its norms.

The Government have contributed £2 million to relief efforts in Georgia, part of which is for clearance of mines and unexploded ordnance, including cluster munitions, the legacy of the recent conflict.

That these weapons were used in Georgia underlines the need to use all international fora available to secure action on cluster munitions. We therefore continue to work hard to ensure a meaningful protocol on cluster munitions is adopted within the framework of the United Nations (UN) Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, where both Russia and Georgia are engaged. Adherence to it would be an important early step towards joining the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Government Departments: Websites

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What greetings have been posted on the website of the Department for Communities and Local Government to adherents of each of the major religions of the world during the past 12 months. [HL5677]

We have posted greetings for the following religious festivals: Diwali 9/11/07; Hanukkah 5/12/08; Easter 20/03/08; Vaisakhi 11/04/08; Ramadan 01/09/08, and Eid 1/10/08.

Government: Responses to Parliament

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the answer by Baroness Ashton of Upholland on 10 June (Official Report, House of Lords, col. 480), whether the Cabinet Office's attention has been drawn to Mr Liam Byrne not replying to a letter of 26 July 2007 from Lord Grenfell as chairman of the European Union Committee on an amendment to the long-term residents directive until 7 July 2008, despite reminders, as well as delays in answering Written Questions. [HL5585]

The time taken to respond to Parliamentary Questions and correspondence is for the relevant department.

Hong Kong

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What response the British consulate-general in Hong Kong received when they raised the exclusion from the territory of a British external examiner who was travelling on university duties. [HL5360]

The consulate-general in Hong Kong raised this case of a UK citizen, who was denied entry to Hong Kong on 24 August, with the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government's Security Bureau, which is responsible for immigration policy. The consulate-general expressed concern that such exclusions risked giving the impression that freedom of expression in Hong Kong was being compromised.

A security bureau official said that Hong Kong immigration officers had not been satisfied that on their arrival in Hong Kong on 24 August, they could adequately substantiate the purpose of the visit. They were also concerned that they might engage in other activities not conducive to public good while in Hong Kong, and they were denied entry. The security bureau also told the consulate-general that Hong Kong immigration does not maintain a blacklist of individuals to deny entry to; and that had the immigration officers concerned been satisfied with their answers to the questions on arrival in Hong Kong, they would have allowed the UK citizen entry.

We continue to follow developments in Hong Kong closely in line with our obligations under the joint declaration.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many British citizens have been denied entry into the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region since 1 January 2007; and what reasons have been given to the British consulate-general for their exclusion in each case. [HL5362]

Figures provided by the Hong Kong immigration department show that in 2007, four UK visitors were refused entry. The reason given for the refusal was that they were improperly documented.

Between January and August 2008, eight UK visitors were refused entry. The reason given for two of the visitors was that they were improperly documented. The remaining six visitors were refused entry on the grounds of doubtful intention.

Housing: Affordable Provision

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assessment they have made of the practicality of all government dwellings with fewer than four bedrooms due to be put on the market being offered for sale as part-owned and part-rented affordable housing; and whether they will make the necessary arrangements to do so. [HL5462]

The Government have encouraged departments to look creatively and flexibly at the options for making best use of their land and property assets. However, the framework for government departments selling their assets is set out in HM Treasury's Managing Public Money. Once land and property have been identified as surplus, irrespective of the size of the site or the number of bedrooms in existing dwellings, these must be recorded on the Register of Surplus Public Sector land. This is maintained by English Partnerships, the national regeneration agency, and disposals must be at market price. It is the responsibility of each department to ensure that it observes Treasury's guidelines on asset disposals.

We recognise the difficulties facing many families with regard to the current housing market and that is why my right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced on 2 September 2008 a number of measures the Government are taking forward to help alleviate the continuing challenges of the housing market. These measures are specifically aimed at assisting first time buyers, supporting vulnerable households facing repossessions and maintaining housing delivery especially through the affordable housing programme. This includes a new £300 million shared equity scheme through HomeBuy Direct which will enable many first time buyers currently frozen out of the mortgage market to get on the property ladder. The new Homes and Community Agency which will come into existence in December 2008 brings together the functions and activities of English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation. The new agency will keep under review what further opportunities can be explored in the provision of housing accommodation.

Housing: Black and Ethnic Minority Housing Associations

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the Housing Corporation is seeking to merge all black and minority ethnic (BME)-led housing associations into larger white-led associations and [HL5662]

How many black and minority ethnic (BME)-led housing associations existed in 1997; and how many exist now; and [HL5663]

Whether they plan to promote the development of black and minority ethnic (BME)-led housing associations and social enterprise projects. [HL5664]

The Housing Corporation is not seeking to merge all BME-led housing associations. All decisions concerning the merger of housing associations—BME or otherwise—are taken by the governing bodies of those associations. Where a new group structure is created or an existing one amended, the corporation will need to approve the registration of any new body or the constitutional changes required to effect the new structure. When considering proposals for new group structures and mergers, the corporation's registration committee takes into account a number of factors including how simple, clear and straightforward the governance structures are.

There were 56 BME associations in 1998 and 65 in 2008. These figures are derived from Housing Corporation regulatory and statistical return (RSR) data. BME associations are defined by having either 80 per cent BME members on their board or self-declared BME association. Figures for 1997 are not available.

The Government recognise the contribution that all housing associations, including BME-led housing associations, make through housing and neighbourhood and community-focused services; and the need to ensure that they have the capacity to effectively respond to the needs of the diverse communities they serve. This will remain an important focus for the new Homes and Communities Agency and the Tenants Services Authority. Both agencies are committed to responding to the needs and circumstances of BME communities.

Immigration: Children

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the longest period that an unaccompanied child asylum seeker has been held in a United Kingdom detention centre; and what were the reasons for this. [HL5716]

The information requested is not collected centrally and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

Unaccompanied children are detained only in exceptional circumstances for short periods while alternative arrangements are made for their care and safety. This would normally be no more than overnight.

Iraq: Turkish Bombing

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they will take following recent air attacks by Turkey in northern Iraq; whether they have discussed those attacks in NATO; and what assessment they have made of their effect on the reputation of NATO. [HL5559]

We are carefully monitoring developments following the recent air strikes by Turkey in northern Iraq, which followed the deadly Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) attacks. The UK utterly condemns PKK terrorist attacks in Turkey. We strongly support efforts to resolve the situation peacefully, and continue to encourage Turkey to work with the Iraqi authorities to prevent northern Iraq being used as a base for terrorist activities.

The Turkish delegation to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) briefed the alliance's North Atlantic Council about the airstrikes on 8 October. However, these airstrikes were carried out by the Turkish military and not in a NATO context.

Israel and Palestine: Gaza

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When a British diplomat last visited the Gaza Strip; and whether they have proposals for improving access and freedom of movement for the inhabitants of Gaza.[HL5277]

Our officials at the consulate-general in Jerusalem visit Gaza regularly and have been there a number of times this year, most recently during the week beginning 10 August.

We continue to call on the Israeli Government to ease restrictions on the Gaza Strip and to allow humanitarian supplies, commercial goods and people through.

We are also working with the UN, which takes the lead on suggesting what immediate steps could be taken to improve the humanitarian situation.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they, the quartet and the quartet representative are taking to ensure that Gaza receives parts and equipment needed to maintain and repair water and sewerage services; and what further steps they will take to secure sufficient fuel to allow the Gaza electricity generating plant to operate at full capacity. [HL5514]

The quartet representative is developing a system whereby the relevant Israeli and Palestinian authorities agree a common list of the goods and materials essential to the maintenance of water and waste water facilities, and the import of these into Gaza is rapidly facilitated. The quartet representative continues also to facilitate the completion of the North Gaza emergency sewage treatment project, phase I of which will be complete on 4 November.

The European Commission (EC) is committed to continue to pay for delivery of 2.5 million litres of fuel to the Gaza power plant per week. The UK has contributed to this by providing £30.45 million to the EC temporary international aid mechanism and to its successor PEGASE in 2008. In addition, the UK accounts for 15.6 per cent of the EC's overall 2008 budget by providing core funding. The EC recently pledged an additional €82 million in financial support to the Palestinian Authority's budget. Of this, €10 million will be used to pay for fuel to the Gaza power plant. To keep fuel supplies to the power plant stable for the rest of the year, the EC needs an additional €12 million. It has requested additional funding from donors. So far only Belgium and Germany have come forward with additional funds but we are hopeful that others will too. We will continue to monitor the situation closely.

Israel and Palestine: West Bank

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made in reducing the numbers of unauthorised settlement outposts and security checkpoints on roads in the West Bank, thus implementing previous international agreements; who is directly responsible for achieving implementation; and to whom they are accountable. [HL5515]

The UK considers that Israeli settlement building anywhere in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is illegal under international law. The road map was clear that Israel should freeze all settlement activity, including the so-called natural growth of existing settlements and all outposts erected since March 2001.

We will continue to press Israel to fulfil its commitments. This was done most recently by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary at the UN Security Council meeting on 26 September.

Northern Ireland Office: Taxis

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How much each rank of official in the Northern Ireland Office spent on taxis during the past financial year. [HL5637]

Due to the processes involved in making payments for expenses to officials, it would be possible to provide details of the reimbursement of taxi fares for each rank only at disproportionate cost.

The Northern Ireland Office keeps the cost of travel on official business under regular review. Departmental guidance requires all staff to use the most efficient means of transport taking account of travel costs, time and incidental expenses, for example, the cost of car parking. The use of taxis, when compared to all the alternatives including public transport, is at times the most cost effective means of travel for the purposes of official business. The policy applies to all grades of staff.

Northern Ireland Parades Commission: Taxis

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How much the Northern Ireland Parades Commission has spent on taxis in each of the past five years. [HL5690]

This is an operational matter for the parades commission. I have asked the parades commission secretary to reply to the noble Lord directly, and will arrange for a copy of the letter to be placed in the Library in the House and the Official Report.

Official Documents

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they intend, within the Committee of Ministers, to support the recommendation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 3 October that the draft convention on access to official documents should be sent back to the Steering Committee on Human Rights for further consideration, in particular to consider (a) broadening the definition of “public authorities” to include a wider range of activities of public authorities so as to widen the scope of information made available; (b) including a time limit on the handling of requests; and (c) adding a paragraph to prevent the making of reservations to the convention by member states when signing it. [HL5453]

The Government are content for the draft to be remitted back to the drafting experts (Steering Committee on Human Rights) for further consideration, including the three issues the noble Lord has identified.

The Government are content with the definition of public authorities set out in the current draft convention. Because of the constitutional position of the judiciary in the United Kingdom, courts and tribunals are not within scope of our domestic freedom of information legislation. We do not believe it would be appropriate to extend the definition in the draft convention in a way that undermined this position.

The Government would be content for appropriate upper time limits on the handling of requests to be included in the draft convention. However, the convention would need to recognise—as domestic legislation does—that cases requiring consideration of complex issues such as the public interest in disclosure of information may require additional time.

The Government believe that reservations should be permissible, so long as they are compatible with the object and purpose of the convention.

Pakistan: Women

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will discuss with the Government of Pakistan the 1,321 cases of violence against women reported for the first three months of 2008, in particular the alleged burying alive of five women. [HL5421]

The UK, together with our EU partners, condemned the recent murder of five women in Baluchistan and called on the Government of Pakistan to bring those responsible to justice. We welcome the resolution adopted by Pakistan's senate for strong action to be taken against the perpetrators.

Through both multilateral and bilateral representation, we continue to encourage the Government of Pakistan to promote and protect women's rights in accordance with international standards such as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women which Pakistan has signed. The UK delegation to the UN Human Rights Council also raised this during the universal periodic review of Pakistan's human rights record in May.

Our high commission in Islamabad supports projects which promote women's rights and help obtain better access to justice, for example: by supporting community-based lawyer-activists who represent women in cases of forced marriage, domestic violence and other crimes; encouraging the creation of a lawyers' network of human rights advocates with prominent women advocates; improving investigative journalism in Pakistan to encourage impartial reporting on political, electoral and human rights issues; and raising awareness and teaching of human rights, including women's rights, in schools.

Planning: Eco-towns

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by the Housing Minister, Caroline Flint, on 7 July (Official Report, House of Commons, 1355W), whether the sample responding to questions about eco-towns was broadly representative of socio-economic groups across England, taking into account that it was an online panel. [HL5660]

I refer the noble Lord to the Answer given to the honourable Member for Harborough on Monday 7 July (Official Report, col. 1355W). A copy of the background dataset has been placed in the Library, which outlines the socio-economic make-up of the sample.

Police: Northern Ireland

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by Lord Rooker on 29 September (WA 418) which indicates that they have no policy to involve senior police commanders in negotiations with terrorists and criminals, whether this precludes negotiations between police officers and Ministers in devolved Administrations who have been convicted of terrorist offences. [HL5623]

The previous Written Answer provided to the Lord Maginnis of Drumglass was referring to those engaged on an ongoing basis in terrorism or criminality, rather than to those with a past conviction for any offence.

Population Growth

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to encourage a restriction on population growth in the world. [HL5705]

Rapid population growth is making it harder for some countries to achieve the millennium development goals (MDGs) and escape poverty. It is estimated that 99 per cent of this growth will take place in developing countries, particularly in those countries where poverty is most extreme. Experience shows that a range of activities combine to give people choices. These include; improving health, education and livelihoods; promoting gender equality and the rights of women; and ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health information, services and supplies. Evidence shows that when people are free to choose when and how often to have children, they tend to have smaller families.

The Department for International Development (DfID) is providing £100 million to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) over the five year period to 2013 to increase access to reproductive health commodities, including male and female condoms. DfID is also supporting the supply of contraceptives directly with several developing countries, including, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Kenya and Cambodia.

Prisons: Northern Ireland

asked Her Majesty's Government:

In what circumstances a person can be sent to prison for non-payment of debt in Northern Ireland. [HL5580]

A person who fails to comply with the terms of a decree or money judgment made by any court in Northern Ireland can ultimately be committed to prison by the court as a result of that failure.

The court will take into account a range of factors including the debtor's ability to pay. In addition, the legislation governing such proceedings provide a wide range of debt recovery payment options including, for example, time to pay, payment by instalments or an attachment of earnings order. An order for committal would generally be regarded as a measure of last resort.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the ratio of prisoners to wardens in prisons in (a) Northern Ireland, and (b) England. [HL5582]

The ratio of prisoners to officers is 1.13 to one in Northern Ireland and three to one in England.

There are differences in the classification of prison officers between the two jurisdictions. In England, for public sector prisons, officers are classified as prison officers, senior officers and principal officer. For private prisons they are classified as prison custody officers and senior custody officers. In Northern Ireland, prison officers are classified as main grade officers, night custody officers, operational support grades and night patrol officers.

Questions for Written Answer

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps the Cabinet Office has taken to ensure that Ministers answer Questions for Written Answer within the two-week target; and why the department had 11 late unanswered Questions on 8 October of which 10 were tabled in June or July. [HL5547]

Ministers take seriously their responsibilities to Parliament and aim to respond to Parliamentary Questions on time wherever possible. The nature of some Parliamentary Questions requires consultation with other parts of Government which inevitably takes time. The Summer Recess has also been a factor. However, I can assure the noble Lord that the Cabinet Office is working to answer the outstanding Questions as quickly as possible.

Railways: Electrification

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress is being made in bringing forward a programme of railway electrification. [HL5642]

The Department for Transport has been working closely with the rail industry to examine the case for extending the electrified network.

St Helena

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Which Minister will make the decision on awarding the contract to build St Helena's airport; and when this decision is expected to be announced. [HL5521]

The Secretary of State for International Development expects to make a decision shortly. As with all government projects of this size, an announcement will be made after final approval by HM Treasury.


asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they have taken, in advance of the G8 summit in July, to facilitate a meeting between President Hu Jintao and the Dalai Lama to discuss the situation in Tibet. [HL4462]

We did not seek to facilitate any meeting between President Hu Jintao and the Dalai Lama. However, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister raised the situation in Tibet when he met President Hu at the G8 summit.

Since then the Prime Minister has raised Tibet in discussions with President Hu and Premier Wen in August, and again with Premier Wen in New York in September.

Transport: Overseas Lorries

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Answer by Lord Bassam of Brighton on 10 June (Official Report, House of Lords, col. 476), how they will use the new sign to advise large and heavy vehicles not to take unsuitable routes; whether they will fund local authorities to install it as required; and whether people living close to a road that is used incorrectly by heavy goods vehicles will be able to request that such signs be erected. [HL5535]

It is the responsibility of highway authorities to identify the appropriate locations for this non-prescribed traffic sign, and apply to the Department for Transport for authorisation for its use. The department does not provide funding for these traffic signs; the cost will be met by the highway authority.

Any residents affected by heavy goods vehicles using an unsuitable route would need to contact the appropriate highway authority since only they can erect these traffic signs.

Turkey: Leyla Zana

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assessment they have made of the nine criminal charges reported to have been brought against Leyla Zana in the High Court of Diyarbakir, Turkey. [HL5361]

We are aware of the recent criminal charges brought against Leyla Zana in the High Court of Diyarbakir. We have not seen independent verification of what she has allegedly said so cannot comment on the substance of the cases. However, we have consistently stressed to the Turkish Government that legitimate non-violent expression of views should not be prosecuted, but that we utterly condemn all acts of terrorism.

UN: Convention on Discrimination

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their response to the observations of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women Committee of 18 July, in particular paragraphs 12, 47, and 48 concerning access to health care and education while female victims of violence have their immigration status determined; and whether their withdrawal of reservations concerning immigration, made in 2004, is relevant to the observations. [HL5417]

The United Kingdom was examined on its 5th and 6th reports to the UN Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women on 10 July this year. Following this examination, the committee published a set of draft observations which welcomed the UK's adoption of a number of legislative, judicial and administrative measures aimed at promoting gender equality and eliminating discrimination. This document also outlines a number of recommendations. The Government welcome the committee's document.

In accordance with the recommendations made at paragraph 12 of the committee's concluding observations, the Government Equalities Office has disseminated the committee's draft concluding observations to all relevant ministries and is currently drafting an action plan to take forward the recommendations made in the draft report. The Government Equalities Office will implement the plan working with other government departments and the devolved Administrations.

The Government recognise the difficulties that women who are victims of violence and have no recourse to public funds face. We have been working both within the statutory and voluntary sectors to find ways to support women who are victims of violence in line with the recommendations made in paragraphs 47 and 48.

The no recourse to public funds policy is part of a general immigration rule that ensures entitlement to services such as housing and other payments are accessible and that they benefit claimants within the Immigration Rules. The Government have no plans to abolish the no recourse to public funds rule.