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NATO

Mr. Jenkin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what progress has been made by his Department in implementing each of the decisions of the NATO Defence Capabilities Initiative. [11454]

Mr. Hoon: I am pleased by the progress achieved by NATO in improving military capabilities in line with the 59 Decisions of the Defence Capabilities Initiative (DCI), although I acknowledge that much still remains to be done.

A number of DCI Decisions propose action for the Alliance as a whole, rather than for individual nations. Often these address standards and procedures rather than specific capabilities. The UK is working with Allies and the NATO International Staffs to achieve success in these areas.

The UK's own DCI performance has been relatively strong. It compares well with the Alliance average and reflects capability enhancements such as the introduction

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of the C17 strategic transport aircraft, the acquisition of a greater sealift capability and development and procurement of new precision guided munitions.

Helicopter Accident (Sierra Leone)

Mr. Jenkin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the recent fatal helicopter accident in Kenema, Sierra Leone. [11451]

Mr. Ingram: At approximately 7.15 am local time on Friday 19 October, a HIND helicopter belonging to the Sierra Leone armed forces crashed about fives miles south west of Kenema, Sierra Leone. Regrettably, a British Army Officer, Major Vanessa Lang, sustained head injuries in the crash, and subsequently died of her injuries in hospital in Kenema. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I extend our deep condolences to Major Lang's family.

Major Lang was working from the British Military Headquarters in Freetown as a media adviser to the Sierra Leone armed forces. She was travelling in the helicopter to provide advice to the Sierra Leone Army on their information strategy in relation to a planned border security operation. The other five occupants of the helicopter included a British Non-Commissioned Officer and an Australian Major: none received serious injuries in the accident. British accident investigators are assisting the Government of Sierra Leone in the investigation into the precise cause of the accident.

NORTHERN IRELAND

Human Rights Commission

Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many additional appointments are to be made to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission; and on what date these appointments will be made. [10560]

Mr. Browne: I intend to announce the outcome of the recent competition for appointment to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission in the near future.

Semi-automatic Weapons

John McDonnell: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what the criteria are for the granting of a licence for a semi-automatic weapon in Northern Ireland. [7836]

Jane Kennedy: Firearms licensing in Northern Ireland is the responsibility of the Chief Constable under the Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 1981 and is generally more restrictive than in Great Britain. For example, all firearms, including shotguns and air guns, require a firearm certificate. The Chief Constable shall not permit a person to hold a firearm certificate unless he is satisfied of certain statutory criteria—that a person is not prohibited by law from possessing a firearm and that the requirements in respect of fitness, good reason and public safety have been met.

The Chief Constable has advised us that the term "semi-automatic weapon" is not specifically defined in the legislation and can therefore be open to wide interpretation, eg shotguns (including pump action),

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.22 rifles and handguns (not revolvers), target weapons and prohibited weapons. To provide an answer to this question would require an in-depth search of police records and incur disproportionate cost.

John McDonnell: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (1) how many applications have been registered for semi-automatic weapons in the last 12 months in Northern Ireland; [7834]

Jane Kennedy: The Chief Constable has advised us that the term "semi-automatic weapon" is not specifically defined in the legislation and can therefore be open to wide interpretation, eg shotguns (including pump action), .22 rifles and handguns (not revolvers), target weapons and prohibited weapons. To provide an answer to this question would require an in-depth search of police records and incur disproportionate cost.

TRANSPORT, LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND

THE REGIONS

Railway Network

Mr. Simon Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions how much public money has been invested in the railway network in each of the last 10 years. [8877]

Mr. Jamieson: The information requested is contained in the latest (September 2001) edition of the Strategic Rail Authority bulletin "National Rail Trends".

Thameslink

Mr. Lilley: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if the timetable of the Thameslink investment programme will be affected by Railtrack going into administration. [9378]

Mr. Spellar: I refer the right hon. Member to the reply given by the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) on 24 October 2001, Official Report, column 222W.

Ministerial Visit (Brazil)

Mr. Brady: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what was (a) the itinerary for and (b) the cost of the Minister for Housing's visit to Brazil of 4 to 8 November 2000. [9891]

Mr. Raynsford: I led a successful trade mission to Brazil and Chile from 5–10 November. We visited Rio de Janeiro, Sa~o Paulo and Santiago. Accompanying me were around a dozen representatives from the British construction industry. The purpose of the mission was to promote British construction exports.

In Rio de Janeiro we met with the Municipal Secretary for Housing, representatives of Town Hall's Favela Bairro Programme, representatives of the UK and Brazilian Oil and Gas companies, the President of SINICON (Association for Heavy Construction), the British Chamber of Commerce, the State Secretary for Sanitation and Water Resource, representatives from CEDAE (local

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water company), and ABES (sanitary engineers), a group of top architects from Rio, and local British and Brazilian businessmen. I also visited the Copa D'Or Hospital where I met with the President of D'Or Group.

In Sa~o Paulo we met with SABESP (Water Company) the Brazilian Trade Association for the Construction Industry, PINI Publishers, the Brazilian British Centre, ABRAS (retail association), the State Secretary for Transport and the President of Cia do Metropolitano de Sa~o Paulo Metro. We also made a site visit to a major road construction scheme with Rodanel and contributed to a PFI Seminar for representatives of the construction and finance sector in Brazil.

The total cost to the public funds of the mission to Brazil was approximately £9,800. This covered the cost of my travel and accommodation, local transportation, incidental expenses, interpreters' fees and that of my Private Secretary who accompanied me.

Railtrack

Tom Brake: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what research his Department has conducted into the impact a not-for-profit Railtrack will have on rail safety, reliability, ability to raise funds for investment purposes, and its own public acceptability. [9892]

Mr. Jamieson: Our proposed company limited by guarantee (CLG) would be able to make an operating surplus, which would be re-invested in establishing reserves and in developing the network. Our proposals are now being developed and we will work to ensure that the CLG would be able to raise funds for investment and have a positive impact on rail safety and reliability.

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what assessment he made of the financial position of Railtrack before deciding to apply for an administration order. [9833]

Mr. Spellar: I refer the hon. Member to the reply given today by the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) to the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban), Official Report, column 572W, and to his answer of 23 October 2001, Official Report, column 195W.

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what meetings he held with officials from the IPPR to discuss their model for a not-for-profit trust prior to his decision to take Railtrack into administration. [9835]

Mr. Spellar: I refer the hon. Member to the reply given by the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) to the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) on 18 October 2001, Official Report, column 1319W.

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if the Safety and Standards Directorate of Railtrack will be transferred to the new railway industry safety body. [9824]

Mr. Spellar: On 1 January this year the industry-wide functions of Railtrack's Safety and Standards Directorate were incorporated into a separate, non-profit making company, within the Railtrack Group—Railway Safety.

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Lord Cullen has recommended that most of the functions carried out by Railway Safety should be undertaken by the new Rail Industry Safety Body.

We shall publish in this parliamentary Session our plans to take forward Lord Cullen's recommendation to establish a fully independent industry safety body.

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if he has received confirmation from the European Commission that his plans for Railtrack are compatible with European law. [9829]

Mr. Spellar: The Secretary of State will ensure that any proposals for restructuring the railway industry are compatible with European law.

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if Railtrack's administrators will be permitted to dispose of non-operational assets and return the proceeds of any such disposals to Railtrack's shareholders. [9828]

Mr. Spellar: The administrator is required to manage the transfer, as a going concern, of as much of Railtrack plc's undertaking as it is necessary to transfer in order to ensure that the relevant activities may be properly carried on. The administrator's proposed transfer scheme must then be passed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for consideration and approval. It is then for the administrator to determine whether any residual value can be distributed, and on what basis.

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what information was given by his officials to Railtrack executives in their meeting on 3 October about his intentions to take Railtrack into administration. [9840]

Mr. Spellar: None. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State took the decision to refuse Railtrack's proposal for additional funding on 5 October.

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if he will place in the Library (a) a copy of written statements from Railtrack substantiating its requests for extra subsidy and (b) an analysis of the decisions of the Regulator on such funds. [9837]

Mr. Spellar: Documents provided to my Department by Railtrack relating to the company's requests for extra funding remain commercially confidential. These documents have not been analysed by the Rail Regulator.

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions when and how he informed the Strategic Rail Authority of his decision (a) to put Railtrack into railway administration and (b) to replace it with a Government-owned non profit-making company. [9830]

Mr. Spellar: My officials informed the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) on 6 October.

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what representations he has received from City firms about future private investment in the national railway network since 11 September. [9858]

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Mr. Spellar: My officials and my Department's advisers have had a number of contacts with financial institutions since Railtrack plc was placed into administration.

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, if he will provide Railtrack plc with sufficient funds to complete the modernisation of train protection systems. [9827]

Mr. Spellar: I refer the hon. Member to the Deputy Prime Minister's statements to the House on 20 July 2000, Official Report, column 549, and 24 October 2000, Official Report, column 136.

Mr. Lilley: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions how much private money was invested in equity share issues by Railtrack; what is the cumulative value of dividends paid out on that equity; and if he will estimate the cumulative interest payable on the same amount of gilt edged stock. [10147]

Mr. Spellar: The flotation of Railtrack Group Plc on 20 May 1996 raised gross proceeds of £1.93 billion from equity investors.

Since 20 May 1996, Railtrack Group Plc have paid out £709 million in cash, or equivalent, dividends.

The amount of interest payable on gilt edged stock is dependent on the coupon and maturity of the stock that is bought.

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what recent meetings he has had with the Strategic Rail Authority to discuss recent developments affecting Railtrack. [10173]

Mr. Jamieson: My officials are in regular contact with the Strategic Rail Authority.

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions under the new arrangements proposed for Railtrack and the railway sector, to what extent (a) train operating companies and (b) Railtrack would have responsibility for safety. [10174]

Mr. Jamieson: The successor company to Railtrack plc would need to meet the same safety requirements as its predecessor. Train operating companies' safety responsibility would not be affected.

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what assessment he has made of the implications for the planned improvements to the east coast main line of the decision to put Railtrack into administration. [10172]

Mr. Jamieson: The decision to put Railtrack into administration will have no immediate implications for the planned improvements to the east coast main line (ECML). The development studies for the ECML upgrade are being jointly carried out and funded by the Strategic Rail Authority and Railtrack. This will continue unchanged until the end of this financial year. The review of the upgrade objectives is a continuous process as part of the project's development. Decisions on planned improvements will be subject to the outcome of these reviews regardless of whether or not Railtrack is in administration.

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Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what plans he has to compensate Railtrack employees holding shares in Railtrack plc. [9906]

Mr. Jamieson [holding answer 24 October 2001]: The Government will do their utmost to ensure shareholders get fair value for money but they will not use additional taxpayers' money to create value.

As my right hon. Friend made clear in his statement on 15 October, no further taxpayers' money will be put into Railtrack to compensate shareholders.

Mr. Hoban: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if he will place in the Library the calculation supporting the statement he made on 15 October that Railtrack would be in deficit by £700 million by 8 December this year and £1.7 billion by the end of March next year. [10195]

Mr. Jamieson [holding answer 25 October 2001]: The figures are those stated in the report at Exhibit "DR3" in the bundle of High Court papers, copies of which have already been placed in the Libraries of the House.

Mr. Redwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what his estimate is of the cash needs of Railtrack plc (a) between now and its next year-end and (b) for the following year; and how much of this will be supplied by the Treasury. [9780]

Mr. Spellar [holding answer 23 October 2001]: The Government have committed to provide the Railway Administrators with the financial support necessary to ensure that the rail network can remain fully operational throughout the administration of Railtrack Plc. The Administrators, who are currently undertaking a thorough review of Railtrack's business and cost base, will determine the overall case needs of Railtrack Plc during this period.

In respect of the funding arrangements, I refer the right hon. Member to the answer given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn) on 17 October 2001, Official Report, column 1230W.


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