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4 Jul 1995 : Column WA71

Written Answers

Tuesday, 4th July.

Serbia: Alleged Forcible Repatriation of Refugees

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they consider that Serbia is in violation of international law by returning refugees of Serbian origin and military age to Serb-controlled parts of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina; and, if so, whether they will raise this matter on all appropriate occasions.

Lord Inglewood: We consider forcible repatriation of legitimate refugees to be contrary to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. We are concerned about reports which allege that Serb refugees are being repatriated from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro). We have supported a EU Presidency decision to make a démarche about this matter on the Serb authorities in Belgrade.

UN Conference on Women, Beijing: Agenda

Lord Braine of Wheatley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will list the specific issues to be discussed at the forthcoming United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing.

Lord Inglewood: No formal agenda for the UN Fourth World Conference on Women has yet been issued by the UN; negotiation of the Conference Platform for Action will be the main focus of activity. Copies of the draft Platform for Action have been placed in the Library and copies of the agenda will be placed there as soon as it becomes available.

Granny Flats: Council Tax

Lord Houghton of Sowerby asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they were forewarned by Inland Revenue of the action in the High Court to determine whether so called "granny flats" are to be included in the valuation for council tax or whether they are to be separately assessed for council tax; and what steps they now propose to take to reverse the present position.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Henley): Officials of the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) briefed the Minister of State, Treasury, on this issue earlier in the year.

The Government will study the full text of the judgment as soon as it is available in order to decide what action may be necessary. Our current understanding is that it affects only a very small number of cases where there is an unresolved dispute as to whether a property contains one dwelling or more than one dwelling for council tax purposes. The ruling, as we

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understand it pending full examination of the transcript, does not mean that thousands of families caring for elderly relatives are likely to face additional back-dated council tax bills. The High Court has not said that either granny annexes generally or the particular granny annexes which were the subject of these cases are liable to separate council tax. It has merely said that the Valuation Tribunals concerned took irrelevant factors into account in taking their decisions. It has remitted the cases to the tribunals for reconsideration. The Government do not believe, and the judgment does not appear to suggest, that families should be financially penalised for sharing their home with an elderly relative or relatives.

MoD: Political Forecasting

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Which department in the Ministry of Defence is responsible for political forecasting, and how it is staffed.

Lord Henley: The Ministry of Defence does not engage in political forecasting as such, although the department takes account of political developments in seeking to predict the future security environment in which our forces might operate.

Counter-Proliferation Initiative

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to Lord Henley's Written Answer of 20 June (col. WA 10), that "the United Kingdom is not directly involved" in the United States Defense Counter-proliferation Initiative, in what ways the United Kingdom is indirectly involved in the initiative, particularly the "Counterforce" element.

Lord Henley: The UK has been kept informed, both bilaterally and within NATO, on the US Counter-proliferation Initiative. There have also been technical exchanges in the areas of chemical and biological defence which will have assisted both nations in determining their response to these proliferation risks. The UK is not involved, either directly or indirectly, in any "counterforce" element of the US Counter-proliferation Initiative.

US Joint Advanced Strike Technology Programme

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they signed a memorandum of understanding for United Kingdom participation in the United States Joint Advance Strike Technology programme (which might according to Mr. Freeman, House of Commons, 4th May, col. 463, provide a replacement both for the Royal Navy's Sea Harrier aircraft and for a Tornado GR4 replacement), what international political context they anticipated at the time these aircraft might enter service.

Lord Henley: A Memorandum of Understanding for United Kingdom participation in the United States Joint

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Advanced Strike Technology programme is under negotiation but has not yet been signed. Her Majesty's Government recognise that the international political situation is unpredictable, particularly over the long timescales necessary to bring new combat aircraft into service. The approach to such equipment investment decisions, as described on page 60 of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1995 (Cm 2800), is to seek capabilities which offer flexibility, mobility and utility across a range of likely military tasks.

ABM Treaty

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether in the light of the then Prime Minister Mrs. Thatcher's discussions with President Reagan at Camp David in 1983, at which she secured undertakings from the President concerning the interpretation and the possible renegotiation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the British Government has an established droit de regard over US interpretations of that treaty, particularly in the light of the importance of constraints on ABM deployments for the deterrent efficacity of Britain's own nuclear and other weapons.

Lord Henley: The United Kingdom is not a party to the ABM Treaty and does not take part in the Treaty's standing Consultative Commission. This is an area, however, in which we maintain close contact with the United States.

Barristers' Fees

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe asked Her Majesty's Government:

    On what subjects representation has been received from the Bar-Registered Parliamentary Group during the present Parliament and whether these subjects included suggestions for curbing excessive fees for barristers.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern): The Bar Parliamentary Group has made its views known to the Government on a number of issues. These have not included the subject of barristers' fees.

Dr. Jawad Hashim: Payments to Counsel

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Answer given by the Lord Chancellor on 10 October 1994 (HL Deb, WA93–4) on the case of Dr. Jawad Hashim, whether any further amounts have since been paid to Mr. Colin Ross-Munro or Mr. Hugo Page.

The Lord Chancellor: Further to my Answer of 10 October 1994, the following additional payments have been made to lawyers acting on behalf of Dr. Hashim:


    Mr. Colin W. G. Ross-Munro QC: £96,089.30


    Mr. Hugo A. M. Page: £93,210.92

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All the above figures include Value Added Tax and other expenses. Payments are in respect of monies owed for work done in respect of proceedings which were completed in January 1994.

Conditional Fee Agreements, Scotland

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the rules governing agreements for legal services provided in Scotland differ from the Conditional Fee Agreements Regulations 1995 in relation to England and Wales; and, if so, whether they will summarise any significant differences.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Fraser of Carmyllie): There are differences. In Scotland there is no restriction on the type of action to which the arrangements can apply. The uplift is applied to fees for work undertaken by solicitors and counsel in the course of litigation, for which the other party to the litigation has been found liable. The uplift is not applied to fees for other items of work relating to the litigation, whether carried out before or after the commencement of litigation.

Radioactive Waste Management: White Paper

Lord Trefgarne asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will announce the results of their review of radioactive waste management policy.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Viscount Ullswater): The final conclusions of the review are being published today in a White Paper (Cm 2919), copies of which have been placed in the Library of the House. It includes the conclusions that my right honourable friend, the Secretary of State for the Environment, already announced on the timing of the Nirex repository and strategies for decommissioning nuclear plant (Official Report, Commons, 9 May 1995, col. 425), as well as on the siting of dry stores for spent fuel (Official Report, Commons, 21 February 1995, col. 146). In reaching its final conclusions, the Government have taken account of responses to the preliminary conclusions of the review, which were published in a consultation paper last August.

The White Paper sets out the Government's conclusions on the general principles which should be applied to radioactive waste management as well as on specific policies. The primary aim throughout has been to ensure that radioactive waste, irrespective of whether it is produced by public sector or private sector operations, is properly managed and that people and the environment are not exposed to unacceptable risks either now or in the future.

The broad policy aims have been revised and updated to emphasise the respective roles of Government, regulators and producers and owners of radioactive waste, as well as to apply the concept of sustainable development and its supporting principles. Radioactive

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wastes should not be unnecessarily created; such wastes as are created must be safely and appropriately managed and treated; they must then be safely disposed of at appropriate times and in appropriate ways.

The Environment Bill, which is currently before Parliament, contains provisions which will streamline the handling of applications to dispose of radioactive waste for nuclear licensed sites in England and Wales by making the new environment agency the sole authoriser, with MAFF and the Welsh Office as statutory consultees. (In Scotland, Her Majesty's Industrial Pollution Inspectorate—to be subsumed within the Scottish Environment Protection Agency—is already the sole authoriser). The White Paper also says that developers of major projects may, if they wish, submit early applications for disposal authorisations; the regulators will then be able to decide on these before major commitments of money and effort have been made.

The White Paper proposes that disposal to geological formations on land is the favoured option for the long-term management of vitrified high-level waste (HLW) once it has been allowed to cool. The Government are putting in hand the development of the necessary research strategy for this. In selecting a site for the disposal of HLW, the Government will take into account the recommendations in the recent report of a joint study group, drawn from members of the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee (RWMAC) and the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Nuclear Installations (ACSNI), about the need for transparency of decision making and for public reassurance.

For intermediate-level waste (ILW), the Government have decided that there would be no advantage to be gained from delaying the development of the Nirex repository and that once a suitable site has been found, it should be constructed as soon as reasonably practicable. The precise timetable will depend on the granting of planning consent and compliance with regulatory requirements, including the establishment of a sound safety case. The Government have already promised to hold a full public inquiry into an application for the repository itself, wherever it may be situated, and sees no reason to depart from this procedure.

In the meantime, waste destined for the repository must continue to be safely stored. Where the demands of safety are overriding, the waste must be treated as necessary to improve storage conditions. In addition, where early treatment of the waste will secure worthwhile safety benefits, or worthwhile economic benefits without prejudicing safety, the general presumption against action which might foreclose future waste management options may be relaxed.

In the light of the genuine anxieties that have been expressed by local residents who feared they might have been affected by the proposal, the Government have

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decided not to encourage greater use by the nuclear industry of the "controlled burial" of low-level waste (LLW) at suitable landfill sites. Nevertheless, there are sound economic and radiological grounds for controlled burial and the Government believe that it should continue to be used as a disposal route, particularly for "small users"—such as hospitals, universities, research laboratories and non-nuclear industries–subject to the agreement of the site operators and to the necessary regulatory requirements being met. The Government will issue guidance to the environment agencies on the need to consult local authorities about authorisations for controlled burial.

The Government have adopted a policy of self-sufficiency in relation to the import and export of radioactive waste. Radioactive waste should not be imported to or exported from the UK other than in the circumstances set out in the White Paper. These recognise, among other things, that developing countries should not be precluded from taking advantage of the non-nuclear uses of radioactivity, such as medical diagnosis and treatment, because they do not have the resources to acquire suitable disposal facilities of their own. RWMAC will be asked to advise on what detailed guidance might be prepared for the regulators in implementing this policy.

Since 1976, all BNFL's contracts for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel from foreign companies have included options for the return of operational wastes to the country of origin. In line with the principle of self-sufficiency, the Government's policy remains that the options should be exercised, but it accepts that this can be achieved by means of waste substitution—whereby radiologically equivalent amounts of additional HLW are returned in place of LLW and ILW, which would be retained for disposal in the UK—provided there is broad environmental neutrality for the UK. However, it considers it prudent not to become irrevocably committed to waste substitution in the absence of appropriate disposal arrangements within the UK. This means that BNFL may substitute for LLW now, but any arrangements they now enter into and implement with their overseas customers for the substitution of ILW must be conditional on confirming, at the time a Nirex repository receives planning permission, that waste equivalence has been properly calculated and provide for the ILW to be returned should the Nirex repository not be established by the time BNFL is contractually obliged to return the wastes.

The White Paper is the first comprehensive statement of Government policy on radioactive waste management for 10 years and we hope that it will be welcomed. It will form part of the guidance given by the Government to the environment agencies, which are due to to be established next year. It will also provide a clear policy framework for regulating the nuclear industry, which is to be restructured and partially privatised following the nuclear review.

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