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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): We take full note of the commitments and understandings referred to in the Parliamentary Assembly's Opinion. We shall expect the Russian Federation to respect the conditions in the Opinion and for it to meet its obligations upon becoming a member. We shall for our part work with it to help it achieve its goals in a spirit of constructive dialogue and co-operation. But acceptance of the Assembly's recommendation to invite Russia to become a member should not be construed as an endorsement of each of the specific points contained in this Opinion.
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: As was stated by my right honourable friend the Minister of State, the member for Richmond and Barnes, in another place on 22 January, my right honourable and learned friend the Foreign Secretary visited Hong Kong and China from 6 to 11 January. In Hong Kong he met the Governor, members of the Legislative and Executive Councils, senior Hong Kong Government and British officials, and business and community figures. This gave him an invaluable opportunity to hear at first hand the views and concerns of the people of Hong Kong about their future.
My right honourable and learned friend was warmly received in Beijing and held frank and constructive discussions with President Jiang Zemin, Premier Li Peng, Vice Premier Qian Qichen, and the Director of the State Council Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Lu Ping. The Foreign Secretary's discussions gave him an opportunity to describe to Chinese leaders the mood in Hong Kong and to discuss with them ways of maintaining confidence there. We made
We also agreed to develop further our bilateral links in all areas: political economic and commercial. As part of this dialogue, the Foreign Secretary registered our concerns over reports of human rights abuses and urged China to address these issues quickly and openly.
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: The Sudanese government released further political prisoners in early October, leaving to our knowledge only one political prisoner who has been tried, Brigadier al Rayah. Most of those detained after riots in September have also been released. There have however been further detentions of opposition activists, so far without trial, and it is impossible to tell how many detainees are currently held in unofficial detention centres.
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My noble friend Lady Thatcher agreed with President Reagan in December 1984 on four points related to the then United States Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). This included the principle that SDI-related deployment would, in view of treaty obligations, have to be a matter for negotiation. But it remains our practice not to comment on the interpretation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, to which the United Kingdom is not a party.
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: We support the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty as an important component of the strategic arms control regime. It is for the parties to the treaty to agree on any proposed amendments.
The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern): I am aware of two magistrates who have tendered their resignations in connection with this issue, but such information as is held centrally is not collected specifically on this issue, and it is therefore difficult to be precise.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege): The information will be placed in the Library. Figures for Great Britain are provided for the years 1992-1994 inclusive.
The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Lord Henley): It is the policy of Her Majesty's Government to prohibit corporal punishment for all state funded education. The nursery education voucher scheme will be no exception.
The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers): The first stage of the review, in which the need for a Local Ombudsman Service was examined, has been completed. On 30 November 1995, the Reviewer--Sir Geoffrey Chipperfield--presented his report to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and to the Chairman of the Commission for Local Administration in England (CLA), and today we have arranged for copies of the report to be placed in the Library of the House.
Sir Geoffrey has concluded that the present centralised investigation and review processes of the CLA would not be able to handle effectively the increasing volume of complaints which he foresaw with the growth of citizens' awareness of their rights and remedies. He has proposed, therefore, a new complaints regime, under which each local authority would be statutorily obliged to operate its own local complaints system, involving both internal review and an external reviewer or adjudicator. The role of any independent, central body, such as the CLA, would be limited to the validation and monitoring of each local authority's system; such a body would not have any role to investigate specific complaints.
We have carefully considered Sir Geoffrey's report, together with the CLA's representations on it. We recognise the importance of all local authorities having their own effective local complaints systems, although we are not persuaded of the need to seek legislation imposing a new statutory duty on local authorities to establish and maintain such systems. Nor do we believe that the case has been made that there is at present no continued need for the CLA's role as a wholly
We have concluded, therefore, to proceed with the second stage of the review, which will focus particularly on the efficiency and effectiveness of the CLA's procedures as an investigatory body. My honourable friend the Minister for Local Government has today asked Andrew Whetnall, a senior official at the Department of the Environment, to undertake this stage of the review. My honourable friend proposes that Mr. Whetnall should be assisted by the Advisory Group, including representatives of the local authority associations and citizens advice bureaux, which we established for the first stage of the review. In parallel, he is inviting comments from local authorities and all interested parties on the wider issues raised in the review's first stage. In the light of these comments and the findings of the review's second stage, we intend to take our decisions on the CLA's future.
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