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4 Jul 1996 : Column WA109

Written Answers

Thursday, 4th July 1996.

Northern Iraq: Attack on Kilken

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, following the attack on the village of Kilken in northern Iraq at 05.00 on 16th June by the armed forces of Massoud Barzani's Kurdish Democratic Party, they will propose to the United Nations Security-General that an investigation be conducted by the Special Rapporteur on Iraq, Mr. Max van der Stoel, or by the UN Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, M. Bacre Waly Ndiaye; and that those responsible for this atrocity be charged with murder before an appropriate court.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): It is up to the Special Rapporteurs themselves to decide which incidents to investigate. We deplore the attack and have called for those responsible to be brought to account.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What reports they have received about the arrest of Mulla Anwar Hamad Amin on 26th June, following his discussions with the joint United Nations/International Committee of the Red Cross team which visited Kilken to make preliminary inquiries about the massacre of 16th June; whether they will place a copy of any report that has been issued by this team in the Libraries of both Houses of Parliament; and whether they will offer protection to witnesses of the massacre, if necessary by making accommodation available to them in Arbil.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: We have reports that Mulla Anwar Hamad Amin was released on 28th June. We understand that the ICRC visited the area to pursue their usual humanitarian work. We do not expect to receive a report. We also understand that United Nations personnel visited the area to consider the implications for the security of the UN humanitarian programme. We are not able to offer individual protection to residents of northern Iraq. But we have written to local leaders urging them to prevent further violence.

Iran: Diplomatic Representation in UK

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many representatives of the Government of Iran are currently in London; how many have diplomatic status; how many do not and how many are locally recruited; and whether any of the above have connections with the Iranian army or intelligence services.

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Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: There are currently 15 accredited representatives of the Government of Iran in London, all of whom have full diplomatic status. Additionally, according to the Iranian Embassy, there are 14 locally recruited staff. Under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, diplomatic missions are not obliged to inform the host country of the number of locally engaged staff employed, as they receive no diplomatic privileges and immunities.

The Iranian Government does not employ a Defence Attache in the UK.

Libya: Alleged Chemical Weapons Activities

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will follow up, under procedures appropriate to the Chemical Weapons Convention, Libya's reported invitation to the international community to examine the tunnel which Libya claims is part of an irrigation project and the United States claims is chemical weapons facility.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: The Chemical Weapons Convention has not yet entered into force. Even when it does, the provisions of the convention will apply to Libya only if she ratifies. We therefore urge Libya to ratify in order to help dispel doubts about her chemical weapons activities.

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their view of the suggestion (reported in the International Herald Tribune on 20th April) of Mr. William Perry, US Secretary for Defence, that when the appropriate burrowing munitions are available, he will consider launching an attack, possibly using a nuclear warhead, on a tunnel in Libya, which Libya claims is part of an irrigation project and he claims is a chemical weapons facility.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: We share US concerns at reports that Libya has a chemical weapons programme and we have noted recent US statements on this issue. Most recently, on 7th May, a US Defence Department spokesman stated that the first line of defence was to prevent the chemical plant at Tarhuna being built, using diplomatic and economic means. He said that no consideration was being given to using nuclear weapons and any implication that the US would use nuclear weapons pre-emptively against Tarhuna was wrong. We continue to urge Libya to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in order to help to dispel doubts about her chemical weapons activities.

Compound Animal Feeds

Lord Willougby de Broke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether ignorance of the contents of animal compound feeds would be a defence if a farmer were to be charged with possessing or feeding prohibited matter.

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Lord Lucas: The Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (Amendment) Order 1996 makes it an offence for anyone to feed livestock with feedingstuff in which they know or have reason to suspect mammalian meat and bone meal (MBM) has been incorporated.

The draft legislation issued for comment on 10th June proposes to make it an offence for anyone to keep in any premises where farmed animals are housed or fed, or where feedingstuff for such animals is prepared or stored, any feedingstuff which they knew or should have known contained MBM. Farmers in any doubt as to the contents of any feedingstuff they are using have been told that they should contact their supplier for clarification.

As currently drafted, the proposed legislation requires the prosecutor to show that the farmer who kept or fed to his animals feedingstuff contaminated with MBM knew or should have known that the feed was contaminated. Since all farmers using compound feeds have been advised where in doubt to contact their supplier to determine whether the feed contains MBM, it would be difficult in practice for a farmer to deny that he should have known what the feed contained.

Interested organisations are now being consulted about the proposed legislation and it would be possible to change the burden of proof explicitly, by making the offence simply to feed/keep MBM feeds, but introducing a defence of "not knowing that the feed contained MBM, in circumstances where it was not reasonable for the farmer to be expected to know".

This would protect the farmer in a case where MBM was contained in a feed where no one would expect to find it (perhaps by contamination), while ensuring that there is no let-out for the careless or lazy.

Prison Standing Orders: Internet Proposal

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in the light of the Prison's Ombudsman's finding in Case No. 10471/96 that at Pentonville the governor had failed to ensure that valid copies of Standing Orders were freely available in the Library for the information of both prisoners and staff, contrary to the provisions of Standing Order 7B, paragraph 32, and in view of the cost of paper and postage in distributing the frequent amendments to Standing Orders to every prison in England and Wales and the staff time necessary to ensure that the copies available are up to date, they will evaluate the use of the World Wide Web as a means of distribution of the Standing Orders and other prison documents that are in the public domain, as well as for confidential documents, using password protection.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): Responsibility for this matter has been delegated to the Director General of the Prison Service, who has been asked to arrange for a reply to be given.

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Letter to Lord Avebury from the Director General of the Prison Service, Mr. Richard Tilt, dated 4th July 1996.

Lady Blatch has asked me to reply to your recent Question about Standing Orders on the World Wide Web.

Following the recommendations of the Woodcock report, the Prison Service has created an Information Management Unit (IMU) which is responsible for the distribution of all updates and new documents as well as a review of the way in which such information is published and distributed. The Prison Service has yet to consider how the Internet can be used for the distribution of public domain information but will be doing so in the near future.

All Prison Service establishments already have access to electronic mail facilities which provides both inter- and intra-organisational electronic mail by a connection to 'World Talk'. Negotiations are currently under way with Mercury over the provision of access to the Internet for electronic mail purposes by the World Talk gateway. It is expected that such access will be available within four months.

As you are aware, our policy on allowing prisoners computers in their cells is currently under review. No final decisions have yet been made, but it is most unlikely that prisoners will be allowed unsupervised access to the Internet, and this would limit the benefits associated with your suggestion. Additionally any savings that may be achieved from Internet access are very difficult to quantify.

Drinking Water Inspectorate Annual Report

Lord Skelmersdale asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the Sixth Annual Report of the Drinking Water Inspectorate will be published.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers): The Drinking Water Inspectorate published its sixth Annual Report today. Once again it shows that drinking water in England and Wales is of a very high quality. In 1995, 99.5 per cent. of the 3.2 million tests carried out by water companies, on drinking water met the relevant standard, compared with 99.3 per cent. in 1994.

The report provides a detailed picture of water quality in England and Wales, which has been tested against the stringent criteria of the Water Quality Regulations, which incorporate the limits in the EC Drinking Water Directive.

The inspectorate also published today two leaflets for consumers. How Good is Your Drinking Water? summarises the main points of the report. About Your Water Company gives brief details of the quality of drinking water supplied by individual water companies.

Copies of the report and leaflets have been placed in the Library of the House.

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