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Northern Ireland: Emergency Provisions Renewal

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

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Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State made the Government's intentions clear on 12th June 1995 when he announced to the House of Commons that there was to be an authoritative and independent review of the continuing need for emergency legislation. Because the findings of the review would not be received in time to influence the shape of the new Emergency Provisions Act, the Government decided that the successor legislation would be temporary and of shorter maximum life span.

The Government were and are fully aware of the Commission's views, which have been set out in successive annual reports and which were presented forcefully at the Commission's meeting with the Secretary of State on 11th December 1995. There is no question of denying the Commission sufficient opportunity to present its views or to make sufficient representations on emergency legislation. It has also been invited to make representations to Lord Lloyd, who is conducting the review of emergency legislation, and I understand that they have submitted their views to him.

Northern Ireland: Race Relations Legislation

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

    Whether they agree with the advice given by the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights in Northern Ireland that the difference in the law on racial discrimination as between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom cannot be justified in the light of the United Kingdom's international human rights obligations; and, if not, why not.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: The Government's commitment to introduce race relations legislation in Northern Ireland was announced by the Secretary of State on 27th April 1995. A draft Proposal for a Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order in Council was published for public consultation on 16th July 1996.

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

    When they intend to introduce legislation in Northern Ireland along the lines of the Race Relations Act 1976, in accordance with the statement of intention made by the Secretary of State on 27th April 1995.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: A Proposal for a draft Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order in Council was issued for public consultation on 16th July 1996. The consultation period is due to end on 30th August 1996 and, taking account of comments received, it is hoped to present draft legislation before the end of the year.

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Northern Ireland: Ethnic Monitoring

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

    Whether they accept the recommendation made by the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights in Northern Ireland that ethnic monitoring should be improved in Northern Ireland.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: Proposals for Race Relations legislation in Northern Ireland follow the general lines of the Race Relations Act 1976. Since that Act does not require employers in Great Britain to maintain records of the ethnic origin of their workforce or of job applicants it is not proposed to include such provisions in the Northern Ireland legislation.

The number and form of questions to be included in the 2001 Census for Northern Ireland has not yet been determined. It is planned to include a question on ethnic origin in the Census Test being conducted in Northern Ireland in 1997 of the nature of that included in the Great Britain 1991 Census.

Northern Ireland: Policy Appraisal and Fair Treatment Guidelines

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

    Whether they will publish an evaluation of the impact of the Policy Appraisal and Fair Treatment Guidelines in Northern Ireland.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: The Government publish annual reports on the implementation of the PAFT initiative in Northern Ireland. The Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, in the context of a review of employment equality, has commissioned research on the PAFT guidelines. The Government have no plans to undertake a further evaluation at this time.

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

    What steps have been taken to draw the Policy Appraisal and Fair Treatment Guidelines to the attention of relevant organisations and members of the public in Northern Ireland.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: The Policy Appraisal and Fair Treatment Guidelines were issued in the form of an administrative circular to Northern Ireland Departments and the Northern Ireland Office in December 1993. In the preparation of the guidelines, consultations were held with the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, the Fair Employment Commission, the Equal Opportunities Commission for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and Disability Action. Copies of the final guidelines were distributed to these bodies at the time of issue. Northern Ireland Departments and the Northern Ireland Office have subsequently issued the guidelines to Next Steps Agencies and to Non-Departmental Public Bodies to

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which they would be relevant. Copies of the guidelines are available free to any organisation or member of the public requesting them. Two annual reports have been published on the implementation of the guidelines and these are also available free on request. The publication of the annual reports was notified to the media by the Northern Ireland Information Service.

Benefit Offices: Future Administration

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the sale of benefit offices by the Department of Social Security will lead to the closure of benefit offices in rural areas, and whether any proposed sale will include guarantees against asset-stripping.

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): The supplier will not have the ability to dispose of accommodation that is essential to business needs unless an acceptable alternative is supplied. In realising any development opportunities we will ensure that profits from these are shared.

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, as reported in the Guardian of 29th June, the Department of Social Security benefit offices are to be sold to the private sector and leased back for 20 years, and if so, what is going to happen after 20 years.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The department is already in the position of occupying leased accommodation which will expire over the next 15-20 years. On expiry of any lease we need to consider the business need to remain in that accommodation.

When we transfer the estate to the private sector the contract will ensure the supplier meets the department's property requirements for a period of 15-20 years. Our property needs will be continually assessed during that period and any changed requirements will be met by the supplier. The supply of our serviced accommodation requirements will be re-negotiated when the contract expires.

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether a private company administering state benefits has the option of abandoning the contract if it believes the benefit cannot be effectively delivered for the sum of money the Secretary of State has allocated to the purpose.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Any contract for administering state benefits will include not only financial agreements, but will also detail the service and quality levels required of the supplier by the Secretary of State. Before a contract is awarded, the DSS will need to be confident that the chosen supplier can deliver that performance for the agreed price. A company "abandoning a contract" would clearly be in serious breach, and the contract itself will include the specific

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actions the Secretary of State could take against a supplier. Such action is likely to be punitive.

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    If Department of Social Security benefit offices are to be leased to the private sector under the private finance initiative (PFI), how the PFI can be used for activities which do not generate an income.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: We propose that the Department of Social Security's estate portfolio should be transferred to the private sector under the PFI. In return the successful bidder will provide serviced accommodation to the department for the period of an agreed contract.

The successful bidder will, as the new asset owner and property manager, take on the risks and responsibilities of, for example, building maintenance, vacant space and security. The economic benefits for the taxpayer of the proposals are therefore in the better value for money over the lifetime of the contract and for the private sector there are opportunities to generate additional revenue from commercial development of land or buildings surplus to the requirements of the department.


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