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27 Oct 1997 : Column WA225

Written Answers

Monday, 27th October 1997.

Benefits: Uprating Basis

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to their Answer of 31 July (WA 102) whether they will publish the calculation upon which they base their conclusion that people in receipt of index linked benefits become better off as a result of uprating benefits in accordance with the RPI.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): Everyone will see the benefit of the reduction in VAT on fuel in their winter fuel bills. People in receipt of index linked benefits will be better off as a result of uprating benefits in accordance with RPI because, broadly speaking, they spend a larger proportion of their income on fuel and power than the population as a whole (on which the RPI is based).

A copy of the precise calculation has been placed in the Library.

Ministers' Private Financial Interests

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Which issues. companies and industries the Minister for Competitiveness in Europe cannot handle due to possible conflicts of interest.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Simon of Highbury): None, following the creation of a blind trust for my non-BP shareholdings and the sale of my BP shares after my public statement on 5 August. Prior to that date, arrangements were in place to ensure that no actual or perceived conflicts of interest could arise as a result of my private financial interests.

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will list all shares held by Ministers in the Department of Trade and Industry on their appointment to office.

Lord Simon of Highbury: No. The Government have published the requirements on Ministers in the Ministerial Code; DTI Ministers are acting in accordance with these requirements. It has never been the practice of previous Ministers, including DTI Ministers, to publish details of their shareholdings, except in so far as this is required by the Register of Members' Interests; they have from time to time made public statements about their decision to stand aside from particular issues where that has been thought desirable in particular circumstances.

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What actions have been taken by Ministers in the Department of Trade and Industry (a) to sell shares,

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    (b) to transfer shares to blind trusts or (c) to avoid conflict of interest with their shares since coming to office.

Lord Simon of Highbury: All the DTI Ministers have taken whatever steps were necessary to comply with the provisions of the Ministerial Code to ensure no conflict of interest between their public duties and private interests. This has included the sale of shares, the creation of a blind trust, or standing aside from a particular decision or discussions in order to avoid actual or perceived conflicts of interest.

Minister for Competitiveness in Europe

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What conversations the Minister for Competitiveness in Europe has had with journalists in the last six months concerning the single currency; and

    Whether it is part of the duty of the Minister for Trade and Competitiveness in Europe to brief representatives of the Financial Times newspaper on government thinking.

Lord Simon of Highbury: I have had conversations with a number of journalists on a variety of subjects related to my ministerial responsibilities. None of these took place between 10-29 September, when I was in Portugal on holiday.

Reactor Grade Plutonium

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, given that it would be difficult but technically possible to use plutonium arising from reprocessing at Sellafield "to produce a reliable weapon giving a predictable yield" (WA 184, 24 July 1997), they will confirm that building a crude nuclear bomb with an unpredictable yield from reactor grade plutonium would be no more difficult than building a more reliable bomb from weapons-grade plutonium.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): It is our considered view that it would be more difficult to build a nuclear weapon, even with unpredictable yield, using reactor grade rather than weapons grade plutonium. A number of factors, including increased radiological hazards, would lead to additional design and manufacturing complexities. However, a sufficiently determined group or state with nuclear aspirations might be able to overcome these difficulties and produce such a device using reactor grade plutonium. It is because of this that civil reactor grade plutonium held in this country is subject to the most rigorous physical protection measures and to stringent nuclear materials control and accountancy procedures. Such material is also subject to EURATOM safeguards and may also be inspected by the IAEA.

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Depleted Uranium: Weapons Use

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether any British service personnel in the Gulf War were affected by the use of uranium as a weapon; and

    Whether any children born to participants in the Gulf War have been affected by the use of uranium as a weapon; and

    Whether they are aware of any casualties due to the use of uranium as a weapon in the Gulf War, given that the Channel 4 television programme "Films of Flame" appeared to show that the United States had used uranium as a weapon in that conflict.

Lord Gilbert: Depleted uranium (DU) ammunition rounds were used by both British and US troops during the Gulf War. Two types of hazard are posed by DU: a radiation hazard, although DU has a very low level of radioactivity, and a hazard due to chemical toxicity which is similar to that posed by other heavy metals, such as lead.

The Government are not aware of any UK Service personnel who sustained shrapnel injuries from depleted uranium (DU) ammunition. A small number of British troops, who believed they might have been exposed to DU during the Gulf War, were subject to monitoring in the period immediately after the conflict. They showed no detectable DU contamination. A report published in 1993 by the Defence Radiological Protection Service concluded that there was no indication that any British troops had been subjected to harmful over-exposure to DU during the Gulf conflict.

The research teams conducting MoD-funded epidemiological research into the health of UK Gulf veterans and their families are, however, aware that exposure to DU is one of a range of factors which has been put forward as a potential cause of Gulf related illnesses. They will be taking this into account in their studies. I should stress that there is currently no evidence to suggest that any of the illnesses reported by Gulf veterans can be passed to other members of their families. Indeed, a study undertaken in the US which reported earlier this year found that the risk of birth defects among Gulf veterans was no higher than that in a control population.

Juvenile Offenders: Remand in Secure Accommodation

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What consultation the Home Secretary had with the Task Force on Youth Justice prior to his announcement concerning custody for 12 year-olds; and what advice he was given.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): On 15 October, the Home Secretary outlined his plans to begin implementing Section 60 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 and Section 20 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which give courts the power to remand some juvenile offenders direct to local authority secure accommodation. At present, the courts have no powers to require 12 to 14 year-olds or 15 and 16 year-old girls to be remanded in secure facilities, however serious or persistent their alleged offending. But there is insufficient local authority secure accommodation to implement these powers in full at this stage. The Government have therefore decided to give priority to bringing the new remand powers into force for these groups and aim to do so as soon as is practicable. In addition, the Government intend to give the courts the power to remand the most vulnerable 15 and 16 year-old boys direct to local authority secure accommodation, instead of Prison Service accommodation, subject to certain criteria and if a place has been identified in advance. Provision to be included in the Crime and Disorder Bill will amend existing legislation to allow for this implementation plan. The Government will keep under review the arrangements for remanding 15 and 16 year-old boys to Prison Service accommodation.

The Task Force on Youth Justice has delivered advice to Home Office Ministers on the development of a wide range of youth justice policies and this work is reflected in the three consultation papers on Youth Justice published in September and October. That advice has not addressed how to implement the existing powers for courts to remand juveniles to local authority secure accommodation.

War Memorials in Disused Churches

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking, when war memorials are to be destroyed because redundant places of worship are to be demolished or redeveloped, to ensure that the names and particulars of those who died are preserved; and whether legislation is needed for this purpose.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Provision for the preservation or recording of memorials to the dead is contained in existing legislation concerning the development of disused burial grounds.

Under the Pastoral Measure 1983, if a disused Church of England church and churchyard is made the subject of a redundancy scheme, there is a requirement to give notice of the manner in which memorials are proposed to be disposed of and to offer relatives or the Commonwealth War Graves Commission the opportunity to make separate arrangements.

Where the memorials are removed, details, including a copy of the inscription and the date and manner of disposal, are to be lodged with the local council and copied to the Registrar General.

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