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27 Nov 1997 : Column WA127

Written Answers

Thursday, 27th November 1997.

Sierra Leone

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will propose to the Security Council of the United Nations that the terms of reference of the committee established under paragraph 10 of Resolution 1132 of 8 October concerning the situation in Sierra Leone be extended to the consideration of unauthorised military action by Nigeria resulting in loss of civilian lives and damage to property in Freetown and elsewhere and the payment of compensation to the families of the victims and the property owners.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): No. The committee's terms of reference have already been established.

The circumstances of military action in Sierra Leone are unclear and are disputed by both sides. Our Permanent Representative to the UN made clear at the first meeting of the Sanctions Committee that we expect Nigeria to operate strictly within the provisions of UNSCR 1132.

Republic of Congo: Angolan Intervention

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether Angola has reported its military intervention in Congo Brazzaville to the Security Council under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter; and whether, as Permanent Member of the Security Council, the United Kingdom will raise the assistance given by the armed forces of Angola to Denis Sassou-Nguesso's coup against the democratically elected government of Pascal Lissouba, as a breach of Article 2(4) of the Charter.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Angola has not reported its military intervention in the Republic of Congo to the United Nations Security Council. On 17 October, the Security Council issued a statement condemning all external interference in the Republic of Congo and, in particular, the intervention of foreign forces in violation of the Charter of the United Nations, and calling for the immediate withdrawal of all foreign forces including mercenaries. The UK fully supports this statement.

Israeli Bombing of Iraqi Civil Nuclear Facility, 1981

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they consider that Israel's bombing of an Iraqi civil nuclear facility in 1981 was unlawful.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The Security Council voted unanimously on 19 June 1981 for a

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resolution which strongly condemned the attack as a violation of the United Nations charter on the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity of another state.

Iraq: Security Council Resolutions

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they consider that existing United Nations Security Council resolutions permit military action against Iraq without further authority from the Security Council; if so, which resolution or resolutions permit this; and whether their view is shared by the other members of the Security Council.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Iraq has agreed to allow all UNSCOM weapons inspectors to return to Iraq. We hope that they will resume their vital work immediately. It is not sensible to speculate on the circumstances in which military action would be appropriate. If Iraq reverted to the obstruction witnessed over recent weeks, this would be a clear breach of its obligations under Security Council resolutions. The legal justification for the use of force would have to be considered in the light of circumstances at the time.

UNSCOM Teams Operating in Iraq

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will list the nationalities to which the professionals in the UNSCOM inspection team in Iraq have belonged, and in what numbers; whether they have diplomatic status in Iraq; and whether they report exclusively and confidentially to the United Nations, or to other parties as well, and, if so, which.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The nationalities of professionals who make up UNSCOM inspection teams are a matter for the Executive Chairman of UNSCOM. We are not privy to any list of such personnel. UNSCOM personnel are not afforded diplomatic status: they enjoy the facilities, privileges and immunities provided for by the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, the agreement on the Privileges and Immunities of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the Specialised Agencies. UNSCOM personnel are bound by an undertaking not to communicate any information outside the United Nations without the approval of the Executive Chairman.

Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they consider that the Greater Middle East should become an area free of weapons of mass destruction; whether the removal of all such weapons

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    from Iraq should be accompanied by the removal of such weapons from all other Middle Eastern countries; and, if not, why not.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: We are strongly committed to the prevention of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), not only in the Middle East, but globally. We have consistently supported the idea of a zone free from weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. We have also urged all states in the region to ratify the relevant conventions and treaties on weapons of mass destruction.

Weapons of Mass Destruction, Israel

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they agree with the statement made by President Clinton as reported in the International Herald Tribune of 15 November that "one of the three or four most significant security threats that all of our people face in the next whole generation [is] this weapons of mass destruction proliferation... we've got to stop it"; and, if so, what steps they propose to take, along with the United States, to curb Israel's weapons of mass destruction capabilities and means of delivery.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is indeed a significant security threat. We continue to urge Israel to accede to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in order to allay international suspicions about her nuclear activities. We also continue to encourage Israel to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and accede to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC).

R v Gloucestershire County Council ex parte Barry

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the judgment of this House in the case of R v Gloucestershire County Council ex parte Barry has the same effect in (a) Scotland; and (b) Northern Ireland, as in England and Wales.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel): The case referred to concerned the responsibilities of social services authorities in England and Wales under Section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. The House of Lords judgment in this particular case applies equally in Scotland as Section 2 of that Act extends to Scotland.

I am advised by the responsible Northern Ireland Minister that, although the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 does not extend to Northern Ireland, the terms of its Section 2 are replicated in Section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons (Northern Ireland) Act 1978. In interpreting the

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Northern Ireland Act the courts in Northern Ireland would be bound to follow the decision of this House.

Scotland: Openness in Local Government

Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What advice they have given to Scottish local authorities on open government.

Lord Sewel: Local authorities are under strict statutory obligations to conduct their business in a way which is open to public scrutiny. The Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 makes requirements about the openness of council meetings (and meetings of committees and sub-committees) to the public, and about public access to documents associated with these meetings. The Local Government (Access to Information) (Scotland) Order 1996 extended these provisions to the joint boards created on local government reorganisation.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities issued a Code of Openness in Local Government in January 1997, to set out principles of openness and to give advice and examples of good practice to local authorities. This document was produced by a working group which included officials from the Scottish Office and representatives of the Local Government Ombudsman, the Accounts Commission and the Scottish Consumer Council. I have arranged for a copy of the code to be placed in the Library of the House.

The Government have announced their intention to set up an Independent Commission on Local Government and the Scottish Parliament; it is intended that part of this commission's remit will include an examination of the accountability of local authorities to their electorate, and this may include consideration of the openness of local authorities. The Government are also considering the development of a new ethical framework for local government in the light of the Committee on Standards in Public Life's recent report, and intend to publish proposals in the near future.


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