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19 Feb 1998 : Column WA51

Written Answers

Thursday, 19th February 1998.

Bahrain: Detentions

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have received any information from the British Embassy in Bahrain about the detention, after the end of their sentences, of Majid Milad, Nizar Al-Qarea, Hussain Al-Tattan, Abbas Al-Ardi, Raed Al Khawajah, who were given prison sentences of three years by the State Security Court in early 1995; and whether, in accordance with the Foreign Office Mission Statement, they will make representations to the Government of Bahrain concerning the detention of persons.[HL546]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): Our Embassy in Bahrain have no information about these five detainees but will make enquiries of the Bahraini authorities. In all our contacts with the Bahraini government, we have expressed concern about the high number of detainees in Bahraini prisons and have urged them to either charge or release all those being held. We will continue to do so.

Ascension Island: Civilian Flights

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How soon they expect Ascension Island to be open to civilian flights and what civilian flights they expect to use the facility when it opens.[HL554]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Negotiations to open up Wideawake airfield on Ascension to civilian aircraft are continuing with the United States, which operates the airfield under the Bahamas Agreement of 1956. The next round of negotiations is scheduled to take place in Washington before Easter. We cannot at present estimate when civilian flights might begin. Once Ascension is open to civilian air traffic, we expect charter and cargo flights to be the initial civilian users of the airport.

Nuclear Weapons: Professor Booth's Report

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have studied Nuclear Weapons: Britain's Role in the Transition from a MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) to a SANE (Security After Nuclear Elimination) World published by the International Security Information Service in 1997; and to what extent they endorse the analysis and conclusion by its author, Professor Ken Booth.[HL548]

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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: I am aware of the International Security Information Service report to which the noble Lord refers.

Her Majesty's Government wholeheartedly endorses Professor Booth's goal of a nuclear weapons-free world and his acceptance that this cannot be achieved overnight.

We need to proceed towards our goal in a practical and realistic way, which is why we are examining all aspects of our nuclear policy in the Strategic Defence Review and elsewhere.

Light Weapons: UN Control

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In the light of the experience in Africa, Central America, former Yugoslavia and elsewhere, what steps they are taking, together with fellow members of the United Nations Security Council, to ensure that the collection and destruction of light weapons are given high priority in peacekeeping and conflict resolution; and what specific lessons have been learned from Mali in 1995-96.[HL550]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The UN works closely with fellow members of the UN Security Council to ensure that demobilisation and disarmament are included, where appropriate, in the mandate of UN peacekeeping operations authorised by the Security Council, as for example, was recently done in Angola (MONUA) and Guatemala (MINUGUA). The UK has also endorsed the report of the UN panel of experts on small arms, encouraged the recently appointed Under Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs to give a high priority to a reduction in the illicit trade in small arms, and played a leading role in developing an EU project to combat the illegal trafficking of light weapons in Southern Africa.

The example of Mali shows that a 'security first' approach, based on building the capacity of local police, and strengthening border controls and demobilisation, has an important role to play in establishing a firm foundation for economic growth and development. This approach now forms an integral part of HMG's overall development policy.

Iraq

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they believe the credibility of the United Nations would be enhanced by an attack on Iraq by one or two of its members without a new Security Council resolution explicitly authorising it; and to what would any United Kingdom/United States attack on Iraq be "proportionate", as the Geneva conventions require.[HL585]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: It would not be sensible at this stage to speculate on the possible circumstances of any military action against Iraq.

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We and other members of the Security Council continue to pursue by diplomatic means the objective of total Iraqi compliance with the Council's demands.

Northern Ireland Asset Register

Baroness Denton of Wakefield asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why the National Asset Register does not contain the assets of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and where these are available.[HL572]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: As the Northern Ireland Civil Service is administered separately from the civil service in Great Britain it was decided that the assets of the Northern Ireland departments should be published by the Northern Ireland Department of Finance and Personnel as a separate document which would complement the National Asset Register published by the Treasury. The Northern Ireland Asset Register was issued on 9 December 1997. Copies can be obtained from the Department of Finance and Personnel, Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast.

Millennium Experience: Child's Advice

Baroness Denton of Wakefield asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they approve the choice of a boy to vet the contents of the Millennium Dome.[HL571]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I understand that Work, one of the 11 design companies contracted to the New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC) to develop the content of the Millennium Experience Dome, occasionally asks an eight year-old boy to comment on its plans in order to gauge the level of their appeal to young people.

In the next few months, the NMEC will have established its own network of Regional Junior Boards (in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the nine English regions) each comprising about twenty 9-16 year-olds nominated by local education establishments and agencies. The intention is that one member of each Regional Junior Board, together with representatives from the major national youth organisations and agencies, will form a National Junior Board. These boards will ensure that advice and the views of young people on the Millennium Experience project is directly and regularly considered.

Tobacco Smuggling

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether disparity in the rates of duty is a reason for the illegal or improper importation of tobacco; and, if so, what action they will take in this matter.[HL561]

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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Rates of duty are reviewed each year before the Budget. In addition the Government have recently completed a review of alcohol and tobacco smuggling and fraud. The findings of the review are also being considered in the run-up to the Budget.

Farmers' Demonstrations at Welsh Ports

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How much money they withheld from the December aid package for farmers as a result of the farmers' demonstrations at Stranraer, Fishguard and Holyhead.[HL466]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): None.

Chinese Family Planning Association: Report

Lord Braine of Wheatley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will place in the Library of the House a copy of the report commissioned by them on the Chinese Family Planning Association.[HL651]

Lord Whitty: A copy of the report was placed in the Libraries of the House in November 1996. A further copy is being provided.

Northern Ireland: Legal Aid Review

Lord Orme asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have any proposals: (a) to review the administration of legal aid in Northern Ireland in light of the difference between the administration arrangements in Great Britain and in Northern Ireland; and (b) to extend to Northern Ireland any of the reforms to legal aid which are proposed for England and Wales.[HL697]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): I have instructed my officials in the Northern Ireland Court Service to:

(a) undertake a review into arrangements for the administration and provision of legal aid in Northern Ireland, bringing forward recommendations for change where necessary; and

(b) consider in the Northern Ireland context the proposed reforms to legal aid in England and Wales.

My officials will be available to hear views from interested parties on these important matters.

A Green Paper will be published for full consultation purposes in due course. In the meantime I would encourage all those with an interest in these matters to meet with my officials and contribute their views at an early stage.

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