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15 Jul 1998 : Column WA23

Written Answers

Wednesday, 15th July 1998.

Overseas Development Assistance/GNP Ratios

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have made, or will make, an analysis of the reasons for the higher expenditure on aid as a percentage of gross domestic product (a) in Ireland, at 0.3 per cent.; (b) in France, at 0.45 per cent.; and (c) in Holland, at 0.81 per cent.; compared with the United Kingdom at 0.26 per cent. (according to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development figures for 1997); and whether any special factors emerge from such an analysis.[HL2718]

Lord Whitty: The overseas development assistance/gross national product ratios are calculated and analysed annually by the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Levels of assistance provided by individual countries reflect their policy priorities. This Government have increased the priority given to international development and in line with their manifesto have started to reverse the decline in aid spending. On 14 July, my right honourable friend the Chancellor announced as part of the comprehensive spending review an increase of £1.6 billion in the International Development Budget over the next three years. Based on these figures, we anticipate an increase in the UK's overseas development assistance/gross national product ratio from 0.26 per cent. in 1997 to 0.30 per cent. in 2001.

Women in India and East Africa: Microfinance Projects

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have made any assessment of the effect of small-scale employment of women in selected rural areas of India or East Africa, in particular the effects of income-generation or microcredit programmes designed for women of child-bearing age, on the acceptance of family planning.[HL2719]

Lord Whitty: All income generation and microcredit projects have as a central objective the creation of employment opportunities. The Department for International Development (DFID) recognises that many women in South Asia and Africa share particular problems related to their unequal access to resources and services and limited participation in public life. As a consequence many such projects are targeted primarily, if not exclusively, at women, and the evidence indicates that such projects have a significant impact on

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increasing their family income and employment opportunities.

DFID has funded independent studies to look at the impact of microfinance and income generation projects on women and, overall, the results have been favourable. However, such projects should not be seen as a panacea to all the problems facing poor women and other types of support are likely to impact more directly on the choices surrounding family planning.

Sierra Rutile

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether any request has been made by Sierra Rutile to the World Bank for a loan; for how much and for what purposes; how the UK director has voted or will vote on the project; and what conditions of transparency and corruption-proofing the Bank will demand or has demanded.[HL2393]

Lord Whitty: Sierra Rutile Limited (SRL) first approached the World Bank's International Finance Corporation (IFC) in January 1990 for project support. In April 1992, the IFC board, including the UK, considered a request for an investment loan in support of a US$71 million programme of rehabilitation of existing plant and infrastructure at SRL's mine in Sierra Leone and the development of new deposits. IFC's original loan commitment was US$15 million; other co-financiers are the Commonwealth Development Corporation, the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the German Investment and Development Corporation. The IFC board unanimously approved the investment; normal IFC loan conditions were applied.

The project was partially completed in 1995 when rebel action in Sierra Leone halted its development. Attempts were made to restart the project in 1996, but action was stopped in 1997 as a result of a further deterioration in the local security situation. In May 1998, the senior lenders including IFC and the project sponsors reached agreement on the settlement of SRL's debt repayment obligations. The project is on hold due to the current security situation in Sierra Leone.

NATO and the Baltic States

The Earl of Carlisle asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will give an estimate of the costs of NATO expansion should the three Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, be invited to join NATO; and what contribution those three nations will be expected to pay.[HL2551]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): No invitations have been issued to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to join NATO, and NATO has made no estimate of the costs that might be entailed by their accession. Any country invited to join NATO would be expected to make a contribution to the full range of alliance missions and to NATO's common

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budgets commensurate with its economic and other circumstances.

NATO: New Members and Command Structure

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the new members of NATO will fill senior NATO commands; and, if so, which.[HL2479]

Lord Gilbert: It is planned that the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland will fill posts in the new NATO command structure. The exact number, seniority and location of these has not yet been determined.

Unidentified Flying Objects

Lord Hill-Norton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When arrangements for disseminating reports of unidentified flying objects within the Ministry of Defence were put in place and last reviewed; and whether they will ensure that all airports, observatories, RAF bases and police stations have accurate and up-to-date instructions about how to record details of unidentified aerial phenomena reported to them, together with instructions to pass them to the appropriate authorities within the Ministry of Defence; and[HL2607]

    What follow-up action is taken by the Ministry of Defence when it receives a report of an unidentified flying object; and whether checks are routinely made to see whether such reports can be correlated by radar.[HL2609]

Lord Gilbert: The Ministry of Defence's interest in reports of unidentified flying objects is limited to establishing whether there is any evidence that the United Kingdom's airspace has been penetrated by hostile or unauthorised foreign military activity and whether reporting procedures are adequate for this purpose. Unless there is evidence of a potential threat, no attempt is made to identify the precise nature of each reported incident. Arrangements within the MoD have been in place for a number of years for disseminating reports; they were last reviewed in April 1997. Where necessary, reports of unidentified flying objects are examined with the assistance of relevant MoD experts, and this may include radar correlation.

Lord Hill-Norton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many reports of unidentified flying objects were notified to the Ministry of Defence in 1996, 1997 and the first six months of 1998; and how many of these sightings remain unexplained.[HL2608]

Lord Gilbert: The number of reports received by the Ministry of Defence of aerial activity not identifiable to the witness is as follows:

    1996: 609

    1997: 425

    1998: 88 (January-June)

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    Unless there is evidence to suggest that the United Kingdom's airspace has been compromised by unauthorised foreign military activity, we do not seek to provide an explanation for what might have been seen as the MoD is not resourced to provide an identification service.

Lord Hill-Norton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in evaluating reports of unidentified flying objects, the Ministry of Defence will routinely consult staff at the Royal Greenwich Observatory, the Ballistic Missile Early Warning Centre at RAF Fylindales and the Deep Space Tracing Facility at RAF Feltwell.[HL2610]

Lord Gilbert: These or other staff may be consulted, depending on the circumstances.

Lord Hill-Norton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why the Ministry of Defence has installed an answering machine on the line used by members of the public to report unidentified flying objects; and whether those people who leave contact details on the machine receive a formal reply.[HL2611]

Lord Gilbert: An answering machine enables members of the public to leave details about aerial activity or seek further information about our policy in respect of unidentified flying objects. The machine carries a message that sets out the MoD's limited interest in the subject and explains that, in the case of reported sightings, callers will be contacted only in the event that follow-up action is deemed appropriate.

Lord Hill-Norton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many military personnel witnessed the unidentified craft that overflew RAF Cosford and RAF Shawbury on 31 March 1993; and whether, when the craft has not been identified, such an event ought to be classified as being of no defence significance.[HL2612]

Lord Gilbert: The Ministry of Defence is aware of a single report from two military personnel of an alleged sighting in the West Midlands on 31 March 1993. The facts reported were fully examined at the time. No firm conclusions were drawn then about the nature of what had been seen, but the events were not judged to be of defence significance. The MoD has no reason to doubt the judgments made at the time.

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