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Mirror Group Newspapers plc: Investigation

Lord Spens asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Simon of Highbury): The costs incurred to date of the inspectors' investigation into the flotation of Mirror Group Newspapers plc are £7,352,557. It is not possible to estimate what further costs there may be to completion.

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Drug Crime: Confiscation of Assets

Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to announce their proposals of new powers to confiscate the assets of drug traffickers and other criminals.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): We will publish tomorrow the Third Report of the Home Office Working Group on Confiscation. Copies of the report will be placed in the Library and the Printed Paper Office. The report recommends measures to strengthen the legislation on confiscation and money laundering and its practical operation. It also proposes extending powers for the forfeiture of criminal assets in civil proceedings. In view of the innovatory nature of some of the working group's recommendations, it is important that the public should be able to comment on what is proposed. There will be a consultation period until the end of February.

Effective means of recovering criminal assets and depriving organised crime of its working capital are an essential tool of law enforcement. We attach great importance to ensuring that these powers are modernised. We are also determined that new powers should be subject to the right safeguards. The Government will take account of the responses to the report before reaching decisions on its recommendations. In the meantime, we propose to initiate a separate study of the possibility, discussed in the report, of establishing a confiscation or forfeiture agency.

Anti-discrimination Legislation

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

    Whether they will introduce measures to introduce coherent and user-friendly legislation to tackle unfair discrimination with consistent powers of monitoring and enforcement.[HL3658]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Anti-discrimination legislation, with accompanying guidance, already exists in the areas of sex, race and disability--the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. All three Acts are subject to review, as is happening now, including their provisions on monitoring and enforcement.

Religious Discrimination

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

    Whether they will introduce measures to make religious discrimination unlawful not only in Northern Ireland but also in Great Britain.[HL 3656]

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Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Government are alive to concerns about religious discrimination and are to commission research into the nature and extent of religious discrimination in Great Britain. The results will help to inform our thinking in this area and the process of deciding what action, if any, should be taken.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

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

    Whether they consider that the obligations imposed upon the United Kingdom by ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights include: (a) securing equality before the law and the equal protection of the law without discrimination on any ground in all parts of the United Kingdom; and (b) providing effective remedies for alleged breaches of the right to equality of treatment without discrimination.[HL3660]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the United Kingdom is obliged to respect and ensure the rights recognised in the covenant, which include equality before the law and the equal protection of the law without any discrimination, and the right to an effective remedy where rights or freedoms recognised in the covenant are violated.

Muslims and Racial Discrimination

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

    Whether they consider Muslims to be members of a "racial group" protected against racial discrimination by the Race Relations Act 1976.[HL3655]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Muslims are entitled to protection under the Race Relations Act if it can be demonstrated that they have suffered discrimination on racial grounds. It is for the courts to determine whether a particular group constitutes a "racial group" within the terms of the Act. Case law has so far determined that Jews and Sikhs constitute "ethnic groups" within the meaning of the Act, but this has not been determined for Muslims. Case law is, however, still developing in this area.

Sexually Transmitted Disease in Prisons

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have a strategy to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted disease among prisoners; and whether they will instruct governors that condoms should be issued to prisoners on request.[HL3632]

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Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Prison Service's strategy for preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases is based on the recommendations in the report, The Review of HIV and AIDS in Prison, by the Prison Service AIDS Advisory Committee, a copy of which was placed in the Library on publication in 1995. In addition, guidance is available to prison staff and doctors on the management and prevention of other communicable diseases, such as Hepatitis B and C. A programme of education and training is in place, for both staff and prisoners, covering the prevention, risk reduction and harm minimisation of sexually transmitted diseases.

Prison doctors have already been advised that they can make condoms available to prisoners if, in their judgement, there is a risk of infection from HIV. The Prison Service is looking at ways of strengthening that advice.

Kosovo: Education Agreement Implementation

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their latest information about access to schools and universities by Albanians in Kosovo, in accordance with earlier agreements.[HL3596]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): There has been no movement on the implementation of the Education Agreement since the release of the technical faculties of Pristina University to Albanian students in May. We hope that rapid progress can now be made in the context of the political dialogue to which President Milosevic has now committed himself.


Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the parties in conflict in the Sudan have extended the ceasefire due to expire on 15 October; and whether the ceasefire is being extended outside the region of Bahr el Ghazal, as requested by UNICEF and the World Food Programme.[HL3597]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr. Fatchett, visited Nairobi and Khartoum in July to encourage the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Government of Sudan (GoS) to accept a proposal for a limited ceasefire in the most hunger-affected areas of the Sudan. Their agreement during his visit to a three-month ceasefire in the Bahr el Ghazal was a welcome first step.

Following further discussions, on 9 and 12 October respectively, the SPLA and Government of Sudan agreed to extend the ceasefire in Bahr el Ghazal by a further three months. This will further assist the aid effort in the region and, we hope, will also give

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confidence to the two parties to pursue broader peace negotiations within the IGAD framework.

Terrorist Weapons: Decommissioning

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the totals of guns, ammunition, explosives and bomb-making equipment handed over to the authorities consequent upon the Good Friday Agreement on Northern Ireland.[HL3589]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs): No terrorist weapons have yet been decommissioned. However, contacts have been established by the International Independent Commission on Decommissioning with representatives of Sinn Fein, UVF and LVF.

Decommissioning is an integral part of the Good Friday Agreement. We are clear that there has to be progress on all aspects of the agreement and the question is not whether it will happen, but when.

Territorial Claims: RN Historical Records

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, given the Royal Navy's historical records, they are able to assist in elucidating matters of ownership, claims regarding islands and islets in various seas which are currently provoking differences among adjacent governments.[HL3547]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): Her Majesty's Government, in the form of the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, UKHO, is able to offer expert assistance regarding ownership claims and similar matters. The UKHO maintains an extensive database of historical and current documents. In addition to its documentary holdings, the UKHO employs staff with specific expertise in these areas. These expert staff offer independent and unbiased advice to third parties who seek their assistance. This advice is provided on a repayment basis, as the UKHO operates as a trading fund.

In addition, official departmental records, including those of the Royal Navy, dating back more than 30 years relating to territorial claims are in the public domain. These are, therefore, available for consultation by legal advisers to disputing parties and by any third parties invited to mediate such disputes.

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