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12 Jan 1999 : Column WA65

Written Answers

Tuesday, 12th January 1999.

Afghanistan: Support for NGOs

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have a new policy to maintain a "restrictive position" on the funding of expatriate staff of non-governmental organisations in Afghanistan; and, if so, whether it is on the grounds of insecurity; whether it applies to all aid agencies; whether it has any legal basis; and whether it has been tested or applied elsewhere.[HL371]

Baroness Amos: The Government's policy on assistance to Afghanistan was set out by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development on 8 December in response to a Parliamentary Question from Neil Gerrard MP. In her statement, Clare Short made clear that, because of security concerns, we are continuing to advise British aid workers against returning to Afghanistan. This means that DFID is not able to support NGOs that send expatriates back into the country. This restriction does not apply in the same way to the International Committee of the Red Cross and UN agencies because of their specially mandated role under international agreements.

We consider that we have a duty of care towards people employed by the NGOs we fund in situations of armed conflict and physical instability. This includes people of all nationalities (expatriate and local) employed through DFID funding. We seek to ensure in all such situations that our funding does not drive NGO staff to imprudent behaviour by motivating them to take undue risks in conducting their work or discharging their obligations towards us.

The legal base for such action is the Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980.

Sure Start

Baroness Goudie asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What arrangements they propose to make for parliamentary accountability of the Sure Start strategy.[HL443]

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): Sure Start is a vital element in the Government's work to improve services and other support for young children and their families. We have committed £540 million over the next three years, including £452 million in England, to achieving Sure Start's objectives. Sure Start is an interdepartmental strategy, and its success will require active partnership within government and a continuing commitment to

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innovation. The Government want the arrangements for securing parliamentary accountability for Sure Start both to be clear and to underline these principles.

The Government have therefore decided that, in England:

    The Secretary of State for Education and Employment will take the lead on Sure Start within the Cabinet, while the Minister of State for Public Health will have day-to-day responsibility for the policy and will chair the interdepartmental steering group of Ministers and officials which will take it forward and monitor progress;

    A new interdepartmental Sure Start Unit, based in the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE), will run the programme at official level, with its terms of reference and targets set by the steering group. Ms Naomi Eisenstadt, currently Chief Executive of Family Service Units, will take up her appointment as the head of the Sure Start Unit shortly;

    Subject to approval of the necessary Estimate, Sure Start expenditure for England will be carried on its own Vote. The Head of the Sure Start Unit will be an additional Accounting Officer within the DfEE. As is usual, the appointment as additional Accounting Officer will be made by the Treasury and a copy of the letter of appointment, setting out the respective roles and responsibilities of the additional Accounting Officer and the Permanent Secretary of the DfEE as Principal Accounting Officer, will be sent to the Comptroller and Auditor General and to the Clerk of the Committee of Public Accounts;

    The Secretary of State for Education and Employment will be the Minister ultimately answerable to Parliament for Sure Start. But the Minister of State for Public Health will normally answer Parliamentary Questions on Sure Start in another place, and in the case of Oral Questions will do so during DfEE Question Time. The Government expect that the relevant Select Committees will normally wish to invite her to appear when they examine Sure Start. Baroness Hollis of Heigham, a member of the Sure Start steering group, will answer for the Government in this House.

The Minister of State for Public Health is writing today to the Chairman of the Committee for Public Accounts and the Chairmen of the Select Committees for Health and for Education and Employment, and the Government will liaise as necessary with the House authorities, to ensure that these arrangements work well and secure effective accountability for this innovative policy.

The Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales are accountable to Parliament for Sure Start and equivalent programmes in Scotland and Wales respectively.

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Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly

Lord Graham of Edmonton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Pursuant to the Answer given by the Lord Privy Seal on 17 December 1998 (Official Report, cols. 170-71), if any changes have been made to the United Kingdom delegation to the January 1999 ordinary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe.[HL451]

Baroness Jay of Paddington: The right honourable John Taylor MP has been appointed as a full representative from the minority parties as a replacement for Mr. Mike Hancock MP, who becomes a substitute representative.


Baroness David asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they would set out their proposals for tackling crime.[HL452]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): The Government are committed to reducing crime, tackling its causes and ensuring proper punishment of those who break the law.

We have already demonstrated our commitment by introducing tough new measures in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to deal with young offenders; drug misusers; sexual, violent and racist offenders; and those whose anti-social behaviour blights the lives of so many of our citizens. As part of our overall strategy, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary also announced on 21 July 1998 (Official Report, cols. 913-916) that the Government were making available through the Comprehensive Spending Review £250 million over the next three years for a new crime reduction programme. In addition extra resources were made available to the police, the Prison Service and the probation services. The programme is based on concrete evidence of what is effective in reducing crime and tackling its causes. We are publishing today a briefing paper entitled Reducing Crime and Tackling Its Causes, which sets out further details on the crime reduction programme and the range of initiatives which has been developed so far, including important projects on domestic burglary and targeted policing. Copies of the paper have been placed in the Library.

Domestic burglary is one of the most common crimes and causes enormous distress to victims. In addition to the measures in the crime reduction programme, we have decided to bring into force in December the provisions of Section 4 of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997. This provides for minimum sentences of three years for those convicted for a third time of this offence and will ensure that those who commit this crime repeatedly are severely punished.

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BSE Cull

Baroness Goudie asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will report on the progress of the BSE offspring cull.[HL305]

Lord Carter: Before exports of British beef can resume under the Date Based Export Scheme (DBES), the UK must slaughter all offspring born after 1 August 1996 to BSE cases confirmed before 25 November 1998 (the date of the Commission Decision on the DBES). When new cases of BSE occur, any offspring born after 1 August 1996 must be slaughtered without delay.

We have known for some time that this cull would be necessary and started it on a voluntary basis in August. We have been waiting for formal adoption of the Commission Decision in order to make it compulsory and ensure that the cull is properly carried out. Regulations are being laid before the House today for this purpose.

Since the cull started on a voluntary basis in August we have with the co-operation of the farming community culled over 1,000 animals. The compulsory cull, which will come into force in January, will ensure that all remaining offspring animals are slaughtered and clear the way for the resumption of beef exports.

Tallow Stocks: Destruction

Lord Howie of Troon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made on destroying tallow stocks from cattle slaughtered and rendered under the Over Thirty Months Scheme.[HL380]

Lord Carter: At the end of November 1998, stocks of OTMS tallow stood at 185,000 tonnes. Over 53,000 tonnes of tallow have been sold to renderers to burn as a fuel to power the rendering process. The Intervention Board has commissioned a leading firm of environmental engineers to report early in the new year on the opportunities for the large scale destruction of OTMS tallow in accordance with the requirements of Commission Regulation 716/96. The board's aim is to conclude early supply contracts which take full account of the need to protect human and environmental health and yield the best return for the taxpayer.

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