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Vehicle Excise Duty Refunds

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Whitty: DVLA staff have worked with operators to minimise delays, but Special Types refunds

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are for much larger amounts than for PLGs and are often made against licences for which applications have only recently been made. This inevitably extends the time necessary to process a Special Types refund application.

Genetically Modified Crops: English Nature's Advice

Earl Peel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What advice they have received from English Nature regarding the growing of genetically modified crops and their likely impact on the environment.[HL1151]

Lord Whitty: The advice received by the Government from English Nature, the Position Statement on Genetically Modified Organisms, has been placed in the House Library.

Northern Ireland: Suicides

Lord Eames asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the suicide rate in Northern Ireland; and whether they consider that the suicide rate is now at a level demanding increased government concern and action.[HL1064]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs): The suicide rate in 1997, the latest year for which this figure is available, was 7.2 suicides per 100,000 population. While suicides over the last number of years have not shown a significant increase, they remain a cause of concern and the Government are taking action to prevent further tragic deaths. This action includes the establishment of a regional task force which will consider the issue of suicide in the context of a wider strategy to promote positive mental health and wellbeing.

Car Parking in Black Rod's Garden

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe asked the Chairman of Committees:

    Whether a moratorium on any loss of car parking space will be applied until the appropriate committee has had a chance to reassess the allocation of 40 spaces in Black Rod's Garden, in the light of the Garden's status as a fire muster point and the need for free access for all necessary appliances in the case of emergency.[HL1240]

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): No. The use of Black Rod's Garden as a fire muster point does not prevent Peers from parking there. It is not, therefore, a reason to impose a moratorium on the loss of car parking spaces elsewhere.

In the event of a fire, fire engines may enter the precincts at Black Rod's Garden, or at Sovereign's Entrance, or at Carriage Gates. In case it is necessary for them to enter at Black Rod's Garden, Peers who park

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there are asked to leave their keys in their cars, so that Security Officers can move the cars out of the way. Thus the Garden can be used as a muster point, and as a point of access for fire engines, notwithstanding the cars parked there.

It should be noted that Black Rod's Garden is only one of several muster points. In case of fire, it might be necessary to assemble on Abingdon Green, or in Old Palace Yard, or in Victoria Tower Gardens, depending on circumstances.

In view of this, I do not see any need to change present car parking policy. Additional spaces have been obtained in Abingdon Street Car Park, and parking further afield would not solve the problem of occasional overcrowding in Black Rod's Garden.

Dispute Resolution by Mediation

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their estimate of the saving to the courts resulting from the growth in mediation services since 1995.[HL 1179]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): In family proceedings the Government are encouraging the use of mediation to resolve disputes. Public funding for mediation is available under the provisions of Part III of the Family Law Act 1996, whose provisions are being given effect by the issuing of local mediation franchises, the first phase of which commenced in May 1997. When this process is complete, it is expected that significant savings in legal aid expenditure will result from the use of mediation as opposed to litigation or arm's length negotiation between lawyers.

In the area of non-family civil disputes, mediation has, for the most part, developed independently of the courts. There is insufficient information available upon which to base any estimate of savings to the courts.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect to publish their policy towards alternative dispute resolution in non-family civil disputes.[HL1190]

The Lord Chancellor: The Government recognise that alternative dispute resolution may have a significant part to play in the delivery of justice in non-family civil disputes. However, there are a number of difficult issues to be considered before a detailed policy can be settled. I am currently considering how these may be addressed and am not yet able to say when a policy announcement will be made.

Family Records Centre: 1901 Census

Lord Teviot asked Her Majesty's Government:

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    Whether they intend to make available the 1901 census to the public on microform or in other machine readable form at the Family Records Centre.[HL1180]

The Lord Chancellor: The Public Record Office will make the 1901 census available at the Family Records Centre on the first working day of 2002. The current plan is for this to be by an on-line internet service, but beyond that, no decision has been made on the form of service there.

Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner

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

    Whether they support the creation of a Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner; and, if so, whether they support the creation of such a Commissioner by the Council's 50th Anniversary on 5 May 1999.[HL990]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): The Government supported the Action Plan adopted at the Second Summit of the Council of Europe in October 1997, which welcomed the proposal to establish a Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. We are satisfied that the draft terms of reference recently put to the Parliamentary Assembly would allow the commissioner to play a valuable part in raising awareness and encouraging full observance of human rights in Council of Europe member states. On the assumption that final agreement on the terms of reference can shortly be reached, we would welcome the formal establishment of this post at the Council of Europe Ministerial Meeting in Budapest in May.

Kosovo: Draft Agreement

Lord Morris of Castle Morris asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether a copy of the draft interim agreement on Kosovo will be placed in the Library of the House.[HL1373]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The draft Kosovo agreement is not a public document. I will, however, place a Foreign Office summary of the draft agreement in the Library of the House.

FCO: Cash Limit Increase

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What changes the Foreign and Commonwealth Office propose to make in the department's cash and running cost limits for 1998-99.[HL1374]

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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Subject to Parliamentary approval of the necessary Supplementary Estimates, the following change will be made in addition to the changes the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr. Fatchett, announced on 11 February 1999 (Official Report, Commons; col. 361).

The cash limit for Class II, Vote 2 (Other External Relations) will be increased by £10,000,000 from £265,611,000 to £275,611,000. The additional provision is required to provide assistance to Sierra Leone. It will be used to provide additional practical support to ECOMOG, to help train and equip a democratically accountable Sierra Leone army, and to provide support for peace negotiations.

The increase will be charged to the Reserve and will not therefore add to the planned total of public expenditure.

NATO: Accession of New Members

Lord Howie of Troon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary will join NATO.[HL1375]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary will deposit their instruments of accession to the North Atlantic Treaty at a ceremony in Independence, Missouri, on 12 March. The Government warmly welcomes this, fourth, enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It is another step towards overcoming the artificial divisions across our continent created during the Cold War and will help to spread security and stability for the benefit of all.

UN Security Council Members: Nuclear Weapons Policy

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Which members of the United Nations Security Council are electorally committed to the elimination of nuclear weapons.[HL1095]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: It is not possible for this Government to comment on electoral commitments entered into by other governments.

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