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10 Jun 1999 : Column WA171

Written Answers

Thursday, 10th June 1999.

Yugoslavia: EU Oil Embargo

The Earl of Lauderdale asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Which countries have pledged support for the European Union "Common Position" of 23 April prohibiting the sale or supply of petroleum and petroleum products to Yugoslavia.[HL2541]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): The oil embargo came into force on 1 May. Many non-EU countries including all NATO members, EU Associate States and EFTA states have joined the EU oil embargo against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Klecka and Volujak, Kosovo: Forensic Investigation

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the European Union forensic experts' investigation of events in Klecka and Volujak, Kosovo, which was due to be completed in March 1999, has yet been published; and, if so, whether they will place a copy in the Library of the House.[HL2490]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The original mission of the EU forensic experts was authorised to investigate sites of alleged killings of civilians in Kosovo, including Klecka and Volujak. The investigations are still in train.

Geneva Conventions and Yugoslavia Conflict

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether Clause 1 of the Geneva Conventions (Amendment) Act 1995, which provides for a sentence of life imprisonment in the case of a grave breach involving the wilful killing of a person protected by the Convention, is applicable to the present conflict in Yugoslavia.[HL2524]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Section 1 of the Geneva Conventions Act of 1957, as amended by Section 1 of the 1995 Act, provides that any person who commits a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions or of the First Additional Protocol of 1977 commits an offence under UK law. The relevant provisions of the Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocol apply to all cases of armed conflict which may arise between two or more of the High Contracting Parties.

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Satellite Launches from High Seas Platforms

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will initiate consideration in the appropriate international fora of rules to govern the launching of satellites from platforms on the high seas so as to include environmental assessments.[HL2336]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The responsibility for controlling platforms on the high seas lies initially with the flag state. In the absence of evidence that flag states and other states legitimately involved are failing in their responsibilities in this respect, it would seem premature to raise the issue.

Rambouillet Accords: Legitimacy

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Rambouillet Agreement, if signed by Mr. Milosevic, would have been valid in international law in view of the provisions of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.[HL2572]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The Rambouillet Accords would have been valid.

Asylum Seekers: Family Provision

Lord Hughes of Woodside asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to change the support arrangements for the families of asylum seekers.[HL2858]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): The Government are determined to deliver an immigration and asylum system which is fairer, faster and firmer. The Immigration and Asylum Bill is key to achieving this goal. The new arrangements contained in the Bill will provide a coherent national support system for asylum seekers, including families with children.

The Bill has been carefully scrutinised by a Special Standing Committee which took evidence as well as considering it clause by clause. We are very grateful to all the honourable Members who took part in this Committee. In the light of issues raised, we are making the following changes:

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has today tabled amendments to the Immigration and Asylum Bill to make clear that the Home Secretary will be under a new duty to meet the accommodation and essential living needs of destitute asylum seeker families. The assistance they receive in this way will be comparable to what would otherwise be available under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. All the other safeguards for children contained in that Act will continue to apply. Linked with the commitment we have already made to provide 24-hour emergency cover for such families, these measures will ensure that the children of asylum seekers receive the same kind of protection as other children enjoy.

We have also reviewed the balance between cash and vouchers in the resources to be made available to asylum

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seekers for living expenses, and have concluded that a cash allowance of £10 per person per week is justifiable for both adults and children. This would mean that, at the present illustrative support rates, a family of four would receive £40 per week in cash, and a further £50 of spending power by way of vouchers.

In the White Paper, Fairer, Faster and Firmer, the Government set a target of delivering, by April 2001, most initial asylum decisions within two months and most appeals in a further four months. In respect of families with children, we have decided to bring forward this target to April 2000. From that date, our aim will be to deliver initial decisions on new asylum applications in such cases in an average of two months. Average waiting times for appeals are already below four months. Our intention is to maintain this for the future for all categories of cases. If we cannot achieve these targets for families with children, we will not bring these applications into the new support arrangements in April 2000. We will only do so when we are satisfied that the targets for these cases can be met. For those people who remain on the support arrangements for more than six months through no fault of their own, we shall be introducing an additional discretionary payment to assist with the cost of any replacement items they may need.

These changes, together with the other amendments that we are tabling today, will strengthen the Bill and ensure that the Government's objectives are achieved.

AS90 Howitzers: Enhancements

Lord Varley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made with regard to placing a contract for the Extended Range Ordnance and Modular Charge System for the AS90 howitzer.[HL2859]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): A contract for the final development and production of extended range barrels and a new Modular Charge System for the AS90 self-propelled gun has been placed with Marconi Electronic Systems. This programme will extend the range and increase the effectiveness of AS90, and will provide a significantly enhanced artillery capability for the British Army. The contract will sustain about 50 jobs with Marconi at Barrow-in-Furness and at the Royal Ordnance factory in Nottingham, which will manufacture the extended range barrels. The Modular Charge System will be supplied by Somchem of South Africa. The total value of the contract with Marconi is around £75 million.

Royal Parks Events: Environmental Effects

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord McIntosh of Haringey on 17 May (WA 3), whether the Royal Parks Agency have carried out environmental impact assessments relating to their plans for substantial commercial activities in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens this summer; and whether they will now require them to publish these assessments in accordance with the Government's "greening" instructions to all agencies.[HL2715]

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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: No. The Greening Government Initiative does not require the production or publication of formal environmental impact assessments in relation to short-term events, such as the summer concerts planned for the Royal Parks this year. Nonetheless, the Royal Parks Agency of course takes environmental issues into account in seeking to minimise any disruption to the public or damage to the fabric of the park which might arise from events. Furthermore, the Royal Parks Agency will carry out a review of the environmental effect of this summer's programme of events.

Italian Deficit: ECOFIN Action

Lord Shore of Stepney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Under what treaty authority the Italian Government was required to limit its 1999 deficit to 2 per cent. of gross domestic product; under what authority the meeting of the Economic and Finance Council of Ministers in Brussels on 24 and 25 May was enabled to change the 2 per cent. limit to 2.4 per cent.; whether there was a vote in the Ministerial Council; whether the United Kingdom was entitled to vote; and, if so, whether the United Kingdom Minister voted for or against the relaxation.[HL2740]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The 25 May ECOFIN agreed to a draft text of the Broad Economic Guidelines for Italy that reflected the possibility of lower than forecast growth in 1999 impacting on Italy's deficit. Article 99 of the Amsterdam Treaty authorises the Council to formulate a draft of the Broad Economic Guidelines. No vote was taken by the Council.

Greenfield Levy Proposal

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, following the report of the Urban Taskforce chaired by Lord Rogers of Riverside, they are investigating the possibility of a greenfield levy; and, if so, what progress has been made.[HL2727]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The Government keep under review the scope for using economic instruments, including the tax system, to complement the planning system.

Electronic Delivery of Government Services

Lord Brookman asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to publish information on the target set by the Prime Minister to deliver 25 per cent. of government services electronically.[HL2909]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): A report on progress by departments and their key agencies is being published today. Copies of the report have been placed in the Libraries of the House and it will be published on the site www.citu.gov.uk. The report contains information supplied by departments on a sample of key dealings between the citizen and business and government.



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