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21 Jun 1999 : Column WA61

Written Answers

Monday, 21st June 1999.

Hurricane Mitch: EU Aid

Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Baroness Amos on 10 May (WA 122), whether they will enumerate the precautions taken by the European Union intended to ensure that aid for the victims of Hurricane Mitch reaches them rather than fraudsters and racketeers.[HL2798]

Baroness Amos: We are making enquiries to the European Union. I will write to the noble Lord when I have details.

Macedonia and Albania: Aid Pledges

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What economic and social assistance will be provided for Macedonia and Albania following a peace in Kosovo.[HL2892]

Baroness Amos: At the recent donors' conferences for Macedonia and Albania, the international community pledged US$252 million and US$200 million respectively in international assistance.

For Macedonia, this includes a US$50 million IDA credit for emergency recovery and a further US$45 million of adjustment lending, subject to reforms. The IMF has announced a new US$32 million stand-by agreement and has also been exploring further assistance through an Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) arrangement which would be dependent on the Government of Macedonia's reform effort. The European Union has released 25 million euro for refugee-related budgetary support.

For Albania, this includes a US$30 million public expenditure support credit and a US$10 million enhancement to an existing structural adjustment credit from the World Bank, an IMF US$14 million enhancement of the existing ESAF, and EU refugee-related budgetary support of 62 million euro.

The British Government have allocated £90 million for humanitarian assistance in the region, much of which has been dispersed in Albania and Macedonia. We have pledged £5 million each for bilateral development assistance to Albania and Macedonia focusing on increasing the capacity of the governments to absorb international assistance and carry out economic and social reform.

Further donors' conferences are expected to be held later in the year to review Albania and Macedonia's needs in the light of conditions following the peace in Kosovo.

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Open Prisons and Resettlement Facilities

Lord Christopher asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the current number of (a) open prisons, (b) resettlement prisons and (c) resettlement units in closed prisons in urban areas.[HL2924]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): In England and Wales the current number of:


    Open establishments is 17;


    resettlement establishments is 3; and


    resettlement units in closed establishments in urban areas is six.

Freedom of Information Legislation

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

    What are the "organisations directly accountable to Parliament" referred to in paragraph 28 of the consultation document in Part I of Freedom of Information: Consultation on Draft Legislation, Cm 4355, May 1999.[HL2912]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: As stated in paragraph 28 of the consultation document, we are discussing with parliamentary authorities whether it is possible to bring Parliament and organisations directly accountable to Parliament within the scope of the Freedom of Information Bill. The organisations we have in mind are those where the head of the organisation is an officer of Parliament: that is, the National Audit Office and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration.

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

    What are the "specialised areas still in progress" referred to in paragraph 52 of the consultation document in Part I of Freedom of Information: Consultation on Draft Legislation, Cm 4355, May 1999.[HL2913]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Work is still in progress on: the application of the Bill to Parliament; a revision of the environmental information regime; and further provisions relating to the functions of the Lord Chancellor and the Public Record Office.

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

    Whether the Freedom of Information Bill will direct appeals on public records to the independent Information Commissioner rather than to the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Council, as envisaged in paragraph 6.11 of the White Paper Your Right to Know, Cm 3818, December 1997.[HL2914]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The White Paper Your Right to Know states (paragraph 6.11) that "The present route of appeal . . .--to the Lord Chancellor's Advisory

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Council--is unsatisfactory . . . . We propose to direct appeals on public records to the independent Information Commissioner". The draft Bill implements this policy (Clause 43).

Good Friday Agreement Referendum

Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Dubs on 28 April (WA 40), whether the minute of 4 March 1998 by Mr. T. Kelly, Director of Communications, which was circulated to Ministers and civil servants, was in conformity with the Civil Service Code and in accordance with guidance issued on the conduct of home and Northern Ireland civil servants during the referendum campaign.[HL2674]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs): During the referendum campaign, Ministers were properly entitled to campaign in support of a "yes" vote and to draw upon the support of civil servants, the scale of which was carefully circumscribed. The provision of a comprehensive information strategy, as set out in Mr. Kelly's minute of 4 March 1998, was a legitimate aspect of this support. I am satisfied that the advice submitted by Mr. Kelly satisfied the requirements of the guidance on civil servants' conduct during the referendum campaign and the Civil Service Code.

Wave Energy

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether their New Wave Power Research Programme will include research into the possible effects of wave energy exploitation on any adjacent biota.[HL2641]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): We would expect the new programme to include work on the environmental impact of exploiting wave energy but have yet to formulate detailed proposals.

Benefit Payment Methods

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What services are to be provided for benefit claimants through the computerisation of the Post Office network; whether it is intended to pay benefits directly into the claimant's bank account wherever possible; what is the proportion of claimants who now receive benefits by direct transfer; and what is the amount of benefit fraud arising from direct transfer and cash payment of benefits respectively.[HL2772]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): As announced on 24 May 1999, the project to automate post offices will continue but will no longer include the introduction of the benefit payment card. It is intended however to continue with the introduction of the Order Book Control Service, which uses bar coding on order books to tackle benefit fraud.

As now, customers will be able to opt for order books and girocheques to collect their benefit at the post office or for automated credit transfer to have their money paid into a bank account. The Benefits Agency will begin replacing order books and girocheques in 2003 with a more modern, efficient and secure way of paying benefits using the existing automated credit transfer system. The Post Office intends to develop further its commercial arrangements with high street banks so that those people who wish to receive their benefits at post offices should continue to be able to do so.

As at May 1999 a third of all benefit recipients choose to be paid by automated credit transfer (ACT). ACT, as a means of payment, does not give rise to fraud in the same way as girocheques or order books, which can be stolen, forged or altered.

Habitual Residence Test

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will publish the changes in the Habitual Residence Test reported in the Guardian on 31 May.[HL2791]

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The guidance issued to staff administering the habitual residence test following the judgment of the European Court of Justice in the Swaddling case and referred to in the Guardian article of 31 May is publicly available.

In addition, my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Angela Eagle) set out on Monday 14 June, Official Report, cols. 36-37, the Government's overall plans for the future of the habitual residence test resulting from the review of the test.

Stansted Airport

Lord Acton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect to make a decision on the application to raise the passenger air transport movement limit at Stansted.[HL3058]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): After careful consideration of BAA plc's application for an increase, and the responses to the consultation that was held on it, we have laid before the House an Order allowing 120,000 passenger air transport movements at Stansted between August 1999 and February 2000, and increasing, from 1 March 2000, the annual limit from 120,000 to 185,000 per annum. The new limit should allow Stansted to expand

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to around 15 million passengers a year (mppa)--a limit for which it has had outline planning permission since 1985 and for which detailed planning approval was given in March.

The purpose of the passenger air transport movement limit is to ensure that the development of Stansted does not outpace the ability of local infrastructure to cope with it. The Government are satisfied that the growth in road and rail traffic that will be generated will be satisfactorily accommodated, and that the overall effects of a 15 mppa airport are properly reflected in local development plans.


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