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Peers Serving as Prime Minister's Representative

Lord Rotherwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: No other Member of the House has served in this capacity.

Belize

Lord Simon of Glaisdale asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What investigation has been made into the recent leak of Foreign and Commonwealth Office papers relating to Belize; and with what result.[HL3945]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Investigations started on 13 July following the publication of official documents in The Times. They are still under way.

Entry Clearance Interview Taping: Trial

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

    Which post will be used as a trial for the tape recording of entry clearance interviews, as recommended in the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee Report on entry clearance work of July 1998.[HL3978]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The entry clearance section at the British Deputy High Commission in Bombay will undertake this trial. The trial will run for a three-month period from August until October this year. A further three months will be set aside to allow applicants time to register any observations arising from the trial. An evaluation of the trial should therefore be completed in February 2000.

Yugoslavia: NATO Operations

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How a statement by a member of the Strategic Institute of the United States Army War College that “in the end, NATO had to go after the civilian infrastructure" tallies with their assertions that all targets were military-related as stated by the Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean on 14 June (H.L. Deb., col. 9), that “It was never part of NATO's agenda to attack civilian targets, nor to wear down the civilian population".[HL3610]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal : NATO operations in Yugoslavia were based on collective decisions taken by the North Atlantic Council. The military campaign was explicitly designed to damage and disrupt the capability of the Yugoslav military, paramilitary and police to carry out repressive operations in Kosovo.

NATO regrets any civilian casualties and collateral damage. NATO did not intentionally plan military operations against civilian targets. NATO's approach was in stark contrast to President Milosevic's brutal and systematic campaign of violence against civilian men, women and children in Kosovo.

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Iraq: Bombing

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend terminating the bombing of Iraq by the United Kingdom and the United States which was described by the Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean as an “exceptional" and “limited" use of force, as “the only means to avert an immediate and overwhelming humanitarian catastraphe" (16 November 1998, WA 140); and whether in the light of an objective assessment of the factual circumstances and currently developing opinions in the Security Council, they will now consult the Security Council concerning the usefulness of the bombing.[HL3995]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal : UK and US aircraft continue to patrol the No Fly Zones over Iraq, established in response to a situation of overwhelming humanitarian necessity. Since December, Iraqi forces have conducted a sustained campaign to shoot down our aircraft, which have responded in self-defence, as is their right under international law, while making every effort to avoid civilian casualties. These actions are unconnected to last December's Operation Desert Fox, to which I believe the noble Lord refers. Our priority in the Security Council is to build consensus on a new way forward on Iraq. We are encouraged by the support received so far for the comprehensive approach set out in our draft resolution.

British Maritime Expertise: Marketing

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many British embassies are engaged in exhibitions of British Maritime History, Products and Service for fisheries, as has been done at the British Embassy in Quito, Ecuador; and whether the Government will do their best to encourage all embassies to promote British maritime expertise. [HL4075]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal : The Commercial Section of the British Embassy in Quito has been promoting a catalogue exhibition to be staged in Quito, Cuenca, Guayaquil and Manta, which targets possible opportunities for UK manufacturers of fishing equipment and safety gear in the two latter cities. The exhibition does not however have a specific maritime theme.

British Trade International was set up in May this year (following the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary's 12 March statement on the results of the Wilson Review on Export Promotion) to bring together in a single joint department the trade and investment promotion work at home and overseas of the FCO and DTI. British Trade International encourages all our overseas missions to target market opportunities in sectors which offer the best possibilities for British exports or investment.

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British Trade International works with other government departments to ensure that their own sector priorities and interests are not overlooked. In addition, the Defence Export Services Organisation (DESO) within the MoD is principally responsible for co-ordinating government support for British defence exports, including maritime equipment and services, in the following countries: Australia, Brunei, Germany, India, Indonesia, Kuwait, Malaysia, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Turkey.

Military Action: Legality

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answers by the Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean on 28 July (WA192-193), whether there is no generally accepted international law, conventional or customary, governing the use of force in connection with (a) the prevention of humanitarian catastrophe, (b) the countering of proliferation and (c) the defence of the common interests and values of NATO; and, if so, how the international legality of possible means of achieving such ends can be determined in advance of reference to the United Nations Security Council or the International Court of Justice.[HL4106]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I refer the noble Lord to the Answers given him by the Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean on 28 July (WA192-193) and reaffirm that the question of the justifiability of any use of force under international law must be considered on a case by case basis.

Firearms Certificates: Central Register

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made in establishing, as part of the Police/Home Office Extended Names Index (PHOENI“), a central register of persons who have applied for a firearm or shotgun certificate or to whom a firearm or shotgun certificate has been granted, which obligation, under Section 39 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, came into force on 1 October 1997; and whether they are now in a position to indicate a date by which they will have complied with the law in this matter.[HL3857]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): I understand that the user requirement has been accepted by the Association of Chief Police Officers Police National Computer Steering Committee and that this will be further considered and subject to a full technical impact assessment at their next meeting in September. The firearms application has been included in the Police Information Technology Organisation's work plan for 1999/2000 although it is not possible at this stage to say precisely when it will be implemented.

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Referendum on the UK Becoming a Republic

Lord Sefton of Garston asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will give consideration to the possibility of a referendum being held on the question of the United Kingdom becoming a republic. [HL4024]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: We have no plans to hold a referendum on this question.

Immigration and Asylum Bill: Effect on Asylum Seekers

Lord Hylton asked her Majesty's Government:

    In the event that the Immigration and Asylum Bill receives Royal Assent, what is their best estimate of the number of people who would be deported from the United Kingdom, were it not for conditions of war or social breakdown in their countries of origin.[HL3862]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: It is not possible to give a meaningful forecast because the situation in individual countries may improve or deteriorate suddenly with little or no warning. An assessment of risk is made at the point of removal and no-one will be returned in circumstances where his or her life would be at risk. This practice will not be affected by the provisions of the Bill and the number of cases in which enforcement action is not pursued for these reasons will therefore not be affected either.

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What would be the position of the asylum seekers and other immigrants, in the backlog of some 78,000 cases not yet determined and who are now receiving income support or other welfare benefits, in the event that the Immigration and Asylum Bill receives Royal Assent; and when they expect the relevant sections to come into force.[HL3861]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: On the assumption that the Bill receives Royal Assent in early November, it is expected that the statutory interim arrangements (Schedule 8) would come into effect in early December. The full asylum support arrangements would come into effect on 1 April 2000.

It would not be practical for all those who were asylum seekers on 31 March 2000 to be transferred to the new support system on 1 April 2000. There will, therefore, need to be phased transition arrangements. Asylum seekers who were in receipt of income support or other welfare benefits would, therefore, continue on these arrangements until they could be transferred into the new support system. Those applying for asylum after 1 April 2000 would, if they would otherwise be destitute, be eligible for support under the arrangements in Part VI of the Bill.

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