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13 Jan 2000 : Column WA131

Written Answers

Thursday, 13th January 2000.

Terrorism: Multilateral Discussion

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will ask the Council of Europe, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the NATO Partnership for Peace to consider and to produce agreed standards on how to deal with terrorism and terrorist threats, using the minimum necessary force.[HL205]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): We discuss counter-terrorism policy and initiatives in various international fora, including the Council of Europe, the G8 and, more generally, in the OSCE. Discussion of international terrorism also forms part of the workplan for the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, which involves NATO and its Partner nations. Whilst each of these organisations has a role to play, we believe it is important that the United Nations, which has already agreed 11 international terrorism conventions, should remain the principal forum for multilateral discussion of terrorism.

EMU: Constitutional Issues

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord McIntosh of Haringey on 25 November (WA 15), why they will not say what are the "political and constitutional issues" concerning entry to the European Monetary Union which the Prime Minister has "resolved in his own mind".[HL292]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Written Answer (WA 15) of 25 November stated that the Government have acknowledged that joining EMU and sharing a common monetary policy represents a major pooling of economic sovereignty. The Government have said that the constitutional issue is a factor in the decision about whether to join the single currency but not an over-riding one. Rather, the determining factor in the decision is whether the economic benefits are clear and unambiguous. If they are, there is no constitutional bar to British membership of EMU.

Football Task Force Report

Lord Faulkner of Worcester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect to respond to the Report of the Football Task Force on Commercial Issues.[HL496]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The Government welcome the final report of the Football Task Force on commercial issues, copies of which I am placing in the

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Libraries of the House. The report contains a great number of recommendations on a wide variety of commercial aspects of football and also sets out differing solutions recommended by the football authorities and other members of the Task Force to the issues it identified. We are currently giving careful consideration to these recommendations and will announce our conclusions in due course.

Human Rights Joint Select Committee

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

    How near in the future do they intend to establish a Joint Select Committee on Human Rights.[HL295]

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): The timing for the Joint Committee's establishment is related to the date of implementation for the Human Rights Act. We announced on 18 May 1999 that the Human Rights Act will be implemented on 2 October 2000, so as to allow time for judicial training and departmental preparations. The Government consider that the Joint Committee should be operational in advance of the Act coming into full effect. We hope to make an announcement about that shortly.

Territorial Army Compulsory Mobilisation

Lord Milner of Leeds asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the outcome of the feasibility study into compulsory mobilisation of the Territorial Army to sustain peace support operations in the Balkans.[HL563]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): The feasibility study has concluded that compulsory mobilisation is feasible in both legal and practical terms. This will enable the TA to make a major contribution to front-line operations and reflects and supports the intent of the Strategic Defence Review that the Territorial Army should be usable. At the same time, as a result of the reduction in UK force levels in the Balkans, we judge that compulsory mobilisation is not operationally necessary at this time. We will keep the possibility of compulsory mobilisation under constant review in the light of the prevailing operational conditions.

Takeovers: Proposed Directive

Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Sainsbury of Turville on 14 December (WA 29), whether it may be possible under the terms of the takeover directive for decisions of the Takeover Panel, or other matters connected with takeovers, to be referred to the courts in this country or to the Luxembourg Court of Justice.[HL472]

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The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): In principle it is already possible for decisions of the Takeover Panel to be referred to the UK courts in an application for judicial review, and for other matters connected with a bid to come before the UK courts in the usual way. However, at present the scope for judicial review of the panel's decisions is extremely limited, and the Court of Appeal has indicated in particular that it is only in exceptional circumstances that it would intervene so as to affect the outcome of a bid. Similarly, at present it is very unlikely (although not impossible) that any point of EC law could arise in connection with a panel decision which was the subject of UK court proceedings, so as to make it necessary for the UK court to refer a question to the European Court of Justice. The concern has been raised that the adoption of the directive could make it more likely that points of both domestic and EC law would arise which required adjudication by the UK courts or by the European Court of Justice.

Her Majesty's Government have therefore negotiated the inclusion of a clause in the draft directive which is intended to allow the courts in the United Kingdom to continue their practice of not intervening in takeover bids, and, by implication, of not referring questions to the European Court of Justice. This clause-- Article 4.5--includes a provision stating that the directive does not affect the power which courts may have in a member state to decline to hear legal proceedings and to decide whether or not such proceedings affect the outcome of the bid. The Government have said that they would intend to make maximum use of the flexibility provided by Article 4.5 in order to maintain so far as possible the present legal position established by the courts with respect to takeover bids, and that they will consult widely on draft implementing legislation to ensure that it achieves this result in practice.

Public Safety Radio Communications Service

Lord Taylor of Blackburn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether any progress has been made towards the agreement of a contract for the Public Safety Radio Communications Service.[HL562]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): The Chief Executive of the Police Information Technology Organisation (PITO) issued a letter of instruction to proceed to British Telecom plc before Christmas, authorising them to invest in the project infrastructure. Negotiations on the Framework Arrangement and the model service contract are continuing and my honourable friend the Minister of State at the Home Office, Mr Clarke, hopes they will be concluded by the end of January. PITO will be asking individual police authorities to sign service contracts by the end of February.

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Milk Banks

Baroness Goudie asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Given the advantages of breast milk for premature babies, what plans they have to increase the number and distribution of milk banks throughout the United Kingdom.[HL388]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): The provision of milk banks is a matter for local decision.

Donated milk can help pre-term and sick babies. However there remain concerns about the transmission of infectious agents from human milk. Although mothers and their donated milk are screened before use, there remains a theoretical risk. It is for these reasons that mothers and fathers should make their own decisions about whether they want their baby to receive donated human milk.

The Government are fully committed to the promotion of breastfeeding, which is uniformly accepted as the best form of nutrition for infants. We firmly believe that it is important that women and their partners are able to make a fully informed choice on how to feed their babies based on accurate and consistent information. This means that women should have access to information about all infant feeding practices through the relevant health care professional.

Land Register: Price Information

Lord Taylor of Blackburn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have reached a decision on the proposal to restore "price paid" to the Land Register for England and Wales.[HL561]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): After extensive consultation, I have decided to restore "price paid" to the Land Register. This is consistent with the Government's policy to improve the house buying process by making important information more readily available, particularly at an early stage of the process. Information included in the Land Register should be as comprehensive as is practical and proper--property value is of great interest to people and there is no good reason why it should not be made available.

The information will not be inserted retrospectively. All applications received by the Land Registry on or after 1 April 2000 will have the price paid entered on the Land Register where it is practicable to do so. As with other data, the Land Register will provide the current information. Hence, on a subsequent change of ownership, the original price paid will be removed from the register.

This change in practice will bring the Land Register for England and Wales into line with many other jurisdictions where the price paid for property is a matter of public record. This includes most of Europe and, notably, Scotland, where this information has been publicly available since 1617 without appearing to cause any problems.

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