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14 Feb 2000 : Column WA121

Written Answers

Monday, 14th February 2000.

Bloody Sunday Inquiry: Costs

Lord Vivian asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What has been the cost so far of the inquiry into "Bloody Sunday".[HL946]

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The total costs incurred by the Bloody Sunday Inquiry up to the 31 December 1999 are £13,320,976.

Social Security Budget and National Insurance

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    By how much the national insurance fund is currently in surplus; what proportion of the social security budget is now funded by national insurance; and whether they have any plans for using any of the fund's current surplus to increase the basic state retirement pension by more than 75 pence a week.[HL879]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): The Government Actuary recommends a minimum balance in the National Insurance Fund of 16.7 per cent of benefit expenditure or £7.75 billion for 1999-2000. He estimates that the actual balance at 31 March 2000 will be £13.786 billion. The proportion of the Social Security budget funded by national insurance contributions for 1999-2000 is expected to be 50 per cent. We have already announced the increase for basic state retirement pension for April 2000.

UK Trade with US

Lord Shore of Stepney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What percentage of the United Kingdom's total visible exports and imports and, separately, of the United Kingdom's invisible exports and imports, were accounted for by trade with the United States in 1978, 1988 and the last complete year; and what measures are being taken by HM Government to increase the United Kingdom's exports to the United States.[HL854]

The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville):

UK trade with the US

1988 1998
USWorldUS shareUSWorldUS share
£ million£ million%£ million£ million%
Investment income12,64856,55022.424,153111,36521.7
Investment income13,31051,98425.628,99296,19130.1

(Information for trade, other than in goods, was not broken down by partner country prior to 1988.)

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Her Majesty's Government have been very active in recent years in encouraging more UK exports to the US. For example, in November 1998, the Department of Trade and Industry launched its Export USA programme (now under British Trade International) designed to give small- and medium-sized companies the knowledge and confidence to do business in the US market. Over 100 companies are currently in the programme.

Export USA is an addition to the full programme of promotional events already organised or supported by British Trade International. These events are designed to increase companies' awareness of the huge opportunities that exist for them in the US as well as helping them to understand various aspects of US business practice. The majority are sectorally focused, these sectors including aerospace, biotechnology, giftware, food and drink, creative and media and IT and electronics. In the coming year, British Trade International will be offering support for over 20 sectorally-focused trade missions to the US and for 99 exhibitions and seminars in the US--the latter being the largest ever programme for US events under the Support for Exhibitions and Seminars Abroad (SESA) scheme.

In 1999-2000, British Trade International ran over 30 specific US-focused events in the UK. A full programme is planned for 2000-01, specific examples being support for the largest group of UK biotechnology companies to visit the US Bio 2000 event in Boston; support for a visit to the UK by representatives of NASA to tell UK companies about the opportunities for them in the space and related industries; and an ongoing series of workshops on specific topics such as marketing in the US through the Internet, product liability and exhibiting at US trade shows.

As well as promotional work here in the UK, Her Majesty's Government also have 12 British Consulates across the US (including Denver, which will open shortly), where the commercial staff (now under British Trade International) are very active in UK export promotion, continuing to provide specific and

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tailored help to UK companies looking to export to the US as well as to identify specific sales leads from US companies that are made available to UK companies via the TradeUK website.

Asylum Applications: Confidentiality

Lord Marlesford asked the Leader of the House:

    Whether it is in accordance with parliamentary practice not to discuss and debate individual applications for asylum when these are not currently before the courts.[HL907]

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): The Home Office undertakes to keep all applications for asylum confidential, whatever stage they have reached. Provided that the appellant has not himself made the fact of his application public, it is essential that this undertaking be observed, both for the protection of the applicant and to avoid any risk of compromising the decision-making process.

Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention: Verification Protocol

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their policy towards the Geneva negotiations for a verification protocol to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention; and what is their assessment of the risks should such a protocol fail to be agreed.[HL886]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): Completion of a legally-binding protocol to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention is an important arms control objective for the United Kingdom as it will fill the last remaining gap in provisions covering weapons of mass destruction. The UK is playing a leading role in the Ad Hoc Group negotiations in Geneva, where we chair the sessions on compliance measures. We hope to see substantive progress towards the successful conclusion of a protocol during 2000.

Child Soldiers

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they endorse the agreements recently negotiated in Geneva designed to help end the use of child soldiers in armed conflict; and what is now their position on ratification of the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child, which requires governments to take "all feasible measures" to end the deployment of under 18s in conflict situations.[HL887]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We welcome the consensus achieved by the UN Working Group on an optional protocol on the involvement of children in

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armed conflict. This is a strong, practical text which clearly establishes that young people under 18 have a right to special safeguards.

The UK has argued that to stop children as young as 7 or 8 being used as child soldiers, we need standards that will be widely ratified and implemented. We believe that the optional protocol achieves this. We are now looking to see what measures we would need to take to allow the UK to ratify.

Council of Europe Committee of Ministers: Meetings

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many meetings of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe there have been in the year to 31 January 2000; and how many were attended by British Ministers.[HL888]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: There have been two meetings of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers in the year to 31 January 2000, one of which was attended by a British Minister. (Lord Williams of Mostyn, then Minister of State at the Home Office, attended the meeting in May 1999.)

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the priority they accord to relations with Russia and other former communist countries is reflected in the attendance record of British Ministers at the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.[HL889]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The high priority which the Government attach to their relations with Russia and other former communist countries does not necessarily affect decisions on ministerial attendance at Council of Europe meetings. Decisions on Ministers' attendance at such meetings depend on the priorities of the various calls on their time.

Disability Discrimination Act 1995: Aviation Industry

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

    What are their plans for bringing the aviation industry within the scope of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.[HL903]

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston): We are currently working with the aviation industry--airlines and airports--and with our disability advisers--the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee--to draw up a voluntary code of practice for the aviation industry covering the transport needs of disabled people. We will be consulting on the draft this summer.

We are also considering a proposal from the Disability Rights Task Force which recommends that

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we take a reserve regulation making power to require the aviation industry to comply with the code of practice if the voluntary approach fails.

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