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Legislation: Compatibility with EU Law

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

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The Human Rights Act 1998 has preserved parliamentary sovereignty. UK courts will not be able to set aside primary legislation that is incompatible with the convention rights; instead the higher courts will, by schedule, be able to make a declaration of incompatibility. Section 19 provides for one of two sorts of statements to be made: either a statement to the effect that a Bill is compatible with the convention rights or a statement that the Minister is not able to make such a statement but that the Government nevertheless wish the House to proceed with the Bill. There is no such statutory framework in respect of European Community law.

Strategic Communications Unit

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: A member of the Strategic Communications Unit acts as editor for the site. Material is prepared and sub-edited by two other members of the unit. All three are established civil servants.

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The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Falconer of Thoroton on 17 February, what various reasons other than the improvements to the No. 10 website account for the 35 per cent increase in the running costs of the Strategic Communications Unit.[HL1151]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I am grateful to the noble Earl for tabling this Question as it allows me to offer my apologies for inaccuracies in the Answer given to him on 31 January (Official Report, col. WA 12) arising from inadequate checking of figures.

The correct figures for the total expenditure of the Strategic Communications Unit are as follows: £77,633 in 1997-98 (during which year the SCU was only functioning for approximately three months); £716,672 in 1998-99; and £839,440 in 1999-2000 (budgeted, not actual expenditure).

The rise between expenditure in 1998-99 and the budget for 1999-2000 is approximately 17 per cent. Of this, approximately 86 per cent is due to the additional costs of the redesign and relaunch of the No. 10 Internet site, including the replacement of outdated computer equipment and the creation of two additional established Civil Service posts.

Excluding website costs, the rise between expenditure in 1998-99 and the budget for 1999-2000 is 2.3 per cent. There are several reasons for this rise, including a rise in other pay costs due to annual pay increases and the upgrading of one post from Band A to SCS; an increase in spending on books and magazines; and an increase in travel and subsistence costs.

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What proportion of the Strategic Communications Unit's annual running costs can be attributed to the input to the unit by special advisers.[HL1152]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: There are two special advisers employed in the Strategic Communications Unit. To provide the information requested by the noble Earl would enable an estimate to be made of their salaries. In line with the practice of previous administrations, the salaries of individual special advisers are not disclosed as this would breach the privacy of the individuals concerned. The only exceptions are the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff, the Prime Minister's Chief Press Secretary and the UK Anti-Drugs Co-ordinator, whose salaries are outside the special adviser three-band pay structure.

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the comments made by Lord Falconer of Thoroton on 16 February (H.L. Deb., col. 1220), whether the Strategic Communications Unit is bound by the same guidelines that apply to the

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    Government Information and Communications Service.[HL1153]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The Strategic Communications Unit is subject to the Guidance on the Work of the Government Information and Communication Service and the Civil Service Code.

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied that the Strategic Communications Unit, in common with the Government Information and Communications Service, is an effective and honourable part of the Civil Service (H.L. Deb., 16 February, col. 1220).[HL1154]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Yes.

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What role the Strategic Communications Unit has in respect of the dissemination of government information; and how the role complements the work of the Government Information and Communications Service.[HL1155]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The role of the Strategic Communications Unit and the way in which that role complements the work of the Government Information and Communications Service is set out in the Mountfield report on the Government Information Service, published in November 1997.

Immigration Act Detainees

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many persons are held in detention under the immigration Acts; of these how many are held pending deportation; whether as many as 6,000 persons have been detained during any recent 12-month period; how many current detainees are held in HM prisons; and how many of those in prison were asylum-seekers with undecided cases.[HL1027]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): I expect to be in a position to send the noble Lord a substantive reply by 14 March.

Prison Accommodation

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have for making the best possible use of the 700 or so available places in Category D (open) prisons; and in particular whether they are considering women's wings or complete conversion of some prisons to female use.[HL1100]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: In September 1999 the Director General of the Prison Service announced a review of five open prisons. For some time there has been a significant upward trend in the prison population indicating the need to provide more places

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in secure accommodation, including provision for female prisoners. Also, because of the introduction of home detention curfew, there were indications that fewer open places would be required.

The review will take into account the projected need for open places as the prison population continues to rise and the most efficient way of providing the places required. The review is specifically required to evaluate the proposal to rerole Morton Hall male open prison to a female closed prison. The outcome of the review will be known later in the spring.

To ensure sufficient female capacity next financial year, four ready-to-use units at existing female establishments are planned. Over the longer term, a new 450-place female prison at Ashford, near Heathrow, and an additional 360 female places as part of the proposed 840-place prison at Peterborough are planned.

HM Prison Armley

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have for HM Prison Armley following an adverse report from the Board of Visitors.[HL1101]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The report from the Board of Visitors raised a number of concerns for Ministers and for the Prison Service. Action has already been taken to address these concerns and the governor of Leeds will continue to ensure that further progress continues over the coming months.

My right honourable friend the Minister of State at the Home Office (Mr Boateng) wrote to the chairman of the Board of Visitors on 6 January in response to the report outlining the significant progress made at Leeds in improving conditions for prisoners. I will arrange for a copy of this letter to be placed in the Library.

Depleted Uranium

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the approximate cost of testing each patient for presence of depleted uranium in their body.[HL823]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): The MoD estimates that the cost of obtaining and testing a sample of urine from each veteran who participates in the testing proposed in the draft protocol to test for depleted uranium will be approximately £3,500, excluding Ministry of Defence overheads.

Armed Forces Meat Supply

Lord Swinfen asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Ministry of Defence is buying meat or meat products from France; if so, how many of what type; and whether the meat is produced to the same standards in terms of feed and housing as meat produced in the United Kingdom.[HL971]

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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The supply of food to our Armed Forces is contracted out to "3663" (formerly trading as Booker Foodservice). The Ministry of Defence requires the company to seek the best price in the open market consistent with meeting out quality standard. We also require it specifically to give full consideration to British products, which we look to it to buy wherever they are competitive. Currently all beef for consumption by our UK-based service personnel is British. In addition, 100 per cent of our pork and almost 50 per cent of our bacon and gammon are being sourced in the UK. All products must meet our quality standard and must comply with all relevant UK, EC and other legislative requirements, including prescribed welfare standards, which govern home and imported products, and this is regulated by the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food. Currently our contractor is sourcing the following meat products from French suppliers, on cost grounds:

Estimated Annual
Volume
CommodityTonnes
Chicken2,100
Turkey50
Duck24
Minced/diced beef (for export outside UK)110
Beefburgers (processed)250


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