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3 May 2000 : Column WA175

Written Answers

Wednesday, 3rd May 2000.

Naval Service Recruits: Discharge Regulations

Lord Dubs asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to alter the current discharge regulations for new recruits joining the Naval Service.[HL2263]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): With effect from 1 June 2000, all new recruits, other than re-engagements, will have a statutory right to apply to leave the Naval Service during a six-month period from date of entry, subject to having completed four weeks' effective service. Recruits will be entitled to be discharged no later than 14 days from the date of submitting notice in writing to their Commanding Officer. Currently, recruits have a period of three to six months, depending on their age at entry, during which they may exercise their right to leave the Service.

Aditionally, discharge fees applicable to Royal Navy Ratings and Royal Marine Other Ranks aged 17- years or over on entry, who take up their right to leave within the six-month period, are to be discontinued from 1 June 2000.

The two changes in Terms of Service will harmonise the Naval Service's discharge regulations for new recruits and mean that all new recruits, irrespective of their age on entry, will have an equal right to leave the Service in future.

"Operation Silver"

Lord Roberts of Conwy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will now make available such information as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence have about "Operation Silver" which took place more than 50 years ago; and[HL2012]

    Whether the 94-page document, dealing with British intelligence operations in South Eastern Europe which George Blake is alleged to have handed over to the Russians in the early 1950s is now available for public scrutiny.[HL2013]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal) . May I repeat to the noble Lord a statement made in another place by my right honourable Friend the Foreign Secretary, on 12 February 1998, Official Report, col. 323.

"The records of the Secret Intelligence Service are not released: they are retained under section 3 (4) of the Public Records Act 1958. Having reviewed the arguments, I recognise that there is an overwelmingly strong reason for this policy. When individuals or

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organisations co-operate with the service, they do so because an unshakeable commitment is given never to reveal their identities. This essential trust would be undermined by a perception that undertakings of confidentiality were honoured for only a limited duration. In many cases, the risks of retribution against individuals can extend beyond a single generation."

European Convention on Human Rights

Lord Cope of Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Answer by Baroness Scotland of Asthal on 13 April (H.L. Deb., col. 281), whether they regard the European Convention on Human Rights as legally obscure.[HL2104]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: No. the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has a long tradition of interpreting and clarifying the European Convention on Human Rights.

Looking to the future, however, this Government believe that a well drafted Charter of Rights could make a valuable contribution to Europe's human rights culture by consolidating in one place fundamental rights from the ECHR and the EU/EC Treaties and setting them out clearly for the benefit of citizens and administrators alike.

EU/Turkey Relations

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will raise the following issues at the European Union/Turkey Association Council on 11 April: (a) the case for internal dialogue within Turkey on issues including the cultural and educational needs of the Kurdish and other minorities; (b) the imprisonment or exile of some Turkish elected members of parliament and mayors; (c) the ending of martial law in the south-east provinces, and of state security courts; and (d) drug trafficking via Turkey.[HL1977]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: At the 11 April EC-Turkey Association Council the Portuguese Presidency, on behalf of member states, read out an agreed text on EU/Turkey relations. This stated that the proposed EU-Turkey Accession Partnership should set out priorities for action to enable Turkey to meet the EU's membership criteria as agreed at the 1993 Copenhagen European Council. These criteria include democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the protection of minorities.

In reply to the specific points:

    (a) We regularly raise the rights of Kurdish and other minorities with the Turkish authorities; (b) We supported the demarches by the EU Troika on 24 February and 30 March against the arrest of the HADEP mayors and re-imprisonment of Akin Birdal; (c) We welcomed the removal of the military judge from the Turkish State Security Court system last year

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    and the proposal of the Turkish Human Rights Minister in January to lift emergency rule in the south-east; and (d) The Prime Minister announced on 9 March that the EU should intensify co-operation against drug trafficking with all the EU applicant countries, including Turkey. We have proposed help on data collection, and the monitoring and evaluation of anti-drugs programmes.

Ambulances: Seat Belt Provision for Children

Baroness Goudie asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the legislation on the use of car seats for the transport of infants and children in cars also applies to emergency and passenger transport service ambulances; how many journeys infants and children took in ambulances without being carried in appropriate car seats in each of the last five years for which figures are available; what methods are used to secure infants and children; and whether the safety of these methods matches that of car seats.[HL2157]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): Legislation on the fitting of adult seat belts, which are used to secure child restraints, applies to most vehicles. The design and testing approvals of such seat belts and child restraints, and their fixings, are to approved standards. Therefore the methods to secure infants and children in ambulances match those used in cars. The legislation on the wearing of seat belts and child restraints applies where seat belts are fitted.

Seat belts are required to be fitted in the front seats of ambulances, but not in the rear. If an ambulance has 9 to 16 passenger seats, however, it is classed as a minibus. In that case, when three or more children aged between 3 and 15 years inclusive are travelling on an organised trip, a forward facing seat with a seat belt must be provided for each child. Consultation is currently under way on proposals to require the fitment of seat belts in all rear seats (whether forward of rearward facing) of new minibuses that do not carry standing passengers.

In minibuses, if the unladen weight is 2,540 kgs or less, seat belts in the rear must be worn. If an appropriate child restraint is available, it must be used where relevant. However, the law does not require seat belts or child restraints to be worn in minibuses over 2,540 kgs, but we strongly recommend that where they are fitted they should be used.

Figures for those journeys in amublances where appropriate child restraints were not used are not collected centrally.

Fitness to Drive

The Viscount of Oxfuird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the current arrangements for advice on medical suitability for driving are satisfactory and

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    whether they have given any consideration to the regular updating of fitness to drive, formally published by the Medical Commission on Accident Prevention.[HL2144]

Lord Whitty: Yes, the current arrangements for advice on suitability to drive are satisfactory. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency produces a booklet for medical practitioners entitled At a glance guide to current medical standards of fitness to drive. It is based on guidance from the Secretary of State's six Honorary Medical Advisory Panels. The guide is updated at least twice a year and it is available on the Internet. This guide includes material last published by the Medical Commission on Accident Prevention in 1995 and more recently updated by the panels.

The Viscount of Oxfuird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Following the winding up of the Medical Commission on Accident Prevention to whom do they go for advice.[HL2145]

Lord Whitty: The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) will continue to take advice on medical fitness to drive from the six Honorary Medical Advisory Panels, which are made up of eminent professionals in their field.

Disabled Parking Badge

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made in introducing the European Union Parking Card for facilitating improved mobility for people with disabilities; and what action they have taken in relation to use of the card in the United Kingdom.[HL2174]

Lord Whitty: The regulations to introduce the new blue parking badge for disabled people came into effect on 1 April 2000 in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The blue badge will be introduced in Wales later this year.

In England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the new blue badges are being phased in from 1 April over a three-year period as existing Orange Badges come up for renewal or applications are processed. Existing Orange Badges will therefore continue to be recognised in the usual way until 31 March 2003.

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