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EU: Bilateral Relationship with Austria and Other Countries

Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: As circumstances vary, our relations with other governments are handled on a case-by-case basis. We shall continue to apply the principles which I spelled out in my previous Answer on 18 April 2000 (WA 89) to the noble Lord.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We have been led to describe the Freedom Party in Austria as "far Right" in consideration of past statements by prominent members of the party making light of the Nazi record and, for example, the tendency towards xenophobia in its election campaigns.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We seek to encourage respect for democracy and human rights in both Russia and Austria. The measures on Austria were a signal of our concern over the inclusion of a far-Right party in the government of an EU member state. We consider that the best way of influencing Russia towards more acceptable policies, including in Chechnya, is by developing a dialogue which allows us to be critical when we disagree. The EU has also signalled its concerns over Chechnya by limiting the TACIS aid programme for 2000 for Russia to promoting democracy and strengthening civil society and by co-sponsoring a critical resolution on Chechnya at the UN Commission on Human Rights.

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Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Answer by Baroness Scotland of Asthal on 19 April (H.L. Deb., col. 703) when Ministers will next meet Ministers from Austria for bilateral discussions of issues of concern.[HL2252]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We have no plans for any bilateral meetings with Austria while the EU 14 measures are in place.

European Economic Area: UK Membership

Lord Monson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they reconcile Baroness Scotland of Asthal's statement that "We are not members of the EEA" (H.L. Deb., 17 March, col. 1878) with the facts that the United Kingdom was a signatory to the 1992 Oporto agreement which brought the European Economic Area (EEA) into being; that Schedule 3 to the Financial Services and Markets Bill assumes the United Kingdom to be a member of the EEA; and that a reduced rate of air passenger duty applies to flights from the United Kingdom to fellow EEA member states.[HL2202]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The noble Lord is correct. Schedule 3 to the Financial Services and Markets Bill reflects the fact that the UK (as an EU member state) is indeed a member of the EEA. The reduced rate of air passenger duty does apply to flights from the UK to fellow EEA member states. I apologise for my earlier error.

Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations

Lord Alderdice asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Baroness Scotland of Asthal on 26 October 1999 (WA 22-3), whether they are yet in a position to say why the United Kingdom is not a signatory to the Optional Protocol of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations concerning Acquisition of Nationality.[HL2226]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: FCO research indicates that the UK originally chose not to become a party to the Optional Protocol on the Acquisition of Nationality for two main reasons:


    (i) It was felt that nationality provisions were out of place in a convention dealing with privileges and immunities; and


    (ii) It was considered preferable to rely on the general rules of customary international law in this area.

Passport Agency: Corporate and Business Plans

Baroness Massey of Darwen asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will publish the United Kingdom Passport Agency's corporate and business plans.[HL2334]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My right honourable friend the Home Secretary published on 5 May the United Kingdom Passport Agency's corporate and business plans and copies have been placed in the Library.

Criminal Records Bureau: Corporate and Business Plans

Baroness Thornton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will publish the Criminal Records Bureau corporate and business plans.[HL2335]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My honourable friend the Minister of State at the Home Office, Mr Clarke, published on 5 May the Criminal Records Bureau corporate and business plans for 2000-05, and copies have been placed in the Library.

Firefighters' Conditions of Service

Baroness Thornton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will publish the report of the inquiry into the machinery for determining firefighters' conditions of service.[HL2336]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I announced in the reply I gave the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, on 12 April (col. WA 51) that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary had received Professor Burchill's recommendations and was consulting upon them. He very much welcomes his proposals for improving the working of the National Joint Council for Local Authorities' Fire Brigades and the positive reaction there has been to them. The report of the inquiry was published on 5 May as a command paper and copies have been placed in the Library. He is asking for further comments from interested parties on the detail of the report and its recommendations to reach him by the end of this month.

Treasury Building Refurbishment

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made on the refurbishment of the Treasury building.[HL2302]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Ministerial approval to plans for the refurbishment of the Treasury building under the private finance initiative was announced by the former Chief Secretary on 27 July 1999, (Official Report, cols. 400-01). Under the terms of the project agreement signed last year, the Treasury's private sector partner, Exchequer Partnership plc (EP), is responsible for a number of risks, including obtaining town planning and listed building consents, and

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securing the funding to finance the works. Both conditions have now been satisfied and the deal has therefore reached financial close. Work is planned to start on site on 17 July (the date of granting vacant possession of the park end of the building) with completion in August 2002.

The contract, which is for 37 years and one month from vacant possession, provides for the Treasury to pay an annual payment (the unitary payment) to EP in return for fully serviced accommodation to performance standards specified in advance. The unitary payment has been fixed in real terms at £14.037 million in March 1999 prices and will be uprated annually in line with the retail prices index.

United Kingdom Act of Union: Bicentenary

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether their decision not to mark in the year 2001 the bicentenary of the creation of the United Kingdom is consistent with the remarks of the Prime Minister reported in the Belfast Telegraph of 21 May 1998 that "I am proud to speak to you as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. I value that Union".[HL1875]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): The Government fully recognise the historical significance for the United Kingdom of the 1801 Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland. While there are no plans at present for any formal commemoration of its 200th anniversary, the event will not pass without comment from the Government since we value Northern Ireland's place within the United Kingdom. That position is entirely consistent with the views expressed by the Prime Minister at the University of Ulster in Coleraine on 20 May 1998.

Hotel and Catering Employees: Accommodation Offset

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

    What representations they have received regarding the rate of accommodation offset for hotel and catering employees.[HL2113]

The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): We have received a small number of representations in the past year regarding the rate of the accommodation offset for hotel and catering employees which raised concerns about the maximum level of the offset. The Low Pay Commission received similar representations and these were considered for its second report, published in February. It recommended that the offset should be retained at its present rate and its level considered again when the national minimum wage is next reviewed. The Government accepted this recommendation.

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