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7 Dec 1999 : Column WA79

Written Answers

Tuesday, 7th December 1999.

Openness in the Public Sector: Report

Lord Davies of Coity asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the report of the Advisory Group on Openness in the Public Sector is due to be published.[HL239]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): The report of the Advisory Group on Openness in the Public Sector was published today. Copies of the report have been placed in the Library and are available on the Home Office website. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary will reply to the report when he has consulted ministerial colleagues.

Asylum Applications Backlog

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in view of the fact that 16 months have passed since the publication of the White Paper, Fairer, Faster and Firmer--A Modern Approach to Immigration and Asylum, they now consider that, where an application was made before 1 November 1994, "delay in itself will normally be considered so serious as to justify, as a matter of fairness, the grant of indefinite leave to enter or remain", since the applicants in question will have waited for the same length of time as those who applied before 1 July 1993 at the date of the White Paper, to whom that argument was applied by paragraph 8.29 of the White Paper. [HL105]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: No. The White Paper made clear that these backlogs would be cleared over a period of time, with a target of completion by April 2001. Applications made in the period between 1 July 1993 and 31 December 1995 are being, and will continue to be, decided according to the criteria in paragraph 8.30 of the White Paper.

Visiting Ministers, Haslar Prison

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What were the numbers recorded as belonging to each of the non-Christian faiths at Haslar Prison at the latest date for which figures are available; and what arrangements have been made by the Governor to meet the spiritual needs of each of those faiths.[HL120]

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: The position on 2 December for people held at Haslar was as follows:

Christian Scientist3

Ministers have been appointed from the Moslem, Sikh and Buddhist faiths. Haslar is actively seeking to appoint visiting ministers for other non-Christian faiths.

Prisons: Visiting Ministers

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why they have given the governors of prisons in England and Wales the power to appoint visiting ministers of some non-Christian faiths, but not others, against the advice of the authorities of the faiths concerned, and sometimes without any consultation.[HL121]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Responsibility for the appointment of visiting ministers rests with the governor of each establishment. No changes have been made to the arrangements. Guidance on the recruitment process is given in the Prison Service directory and guide to religious practice, amended in 1992, and in recruitment guidance notes issued in 1994. The guidance states that in appointing a non-Christian visiting minister the governor should initially approach the local place of worship for the faith concerned, and in the case of Buddhist visiting ministers, the Buddhist organisation Angulimala. Additionally, the Prison Service has agreed that two Shia Muslim imams should be appointed as visiting ministers to the small population of Shia Muslims in prison.

Prison Act 1952 and Human Rights Act 1998

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they would be prepared to certify that the Prison Act 1952, as amended, complies with the Human Rights Act 1998.[HL122]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: We have reviewed the Prison Act 1952 in the light of the European Convention on Human Rights, and have concluded that it is compatible.

Female Genital Mutilation: Prosecutions

Earl Howe asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many prosecutions for female genital mutilation have taken place since the Female Circumcision Act 1985.[HL107]

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: Since 1985, records collected for the Home Office Court Proceedings Database (England and Wales) show no defendants proceeded against under the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985 for this offence. Records available centrally in Northern Ireland and Scotland also show no proceedings since the introduction of the Act.

Early Education Places for Three Year-olds

Lord Hoyle asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What formula was used to allocate the funding for early education places for three year-olds in 2000-01.[HL118]

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): From April 2000, £100 million will be distributed across all local education authorities, funding around 83,000 new free places for three year-olds in the greatest social need.

To allocate funds to each authority, a target participation rate was calculated based on the index of deprivation used for the Sure Start programme. This index was developed from the Government's Index of Local Deprivation, augmented by two additional factors relating to young children. Authorities with the highest deprivation rates were set the highest target participation rate. Funding was then allocated on the basis of the difference between the target participation rate and the existing number of maintained places.

Child Labour: ILO Convention

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

    Whether, and if so when, they intend to ratify the International Labour Organisation Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention adopted on 17 June.[HL134]

Baroness Blackstone: The Government announced their intention to ratify the convention in September. Formal ratification will be completed in the near future.

Residential and Nursing Homes: Standards

Lord Clement-Jones asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What actions they will take to follow up the consultation document, Fit for the Future, on national standards for residential and nursing homes for older people.[HL124]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): We will carefully consider all the comments we receive about the proposed national standards in Fit for the Future before finalising the standards and the

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timetable for their implementation. We will publish the national standards and implementation timetable as soon as they are finalised.

Primary Care Trusts

Lord Clement-Jones asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many primary care groups it is anticipated will be given primary care trust (PCT) status by spring 2000; and how many will become PCTs in 2001.[HL125]

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Nineteen Primary Care Groups (PCGs) are currently consulting on their proposals to become Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) on 1 April 2000. A further 42 wish to become PCTs from 1 October 2000. We are delighted with this high level of interest in taking real steps to improve health care for local patients.

In subsequent years, PCTs will be established on 1 April only. No expressions of interest have yet been sought from PCGs wishing to become PCTs from April 2001.

Meat Hygiene Service Inspection Charges

Lord Graham of Edmonton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have yet made a decision about the level of Meat Hygiene Service charges in 1999-2000.[HL210]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): On 1 December the Government announced that Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) hygiene inspection charges for the whole of 1999-2000 would be held at the levels set for 1998-1999. This will result in a saving to the meat industry of some £7 million in charges in 1999-2000. The Government have also given a commitment that the rates of MHS hygiene inspection charges in 2000-01 should not rise by more than the level of inflation above the levels charged in 1999-2000.

This will bring benefits across the livestock industry and demonstrates the Government's commitment to helping the sector through its present difficulties.

Gulf War: Review of Nerve Agent Release at Khamisiyah

Lord Haskel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What information they have regarding the demolition of Iraqi munitions at the Khamisiyah depot in March 1991 and its possible effect on British troops.[HL269]

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The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): The Government's 1997 New Beginnings policy statement set out the way forward for addressing the health concerns of Gulf veterans and included a statement of the MoD's commitment to review specific events in response to Gulf veterans' concerns that they were exposed to chemical weapons during the Gulf conflict. The work reviewing the incident at Khamisiyah in March 1991 has now been completed and my honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces has today published a detailed paper entitled Review of the events concerning 32 Field Hospital and the Release of Nerve Agent Arising from US Demolition of Iraqi Munitions at the Khamisiyah Depot in March 1991. In conjunction with this he has published a detailed paper that provides the background to the UK's chemical warfare defence entitled British Chemical Warfare Defence During the Gulf Conflict (1990-91). Copies have been placed in the Library of the House.

As a result of our review of the information on the Khamisiyah incident, we do not believe there is evidence that any UK troops were definitely exposed to Iraqi chemical agents on 10 or 11 March 1991. Although some British troops were located within the computer modelled composite plume footprint, such theoretical exposure would have been at a very low level. We judge that if such an exposure took place it would present no risk to health.

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