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16 Mar 2001 : Column WA113

Written Answers

Friday, 16th March 2001.

Balkans Theatre: Strike Aircraft Commitment

Lord Hoyle asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have for the future United Kingdom force levels in the Balkans.[HL1212]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): Following a review by NATO of the Statement of Requirement for aircraft in the Balkans theatre we have agreed new burden-sharing arrangements with the US Air Force. This agreement means that for three months in 12, we will meet the requirement for four strike aircraft, and the US for the remainder of the year. We have now completed our first three-month commitment, allowing us to withdraw four RAF Harriers and some 150 support personnel from Gioia del Colle from 1 April. The RAF will next deploy four aircraft again in early 2002.

Fishery Protection Vessels: Replacement

Lord Dubs asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to replace the ISLAND Class Offshore Patrol Vessels.[HL1256]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: We are pleased to announce that, following a thorough tender evaluation, Vosper Thornycroft (UK) Ltd have been selected as preferred bidder to provide an offshore patrol capability under a lease arrangement to replace the existing five ISLAND Class Offshore Patrol Vessels employed on patrol and fishery protection duties on behalf of MAFF. Subject to satisfactory conclusion of negotiations, we plan to be able to place the associated contract with Vosper Thornycroft (UK) Ltd in April 2001.

Fishing Vessel Licence Transfer and Aggregation Capacity Penalties

Baroness Thornton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have any plans to change the capacity penalty arrangements applying to the transfer and aggregation of fishing vessel licences.[HL1234]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): The operation of fishing vessel licensing arrangements has been recently reviewed by a joint industry/departmental working group and a copy of the group's report is being placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

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The working group has recommended that the existing capacity penalty arrangements should be maintained for the time being but that the penalty relating to the uprating of an existing engine, or to an increase in power following its replacement, should be based on the increase in the vessel's capacity rather than its overall capacity. The Fisheries Departments in the UK agree and arrangements are being made to notify the owners of licensed fishing vessels.

As of today a 20 per cent capacity penalty will operate for the uprating or replacement of an existing vessel engine provided the resulting increase in engine power does not exceed 35 per cent. This penalty will be reduced to 10 per cent where an engine is uprated or replaced before 31 December 2001. However, except in the case of pelagic vessels, where vessel capacity units (VCUs) are taken from vessels under 18 metres in overall length and aggregated on to licensed vessels measuring 18 metres or more in overall length, the capacity penalty will be 30 per cent. Provision will also be made for the splitting of fishing vessel licences for the purpose of engine power adjustments.

The Fisheries departments, in conjunction with the European Commission, are also prepared to consider, on a case by case basis, waiving capacity penalties and compliance with tonnage rules for vessel improvements which relate exclusively to improved safety and which will not result in an increase in a vessel's fishing effort. Under EU legislation, member states may apply for an increase in tonnage objectives under their relevant Multi Annual Guidance Programme to take account of increases in vessel capacity resulting exclusively from safety improvements. Advantage is now being taken of that facility.

In the longer term the Fisheries departments in the UK wish to simplify the present capacity regime and, with the exception of engine power adjustments, plan to return to a situation where a single penalty applies. The present capacity penalties will therefore end on 31 March 2003 and be replaced on 1 April 2003 by a single penalty which will also apply to tonnage and engine power as well as vessel capacity units. Since two years' notice of these changes is being given, no provision will be made for so-called pipeline cases. The views of the fishing industry and other interests are being sought on the level at which the capacity penalty should be fixed and whether this should apply to both licence transfers and aggregations or to aggregations alone.

Miss Zainas Hussain Nazir Hammad

Lord Ahmed asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether criminal charges are being instigated regarding the allegations of false imprisonment and slavery claimed by Miss Zainas Hussain Nazir Hammad as reported in the Sunday Telegraph on 17 September 2000; and, if not, why no such criminal proceedings have been taken.[HL927]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police informs me that the police have not received any allegations or complaint in connection with these matters, nor is there any record of a person of that name being reported as missing.

Prison Overcrowding

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

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Bassam of Brighton on 5 March (WA 8), how they define prison overcrowding in England and Wales.[HL1112]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The Prison Service defines prison overcrowding as the number of prisoners held in excess of the in use Certified Normal Accommodation.

Freedom of Information Act 2000: Implementation

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

    Whether they have revised their timetable for the bringing into force of the Freedom of Information Act 2000; and, if so, what are their reasons.[HL1152]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The Freedom of Information Act 2000 must be implemented across the whole of the public sector by 30 November 2005. However, the Government, as part of their commitment to increasing openness, have stated that they intend to implement the Act much earlier than this.

There are ongoing discussions with the Information Commissioner regarding what is a practicable and achievable timetable for implementation. There is a great deal of work required on the Commissioner's part in approving a publication scheme for all public authorities before their implementation date and also in the recruitment and training of staff in order to achieve this. It would be inappropriate to propose a detailed timetable for the implementation process until these discussions are complete.

There is, however, a great deal of work under way at the moment to ensure that implementation can be achieved as expeditiously as possible within all public authorities. There will be an announcement of the timetable itself in due course.

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Football Disorder: Working Group Report

Lord Davies of Coity asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the Working Group on Football Disorder will submit its findings and recommendations.[HL1275]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I have today published the Working Group's report and a copy has been placed in the Library. It contains over 50 recommendations aimed at improving the image of English football, the behaviour of its followers and the role of football in promoting social inclusion. A targeted action plan is included. The report stresses that the need to improve communication and develop productive partnerships will be crucial to enhancing the game's reputation and maximising its vast potential to help deliver an inclusive and tolerant society.

Electronic Conveyancing

Baroness Gould of Potternewton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to publish proposals for the introduction of electronic conveyancing?[HL1257]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My department has today published a consultation paper, Electronic Conveyancing: A draft order under section 8 of the Electronic Communications Act 2000. This consultation paper has been produced in association with HM Land Registry and the Law Commission. I have arranged for copies to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will outline the methodology behind the creation of an invitation list for a function organised by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and held on 16 February to discuss further powers for the commission, and whether they will ensure that, in future, such functions are representative in equal measure of all sections of the community.[HL1047]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): This is a matter for the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. The Chief Commissioner has been asked to write to the noble Lord. A copy of his letter will be placed in the Library.

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Millennium Dome: Sale of Contents

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

    What arrangements have been made to postpone the auction sale of items from the Millennium Dome which is due to be carried out by Henry Butcher International Auctioneers and Valuers during the period 27 February to 2 March 2001.[HL850]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The auction sale of items from the Millennium Dome went ahead as planned between 27 February and 2 March. However, in light of the Government's decision on 15 February to reopen the competition for the future of the Dome, the New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC) and the Government kept under review the range of items included in the auction. I can assure the noble Baroness that no items were included in the sale that would prejudice any potential future use of the Dome as a visitor attraction. Parties who expressed an interest in any items subsequently withheld from the auction will be notified if they become available for sale at a later date.

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