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29 Jan 2003 : Column WA153

Written Answers

Wednesday, 29th January 2003.

Inland Revenue: Security Holdings

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord McIntosh of Haringey on 16 January (WA 52–53), what are the estimated current market value and income yield of the Inland Revenue's security holdings listed on pages 32 and 33 of the statement supplementing the Consolidated Fund and National Loans Fund accounts.[HL1217]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Some securities are quoted on the Stock Exchange but others are not quoted. Many of the securities holdings are bonds which are redeemable from specified dates. It is not possible therefore to give the information requested.

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord McIntosh of Haringey on 16 January (WA 52–53), why reasons of taxpayer confidentiality prevent them from answering the last part of Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay's Question (HL1016) on what plans they have for these holdings.[HL1218]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: It is not appropriate to release information about specific holdings of securities as that would reveal confidential information supplied by taxpayers. Exemption 15 (Statutory and other restrictions) of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information applies. Securities are generally held against payment of a tax debt and are returned to the taxpayer when the debt is paid. If the debt is not paid the Inland Revenue can dispose of the assets.

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord McIntosh of Haringey on 16 January (WA 52–53), what are the arrangements for management of the Inland Revenue's security holdings described in Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay's Question (HL1016); and what performance targets are applicable.[HL1219]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Securities are held by the Inland Revenue against payment of a tax debt and are returned to the taxpayer when the debt is paid. If the debt is not paid the Inland Revenue seeks specialist advice on disposal of the assets.

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Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will explain the different circumstances under which it is possible for the Inland Revenue to acquire security holdings.[HL1220]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: In certain circumstances securities may occasionally be accepted as security for a tax debt—perhaps because the taxpayer is unable to offer other assets as security instead. The Inland Revenue also accepts securities where tax due from overseas cannot be released directly to the UK because of exchange controls. Other securities can be issued by debtor companies under statutory provision.

Human Rights Act 1998 Guidance

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

    Whether they will amend the guidance given to government departments by the Cabinet Office on the Human Rights Act 1998 in February 2000 to include and be consistent with the guidance subsequently given by the Lord Chancellor to departments about Explanatory Notes on Bills, indicating that they should identify the main ways in which convention rights are thought to be engaged and explaining why the department considers measures in a Bill to be compatible with convention rights.[HL1045]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): Yes, my department is presently undertaking a comprehensive revision of Human Rights Act 1998: Guidance for Departments which was issued by the Cabinet Office in February 2000. The new edition will take account of all significant developments. It will include the amended guidance relating to explanatory notes on Bills.

This amended guidance states that explanatory notes on Bills should describe the most significant convention issues thought to arise on a Bill, together with the Minister's conclusions on compatibility; amended guidance draws attention to the fact that the explanatory notes are published by Parliament and should thus be neutral in tone.

In the meantime, the amended guidance about explanatory notes on Bills has been made available by my department through LION (Legal Information Online Network), the website for Government lawyers, and is also available on the Human Rights Unit's website. In addition, we have reminded officials about the amended guidance, using the network of nominated departmental human rights contacts.

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Burglars: Sentencing of Persistent Offenders

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many offenders have been sent to prison for persistent burglary under the automatic three-year sentence since the relevant legislation entered into effect in December 1999.[HL946]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): Information reported to the Home Office shows that six persons were sentenced under Section 111 of the Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 (previously Section 4 of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997) in England and Wales for a third offence of burglary by the end of 2001.

An offender has to have committed an offence, been apprehended, prosecuted and convicted, on three separate occasions since 1 December 1999 to be subject to the mandatory sentence. Given that a custodial sentence for the first or second offence since December 1999 is likely in many cases it will take some time before significant numbers of offenders who qualify for the mandatory sentence appear before the courts.

Information for 2002 is due for publication in the late autumn of 2003.

These provisions do not extend to Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Cyprus

Lord Moynihan asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What practical support they are offering to help bring about a comprehensive settlement to the Cyprus problem by 28 February on the basis of the United Nations Secretary-General's proposals.[HL1087]

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): The UK continues to give full support to the UN efforts to secure, by 28 February, a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement on the basis of the UN Secretary-General's revised proposals of 10 December. This would allow both sides of the island to hold referenda in time for a reunited Cyprus to sign the Treaty of Accession with the European Union on 16 April. Our preference remains for a reunited Cyprus to accede to the EU, which would be in the best interests of all Cypriots, of Greece and Turkey, of Europe and the region as a whole.

We maintain a high level of political engagement with the UN-led process. For example, when my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary met Turkish Ministers at the Copenhagen European Council in December and when my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence visited Ankara on 8 January. The UK Special Representative for Cyprus, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, will visit Athens, Ankara and Nicosia in the next two weeks in order to help facilitate negotiations.

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EU: Commissioner de Palacio's Letter

Lord Hoyle asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What reply they received to the letter dated 16 November 2002 by the Minister of Europe to Commissioner de Palacio; and whether they will place a copy in the Library of the House.[HL1089]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Commissioner de Palacio responded to the letter of my honourable friend the Minister for Europe on 20 November 2002. The reply referred to previous correspondence between the UK's Permanent Representative to the EU and the Commission (copies of which have already been placed in the Libraries of the House).

A copy of the Commissioner de Palacio's letter will be placed in the Libraries of the House.

Chechnya: Human Rights

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will discuss with the Government of Russia an extension for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe's mandate to monitor human rights abuses by all parties in and arising from Chechnya.[HL1136]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary raised this issue with the Russian Foreign Minister in late December, seeking an extension to the OSCE Assistance Group's mandate, including its responsibilities to monitor the human rights and humanitarian situation in Chechnya. The UK have also supported sustained EU pressure to agree a mandate for the assistance group that would be acceptable both to Russia and other members of the OSCE. We are disappointed that, thus far, it has not been possible to achieve this.

Iraq

Baroness Ramsey of Cartvale asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their position on Iraq following the presentation of the United Nations Monitoring Verification and Inspection Committee's (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) updates 60 days after the resumption of weapons inspections.[HL1361]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: I have today placed in the Library copies of the statement made to the United Nations Security Council on 27 January by Dr Blix of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and Dr El Baradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Taken together, these statements are damning and disturbing. They show beyond doubt that the Iraqi regime is responding to Resolution 1441 not with active co-operation but with a consistent pattern of concealment and deceit.

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