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Written Answers

Wednesday, 5th March 2003.

Cote d'Ivoire and Liberia

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, following the mission by the United Nations Human Rights Commission to Cote d'Ivoire at the end of December 2002, and recent reports by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees of large numbers of internally displaced people fleeing the conflicts in both Cote d'Ivoire and Liberia, they consider that the situation in the region amounts to an overwhelming humanitarian crisis.[HL1709]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): Latest reports from the UN estimate that at least 250,000 people have fled Cote d'Ivoire to neighbouring countries such as Ghana, Mali and Burkina Faso, and another 600,000 are internally displaced. The renewed conflict in Liberia has caused many Liberians and Sierra Leonean refugees to cross into Sierra Leone and Guinea. In response to the crisis in Cote d'Ivoire, the Department for International Development has provided around £1 million to humanitarian operations through ICRC and the NGO Merlin as well as 2,000 tents, 30,000 blankets and 200 rolls of plastic sheeting to boost UNHCR's regional stockpile in Accra. There is a risk that there could be a rapid deterioration in the situation affecting large numbers of people, and we are therefore continuing to monitor developments closely in consultation with international agencies, including the UN. We are also working closely with others in the international community to support regional efforts to implement the Linas-Marcoussis Agreement. In this context, the UK Government have provided £2 million to support deployment of the Ghanaian contingent of the ECOWAS peace-keeping force.

Criminal Records Bureau: Unpublished Information

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Falconer of Thoroton on 4 February (WA19–20), whether the Answer given on that date concerning the legal jurisdiction under which information held by or on behalf of the Criminal Records Bureau is held would have been completely accurate on 10 December 2002, the day on which that Question was tabled; and[HL1688]

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Falconer of Thoroton on 4 February (WA19–20), what are the names of all companies to which work on the processing of data held by or on half of the Criminal Records Bureau has been contracted or sub-contracted; and[HL1689]

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    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Falconer of Thoroton on 4 February (WA19–20), why information is being processed on behalf of the Criminal Records Bureau on the Indian sub-continent; and [HL1690]

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Falconer of Thoroton on 4 February (WA19–20), whether the pay and conditions of work of persons on the Indian sub-continent handling information held by or on behalf of the Criminal Records Bureau are in accordance with the United Kingdom and European Union legislation on minimum pay and standards on employment.[HL1691]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): It has at all times been the intention that, in terms of data protection, security and other aspects, the arrangements for processing data should entail no material increase to the risk of misuse of data. Consequently, before agreement was given for any data to be processed in India, the site was visited by senior officials from the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), who were fully satisfied that this was the case. The main CRB contract (signed in August 2000) requires that the CRB's private sector partner, Capita, and any sub-contractor of Capita, must comply with the Data Protection Act 1998; and that Capita may not enter into a sub-contracting arrangement without the permission of the CRB. The agreement between Capita and Hays Commercial Services Ltd, the sub-contractor undertaking this work on the Indian sub-continent, makes it clear that the provisions of English law apply. This was clarified in January this year by a variation of the original terms in order to make explicit Hays's obligations under the Data Protection Act 1998.

This arrangement has proved highly effective in enabling large numbers of paper application forms to be processed with timely, efficient and accurate data capture and eliminating backlogs from this critical stage of the CRB process.

Non-EU countries are free to determine their own employment laws, having regard as necessary to obligations which would flow from membership of organisations such as the International Labour Organisation. I understand that the conditions and benefits offered by Hays are considered among the most attractive in the region, and that the salaries are well above the local average and in the upper quartile for the industry.

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why it took them eight weeks to give their Answer on 4 February (WA 19) to Lord Tebbit's Question of 10 December 2002 concerning the Criminal Records Bureau.[HL1820]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The noble Lord's initial Question caused us to seek clarification of the contractual provisions between Capita and Hays Commercial Service Ltd by including a specific reference that data processing is to be performed in accordance with the terms of the Data Protection Act

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1998. It is very much regretted that, as a result, the noble Lord did not receive an earlier reply to his original Question.

Race Equality Strategy

Lord Ouseley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to publish the race equality strategy which is being developed in the Home Office.[HL1848]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Filkin): The Home Office is working with other government departments to develop a cross-government strategy for delivering improvements in race equality over the next three years. The strategy is being further developed for wider consultation and publication later in the year.

Affordable Housing Schemes

Lord Jordan asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What transitional arrangements will be offered for affordable housing schemes following the abolition of local authority social housing grant in April.[HL2001]

The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker): LASHG was an unfair funding mechanism that did not allocate funds to areas of greatest need, consistently underspent nationally and gave unfair advantage to debt-free local authorities.

As part of the measures outlined in Sustainable Communities: building for the future, we have decided to abolish LASHG to allow a more strategic use of resources. The change is to take effect from 1 April 2003.

We understand the concerns that have been raised over the timing of this change and recognise the difficulties this is causing for the planning of schemes coming forward over the next few months. However, it would be indefensible to retain the current arrangements at a time when there are pressing housing priorities that are not getting sufficient funding.

We are also clear that there should be no hiatus in housing investment. We are therefore putting in place transitional arrangements to cover schemes that could have gone ahead in 2003–04 if we had continued with a £500 million provision for LASHG.

The transitional arrangements will be as follows:

    for debt-free authorities, provision will be increased from £175 million to £275 million; the money will be allocated by the Housing Corporation direct to the RSL;

    for with-debt authorities, revenue support of up to £11 million will be provided to compensate them for the loss of investment income (at an interest rate of 4 per cent) they would have

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    expected on repayments from the Housing Corporation for schemes supported by their own resources; this will fund up to a further £275 million of investment in 2003–04; this money will be paid through a special grant under Section 88b of the Local Government Finance Act 1988.

These arrangements will cover schemes which will have already started by 31 March 2003. We are also extending the deadline for submitting bids for new schemes to the Housing Corporation for three months to 30 June 2003 provided that schemes have planning permission, are approvable and are programmed to draw down the start-on-site tranche of grant by the end of January 2004. We do however need to ensure that the funding limits are not exceeded. If the total claims submitted by 30 June exceed the money available, the Housing Corporation will prioritise schemes with the government offices in terms of their contribution to the regional housing priorities.

Transitional funding will therefore support investment in housing of up to £550 million. This is an increase of £50 million on the provision for LASHG in 2002–03 and is higher than in any previous year. It is fully in line with the measures we have set out in the Sustainable Communities Plan to increase substantially the resources made available for delivering sustainable communities for everyone.

Service Personnel: Vaccination

Lord Swinfen asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether servicemen in the Gulf and neighbouring countries, and those being sent to that region, are being offered multiple or combined inoculations; and whether the servicemen are asked to sign a disclaimer to the effect that if they suffer any illness in the future that may be attributed to such inoculations they will not claim compensation.[HL1315]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): All service personnel are routinely offered a range of vaccinations to protect against disease. These include public health vaccinations and vaccinations for those in special occupational risk groups. Vaccinations are also offered to service personnel deploying to areas with specific health hazards and to protect personnel against the effects of biological weapons.

In accordance with NHS guidelines, a number of public health vaccinations may be administered at the same time, some in combination. This is not unusual. However, by offering public health vaccinations to service personnel on recruitment, with boosters at appropriate intervals thereafter, the need to administer several vaccinations or boosters immediately before a deployment can be avoided. Nevertheless, boosters or additional vaccinations may be unavoidable at the time of a deployment or in an emergency. This is the case for anyone travelling overseas at short notice. In such circumstances, full account is taken of any other

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treatment or medication that an individual might be receiving at the time. This is balanced against the risk of contracting the disease during deployment.

There is no requirement for service personnel who are offered a vaccination to sign any waivers or disclaimers. All vaccinations are administered on a voluntary basis. As part of individuals giving their informed consent to receive a vaccination, they are advised of the consequences of their refusal and of any possible side-effects of the vaccine. Units may, if required, maintain administrative records of which personnel have received the necessary briefings or need to be re-offered boosters. None of these records constitutes a legal waiver or disclaimer.

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