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19 Jun 2003 : Column WA131

Written Answers

Thursday, 19th June 2003.

Judicial System: Consultation

Lord Stone of Blackheath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What consultation they will undertake on (a) the creation of a supreme court, (b) the establishment of a judicial appointments commission, (c) the future of the rank of Queen's Counsel, and (d) court dress.[HL3459]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): The Government announced on 12 June a substantial package of constitutional reforms. That package includes the creation of a new supreme court to replace the existing Appellate Committee of the House of Lords; and the establishment of a new judicial appointments commission, on a statutory basis, to recommend candidates for appointment as judges.

These are issues of profound constitutional importance, and the Government will consult widely on how best to take each forward. We intend to publish on 14 July a consultation paper on a judicial appointments commission and a new supreme court. The consultation period will run until November 2003, after which the Government will develop policy proposals, taking into account responses to consultation. At the conclusion of that process, legislation on these issues will be introduced at the earliest opportunity.

Lord Irvine of Lairg announced to the Lord Chancellor's Department Select Committee his intention to consult on the future of the rank of Queen's Counsel. We therefore intend to publish a consultation paper on this issue, also on 14 July, with consultation closing in November. We will announce the Government's next steps early in 2004.

A consultation paper on court working dress was published on 8 May, with responses sought by 14 August. The Government will be discussing the outcome of the consultation, and how best to take the matter forward, with the senior judiciary.

Northern Ireland: "Period of Transition"

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Answer by the Prime Minister on 30 April (Official Report, Commons, col. 298), what was meant by a "period of transition" for terrorists in Northern Ireland to change to democracy; who set the period; whether it has ended; and, if not, when it will end.[HL3012]

The Lord President of the Council (Lord Williams of Mostyn): The Prime Minister explained on 30 April that some had understood there might be such a period; but that it must now be over and, as he had

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explained in his speech in Belfast in October last year, if the political system in Northern Ireland was to operate effectively, there must be confidence that parties were committed to exclusively peaceful means.

Questions for Written Answer

Lord Jopling asked the Leader of the House:

    Whether he has noted that on 11 June there were 82 Questions for Written Answer which had lain on the Order Paper for over three weeks without an Answer, while two weeks remains the target period within which Answers should be provided; how many Questions there were awaiting Answer on 11 June which had lain between two and three weeks; and whether he will recommend the establishment of a Select Committee to inquire into these failures, with a power to call for Ministers, officials and others as well as papers. [HL3332]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: As at 11 June there were 104 unanswered Questions for Written Answer over the 14-day deadline. The majority of these Questions have now been answered.

All Government departments recognise the importance of ensuring that all Parliamentary Questions are answered accurately and promptly. However, in order to provide a full and accurate reply, it is sometimes necessary to await the outcome of consultation and discussions.

The establishment of a Select Committee is of course a matter for the Liaison Committee and the House. I have no plans to recommend such a committee.

Intelligence and Security Committee: Annual Report

Lord Elder asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect to lay before Parliament their response to the Intelligence and Security Committee's annual report for 2002–03. [HL3600]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Prime Minister has today laid the government response to the Intelligence and Security Committee's report before Parliament.

Mozambique: Customs Service

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Mozambique customs service is terminating its contract with the Crown Agents; whether the management objectives have been met; and what has been the effect on customs revenue. [HL3456]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Baroness Amos): The current contract between the Government of Mozambique and the Crown Agents in the customs service is due to end on 30 June 2003. The

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customs reform process is an ongoing part of the Government of Mozambique's revenue administration reform. The Government of Mozambique have expressed satisfaction with the Crown Agents' performance. However, the Government of Mozambique and DfID will jointly undertake a formal end-of-contract performance review in due course. The effect on customs revenue has been a net increase in revenue of about 125 per cent.

Iraq: Equipment Used by British Forces

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What new weapons, weapon systems or items of significant equipment were used in Iraq in recent hostilities; and what assessment has been made of their effectiveness. [HL2898]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): In preparation for recent operations in Iraq a number of extant equipment programmes were accelerated and brought into service. These included the stand-off Storm Shadow precision missile, new tactical radiation monitoring equipment and temporary deployable accommodation. Other new equipment was acquired for the particular circumstances of the operation. Examples include the new obstacle breaching line explosives system, enhanced medical diagnostic and monitoring equipment, a vehicle decontamination system and the blue force tracking situational awareness system that comprised one part of UK ground forces' combat identification capability. In addition to these, the capability provided by some extant equipment, such as the personal role radio and other secure communications systems, was substantially enhanced; and some other systems, including the Maverick anti-armour guided missile, were utilised operationally for the first time.

Post operational reporting will provide analysis and an assessment of equipment deployed on operations in Iraq. It would, therefore, be premature for me to provide a detailed assessment of the performance of new equipment and any effect of operational use at this stage.

EU Expansion: Information about Poland

Lord Inglewood asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they consider the statement in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office poster "Did you know? The E.U. is expanding." that "Poland has its fair share of famous people" to be patronising to the people of Poland. [HL3248]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): The posters are aimed at school age children, are phrased in clear and simple English, and seek to promote a greater understanding of our new partners in the EU. The language on Poland was drafted in consultation with the Polish Cultural Institute. It makes quite clear the tremendous contribution that the people of Poland

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have made to Europe's arts and sciences over the centuries.

Trans-border Crime: South-East European Cooperative Initiative

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are supporting, both financially and by sharing information and other practical help, the South-East Europe Co-operation Initiative for combating trans-border crime; and how they assess its potential for dealing with illicit small arms and trafficking in persons. [HL3265]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The UK does not currently provide any funding to the South-East European Cooperative Initiative (SECI), which is still not operational. The UK has, however, encouraged SECI to focus on a limited number of deliverables, in line with Europol standards. These are essential for SECI effectively to fulfil its principal function, namely the exchange of intelligence information between participants. Individual countries decide whether to mount operations based on this information. In the meantime, the UK retains an observer in Bucharest to assess SECI's capacity and the UK will review its position if and when significant progress can be demonstrated.

Trans-border Crime: Independent Republics of the Caucasus

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, following the seminar in Yerevan of November 2002, they will propose to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe the establishment of a centre for co-operation and joint action by the independent republics of the Caucasus, similar to the South-East Europe Co-operation Initiative for combating trans-border crime. [HL3266]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: We do not plan to make such proposals to the OSCE. While there is no progress towards a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, the chances of increasing joint co-operation in the region are minimal. But we continue to seek ways to support the OSCE's project work in combating trans-border crime in the region.

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