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5 Nov 2003 : Column WA107

Written Answers

Wednesday, 5th November 2003.

Northern Ireland: Employment Tribunal Waiting Times

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What proposals they have to reduce the waiting time for those listed for an employment tribunal hearing in Northern Ireland.[HL4723]

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): The Department for Employment and Learning has taken action to reduce the waiting times for tribunal hearings by recruiting additional full-time tribunal chairmen and administrative staff and providing additional accommodation and a new IT system.

Future action will include:

    the recruitment of additional part-time chairmen;

    extending the appointments of part-time IT chairmen to the Fair Employment Tribunal;

    further enhancements to the tribunals' IT system;

    testing the use of audio recording systems to speed up lengthy cases;

    updating the tribunal rules of procedure;

    improved case management, and

    promoting alternative methods of resolving workplace disputes.

In addition the draft Employment (NI) Order, which has just completed its passage through Parliament, will strengthen conciliation and require statutory minimum dispute resolution procedures to be introduced in every workplace in Northern Ireland. The aim is to help people to settle disputes in the workplace and so reduce the number of applications being made to the tribunals, which in turn should facilitate earlier listing of those applications already in the system.

North/South Language Body: Budget

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Privy Seal on 11 June (WA 44) concerning the 2003 budget for the Ulster Scots Agency, why the budget was set by the Republic of Ireland's Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs alone as indicated in the Answer.[HL4725]

Baroness Amos: The Written Answer to the noble Lord on 11 June (WA 44) did not indicate that the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs set the North/South Language Body's budget; rather it indicated that officials in the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure were informed of the Southern contribution to the budget of the body.

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Northern Ireland Education and Library Boards: Cultural Parity

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord President on 8 July (WA 24), what provision the five education and library boards in Northern Ireland have for those who are not of the Irish culture to be informed about their cultures; and whether the Boards conform with the Belfast agreement's pledge of parity of esteem for all.[HL4814]

Baroness Amos: I refer the noble Lord to the Answer given on 8 July 2003 (WA 24).

Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan Pipeline

Lord Parekh asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their position on the Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan pipeline.[HL5325]

Baroness Amos : On 4 November the Executive Board of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) agreed to provide a loan to help fund the Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan (BTC) Pipeline. The IFC decision was taken by the IFC Executive Board on which 175 shareholders are represented by 24 directors, including the UK. The IFC loan, which will be at commercial rates of interest, is for around 4.5 per cent of the total cost of the BTC pipeline and accompanying Azeri-Chirag-Gunashli (ACG) Phase 1 oil field development projects.

The BTC pipeline will provide an export route for oil from Azerbaijan's Caspian oil fields. The Governments of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey—the countries through which the pipeline passes—strongly support the project and have negotiated agreements with BTC Corporation, the pipeline company. Azerbaijan, a low-income country, will benefit from significant revenues from the ACG oil field development. Georgia, also a low-income country, will benefit from transit revenues of up to 10 per cent of current GDP per year. The pipeline will help to strengthen cooperation between the three countries and increase their links to global markets. It will provide local employment and demonstrate the potential for foreign investment. The construction of the pipeline, which will be buried underground, has already started.

Responsible and transparent management of oil revenue will be vital if the BTC project is to achieve real development benefits for the people of the region. Working to achieve this will need to be a priority for the governments of the region, with support, assistance and oversight from civil society, the private sector and the international community. The agreement of BTC to "publish what it pays" and in turn the agreement of Georgia and Azerbaijan to "publish what they receive" are welcome steps. The UK will continue to work to increase transparency and build local capacity in decision making on the use of

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revenues, including through the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

The Department for International Development (DfID) is not providing any direct funding for the BTC project. DfID's role is as a shareholder of IFC and of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)—whose executive board will consider finance to BTC on 11 November. The institutions carried out rigorous social and environmental, integrity, legal and commercial due-diligence procedures. In accordance with standard practice, DfID did not duplicate the due diligence undertaken by these institutions.

Over the past year, DfID officials have met with local and international NGOs, staff from IFC and the EBRD, BTC and representatives of the governments involved to build better understanding of the benefits and risks associated with the pipeline. In view of the project's complexity, DfID commissioned consultants to do an assessment of the BTC Environmental Assessment. They confirmed compliance with the IFC and EBRD policies and procedures. DfID will place a copy of this report in the House of Lords' Library.

The Government recognise that large-scale pipeline projects such as the BTC pipeline present risks as well as potential benefits. Project risks include the weak governance environment and the potential social and environmental impacts of the pipeline. The multilateral institutions have thorough environmental and social safeguards procedures and genuine expertise of working in the region. We believe that their engagement provides the best prospect that the BTC pipeline will be constructed and operated to the highest standards. The UK director at IFC therefore supported the project.

We are now focusing on ensuring that the project is implemented properly. In particular we recognise the importance of very strong monitoring including NGO and community representatives. We therefore pressed IFC to:

    Ensure regular independent consultation on monitoring the implementation of the project—IFC will set up a mechanism that brings together IFI staff, the sponsors, governments from the region, civil society (local and international) and representatives from the IFI executive boards in order to resolve issues arising during project implementation.

    Encourage enhanced transparency of revenue management—IFC will support the IMF and the World Bank in their efforts to promote the transparency of revenues in both Azerbaijan and Georgia and to encourage the use of these revenues to support Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper objectives.

    Demonstrate how IFC has learnt from the BTC/ACG projects—IFC will ensure that these lessons are properly reviewed and inform future policy development, including in discussions of the Extractive Industries Review (EIR), and report back to the Board. We made clear that we would strongly support the use of strategic

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    environmental assessment (SEA) for future infrastructure projects on this scale. IFC agreed to include in its review an assessment of the potential for SEA in future large scale and cross border projects. Other shareholders supported the UK points.

The challenge now is to ensure that the people of the region benefit from the opportunities offered by the Caspian's natural resources. This will require concerted effort by the countries of the region, and also by civil society, the private sector and the international community. The UK Government will work to ensure that risks, which might impact on this project's contribution to sustainable development, are addressed.

Crown Prosecution Service: Staffing

Lord Bradshaw asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether there is a shortage of Crown Prosecution Service members in any parts of the country; and what special attention is being given in those areas.[HL5084]

The Attorney-General (Lord Goldsmith): Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) areas are currently recruiting extra staff in anticipation of the enactment of the Criminal Justice Bill later this year when the CPS will assume responsibility for making charging decisions in all but the most minor or routine cases. CPS areas are now reviewing resource needs to deliver the charging initiative and a co-ordinated approach to the recruitment of additional prosecutors is currently being introduced.

The main area that has had particular difficulties with recruitment is CPS West Midlands (specifically Birmingham). A study has recently been undertaken to identify the issues involved and a report and recommendations are currently under consideration. Any areas that the CPS consider may experience difficulties in recruitment will receive additional support from the Human Resource Directorate as appropriate.

Recruitment of prosecutors in CPS London area which has previously been a problem has now seen an encouraging upturn with a rolling programme of recruitment campaigns producing a positive response with good quality applicants.

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