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9 Mar 2004 : Column WA151

Written Answers

Tuesday, 9 March 2004.

Hutton Inquiry

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

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Falconer of Thoroton, on 11 February (WA 155), what has been the approximate total public expenditure in relation to Lord Hutton's inquiry, and whether they will estimate when they will publish a breakdown of the costs of the inquiry.[HL1404]

The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): The cost will be published as soon as it is available.

House of Lords: Elected Hereditary Peers

Lord Bowness asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Statement by the Lord Falconer of Thoroton on 18 September 2003 (HL Deb, cols. 1057–60) on constitutional reform, how many elected hereditary Peers they intend should remain in the House of Lords; and by what mechanism they will be selected and nominated.[HL1472]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The Government strongly believe that the hereditary principle should no longer play a part in deciding who sits in the second chamber and set out their intention to bring forward legislation to remove the remaining 92 hereditary peers from the House of Lords in their consultation paper Constitutional reform: next steps for the House of Lords. I made clear in my Statement on 18 September that the Government would like to see the House of Lords benefit from the contribution of at least some of the existing hereditary Peers "should they be nominated as life Peers in the future" [col. 1058].

Law Officers: Disclosure of Advice to Government

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

    Whether the disclosure to the courts in the Factortame litigation of the advice given by the law officers of the Crown to the Government about the compatibility of the Merchant Shipping Bill with European Community law was in accordance with constitutional convention.[HL1688]

The Attorney-General (Lord Goldsmith): Yes. The longstanding convention, observed by successive governments, that the fact of and substance of the law officers' advice is not disclosed outside government is not an absolute rule, although exceptions to it are rare.

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

    Whether the publication of an excerpt from the advice given by the Attorney General on the legality of the invasion of Iraq was in accordance with constitutional convention.[HL1690]

Lord Goldsmith: The statement that I made on 17 March 2003 setting out my view of the legal basis for the use of force against Iraq was not an "excerpt from" my advice to government. The statement that I made was in accordance with constitutional convention. The longstanding convention, observed by successive governments, that the fact of and substance of the law officers' advice is not disclosed outside government is not an absolute rule, although exceptions to it are rare.

Business Responsibility

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their policy on United Nations Norms on Business Responsibility, in particular the International Labour Organisation Core Labour Standards.[HL1401]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): The Government are strong supporters of responsible business behaviour and are actively involved in initiatives to promote this.

The draft United Nations Norms on Business Responsibility raise complex issues because they purport to make business directly responsible for human rights. It is however, states which have obligations under applicable international human rights law to ensure human rights to everyone within their territory and jurisdiction. We are discussing with other members of the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) how to handle this issue when the draft norms are submitted to the forthcoming annual session of the UNCHR.

The UK fully supports and promotes the 1998 International Labour Organisation Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, which provides a framework of international rights for workers through the internationally agreed core labour standards.

Afghanistan: Legal System

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What assistance they are giving to the Government of Afghanistan on capacity-building and institutional support in the legal sector, including the participation of women.[HL1555]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Italy and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) lead on judicial reform in Afghanistan, in conjunction with the Afghan Ministry of Justice.

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The UK contributed £1 million in 2002–03 to the UNDP judicial reform programme. The UK also provided £1 million in 2002–03 to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, whose Women's Rights Unit is working to ensure women's participation in political life and the reconstruction process.

Hong Kong

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they intend to ensure that the people of Hong Kong continue to enjoy a high degree of autonomy and obtain full democratic rights by 2007, in accordance with relevant international agreements.[HL1570]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: We continue to follow developments in Hong Kong closely, to ensure adherence to the principles of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong, which promised a high degree of autonomy for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) except in foreign and defence affairs. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary continues to report regularly to Parliament on the implementation of the joint declaration. The last such report, covering the period 1 July to 31 December 2003, was published on 24 February (Cmnd 6125). As the report makes clear, our overall assessment is that, generally, "one country, two systems" continues to work well in practice. Where we have had concerns since the handover that the principles of the joint declaration might be undermined, we have raised them with the SAR Government, or Beijing, as appropriate.

The joint declaration does not guarantee full democracy for Hong Kong by 2007, nor indeed by any date. There are provisions on democracy in the Basic Law of the Hong Kong SAP, in effect Hong Kong's mini-constitution. The Basic Law states that if there is a need to amend the methods for selecting the Chief Executive for the terms subsequent to 2007 and for forming the Legislative Council after 2007, then such amendments must be made with the endorsement of a two-thirds majority of all the members of the Legislative Council and the consent of the Chief Executive. Any such amendments must be reported to the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People's Congress for approval (in the case of the Chief Executive) or for the record (in the case of the Legislative Council).

The Basic Law also states that the methods for selecting the Chief Executive and forming the Legislative Council "shall be specified in the light of the actual situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress". The "ultimate aim" is the selection of the Chief Executive and election of all members of the Legislative Council by universal suffrage (and, in the case of the Chief Executive, upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures).

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On 7 January the Hong Kong Chief Executive announced the setting up of a task force headed by the Chief Secretary to examine the Basic Law's provisions on constitutional reform and to consult the Chinese Central People's Government before taking matters further. The task force has held meetings with various groups in Hong Kong to ascertain views and has visited Beijing to hold preliminary discussions on the principles and procedures of the Basic Law with officials from the Central People's Government.

Our position on constitutional reform in Hong Kong has been consistent and was most recently restated in the report to Parliament (Cmnd 6125): we hope to see early progress towards the Basic Law's ultimate aims of the selection of the Chief Executive and the election of all members of the Legislative Council by universal suffrage, at a pace in line with the wishes of the people of Hong Kong.

United Nations Offices: Surveillance

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

    Whether there are international legal rules forbidding surveillance on communications to and from United Nations offices and the homes of foreign ambassadors; and, if so, whether the Government are bound to comply with those rules.[HL1572]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations of 1946, to which the United Kingdom is a party, sets out certain privileges and immunities enjoyed by the United Nations. The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations provides for certain privileges and immunities for, inter alia, the residences of diplomatic agents. Like all other governments who are parties, Her Majesty's Government are under an obligation to comply with both of these conventions in accordance with international law.


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