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Written Answers

Wednesday, 5 May 2004.

Island of Ireland and British Isles: East/West Links

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to develop east/west links between the island of Ireland and the British Isles following the Belfast agreement of 1998.[HL2320]

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): The British Government support fully the establishment and development of the British-Irish Council to assist in the growth of east/west relationships between the British Isles and the island of Ireland. Membership of the council comprises representatives of the British and Irish Governments, and of the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland together with representatives of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

North/South Ministerial Council

Lord Kilclooney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the North/South Ministerial Council established under the Belfast Agreement is still operational; who represents Northern Ireland at the various council meetings; whether the relocation of Foras na Gaeilge from Dublin to Gaoth Dobhair in County Donegal has been approved by the council; and whether this relocation was approved by a Minister from Northern Ireland at a council meeting.[HL2498]

Baroness Amos: During suspension, the functions of the North/South Ministerial Council are discharged by Ministers of the British and Irish Governments under the agreement of 19 November 2002 made between the two Governments.

The relocation of Foras na Gaeilge has not yet been submitted to the North/South Ministerial Council for approval.

Sudan: Darfur

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What they consider to be the best arrangements for monitoring ceasefires and delivering humanitarian supplies in Darfur, Western Sudan; and how these arrangements should be implemented.[HL2542]

Baroness Amos: The 8 April Ceasefire Agreement provides for a Ceasefire Commission, with a role for the international community. DfID hopes that such a monitoring mechanism will help ensure the protection

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of civilians and also the effective disbursement of humanitarian assistance. DfID is in close contact with the parties and other members of the international community, including the African Union (AU), to try to help set up such a monitoring mechanism as quickly as possible. The AU chaired a meeting on this matter in Addis Ababa on 19 to 20 April, and we understand that it is currently in consultation with the parties. DfID is in almost daily contact with the government of Sudan and the Darfur groups about the crisis in Darfur.

In order for a meaningful humanitarian response to be conducted, the government of Sudan must allow unfettered access for humanitarian agencies and ensure civilians are protected from attack. Access has improved over the past few weeks, but is still limited. Agencies continue to be frustrated in their attempts to scale up their responses appropriate to the deteriorating context. Security is a real concern, with ongoing attacks on civilians. Capacity to deliver remains stretched. It will be important for humanitarian agencies to pre-position and distribute sufficient relief items across the region before the rainy season begins in earnest in June. This will need to be done in an appropriate manner to ensure adequate and effective protection.

United Kingdom: Written Constitution

Lord Patten asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to bring forward legislation during the life of this Parliament to make provision for a written constitution for the United Kingdom.[HL2449]

The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): The Government have no plans to do so.

Asylum and Immigration Legal Aid

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In light of the letter of 6 February from the Legal Services Commission to practitioners, enclosing the immigration specification that imposes financial thresholds on asylum and immigration legal aid with effect from 1 May, how many practitioners have stopped undertaking legal aid work; and how many will undertake work on behalf of the detainees in Lindholme.[HL2414]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Lord Filkin): The Legal Services Commission (LSC) has issued new contracts for solicitors' firms and not-for-profit organisations carrying out civil legal aid work from 1 April 2004. This coincides with the implementation

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of our proposals on immigration and asylum legal aid announced on 27 November 2003 (I refer the noble Lord to the Answer given by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, Lords Hansard col. WA 2). The LSC is not yet in a position to give final figures on contracts from April 2004, as some decisions are subject to appeal, or acceptable audit results. However, provisional figures indicate that there will, overall, be 100 fewer immigration contracts than last year. This reduction is almost entirely due to the fact that the number of asylum seekers has halved and as such reduced the need for legal services. The LSC has also sought to reduce the significant numbers of poor quality solicitors' firms undertaking this work. We are confident that there is sufficient supply to meet current levels of demand for legally aided immigration and asylum advice both nationally and at Lindholme.

There are 19 solicitors' offices and four not-for-profit organisations with immigration contracts in the LSC's Yorkshire and Humberside region where Lindholme is located.

Election Material: Freepost

Lord Greaves asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Post Office has the right to censor or refuse to deliver election candidates' freepost leaflets on the basis of their content, and specifically if they refer to or include pictures of the Post Office or any of its services.[HL2501]

Lord Filkin: Candidates' and parties' election communications must contain only matter relating to that election and are further subject to such reasonable terms and conditions as the universal service provider (the Royal Mail) may specify. It is for the Royal Mail to determine whether the contents of such communications meets its conditions.

Hepatitis C Infection: Ex Gratia Payments Scheme

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What estimates they have made of the cost of the ex gratia payments scheme for hepatitis C infection from contaminated National Health Service blood products on the assumptions that (a) 6,000 and (b) 7,000 people will benefit.[HL2238]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): Due to the nature of a person's infection with hepatitis C, the natural history of the virus and the variable incidence of cirrhosis, it is difficult to quantify the cost for specific claimant numbers. However, the Government have committed to honour all valid claims received under the ex gratia scheme for hepatitis C infection from National Health Service blood or blood products, known as the Skipton Fund.

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NHS Foundation Trusts: Independent Regulator

Baroness Noakes asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answers by the Lord Warner on 19 April ( WA 10–11), whether the Independent Regulator of National Health Service Foundation Trusts has acted lawfully in setting borrowing limits for National Health Service foundation trusts notwithstanding that he has not issued a prudential borrowing code as he is required to do by Section 12 of the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Act 2003.[HL2468]

Lord Warner: We are informed by the chairman of the Independent Regulator of NHS Foundation Trusts that interim borrowing limits had been set for the first 10 NHS foundation trusts in accordance with its powers under Section 17 of the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Act 2003. The consultation on the draft prudential borrowing code was published on 22 April 2004. The chairman of the Independent Regulator of NHS Foundation Trusts advises me that he has written to the noble Baroness enclosing a copy of the draft code and inviting her to meet him to discuss it in more detail. He has also advised that once the consultation has been completed and the responses considered, the prudential borrowing code will be made and a copy laid before Parliament. Borrowing limits for the first NHS foundation trusts will be reviewed by the Office of the Independent Regulator once the prudential borrowing code has been made and laid before Parliament, in accordance with Section 12 of the Act, and reviewed annually thereafter in accordance with Section 17 of the Act.

Baroness Noakes asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the consequences of the failure of the Independent Regulator of National Health Service Foundation Trusts to issue a prudential borrowing code under Section 12 of the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Act 2003.[HL2469]

Lord Warner: We are informed by the chairman of the Independent Regulator of NHS Foundation Trusts that the prudential borrowing code will be made and laid before Parliament once the consultation in accordance with Section 12 of the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Act 2003 has taken place. The consultation document on the draft prudential borrowing code was published on 22 April 2004. Interim borrowing limits set for the first 10 NHS foundation trusts will be reviewed by the Office of the Independent Regulator once the prudential borrowing code has been laid before Parliament in accordance with Section 12 of the Act, and reviewed annually thereafter in accordance with Section 17 of the Act.

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