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Sports Meetings

Mr. Wyatt: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport if he will list the chief executives of the international sporting bodies resident in the United Kingdom whom he has met since 1 May 1998. [77773]

Mr. Banks [holding answer 19 March 1999]: Since May 1998, I have had formal meetings with senior representatives from two international sports federations based in this country, namely, the Commonwealth Games Federation and the International Tennis Federation. I should stress that, through the Sports Councils as well as regular meetings and correspondence, both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have close links with the national governing bodies of sport and are well informed of developments and issues surrounding international sport federations based in this country.

This Government are fully committed to encouraging international sports federations to locate in the UK and to retaining those bodies which are already based here.

CHURCH COMMISSIONERS

Disestablishment

38. Mr. Corbyn: To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, if he will assess the financial consequences of disestablishment of the Church of England. [76004]

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Mr. Stuart Bell: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave him on 25 January 1999, Official Report, column 17.

Disestablishment would not lie with the Commissioners to initiate and, without formal instructions and definitions, any estimates of costs are impractical.

Clergy Pensions

39. Sir Sydney Chapman: To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, how many clergy and clergy widows' pensions are currently contributed to by the Church Commissioners; what is the annual funding involved; and what these figures were (a) five and (b) 10 years ago. [76005]

Mr. Stuart Bell: I have arranged for this information to be placed in the House of Commons Library. In order to assist the hon. Member, however, he should note that at 31 December 1998 the Commissioners were contributing to the pensions of 7,341 clergy and 4,298 widows. The total cost for the year was £82.3m. In addition, funding of £1.3m was used to subsidise the cost of retirement housing.

Redundant Churches

40. Mr. Grogan: To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, if he will make a statement on the policy of the Church Commissioners towards redundant churches. [76006]

Mr. Stuart Bell: When a Church of England church is closed for public worship under the Pastoral Measure it is the policy of the Church Commissioners to assist and encourage the diocese to seek a suitable alternative use for the building. If no such use can be found, the Commissioners usually have to decide in the light of the advice of their statutory advisers, the Advisory Board for Redundant Churches, between preservation by the Churches Conservation Trust and demolition.

Church Risk Management Group

41. Mr. Ben Chapman: To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, if he will make a statement on the work of the Church Risk Management Group. [76007]

Mr. Stuart Bell: The Church Risk Management Group has recently been established in the diocese of Leicester and is available to give practical advice to all Church of England churches in the diocese on all matters relating to security and risk management. The Group includes representatives from the diocesan office, the City and County Councils, fire brigade, police and the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group and will visit churches to assess and advise on risks that might not be immediately recognisable to the untrained eye. It works closely with the diocesan advisory committee and appropriate outside agencies to improve fire safety, crime reduction levels and risk management in all church property. The scheme has received an enthusiastic response from the local church and central church authorities and may be offered to other dioceses.

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HOME DEPARTMENT

European Asylum System

Mr. Maclean: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on Government policy towards the establishment of a single European asylum system. [76289]

Kate Hoey: A single European asylum system is a theoretical possibility. It could conceivably take a number of different forms. We have formed no particular view at present, but will consider the matter further in the light of the study to establish the merits of such a system which is a feature of the Council and Commission's Action Plan on the implementation of the provisions of the Treaty of Amsterdam on an area of freedom, security and justice, which was deposited on 17 November 1998.

Sergeant Gurpal Virdi

Mr. Peter Bottomley: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department on how many occasions and for what reasons the Metropolitan Police have applied for delay in determining Sergeant Gurpal Virdi's Employment Tribunal application. [77237]

Kate Hoey: The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis tells me that the Metropolitan Police have twice applied for a delay in determining Sergeant Gurpal Virdi's Employment Tribunal application. On both occasions, the reason was to await the decision of the Crown Prosecution Service on whether charges should be brought against Sergeant Virdi.

Mr. Peter Bottomley: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when Sergeant Gurpal Virdi was suspended from the Metropolitan Police; and when the Metropolitan Police advised his Department of the Employment Tribunal case relating to Sergeant Gurpal Virdi. [77235]

Kate Hoey: The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis tells me that Sergeant Gurpal Virdi was suspended from duty on 15 April 1998.

The Metropolitan Police had not previously had reason to advise me of the Employment Tribunal relating to Sergeant Virdi. The Commissioner tells me that a directions hearing of the tribunal has been arranged for 5 May 1999.

Mr. Peter Bottomley: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what disciplinary charges the Metropolitan Police plans to lay against Sergeant Gurpal Virdi. [77236]

Kate Hoey: The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis tells me that on 23 February 1999 the Metropolitan Police Complaints Investigation Branch was asked to consider whether any disciplinary action should be taken against Sergeant Gurpal Virdi and if so what the disciplinary charges should be. No decision has yet been taken on these matters.

EU Justice and Home Affairs Council

Mr. Hood: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what was the outcome of the Justice and Home Affairs Council held in Brussels on 12 March; and if he will make a statement. [77249]

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Mr. Straw: My hon. Friends the Minister of State, Lord Chancellor's Department, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), and I represented the United Kingdom at the Council. The main matters dealt with were as follows:

'A' points

The Council agreed as 'A' points, among other things: draft rules on the Europol pension fund; an extension of the mandate of the Europol Drugs Unit (EDU) management team; draft rules governing the transmission of personal data by Europol to third states and bodies; a report on the activities of EDU/Europol in 1998; and a Regulation determining those nationals of third countries who require a visa when crossing the external borders of the European Union.

Europol: Preparation for taking up activities

The Presidency sought information from individual member states on the progress they had made on agreeing the mandates for the appointment of Europol Directors, and on completing the exchange of bilateral notes with the Dutch Government which will govern the position of Europol Liaison Officers.

The Presidency also reported the latest state of play concerning the draft rules of procedure to be adopted by Europol's Joint Supervisory Body. This matter will be considered again at the Justice and Home Affairs Council in May.

On the issue of the extension of Europol's mandate to cover forgery of money and means of payment, the Presidency confirmed that Coreper would re-examine an outstanding issue relating to the legal definition of the term



Eurodac

The Council reached political agreement to freeze the text of the draft Protocol to the Eurodac Convention (adding illegal immigrants to the fingerprinting database for asylum seekers), pending the introduction of a First Pillar instrument after the coming into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam. It was noted that the opinion of the European Parliament on the draft Protocol was still outstanding and that a number of member states still had national Parliamentary scrutiny reservations.

Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in criminal matters

The Presidency noted continuing reserves on issues relating to territorial application and data protection. One member state was urged to join agreement with the others on the "remote approach" to satellite network interceptions of telecommunications within the member states. In the absence of agreement, the Presidency concluded that this issue would go back to Coreper and the relevant working group.

Effect of the transition from the Maastricht to the Amsterdam Treaty on civil law conventions

The Council discussed opinions by the Commission and the Council Legal Services arguing that, after entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty, ratification of the Brussels II and Service of Documents Conventions should be suspended as soon as Community instruments to replace them had been tabled. The Commission confirmed its intention to table replacement proposals reflecting exactly the content of the current conventions. The United

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Kingdom with support from another Member State took the position that suspending ratification as soon as the Commission tabled a proposal, rather than when the instrument was adopted by the Council, risked leaving a legal vacuum.

The Presidency sought, and achieved, political agreement that member states should be free to continue the ratification process until any superseding Community instruments were adopted by the Council.

Revision of the Brussels and Lugano Conventions

The Presidency reported on the current state of play. They hoped to make swift progress on the negotiation and to ensure proper arrangements were made for the Lugano countries in the context of any Community instrument. The United Kingdom took the position that there were strong political and legal arguments for continuing to discuss revision of the Brussels Convention as a convention, and that freezing discussion would send the wrong signal to the non-European States concerned.

Internal Market and Consumer Protection

The Presidency reported on the current position in respect of draft Directives on late payments, electronic signatures, consumer guarantees and distance selling of financial services.

Definition and integration of the Schengen Acquis

Under this agenda heading, I announced the United Kingdom's intentions regarding future participation in the incorporated Schengen provisions, the Free Movement Chapter of the Treaty of Amsterdam, and Justice and Home Affairs matters generally. I made it clear that, while we would maintain our frontier controls in line with the Amsterdam Treaty Protocol, we wished to co-operate in all other Justice and Home Affairs areas which did not conflict with this objective, and notably police, customs and judicial co-operation in criminal matters.

Other Business

Asylum procedures

The Commission introduced a paper on harmonised procedures and called for discussion in the coming months. The paper stresses the importance of balancing the efficiency of the asylum process with fairness to the applicant. The Commission will submit formal proposals after further consultations.

The Ocalan case

One member state welcomed the General Affairs Council Declaration of 22 February and said further work was needed to ensure respect for human rights and a fair trial for Ocalan, including the presence of international observers and avoidance of the death penalty. There was no discussion.

Readmission clauses in association agreements

There was a call for the Council to adopt a common position on the inclusion of a standard clause on readmission in all third country agreements. It was agreed that comments on this item would be passed to the General Affairs Council.

Mutual recognition/access to justice

I gave notice of the United Kingdom's intention to table two papers for the Council's attention, one dealing with mutual recognition of court decisions and judgments, the other with access to justice in civil matters.

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Second Protocol to the Customs Information System Convention

This protocol was signed by members of the Council.

Meeting with the Central and Eastern European countries (CEEs) and Cyprus

In the afternoon, Justice and Home Affairs Ministers met their counterparts from the CEEs and Cyprus. There was an exchange of views between the CEEs and Cyprus, and European Union member states, on the adverse effects of corruption, and on the steps necessary to combat corruption in both the public and private sectors.


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