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Written Answers to Questions

Friday 24 March 2000


Rome Convention

Mr. Duncan: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (1) what (a) committees and (b) working groups his Department has set up to consider the revision of the Rome Convention; and if he will list the members of each such group and meetings scheduled; [116059]

Mr. Lock: Negotiations within the European Union for the revision of the 1980 Rome Convention on the Law Applicable to Contractual Obligations have not yet started. Officials in my Department have not consulted outside individuals or bodies about any aspect of any such revision exercise. When the negotiations start, officials in my Department will ensure that there is full public consultation on all aspects of the review during the course of these negotiations. Officials in my Department and the Department of Trade and Industry have had a number of general discussions about the 1980 Rome Convention and electronic commerce. When the plans for the review are known the Departments will work closely together on all the policy issues raised in the review, including those affecting electronic commerce.


Crown Immunity

Mr. Levitt: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office if she will review the range and application of Crown Immunity across all Government Departments. [115706]

Mr. Stringer: The Government have no plans to review the range and applications of Crown immunity across all Government Departments.

Knowledge Network Computer System

Mr. Lansley: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office (1) when she will be in a position to place material stored on the Knowledge Network computer system on the internet; and if she will make a statement; [115095]

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Marjorie Mowlam: Phase 1 of the Knowledge Network Project commenced in December 1999 and is currently at an early stage of piloting, scoping and evaluation of a range of possible technical options and associated improvements in working methods, before the work of building and placing information on the Knowledge Network begins in earnest, in line with normal and established Cabinet Office practice.

From the beginning of the Project, it has been envisaged that as much information as possible which is eventually held on the Knowledge Network will be made publicly available over the internet. That remains the case. It has never intended to be used, and will not be used, for party political purposes.

The results and findings of Phase 1 of the Knowledge Network Project, including the Phase 1 work programme of the Knowledge Network team, will be submitted to me by July 2000 and will subsequently be made available on the internet.


Annual Tax Returns

Mr. Winnick: To ask the President of the Council if she will consult with representatives of political parties in the House on the feasibility of requiring hon. Members to submit their annual tax returns to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. [116096]

Mrs. Beckett: No. Financial affairs of Members which are unrelated to their parliamentary activity are not a matter for the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, nor do they form part of her remit from this House.

Pension Scheme

Mr. Winnick: To ask the President of the Council if she will ask the authorities of the Members' Pension Scheme to increase the pensions of those former hon. Members who receive the lowest levels of pensions under the Members' Pension Scheme. [116095]

Mrs. Beckett: The Senior Salaries Review Body periodically reviews arrangements for Parliamentary pensions. Recent reviews have made recommendations for scheme improvements but have advised that these changes should be restricted to serving Members. This is because it is a long-standing policy of successive administrations not to make retrospective improvements to public service pension schemes, although the Members' Fund exists to

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relieve individual cases of hardship among former Members and their dependants. Applications for assistance should be made to the Trustees.


Zinc Cadmium Sulphide

Mr. Gardiner: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what progress has been made on the independent review by Academy of Medical Sciences of the open-air trials in the UK using zinc cadmium sulphide carried out by the former Chemical Defence Establishment between 1953 and 1964. [116659]

Dr. Moonie: I am pleased to announce that Professor Lachmann and his team have now completed their review and reported. The study compared the population's possible exposure to cadmium from the open-air releases during the trails conducted between 1953 and 1964, to the cadmium exposure which people would otherwise have encountered from the environment. The material used for the trials was zinc cadmium sulphide, which is not itself an agent of biological or chemical warfare. It was used as a tracer to simulate the dispersion in the open air of biological warfare agents.

The Ministry of Defence welcomes the main conclusion of the report that there was no danger to public health arising from the use of zinc cadmium sulphide for the trials. The report also concludes that there was no evidence to show that the land based trials produced any higher level of cadmium concentrations in the soil than would normally be observed in the UK. Nor was there any evidence to show that cadmium released into the atmosphere during the airborne trials would have caused any ill effects. No increased incidence of diseases associated with cadmium toxicity was found in the areas where the trials took place.

The report by Professor Lachmann and his team is being published and I will arrange for copies to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Radio Systems

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to develop a UK-manufactured radio system to replace AN/PRC-138 125W HF radios. [115541]

Dr. Moonie: This is a matter for the Chief Executive of the Defence Procurement Agency. I have asked the Chief Executive to write to the hon. Member.

Letter from Robert Walmsley to Mr. Mike Hancock dated 24 March 2000:

    The AN/PRC-138 HF radio equipment with 125W power amplifiers was acquired to meet an Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) for a secure data messaging capability in support of operations in the Balkans. This capability will be superseded when the BOWMAN HF data radio is introduced into service. There are no plans to develop another system in the interim.

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Mr. Stunell: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) how many blankets have been declared surplus to requirements by each of the armed forces in each of the last 10 years; [115805]

Dr. Moonie: Comprehensive records for the last 10 years on the gifting, destruction or sales of surplus blankets are not available. Information that is available shows that since 1995, surplus blankets have been collected from Service depots by a Disposal Sales Agency (DSA) appointed contractor for marketing and sale. The contractor estimates that some 160,000 blankets were declared to them during this period but is unable accurately to break this estimate down by year or by Service. Almost all the blankets collected by the DSA appointed contractor over the five years have been sold. Prior to 1995, surplus blankets were delivered to auction site by Service transport and then lotted by auctioneers prior to sale. Records for the number of blankets sold by public auction between 1990 and 1995 are no longer available.

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