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20 Dec 1995 : Column WA147

Written Answers

Wednesday, 20th December 1995.


Lord Cavendish of Furness asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the conditions of service of staff employed at GCHQ.

Lord Chesham: The conditions of service of staff employed at GCHQ are set out in the GCHQ Staff Handbook. Following advice from the Director of GCHQ, and in agreement with the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my right honourable and learned friend the Foreign Secretary has today agreed that they should be amended.

The Government's purpose in introducing new conditions of service in 1984 was to protect national security by ensuring continuous operations at GCHQ. This required that GCHQ's activities and operations should be protected from industrial disruption, whether in pursuit of national or local disputes; and should be protected from any risk arising from a conflict of loyalty of the staff; that negotiations on departmental issues should be carried out by departmental staff representatives answerable only to the staff of GCHQ; and that, for national security reasons, GCHQ staff should not have access to industrial tribunals. These objectives have been secured. The amendments we are now making will not affect them or the Government's original purpose, which remains unchanged.

The Government have always accepted that staff at GCHQ should have the right to join a staff association which would represent their interests in negotiations over pay, conditions of service and a wide range of other issues. Since 1985, staff have been represented by the Government Communications Staff Federation (GCSF); this arrangement has worked well, and a good working relationship has been developed between GCHQ management and the GCSF. The GCSF has been recognised by the Certification Officer for Trade Unions and Employers' Associations as a trade union.

However, certain details of the arrangement whereby the Staff Federation must be approved by the Director of GCHQ, and his power to veto membership of it by staff, have caused the GCSF some difficulty in gaining a certificate of independence.

In response to representations from the GCSF, the Government have considered how the conditions of service might be amended, consistent with the needs of national security, to remove this obstacle. The amendments which have been agreed today should do this. They reflect the Government's desire to recognise and to maintain the good working relationship which has been developed between GCHQ management and GCSF. For reasons of national security, staff at GCHQ will continue to be restricted to membership of a body whose officers and representatives are appointed from, and answerable only to, GCHQ staff. Their conditions

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of service will continue to exclude any form of industrial action. Within this framework, we have agreed to the director's recommendations that his power of approval, and his power of veto over membership of a staff association, should be withdrawn. He will instead exercise the right that every employer has to choose to recognise for purposes of negotiation and staff representation only one union, and that one remains GCSF.

Through these changes we have carried forward, the Government's policy of protecting national security whilst also protecting to the maximum extent possible the employment rights of the staff of GCHQ on whose diligence, professionalism and commitment the nation depends.

Red Cross: Additional Funding

Lord Cavendish of Furness asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What assistance they have provided to the International Committee of the Red Cross to help it cope with its projected end of year deficit, as a result of the demands made on the organisation during 1995, particularly in the former Yugoslavia and the African Great Lakes region.

Lord Chesham: My noble friend the Minister for Overseas Development has recently agreed a new contribution of £2 million to help alleviate this problem. As a result of this and other donors' responses, the ICRC end of year financial situation is much better than projected earlier.

US Arms Sales to Central and Eastern Europe

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the United Kingdom, other NATO members, or other OSCE members have been consulted by the United States on its proposals to central and east European countries that they should now be permitted to buy the most advanced US weapons; and what bearing on such transactions has the Conventional Forces in Europe Convention.

Lord Chesham: The UK is committed to responsibility in conventional arms transfers and we routinely encourage other arms suppliers to observe similar responsibility in their own export policies. To this end we maintain regular contact with allies--including the US--on a range of issues related to the transfer of conventional arms, including, where necessary, to central and eastern Europe.

The Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty limits the amounts of five specific types of heavy military equipment (tanks, armoured combat vehicles, artillery pieces, attack helicopters and combat aircraft) which States Parties may deploy in the treaty area. States Parties would need to ensure that any new equipment so deployed remained within the relevant treaty limits.

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Conventional Arms Transfers: G7 Statement

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, between the years 1990 and 1993, the United States has sold weapons costing $19 billion in the Gulf region; whether the United Kingdom has sold weapons for $14 billion; whether Russia has sold weapons for $9 billion; and whether these transactions constitute the kind of "excessive conventional weapons transactions" to which this year's G7 statement on Excessive Conventional Arms Transactions referred; and

    Whether the United States intends to sell military equipment and services worth $1.802 billion in the fiscal year 1996; and, if so, whether this scale of transaction is of the kind referred to in this year's G7 statement on Excessive Conventional Arms Transactions.

Lord Chesham: We are not in a position to comment in detail on the defence exports of other countries. UK Defence Statistics provides information on the value of defence exports by broad geographic region. A copy has been placed in the Library of the House.

As explained in the Answer my noble friend Baroness Chalker of Wallasey gave the noble Lord on 5 July (col. WA 77), the G7 statement noted that "the excessive transfer of conventional arms, in particular to areas of conflict, is one of our main preoccupations". What contributes an excessive transfer can only be judged in the light of the circumstances of each individual case. The UK, like other G7 countries, is committed to responsibility in conventional arms transfers and encourages all other arms suppliers to observe similar responsibility in their own export policy.

We are also committed to promoting greater transparency in conventional arms transfers and strongly support the UN Register of Conventional Arms, which provides details of exports and imports in seven categories of major offensive weapons. The UK, Russia and the United States have all submitted returns to the register during the last three years (1992, 1993, 1994) of its operation. A copy of the UK return to the register for 1994 has been placed in the Libraries of the House. We are committed to encouraging maximum participation in this exercise.

OSCE States: Notification of Military Activities

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether all members of the OSCE have been given prior notification of, and are providing the opportunity for observation of, their military activities within the OSCE area; and in particular whether the US military activities in Albania and Croatia have been notified to all the relevant other parties.

Lord Chesham: Under the terms of the Vienna Document 1994, military activities within the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe area above certain thresholds have to be notified to all

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other OSCE states. During 1995 neither Russia nor Croatia gave the required notification of their respective military activities in Chechnya and the Krajina. We deeply regret this and have made representations to both states. We are not aware of any US military activities in Albania or Croatia which have breached Vienna Document thresholds. In accordance with the Vienna Document, we will issue a notification of our deployment of forces to the former Yugoslavia.


Lord Braine of Wheatley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they regard abortion and so-called reproductive health as a universal human right.

Lord Chesham: The Government subscribe to the Programme of Action agreed at the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development. This states that people with good reproductive health "...have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so. Implicit in this last condition are the rights of men and women to be informed and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of family planning of their choice, as well as other methods of their choice for regulation of fertility which are not against the law...". The Programme of Action also states that "in no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning".

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