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12 Feb 1996 : Column WA35

Written Answers

Monday, 12th February 1996.

Russian Federation: Council of Europe Membership

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

    Whether they will take steps to ensure that the Russian Federation is invited by the Committee of Ministers to become a member of the Council of Europe only upon the basis of the commitments and understandings referred to in the Parliamentary Assembly's Opinion No. 193 (1996).

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): We take full note of the commitments and understandings referred to in the Parliamentary Assembly's Opinion. We shall expect the Russian Federation to respect the conditions in the Opinion and for it to meet its obligations upon becoming a member. We shall for our part work with it to help it achieve its goals in a spirit of constructive dialogue and co-operation. But acceptance of the Assembly's recommendation to invite Russia to become a member should not be construed as an endorsement of each of the specific points contained in this Opinion.

Hong Kong and Beijing: Foreign Secretary's Visit

Lord Willoughby de Broke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What subjects were discussed during the recent visit by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to Hong Kong and Beijing; and what were the results of those discussions.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: As was stated by my right honourable friend the Minister of State, the member for Richmond and Barnes, in another place on 22 January, my right honourable and learned friend the Foreign Secretary visited Hong Kong and China from 6 to 11 January. In Hong Kong he met the Governor, members of the Legislative and Executive Councils, senior Hong Kong Government and British officials, and business and community figures. This gave him an invaluable opportunity to hear at first hand the views and concerns of the people of Hong Kong about their future.

My right honourable and learned friend was warmly received in Beijing and held frank and constructive discussions with President Jiang Zemin, Premier Li Peng, Vice Premier Qian Qichen, and the Director of the State Council Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Lu Ping. The Foreign Secretary's discussions gave him an opportunity to describe to Chinese leaders the mood in Hong Kong and to discuss with them ways of maintaining confidence there. We made

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substantial progress on several specific issues. The Chinese assured the Foreign Secretary of their commitment to a successful transition and to the preservation of a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong after 30 June 1997.

We also agreed to develop further our bilateral links in all areas: political economic and commercial. As part of this dialogue, the Foreign Secretary registered our concerns over reports of human rights abuses and urged China to address these issues quickly and openly.

Turkey: Alleged Human Rights Abuses

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will discuss with the Government of Turkey the arrest and torture by soldiers, in December 1995, in Dargecit district of Mardin province, of Mrs. Fatma Bastur and two other pregnant women, which is alleged to have caused the loss and death of their three unborn children.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: We have asked our Embassy in Ankara to seek more information on this case from the Turkish authorities.

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will seek information from the Government of Turkey concerning Mr. Hasan Ozgun aged 27, a journalist, who was wounded by three unknown gunmen early in 1993 while distributing Ozgur Gundem newspaper; arrested on 11 December 1993, held in custody and sentenced by the States Security Court of Diyarbakir on 16 January 1996 to 12½ years' imprisonment for membership of the PKK.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: We have asked our Embassy in Ankara to seek more information on this case from the Turkish authorities.

Sudan: Release of Political Prisoners

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What information they have about the release of political prisoners and detainees in the Sudan since 1 September 1995; and to what extent releases have been comprehensive.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: The Sudanese government released further political prisoners in early October, leaving to our knowledge only one political prisoner who has been tried, Brigadier al Rayah. Most of those detained after riots in September have also been released. There have however been further detentions of opposition activists, so far without trial, and it is impossible to tell how many detainees are currently held in unofficial detention centres.

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ABM Treaty

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why they refuse to answer questions concerning the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty--on the grounds that it is "bilateral" between the United States and Russia--when Prime Minister Thatcher saw the treaty as so important to the continued credibility of British deterrent forces that she thought it right to persuade President Reagan to give a commitment (the "Camp David Four Points") to seek no changes in the treaty without consultation with Britain.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My noble friend Lady Thatcher agreed with President Reagan in December 1984 on four points related to the then United States Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). This included the principle that SDI-related deployment would, in view of treaty obligations, have to be a matter for negotiation. But it remains our practice not to comment on the interpretation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, to which the United Kingdom is not a party.

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they welcome Mr. Primakov's statement that Russia will not accept any amendment of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: We support the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty as an important component of the strategic arms control regime. It is for the parties to the treaty to agree on any proposed amendments.

Magistrates: Resignations

Lord Acton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many lay magistrates they estimate left the bench during 1995 because of lack of indemnity in respect of appeals against costs.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern): I am aware of two magistrates who have tendered their resignations in connection with this issue, but such information as is held centrally is not collected specifically on this issue, and it is therefore difficult to be precise.


Lord Braine of Wheatley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will publish in the Official Report a consolidated table for each of the last three years for which figures are available, showing the total number of abortions according to the grounds of termination for 19 weeks and each week thereafter.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege): The information will be placed in the Library. Figures for Great Britain are provided for the years 1992-1994 inclusive.

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Nursery Education and Corporal Punishment

Baroness David asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether corporal punishment will be (a) permitted, or (b) specifically prohibited, in all categories of institution able to provide nursery education under the new funding arrangements, including: maintained nursery schools; nursery classes in maintained and grant-maintained schools; private nursery schools; nursery departments/classes in independent schools; playgroups and local authority day nurseries.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Lord Henley): It is the policy of Her Majesty's Government to prohibit corporal punishment for all state funded education. The nursery education voucher scheme will be no exception.

Local Government Ombudsman Service: Review

Lord Brougham of Vaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made on the Review of the Local Government Ombudsman Service.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers): The first stage of the review, in which the need for a Local Ombudsman Service was examined, has been completed. On 30 November 1995, the Reviewer--Sir Geoffrey Chipperfield--presented his report to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and to the Chairman of the Commission for Local Administration in England (CLA), and today we have arranged for copies of the report to be placed in the Library of the House.

Sir Geoffrey has concluded that the present centralised investigation and review processes of the CLA would not be able to handle effectively the increasing volume of complaints which he foresaw with the growth of citizens' awareness of their rights and remedies. He has proposed, therefore, a new complaints regime, under which each local authority would be statutorily obliged to operate its own local complaints system, involving both internal review and an external reviewer or adjudicator. The role of any independent, central body, such as the CLA, would be limited to the validation and monitoring of each local authority's system; such a body would not have any role to investigate specific complaints.

We have carefully considered Sir Geoffrey's report, together with the CLA's representations on it. We recognise the importance of all local authorities having their own effective local complaints systems, although we are not persuaded of the need to seek legislation imposing a new statutory duty on local authorities to establish and maintain such systems. Nor do we believe that the case has been made that there is at present no continued need for the CLA's role as a wholly

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independent body to investigate complaints of maladministration.

We have concluded, therefore, to proceed with the second stage of the review, which will focus particularly on the efficiency and effectiveness of the CLA's procedures as an investigatory body. My honourable friend the Minister for Local Government has today asked Andrew Whetnall, a senior official at the Department of the Environment, to undertake this stage of the review. My honourable friend proposes that Mr. Whetnall should be assisted by the Advisory Group, including representatives of the local authority associations and citizens advice bureaux, which we established for the first stage of the review. In parallel, he is inviting comments from local authorities and all interested parties on the wider issues raised in the review's first stage. In the light of these comments and the findings of the review's second stage, we intend to take our decisions on the CLA's future.

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