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17 Feb 1997 : Column WA31

Written Answers

Monday, 17th February 1997.

Saudi Arabia: Al Khobar Bombing

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have details of the evidence and any court proceedings against the alleged perpetrators of the bombing of the Khobar Towers housing complex on 25 June 1996, or of their identities or backgrounds; and whether, considering that at the Sharm el Sheikh summit all the participants including the Saudi Foreign Minister agreed that states would co-operate more closely in fighting terrorism, they will ask the Saudi authorities to ensure that any evidence given in court is published, and that international legal norms are followed in the pre-trial and court procedures.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): Investigations into the bombing at Al Khobar are a matter for the Saudi Arabian and United States governments, with both of whom we remain in close touch on a wide range of issues. It is for those who are conducting these investigations to make any procedural or substantive announcement once they are completed.

OECD Conference: Social Investment

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they took part in the OECD conference in November 1996, Beyond 2000: The New Social Policy Agenda, and whether they agreed with its conclusion that "a social investment approach provides a useful framework for priority-setting in an environment where major increases in the fiscal burden are unacceptable".

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: The Secretary of State for Social Security attended this conference. We do not necessarily agree with some of the implications of the term "social investment" used by the chairman of the meeting in his conclusions. However, we welcome its focus on containment of social security expenditure and much of the discussion's endorsement of the UK's approach to social policy.

Space Plane

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether (a) the concept being developed by the US Air Force Space Command's Integrated Concept Team for a "transatmospheric space plane" able to conduct surveillance, to disable adversary space vehicles, and to release weapons within the atmosphere against terrestrial targets is, in their view, fully compliant with the provisions of the Space

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    Treaty; and (b) whether the Eurofighter would be vulnerable to such a military space plane.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: We understand that the US Government has not yet made a decision on development of a space plane. We are assured that the US government always considers its international treaty obligations. While on the ground, Eurofighter, like any aircraft, would be potentially vulnerable to a military space plane.

Firearms (Amendment) Bill: Compensation

Lord Harris of Greenwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the statement attributed to "official sources" in the Independent of 5 February and other papers, that the cost to public funds of the amendment on compensation moved by Lord Lester of Herne Hill to the Firearms (Amendment) Bill would be £350 million, was authorised by any Minister of the Crown; and whether this figure is now regarded as an accurate estimate, notwithstanding the refusal of Ministers to give such a figure to Parliament.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): The reports refer to guidance given by Home Office officials in response to press enquiries concerning shooting organisations' estimates of the compensation which would be payable under the Firearms (Amendment) Bill. The guidance was intended to give an assessment of the potential scale of compensation and was not presented as a final and accurate estimate.

Hong Kong: Public Order Laws

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the recommendation of the Peking appointed Hong Kong legal group that parties planning a demonstration must obtain police permission to do so differs from the provisions of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, and if so in what ways, given that the courts have recently ruled that there is now no right without police authorisation to hold peaceful, non-obstructive demonstrations on the highways in England.

Baroness Blatch: I understand that under the current legislation it is necessary to seek approval from the Hong Kong Commissioner of Police for a procession consisting of 30 persons or more. A Peking-appointed Preparatory Committee for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) has proposed that some provisions of certain Hong Kong laws should not be adopted as laws of the HKSAR. It is not certain therefore whether the laws covering public order in the HKSAR will remain the same in the future.

Police permission is not needed to demonstrate in this country. Under Section 14A of the Public Order Act 1986, introduced by the Criminal Justice and Public

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Order Act 1994, a chief police officer may in certain circumstances apply to a district council for an order to be made prohibiting trespassory assemblies for up to four days within a given area. The purpose of such an order, which requires the Home Secretary's consent, is to prevent serious disruption to the life of the community or significant damage to land or a building or a monument which is of historical, architectural, archaeological or scientific importance.

Floating Prison

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have approached the local authority for Portland, Dorset, in connection with plans for using a ship or barge to accommodate prisoners or detainees; and, if so, when they expect such plans to become effective.

Baroness Blatch: Responsibility for this matter has been delegated to the Director General of the Prison Service, who has been asked to arrange for a reply to be given.

Letter to Lord Hylton from the Director General of the Prison Service, Mr. Richard Tilt.

Lady Blatch has asked me to reply to your recent Question about the Prison Service's plans to use a floating prison at Portland, Dorset.

The Prison Service has bought the floating prison the "Resolution" (which is to be renamed the "Weare") and it is now undergoing repair and renovation in New York. An application for planning consent has been submitted to Weymouth and Portland Borough Council and was considered by a full meeting of the council on 6 February. The council rejected the application, which has now been referred to the Secretary of State for the Environment and it is hoped that a decision will be reached in mid-March.

Cultural Property: UNESCO Convention

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they now foresee the ratification of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the means of prohibiting and preventing the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property and whether there are other legal safeguards against the import into this country of looted antiquities.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage (Lord Inglewood): While Her Majesty's Government has always supported the principles laid down in the 1970 UNESCO Convention, ratification would pose a number of problems. For example, we consider the definition of cultural property to be too wide-ranging and too open to different interpretations; and giving effect to the provisions of the convention would involve a formidable bureaucracy.

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It is not an offence to import into this country antiquities which have been illegally excavated in and exported from their countries of origin. However, an EC Directive on the return of cultural objects unlawfully removed from the territory of a member state has been implemented into UK law. This provides a mechanism whereby another member state may request the return of a cultural object which is a "national treasure" and which falls within the scope of the directive if it was unlawfully removed from the requesting state on or after 1st January 1993. In particular, the following categories of object within the directive's scope are of relevance to claims for the return of antiquities:

    "archaeological objects more than 100 years old which are the products of:

    land or underwater excavation and finds,

    archaeological sites,

    archaeological collections;" and

    "elements forming an integral part of artistic, historical or religious monuments which have been dismembered, more than 100 years old." In the case of these objects there is no monetary value test of eligibility for return.

In addition, there are mechanisms in place via Interpol and the police for the recovery of any objects which have been stolen.

Employment of Children

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What reduction there has been in the illegal employment of children estimated in 1996 as 1.5 million; which are the main fields of such employment; how does the UK position compare with that of other EU countries; and what steps are being taken to reduce it further here.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege): Information on the numbers of children employed is not collected centrally, although various independent estimates have been made. Information on the situation in other European Union countries is not routinely collected. It is for local authorities to take such steps as they consider necessary to address any instances of illegal employment they may encounter.

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