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15 May 1997 : Column WA1

Written Answers

Thursday, 15th May 1997.

Military Equipment Supply to Argentina

Lord Kirkhill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What exceptions Her Majesty's Government have permitted to the embargo on sale of arms to Argentina for the supply of equipment to Argentine UN peacekeeping forces.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): The Government have agreed exceptionally to allow the limited supply of nine anti-riot vehicles for use by the Argentine contingent of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus. The Argentine Army have given assurances that the vehicles will not be used for other purposes. This is an exception to, but not a change of, policy on the supply of military-related equipment to Argentina.

Jiangyin Suspension Bridge Project: ODA Minute

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will provide details of the departmental minute which the Overseas Development Administration laid before the House on 3 April 1997.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The departmental minute reported that the department had entered into a contingent liability arising from a tax

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indemnity given to the commercial banks which are financing the Jiangyin Suspension Bridge Project in China. The estimated maximum liability is US$9,740,290 (approximately £6,087,680).

The minute was placed in the Libraries of both Houses and copies were sent, under cover of explanatory letters, to the Chairman of the Public Accounts and Foreign Affairs Committees.

Prison Service: Parliamentary Questions

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to reply to parliamentary Questions about Her Majesty's Prison Service.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): Our manifesto commits us to take proper ministerial responsibility for the Prison Service. As an early step, my right honourable friend proposes that in future all Questions about the Prison Service for England and Wales should be answered by a Home Office Minister, and not by the Director General or other senior Prison Service officials.

This change will put right what many in Parliament have long regarded as a bad practice. My right honourable friend regards it as essential that Ministers should answer personally to Parliament for what is done in our prisons and not leave it to their civil servants.

This is no reflection on the Director General, Mr. Richard Tilt, who has my right honourable friend's full support. It has no implications for the Prison Service's status as an executive agency of the Home Office or for other agencies, including the Scottish and Northern Ireland Prison Services, which are the responsibility of my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively.

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