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30 Jun 1997 : Column WA1

Written Answers

Monday 30th, June 1997.

SOE Records: Release

Lord Gregson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they plan to release more records of the wartime Special Operations Executive.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): The next batch of SOE records for release, covering the Balkans, will be the largest so far. They have been transferred to the Public Record Office, and will be opened on 1 July 1997. Further SOE records will be released in due course.

Arms Exports: Payment to Exporters

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What proportion of the United Kingdom's arms exports have not been paid for within (a) 6, (b) 12, (c) 18 and (d) 24 months of delivery, or other periods for which figures are available.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Clinton-Davis): This information is not held centrally. The details are a commercial matter between exporters and their customers.

Arms Exports: Evasion of Controls

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    To what extent British arms exports (including ammunition) in the last five years have been routed through third parties, in order to evade export controls and charges of breaching international and humanitarian law.

Lord Clinton-Davis: We are not aware of any evidence suggesting that, in the last five years, any arms or ammunition were exported from the UK and diverted to an end-user in circumstances in breach of UK export controls. However, the investigation and prosecution of alleged breaches of UK export controls is a matter for HM Customs & Excise and anyone in possession of information which might suggest that offences have been committed should make it available to them; in the last five years there has been one prosecution where the company concerned had attempted to evade UK controls by exporting controlled aircraft parts to Switzerland from where they would have been diverted to Iran. The risk of diversion to third countries is taken into account in considering export licence applications, and we are committed to strengthening monitoring of the end-use of defence exports to prevent diversion and to ensure that exported equipment is used only on the conditions under which the export licence has been granted.

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Arms Exports to Turkey and Indonesia

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What licences for what quantities of arms exports to Turkey and Indonesia have been issued but have so far not yet been taken up.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My department does not maintain records of the actual exports of goods authorised by individual export licences.

Child Benefit Centre: Telephone Contact

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied that the procedure for contacting the Child Benefit Centre by telephone is working well.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): One of our key aims is to improve the service provided to claimants and other customers. Queries on Benefits Agency operational matters are the responsibility of Peter Mathison, its Chief Executive. He will write to the noble Lord.

Letter to Earl Russell from the Chief Executive of the Benefits Agency, Mr. Peter Mathison, dated 26 June 1997.

I have been asked to reply to your recent Parliamentary Question asking about the procedure for contacting the Child Benefit Centre (CBC) by telephone.

The CBC is aware of the difficulties customers are experiencing in trying to contact the Centre by telephone. For some time now the centre has been receiving an increasing number of telephone enquiries and, in recognition of this growing demand, a centralised Teleservice for all Child Benefit customers was introduced.

The Teleservice is not simply an answering service. It is aimed at dealing with as many calls as possible at the point of contact without the need to refer the caller to another section. All teleoperators have received specific training in call handling and a continuous process of review, designed to maximise the number of calls taken from customers, is in place.

Latest statistics show that 36,000 calls per week are being answered. This equates to 1.87 million calls per annum. Additional staff have been recruited to work in the Teleservice area and it is estimated that the Teleservice operation will be able to deal with 2.22 million calls per annum.

The centre is examining current working practices in order to maximise efficiency. As part of this programme, consideration is being given to the possible expansion of the Teleservice area of the business and also extending the working hours of the unit.

I hope this has helped to reassure you that the agency is taking positive action to improve customer service.

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Mixed Sex Wards

Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:

    With reference to the statement in the Labour Party manifesto that "we will work towards the elimination of mixed sex wards", what proportion of patients are currently treated in such wards; and by how much they hope to have reduced that proportion in three years' time.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington): There are no national figures available on the proportion of patients currently treated in mixed sex accommodation. However, the results of a survey commissioned by the National Health Service Executive in two health regions were published earlier this year in a Report of a survey on mixed sex accommodation in hospitals. A copy is available in the Library. Further action is being considered following a recent exercise with health authorities to establish target dates for meeting the objectives set out in guidance on mixed sex wards issued to the NHS in January.

Extradition Requests

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many requests for extradition from the United Kingdom are outstanding; how many persons are currently held in British prisons as a result; and whether they will consider setting time limits by which foreign states must produce relevant evidence.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): As at 20 June 1997, there were outstanding requests for extradition from the United Kingdom in respect of 174 people. Of these, 69 people had been arrested on the basis of the extradition request.

Twenty-eight people are currently held in prisons in England and Wales as a result of extradition requests.

This figure does not cover requests for extradition from the Republic of Ireland. Such requests are dealt with under the procedures laid down in the Backing of Warrants (Republic of Ireland) Act 1965. Figures for those held in custody under this arrangement are not held centrally.

Statutory time limits already exist. Section 9 and Schedule 1, paragraph 5, of the Extradition Act 1989 allow the magistrate to fix a period, in accordance with the relevant extradition arrangement, after which a person will be discharged from custody if no authority to proceed or order to proceed has been issued. Authorities to proceed and orders to proceed are issued once supporting documentation has been received from the requesting State and are formal invitations to Bow Street Magistrates' Court to consider the request against the fugitive. The level of supporting documentation depends on the bilateral or multilateral extradition arrangement with the requesting State. The magistrate has the discretion, in certain circumstances, to extend those time limits. Once an authority to proceed or order to proceed has been issued, extradition cases pass to the

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courts. It is open to them to request further information, or to set deadlines. Under Section 16 and Schedule 1, paragraph 10, to the Act, there are also statutory time limits on the time taken for a decision by the Secretary of State on surrender of a fugitive once the case has been to him for final decision.


The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the purpose of referendums is a means of consulting the people or gaining their consent upon the issue at hand.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The precise purpose of referendums will depend on the issue in question; but in all cases there will be elements both of consultation and also of seeking consent.

Before the proposed referendums for Scotland and Wales are held, the Government intend to publish their devolution proposals in White Papers. The people of Scotland and Wales will be asked whether they support the Government's proposals. If they do, substantive legislation will be brought forward.

Police and Fire Service Pensions

Lord Harris of Greenwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they propose to publish the joint Home Office and Treasury review of police and fire service pensions.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My right honourable friend the Home Secretary will be giving early consideration to taking forward the reviews of the police and fire pension schemes, including the question of publication and a consultation exercise based on the reviews.

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