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17 Nov 1997 : Column WA61

Written Answers

Monday 17th November 1997.

Crown Servants: Foreign Honours

The Earl of Carlisle asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why members of the diplomatic service are not allowed to receive honours and awards at the end of their service from the nations to which they are accredited; and whether they will review the current policy.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): The prohibition applies to all Crown Servants to whom honours are offered by foreign governments and forms part of the general regulations (the Foreign and Commonwealth Orders Regulations--a copy of which is in the Libraries of the House) governing the acceptance and wearing of foreign honours. These regulations reflect the long-standing position that recognition of service under the Crown is primarily for the Sovereign, as well as the desirability of avoiding both the proliferation of exchanges of honours and the imputation of partiality on the part of Crown Servants receiving foreign awards.

The specific reference in the regulations to awards for diplomats on leaving post recognises the special nature of diplomacy and reflects the danger that unrestricted bestowal of foreign honours on British diplomats would be likely to lead to demands for reciprocity which would be difficult to refuse, and which could result in an undesirable proliferation of token awards and loss of control over our own honours. The policy on awards for diplomats has been reviewed, and upheld, from time to time. There are no plans to change it at present.

Gulf War: Immunisation Programme

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they or any members of the Defence Staff, staff at the Defence and Evaluation Research Agency (DERA), Porton Down, or any civil servants are aware that members of Her Majesty's Armed Forces who served in Operation Granby have tested positive to the adjuvant MF59, squalene and to GP120 and GP160; and

    Whether any vaccine, tablet or other medication used as part of the medical countermeasures programme before and during Operation Granby contained either viral DNA or bacterial DNA; and

    Whether any medication or injection used as part of the medical countermeasures before and during Operation Granby contained the adjuvant MF59, squalene or any part of the HIV organism such as GP120 or GP160.

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The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): None of the medical countermeasures used to protect British troops from the threat posed by Iraqi chemical and biological weapons during the Gulf War was in any way genetically engineered, nor did they contain any unlicensed experimental components. Specifically, they did not contain any added MF59, squalene or any part of the HIV organism. In common with many vaccines, those used as part of the countermeasures programme would have contained either viral or bacterial DNA.

The Ministry of Defence is aware that tests by researchers on Gulf veterans in the US are reported as having detected the presence of various substances. However, the Government have not yet seen any formal results from these tests and therefore have no knowledge of whether British veterans were involved in any of them. We continue to monitor new research on all aspects of Gulf War veterans' illnesses as this is published.

Scotland: Preservation of War Memorials

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking in Scotland, when war memorials are to be destroyed as part of demolition or redevelopment of places of worship belonging to the Church of Scotland and other Churches, to ensure the preservation of the names of those who died; and whether they are consulting the organisation "Friends of War Memorials".

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel): The Government do not take any action in these circumstances. Churches which are in ecclesiastical use are exempt from listed building control and most changes can proceed without reference to the Secretary of State. Churches which are no longer in ecclesiastical use are subject to listed building consent. The Secretary of State would be consulted by the planning authority should consent be sought for changes to listed premises. The Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church issue guidance on preserving war memorials or retaining records, should memorials be destroyed. So far as I am aware, neither the Government nor Historic Scotland has any contact with "Friends of War Memorials".

London and Continental Railways: Sale of Land

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the titles, approximate areas and current uses of land holdings in the Stratford East London and King's Cross areas which London and Continental Railway have requested government permission to sell for the benefit of London and Continental Railway.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): London and Continental Railways have not requested permission to sell any railway land in the King's Cross area. LCR have sought and received permission for the release of one site at Stratford. This is Leyton Yard, which is approximately 26 acres in area. It is vacant other than a small temporary occupation by the Highways Agency in relation to adjacent highways works.

Local Government Commission for England

Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to undertake a review of the Local Government Commission for England.

Baroness Hayman: We have today set up a finance, management and policy review of the Local Government Commission for England (LAC), as part of a programme of reviews of non-departmental public bodies.

This review will be conducted in two stages. The first will be a "prior options" study focusing on whether the functions carried out by the LAC are needed and, if so, whether those functions are best undertaken by the LAC or some other body. Subject to the outcome of this first stage, the second stage will consist of a more detailed review of the LAC's structure, funding, financial management and methods of operation.

We have appointed Robert Hazell, Director of the Constitution Unit in the School of Public Policy at University College London, to undertake the prior options study. To oversee the review, we are establishing an Advisory Group, on which we are inviting representatives from the Local Government Association; departmental officials and the chairman and chief executive of the LGC will also serve on the group.

In carrying out the study, it is intended that Mr. Hazell will consult a wide range of interested parties and would welcome written representations from anyone who has views on the commission and its work.

HM Coastguard

Lord Davies of Coity asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied with the search and rescue co-ordination provided by Her Majesty's Coastguard.

Baroness Hayman: To improve still further the high level of service provided by Her Majesty's Coastguard we are able to announce today that we have endorsed a strategy for HM Coastguard which involves a substantial investment in new technology and which will take the service into the next century. That investment will introduce operational flexibility which will increase the safety of those who use our sea and shores, and will

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improve the effectiveness and efficiency of an already highly proficient service. The key to the strategy is the introduction of digital communications technology at Coastguard rescue centres and remote radio sites to replace ageing equipment. Once the new technology is in place HMCG will be able to concentrate its operational expertise within fewer rescue co-ordination sub-centres by closing the rescue sub-centres at Oban and Pentland (Orkney) by the end of 1999, and Tyne-Tees and Liverpool by the end of 2000. Portland and Solent rescue sub-centres, at present in unsuitable buildings, will be brought together under the same roof by March 2002.

By carefully planning the process we expect to be able to achieve the reduction of staff by a combination of natural wastage, early retirement and early severance. Staff and trade unions will be closely involved in the implementation.

Filwood/Hengrove Playing Fields, Bristol

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, when considering whether or not to approve Bristol City Council's proposal under DoE Circular 6/93 to sell Hengrove Playing Fields for less than the best consideration it could reasonably obtain, they will have regard to the serious loss of amenity which will be suffered by the local community and insist that equivalent open space, no less accessible, should be provided by the council in its stead.

Baroness Hayman: In deciding the council's application for consent to dispose of part of Filwood/Hengrove playing fields, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions will take into account all the relevant information which is brought to his attention. His principal consideration will be whether the proposed disposal will be in the interests of the local electorate and council tax payers.

I cannot comment on the likely outcome of the application or on whether any particular conditions should be imposed on the council.

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