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20 Nov 1997 : Column WA87

Written Answers

Thursday, 20th November 1997.

Interest Rate Increases

Baroness Miller of Hendon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they consider that the five increases in interest rates that have been made by the Bank of England since May 1997 will assist in economic convergence with other European Union states whose interest rates are lower than Britain's; and, if so, how.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The Government are satisfied that the new monetary policy framework will deliver the Government's inflation target of 2½ per cent. Low inflation is essential, both for the Government's economic objective of high and stable levels of growth and employment, and for sustainable convergence with other EU economies. Since May, market expectations of inflation and interest rates have fallen: as a consequence long-term interest rates have fallen by almost a full percentage point and are now much closer to German levels. This indicates that the prospects for lasting convergence have improved.

National Museums: VAT Payments

Lord Freyberg asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How much VAT has been paid in the last financial year by the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate Gallery, indicating the figure for each museum; and

    How much VAT has been recovered in the last financial year by the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Museum of Science and Industry, the Imperial War Museum, the Natural History Museum and the National Maritime Museum, indicating the figure for each museum.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I cannot give information on the affairs of individual taxpayers.

Cold Weather Payments

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they propose to put into effect their stated intention of increasing provision to alleviate the windchill factor for disabled and elderly people during cold spells of winter weather.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): We have fulfilled our commitment to review the Cold Weather Payments scheme. The review took place against a background of successful government action to cut fuel costs and make homes easier to heat.

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The annual fuel bills for people eligible for cold weather payments are estimated to be £60 million less this year than last.

So far we have reduced VAT on domestic fuel from 8 to 5 per cent.; announced the removal of the gas levy; extended energy efficiency grants to include cavity wall insulation and the upgrading of heating system controls; and announced the setting up of an Environmental Task Force which is expected to include a programme of energy efficiency improvements in the homes of the elderly. In addition, almost £800 million will be released to local authorities over the next two years to help meet pressing housing needs. It will be for individual authorities to identify priority needs, but we would expect works which improve energy efficiency to feature in many areas.

We considered a report commissioned from the Building Research Establishment into the effects of wind speed on domestic heating needs during very cold weather. We took the view that allowing for the effects of wind speed would increase the complexity and uncertainty of the scheme without ensuring that payments went to those with the greatest need for additional heating. Taking into account all the relevant considerations, we decided not to amend the scheme to take account of wind speed.

Drugs Prevention Initiative: Annual Report

Lord Peston asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will publish a report on the progress of the Home Office's Drugs Prevention Initiative.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): We are publishing tomorrow the Drugs Prevention Initiative's seventh annual progress report. The report summarises encouraging progress. An extensive and innovative programme is now providing some useful findings about effective community-based drugs prevention work. The programme aims to show more fully by March 1999 what action communities themselves can take to tackle local drugs problems. We shall be placing a copy of the report in the Library tomorrow at 10.30 am.

War Crimes: Prosecutions in British Courts

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In the light of the call by the President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia on national courts and judges to assist in the struggle against impunity by initiating their own prosecutions of persons on their territory who may have committed atrocities in the former Yugoslavia, whether they are satisfied that the United Kingdom's existing criminal law, which only allows the courts to deal with breaches of the Geneva Conventions committed in the course of international armed conflict, would enable British courts to prosecute any of those indicated who might enter British jurisdiction.

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Lord Williams of Mostyn: On 4 November, the President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia called on national courts and judges to prosecute offences of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1957, or to extradite alleged offenders to the tribunal. The United Kingdom has the necessary legislation (The Geneva Conventions Act 1957) in place to prosecute such breaches and to surrender persons indicted for such breaches to the tribunal.

Army Engineer Resources

Lord Bruce of Donington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have for the Army's Engineer Resources.

Lord Hoyle: The previous administration announced in August 1995 that the Army Engineer Resources organisation, based at Long Marston in Warwickshire, would collocate with another Royal Engineers organisation--the Military Work Force--on a single site at Chilwell, near Nottingham. A number of subsequent developments have led to a review of this decision.

In order to ensure that the Engineer Resources organisation was configured in the most efficient way for the transfer to Chilwell and subsequent market testing, a comprehensive business review of this organisation was carried out. This concluded that many of the Engineer tasks--notably storage, provisioning and repair--could be carried out more efficiently by other parts of the Army support organisation, for which they are core business.

In parallel, further work was undertaken on the Army's overall storage requirement. The Storage Rationalisation Study, about which we made a separate announcement on 13 November 1997, (Official Report, col. WA 44), concluded that the Army Base Storage and Distribution Agency had sufficient space to absorb the Engineer Resources storage task. In the light of this work, an investment appraisal has been carried out which has demonstrated that disaggregation of the Engineer Resources task is substantially more cost effective by some 15 per cent. (approximately £21 million over 25 years in net present value terms) than any option for collocation at Chilwell.

Obtaining greater efficiency from Defence spending is a central part of the Strategic Defence Review. All support activities are being rigorously scrutinised against the benchmark of value for money and the need to ensure that we retain only those assets which are essential for Defence needs. We have, therefore, accepted, as the basis for consultation, a recommendation to proceed with the disaggregation of the Engineer Resources tasks to other service providers. Long Marston will close by December 1999. Final decisions will be taken in the light of representations made during the consultation period. A copy of the consultative document is being placed in the Library of the House.

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Baltic Defence College

The Earl of Carlisle asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What support they will be giving to the Baltic Defence College which will open at Tartu, Estonia, in the autumn of 1999.

Lord Hoyle: The United Kingdom is already providing considerable defence assistance to the Baltic States, both bilaterally and through our active involvement in multilateral defence assistance projects such as the joint Baltic Peacekeeping Battalion (BALTBAT); we are exploring, with other Western states, what support we can provide to help ensure the success of the Baltic Defence College. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence made clear our full backing for the establishment of the college when he visited all three Baltic States from 10-12 November.

Scotland: Religious Education in Non-denominational Schools

Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their policy on religious education in non-denominational schools in Scotland.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Scottish Office (Lord Sewel): Government policy for religious education in non-denominational schools in Scotland is set out in the Scottish Office Education Department Circular 6/91. This circular states that religious education is a valid and important educational experience at all stages of primary and secondary education. Religious education in schools should be based on Christianity as the main religious tradition of Scotland but should also take account of the teaching and practice of other principal religious traditions.

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