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Courts-martial: Membership

Lord Gregson asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Gilbert: The issue of membership of courts-martial was considered by the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill in 1996, although no firm proposals for change were made. I am pleased to announce that, following an extensive internal review initiated by the previous Administration, we have accepted the recommendation that membership of courts-martial be extended to warrant officers. This

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enhancement will make available to courts-martial the additional experience and judgment of warrant officers.

I welcome this recommendation as further evidence of the Services' willingness to embrace change while safeguarding the system of military justice which is essential to their effectiveness.

This change will require primary legislation and it is envisaged that the relevant amendments will be included in the 2001 Armed Forces Act. A decision in principle now will allow any necessary preparation and training to be set in hand by the Services.

Lord Chancellor's Residence: Refurbishment

Lord Aberdare asked the Chairman of Committees:

    Whether he will clarify the position on refurbishment of the Lord Chancellor's Residence.[HL634]

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): The process by which decisions on works in the House of Lords are taken is as follows:
1. The Administration and Works Sub-Committee considers and approves proposals based on estimates prepared by the Parliamentary Works Directorate.
2. The Finance and Staff Sub-Committee approves the necessary expenditure.
3. The House of Lords Offices Committee considers the recommendations of its two Sub-Committees and reports to the House.
4. The House debates and agrees to the Offices Committee's report.

Membership of the Sub-Committees consists of senior members from all parts of the House. Backbenchers have a majority of members on the Offices Committee.

Following the general election, the Lord Chancellor's Permanent Secretary, Sir Thomas Legg, advised the Lord Chancellor that it would be in the interests of the office for him to reside in the Residence as his predecessors had done. Black Rod, as Agent of the Administration and Works Sub-Committee, put forward proposals, on behalf of the Lord Chancellor, for a comprehensive restoration prepared by the Parliamentary Works Directorate. The Sub-Committee, aware of work carried out on the Speaker's rooms in the House of Commons, agreed that the Lord Chancellor's Residence should be restored to a similar standard.

The Administration and Works Sub-Committee approved these proposals on 8 July 1997. The sub-committee recommended that the work, to a total of £650,000, should be carried out as a single project, rather than staged over two years. This proposal was subsequently approved by the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee on 16 July and endorsed by the Offices Committee on 22 July. The House itself

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approved the Offices Committee report on 30 July 1997 (Hansard, col. 181).

The Palace of Westminster is a Grade I listed building. Repairs and refurbishments are carried out to standards which are in keeping with the listed status of the House and in accordance with the needs of a Speaker's Residence. The decoration has to reflect the original schemes designed by Barry and Pugin.

The refurbishment of the Residence was not part of the 10-year programme of works for the Palace of Westminster prior to the general election and was not included in the works estimate for the current financial year. It has however proved possible to accommodate that part of the expenditure which will fall for payment in 1997-98 (£350,000) from within the estimate and without the need to seek a supplementary estimate. This is in part due to savings in the works estimate arising from the Dissolution of Parliament in 1997 (when the House did not sit for several weeks). Consequent upon the decisions of the Committee referred to above, the work has now become part of the 10-year rolling programme.

A Parliamentary Answer on 19 November 1997 gave details of contracts which had been placed amounting to £333,784. Since then the following contracts have been let:

Soft furnishing51,000
Ceramic tiles5,000
Domestic equipment and tableware11,000

There have been inaccuracies in recent press reports on the likely cost of this work which is taking place. Carpets, orders for which have been completed, cost £34 per square yard and not £100 as quoted in the press. Similarly, fabric for curtains is being supplied at £60 per square yard and not £200 as reported. The dining table, which will seat 16, and not 10 as reported, will cost £9,640, not £25,000 as reported.

The contracts placed for these works are standard parliamentary contracts and have been in use since 1990. No special arrangements have been made for the Residence. Clauses relating to the Official Secrets Act relate to the possibility that contractors may have access to official information of a confidential and sensitive nature.

Details of contracts are regarded as commercial-in-confidence and contractors who work with the Palace of Westminster are not expected to comment to the press or other similar bodies without prior approval. This is normal commercial practice and has nothing to do with the Official Secrets Acts.

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NATO Enlargement: Cost to UK

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they last estimated the additional cost to the United Kingdom of NATO enlargement and what this cost is now estimated to be.[HL549]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): NATO Defence Ministers agreed last December, based on detailed analysis by NATO, that the cost to NATO budgets of admitting Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic would be some US$ 1.5 billion over 10 years. It is estimated that the UK's share will be £110 million.

Mr. Yasser Al-Sayegh

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they accept that Mr. Yasser Al-Sayegh no longer holds dual British and Bahraini citizenship, and that since he is now solely a British citizen, the Government has the power to take up his claim for damages in respect of wrongful imprisonment and ill-treatment.[HL492]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Mr. Yasser Al-Sayegh held dual Bahraini and British nationality at the time of the incidents which took place in Bahrain. We have no reason to believe his Bahraini nationality has subsequently been removed. As such, the Bahraini authorities could properly say that we have no legal standing to espouse a formal claim on his behalf.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in accordance with their policy of assisting unemployed people back to work, they will assist Mr. Yasser Al-Sayegh to pursue his claim for wrongful dismissal by the Housing Bank of Bahrain.[HL493]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Mr. Al- Sayegh's claim for wrongful dismissal arises from a civil dispute between him and his former employer and we have no standing to intervene.


Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will publish the text of any Article of any Resolution of the United Nations Security Council which authorises the use of military force if the Government of Iraq refuses to comply with the requirements of the Security Council concerning the elimination of weapons of mass destruction or fails to co-operate with United Nations inspectors appointed to oversee that process.[HL543]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The requirements on Iraq to destroy its weapons of mass destruction under international supervision are part of the conditions laid down by the Security Council for the

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ceasefire established at the end of the Gulf conflict in SCR 687. The text is a matter of public record.

The Security Council has the question of Iraq's compliance under active consideration and I cannot speculate on further decisions by the Council as the crisis develops.

The Rural Population and Government Policy

Lord Patten asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will list those of their policies that work to the benefit of people living and working in the countryside.[HL479]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): A broad range of government policies benefit people living and working in the countryside. We are making sure that we build the rural dimension into our programmes where relevant and tailor them as necessary to address the distinctive needs of rural areas.

Examples of policies which will benefit people in rural areas range from the Government's plans to create Regional Development Agencies which will bring a new strategic focus to regional economic development and help to tackle the problems of rural regeneration; the New Deal programme which will be sensitive to the needs of young unemployed people in rural areas; and the recently announced Village Shop Rate Relief scheme, designed to help protect an important rural service.

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