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Written Answers

Monday, 1st March 1999.

Water: DFID Resource Centre

Baroness Rawlings asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will explain the role of the resource centre on water and environmental health within the Department for International Development.[HL1229]

Baroness Amos: Following a process of competitive tendering, Water and Environmental Health at London and Loughborough (WELL) was set up in October 1996 as a Department for International Development-funded resource centre, managed jointly by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Water and Development Centre at Loughborough University.

It is a one-stop-shop for technical advice in water, sanitation and environmental health matters to the Department for International Development's (DFID) policy advisers, project managers and overseas partner governments. It provides short-term advisers for programme design, appraisal, monitoring and, through a programme of work, produces technical advisory material for wide dissemination on water issues relevant to DFID's objectives.

In addition WELL assists NGOs with on-line advice on current issues and lesson learning. It maintains a website, and a walk-in resource centre with on-line computer access is also in operation.

Northern Ireland: Rough Sleeping

Lord Eames asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their estimate of the number of people sleeping on the streets in Northern Ireland; and whether they consider sufficient efforts have been made to eradicate this problem.[HL1066]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs): This is a matter for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, whose Chief Executive has advised me that research to date has failed to find evidence of a "rough sleeping" problem in Northern Ireland. Since July 1998, the executive has been participating in an inter agency steering group overseeing a "street outreach service" in Belfast. A socio-geographic assessment of those using the service will assist with early identification of examples of "rough sleeping" problems and inform decisions on whether any further research or action may be necessary.

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Northern Ireland: A.3 Portadown to Armagh Road

Lord Eames asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plan they have for improvements to the Portadown Armagh Road in the light of the greatly increased traffic flow in that area. [HL1067]

Lord Dubs: The Department of the Environment's Roads Service has proposals to upgrade the A.3 Portadown to Armagh Road to dual carriageway standard. The improvements, which will be carried out on a phased basis (i.e. in four stages), are included in our 6-15 year major works programme and will cost approximately £20 million in total. The timing of these schemes will, of course, depend on the future availability of funds for major road works and their priority relative to the many other desirable schemes in the programme.

In the meantime, the Roads Service is in the process of commissioning consultants to prepare a route management strategy of low cost improvement projects for the A.3. These may include proposals for climbing lanes, junction improvements and localised widening schemes. It is hoped that this consultancy will be completed by the summer. More immediately, a project to improve the junction at Sandymount Road and provide an additional right-turn facility (cost approximately £30,000) is due to commence before the end of this month.

Belfast Agreement: Early Release of Prisoners

Lord Eames asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What circumstances, if any, would lead to a cessation of early releases of prisoners under the Belfast Agreement.[HL1063]

Lord Dubs: The accelerated release of prisoners is part of the implementation of the Belfast Agreement and will continue, or cease, in accordance with the legislation passed by this House last summer.

Under that legislation, the Secretary of State must review the list of specified organisations from time to time, and must specify any organisation which she believes is concerned in Northern Irish terrorism, or in promoting or encouraging it, and has not established or is not maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire. In forming her belief, she takes into account all relevant factors, including those drawn from the Prime Minister's speech at Balmoral and set out in the Act. Decisions on individual applications by prisoners are for the Sentence Review Commissioners in accordance with the criteria set by this House.

In addition, the Secretary of State has the discretion under the Act to make an order suspending the operation of the whole scheme. This is a difficult judgment which

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the Secretary of State has to make in the round, taking into account all relevant factors pertaining at the time.

This, and other related issues under the Sentences Act, and under the Belfast Agreement, are kept under careful review.

Imported Art Objects: VAT Increase

Lord Shore of Stepney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Answer by the Lord McIntosh of Haringey on 15 February (H.L. Deb., col. 458) on European Union tax harmonisation, whether the United Kingdom has the right of veto on the proposal to increase the rate of VAT on imported art objects from 2.5 to 5 per cent. at the end of June 1999; and whether the United Kingdom would have a veto over the possible droit de suite directive.[HL1135]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The United Kingdom does not have a right of veto on whether the rate of VAT on the importation of certain works of art, antiques and collectors' pieces should increase to 5 per cent. after June 1999. This provision is already EC VAT law, which was agreed by the United Kingdom in 1994 during negotiations on the relevant EC Directive. The Government are keen to secure a change, but the legal position can be changed only with the unanimous agreement of the European Commission and all other member states.

The legal basis of the proposed directive on droit de suite is Article 100a of the EC Treaty. Qualified majority voting therefore applies, and it would be possible for the United Kingdom to block the proposal only with the support of sufficient member states to constitute a blocking minority.

Royal Hospital, Haslar: Closure

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What provision will be made for emergency cover for the inhabitants of the Gosport peninsula if the Royal Naval Hospital at Haslar is closed.[HL1242]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Hayman): Following the decision to close Royal Hospital, Haslar we have made it clear that any changes should not be to the detriment of the National Health Service and the people of Gosport.

The local health authority will now be exploring with Royal Hospital, Haslar and colleagues in the Defence Secondary Care Agency the options for the provision of the most effective healthcare for the local population. These discussions will also involve local general practitioners and the Primary Care Group in Gosport, together with Gosport Borough Council.

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Tower Hamlets: Domiciliary Care

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking in response to the proposal by the Social Services Committee of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets to change its policy on domiciliary care services for disabled people by referring them for institutional care where it would be less costly than maintaining them in the community.[HL1220]

Baroness Hayman: The Regional Social Services Inspectorate has had discussions with the Social Services Department of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets about the council's planned guidelines for domiciliary care packages. The council has provided assurances that, using the resources available to them, they intend to operate within the current policy framework, which includes emphasising the need to focus on individual users' needs and maximising independence. We understand, for example, that the council is planning to introduce a direct payments scheme in the near future. The relevant Regional Office of the Social Services Inspectorate is continuing to keep a close watch on the situation.

Genetically Modified Foods

Baroness Blatch asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether genetically modified foods are safe for:

    (a) pregnant mothers;

    (b) nursing mothers; and

    (c) infant children.[HL1183]

Baroness Hayman: In the United Kingdom it is the responsibility of the Independent Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP) to assess the safety of genetically-modified (GM) foods. For each of the GM foods approved so far, the ACNFP advised that they are comparable to, and as safe for human consumption as, their conventional counterparts.

Knives Act 1997: Prosecutions

Lord Windlesham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many criminal prosecutions have been brought under the Knives Act 1997 since it came into effect; and how many persons have been sentenced to custodial or non-custodial penalties for the offences contained in section 1 of that Act.[HL1147]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): Sections 1 to 7, 9 and 10 of the Knives Act 1997 came into force on 1 September 1997.

In England and Wales in 1997 there was one prosecution under Section 1(4)(a): Unlawful marketing of knives--Selling or hiring, which resulted in the offender being fined. Provisional data for the first quarter of 1998 show two further prosecutions, one

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under Section 1(4)(a), which again resulted in a fine, and the other under Section 1(4)(b): Unlawful marketing of knives--Offers or exposes to sell or hire, where the charge was withdrawn.

In Scotland there were no prosecutions under the Act in 1997.

For Northern Ireland there have been no prosecutions brought under the Act up to 31 March 1998.

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