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10 Mar 1999 : Column WA31

Written Answers

Wednesday, 10th March 1999.

DFID Forestry Projects

Baroness Rawlings asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will explain, in relation to the actions of the Department for International Development in the forestry sector, the discrepancy between the partner countries listed in Forest MATTER and the countries in which projects are being carried out according to Forest Sector Projects.[HL1230]

Baroness Amos: Forest MATTER published in October 1997 listed a number of partner countries engaged in forestry projects at that time. The January 1998 version of the Department for International Development (DFID) Forest Sector Projects publication provided an updated and complete list of DFID-funded forestry projects. This publication is currently being revised and will be published shortly. Copies will be placed in the Libraries of the House and a personal copy sent to the noble Baroness.

Immigration Applications: Policy Alteration

Baroness Blatch asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many immigrants, whose applications to remain in this country have not yet been approved, will be affected by the seven-year amnesty announced by the Home Office on 1 March.[HL1380]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn: No amnesty has been announced by the Home Office. This Question appears to relate to our amendment to the previous administration's policy that enforcement action would not normally be pursued against families with children under 18 who had spent 10 years or more in this country. That period has been changed to seven years, but each case is still considered on its individual merits.

We estimate that several hundred cases currently awaiting consideration might possibly be affected by this change of policy. However, it is probable that, for other reasons, many of those cases would not have resulted in removal anyway.

Female Prisoners Aged Under 18

Lord Acton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many girls under 18 are in Prison Service establishments.[HL1339]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Provisional information for 31 January 1999 shows that there were 79 females aged under 18 in prisons in England and Wales.

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Medway Secure Training Centre

Lord Acton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many boys and girls are at the Medway Secure Training Centre.[HL1340]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: As of Monday 8 March, there were 29 boys and no girls at the Medway Secure Training Centre.

University Challenge Competition Results

Lord Haskel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the University Challenge competition.[HL1425]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): One of the Government's key science policy initiatives is to encourage the commercialisation of outcomes from our excellent research base. In that connection, I am delighted to be able to announce the winners of the University Challenge Fund Competition, which has been funded and operated jointly by government, the Wellcome Trust and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation.

The successful applications are:

£ million
University of Leeds/University of Sheffield/University of York (White Rose Consortium)4.5
University of Manchester/UMIST4.5
University of Bath/University of Bristol3.75
University of Birmingham/University of Warwick3
University of Cambridge/The Babraham Institute3
University of Cardiff/University of Wales College of Medicine3
Imperial College, London3
King's College London/Queen Mary and Westfield College London3
London Business School/King's College London/Queen Mary and Westfield College/University College London3
University of Oxford3
University of Strathclyde/University of Glasgow3
University College London/Institute of Cancer Research/Cancer Research Campaign Technologies Ltd/School of Pharmacy, University of London/Imperial Cancer Research Fund/Royal Veterinary College3
University of Edinburgh/The Moredun Foundation/The Roslin Biotechnology Centre/The UK Astronomy Technology Centre of PPARC/Edinburgh Station of the British Geological Survey2.25
Queen's University Belfast/University of Ulster2
University of Aberystwyth/The Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER)1

The total value of proposed awards is £45 million. Awards are subject to the applicants' compliance with all competition requirements. For awards to consortia of institutions, the university leading the bid is listed first.

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NHS Pension Scheme: Employers' Contribution

Lord Morris of Castle Morris asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will publish the report by the Government Actuary on the investigation of the National Health Service pension scheme in England and Wales 1989 to 1994.[HL1443]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Hayman): We have accepted the report and today placed copies in the Library.

The report concludes that it would be prudent to increase the rate of contribution required from employers to meet the scheme's future liabilities. The current rate is 4 per cent. of pensionable pay. The Government Actuary is content with our proposals that the rate should increase to 5 per cent. from 1 April 2000, with a further increase to 7 per cent. from 1 April 2001. Funding for these increases has been included in the department's comprehensive spending review settlement.

The cost of index-linking National Health Service pensions is currently met by the Exchequer. As the report notes, we have agreed with the Chief Secretary that, in principle, the scheme should assume its pensions increase liabilities from 1 April 1994 under a financial restructuring. Our officials are discussing the basis of such changes and we will inform the House when final agreement is reached. In the meantime, the Government Actuary considers that the proposed increases in employer contribution rates are consistent with the nature of the changes likely to be required under the restructuring.

British-Irish Treaties

Baroness Thornton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the treaties with the Irish establishing a British-Irish Council, a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, a North/South Ministerial Council and Implementation bodies will be signed.[HL1424]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): The treaties were signed on 8 March 1998 in Dublin. Copies of the treaties are available from the Vote Office and have been placed in the Libraries of the Houses of Parliament. The treaties will be published and laid in the normal way.

Nepal: Persecution of Christians

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will discuss with the Government of Nepal religious persecution in Nepal and in particular attacks on existing Christians and arrests of recent converts.[HL1223]

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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: In December 1998 we raised with the Nepalese Government the circumstances in which two Christians had been killed.

Mr. Abdullah Ocalan: Trial

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    With regard to the proposed trial of Mr. Abdullah Ocalan in Turkey, whether they will seek bilaterally and through international fora to secure that: (a) independent legal representation is available to the accused; (b) the trial takes place before civilian judges, and not in a military court or under martial law; (c) there is access for international legal observers; and (d) reasonable access is allowed to journalists from Turkey and the rest of the world.[HL1235]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: With EU partners we have urged that PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan have access to independent legal counsel of his choice, in accordance with Turkish law and Council of Europe norms. On 17 February we raised the subject of the type of court with the Turkish State Minister responsible for Human Rights. We understand that the trial proceedings will take place before a State Security Court. We have requested that the British Embassy in Ankara be allowed to attend the trial. We understand that attendance in the court is a matter for the presiding judge.

Lifelong Learning

Lord Winston asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they plan to make any changes to local and national arrangements to support their objectives for lifelong learning and whether there are any implications for the Training and Enterprise Councils.[HL1446]

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): In the light of the TEC Review, the responses we have received to the Learning Age Green Paper, the FEFC Quinquennial Review and the setting-up of the new local learning partnerships, the Government propose now to undertake a wider assessment of how we can best meet the learning and skills challenge. We shall also take into account the forthcoming Moser Report on basic skills, the University for Industry Corporate Plan, the further report of the Skills Task Force, and the Social Exclusion Unit report on disaffected 16-18 year olds.

Drawing on the TEC Review, we will want to examine the local and national arrangements relating to the delivery of lifelong learning, workforce development and skills, excluding higher education. This will include consideration of new opportunities for business involvement in meeting the skills challenge.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment has today written inviting all those concerned with this key part of the learning and skills agenda to contribute to this process, following which we intend to publish specific proposals in the

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summer. We will, of course, work closely with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry as he takes forward his proposal to establish the new Small Business Service, and the Deputy Prime Minister on the role of Regional Development Agencies.

Our aim is to ensure that we have the skills required for the new century, in which knowledge, application and our capacity to learn will be crucial to both individual employability and economic success. As we set out in the Learning Age Green Paper, our goals are to: increase the number of people engaged in learning; promote excellence and quality in its delivery; ensure coherent provision of further education and work-based training; provide support for all young people in making the transition from school to further learning or employment; involve employers in the promotion of lifelong learning; ensure that provision best meets the economy's needs for skills, creativity and innovation; make the most effective use of resources; and meet our National Learning Targets.

In the meantime, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment is also today announcing some changes to the operation of TECs, arising from the first phase of the TEC Review. These will strengthen partnership and accountability, improve the quality of work-based training, and streamline contracting arrangements.

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