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24 May 1999 : Column WA65

Written Answers

Monday, 24th May 1999.

Prospective State Visits

Lord Lamont of Lerwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Which Heads of States are known to be going to make state visits to the United Kingdom in the next two to three years; and in which cases have Amnesty International made serious allegations of torture against the governments of those countries.[HL2466]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): The Presidents of Hungary and China will pay State Visits to the United Kingdom this year. Announcements of State Visits are not normally made more than about six months in advance.

Amnesty International report that the use of torture remains widespread in China. Their report on Hungary makes no allegations of torture. The Parliamentary Officer of Amnesty International (UK) can supply further information if required.

Community Legal Service: Consultation

Lord Graham of Edmonton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the consultation paper setting out the proposals for the community legal service will be published.[HL2652]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): Copies of the consultation paper will be placed later today (Monday 24 May) in the Libraries of both Houses. It will also be available on the Lord Chancellor's Department website at

Queen's Proctor

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How often the Queen's Proctor has represented the Crown in each of the last five years in (a) maritime and (b) matrimonial causes.[HL2423]

The Lord Chancellor: The Queen's Proctor has not represented the Crown in any maritime causes during the last five years.

The Queen's Proctor does not keep statistics of matrimonial causes where he intervenes or shows cause. The following figures have been compiled by identifying Queen's Proctor files on which court fees

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have been incurred. On this basis, the number of occasions on which the Queen's Proctor intervened or showed cause, where the files were opened in the years 1994 to 1998 inclusive, are as follows:

    1994: 6

    1995: 1

    1996: 7

    1997: 8

    1998: 6.

From time to time, the Queen's Proctor appears as an amicus curiae to assist the court in matrimonial matters, but he is not then a party to the proceedings. The number of occasions in the last five years where such assistance was given is not readily identifiable.

Breast Cancer: Actions for Damages

Lord Ironside asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether all the High Court proceedings involving plaintiffs in the Legal Board's multi-party action seeking compensation for injuries caused by radiotherapy treatment for breast cancer have now been completed; and

    (a) Which cases were withdrawn;

    (b) Which cases were settled either in court or out of it and what sums were settled; and

    (c) What judgments were handed down.[HL2423]

The Lord Chancellor: On 17 November 1997, the group plaintiffs (then 109 in number) submitted to judgment against them on the principal issues. Two cases (Robb v. East London and City Health Authority and Unitt v. Bristol and District Health Authority) were tried as separate actions. Judgment was given for the defendants on 8 May 1998. Eighty of the underlying cases were then discontinued as a result of the judge's findings. Ten cases were settled. These were: Smallwood v. East London and City Health Authority, Eels v. Barking, Havering and Brentwood Health Authority (BHBHA); Wainman v. BHBHA; Ford v. BHBHA; Virdi v. BHBHA; McClure v. East Kent HA; Crawford v. Dalley; Bushby v. Cambridge HA; Elliott v. Dr. Xaavier; and Haxton v. North East Essex HA. The sums awarded were confidential between the parties and were, for that reason, not disclosed in open court. Further medical examinations and negotiations took place in the remaining cases: this resulted in discontinuance or withdrawal of the remaining cases. Four cases are currently outstanding for trial. It is anticipated that they will be tried in the Autumn term of 1999.

Lord Ironside asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the total costs incurred to date by the firm of solicitors acting for the plaintiffs, under contract to the Legal Aid Board, seeking compensation for injuries caused by radiotherapy treatment for breast cancer; and whether these are the final costs.[HL2424]

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The Lord Chancellor: The total paid on account to date, to all solicitors including the firm acting for the claimants under a contract to the Legal Aid Board, is £2.9 million.

I am not in a position at present to give details of the costs paid specifically to the firm of solicitors acting under contract with the Legal Aid Board as their claims have yet to be assessed by the court. A final detailed assessment was adjourned by the court until June 1999, in order to allow the costs of private clients to be assessed at the same time.

Parliamentary Commissioner Appointment Procedures

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Falconer of Thoroton of 7 May (WA 116), whether it is within the terms of reference of the review of the organisation of the public sector ombudsmen in England to consider whether Parliament should be consulted about the appointment of a Parliamentary Commissioner of Administration and other public sector ombudsmen.[HL2472]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): The review will focus on the organisation of the public sector ombudsmen in England. The terms of reference of the review allow all aspects of the legislation covering the Parliamentary Ombudsman, Health Service Ombudsman and Local Government Ombudsmen to be considered, including the appointment procedures.

Aircraft Carriers Replacements: Shipyard Capacity

Lord Ironside asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many United Kingdom owned shipbuilding yards in the United Kingdom have the capability of building and fitting out the planned 40,000 tonnes replacement aircraft carriers.[HL2246]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): The yards capable of building and fitting out a carrier of 40,000 tonnes are: Harland and Wolff in Belfast; Kvaerner Govan in Glasgow; Marconi Marine Ltd, previously known as VSEL, at Barrow in Furness and Birkenhead; and Swan Hunter in Wallsend. Depending on the design selected, there may be a need for their facilities to be enhanced. The yards are registered in the UK.

Optical Products: Pricing

The Earl of Haddington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they have taken, or intend to take, to evaluate and compare the price charged by high street opticians with those charged in other European

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    countries for the identical products for the supply of--(a) contact lenses; (b) spectacle lenses; and (c) spectacle frames; whether they propose to ask the Office of Fair Trading to investigate any price fixing or minimum sale pricing operated by United Kingdom suppliers or dispensers; and, if so when.[HL2453]

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Simon of Highbury): The Department of Trade and Industry's survey of international price comparisons will be looking at products which are representative of UK consumers' spending, and which are readily available in other countries so that meaningful price comparisons can be made. It is not possible at this time to say whether contact lenses or spectacles will be covered by the study.

Under UK competition legislation, responsibility for monitoring markets and considering allegations of anti-competitive behaviour, abuse of monopoly position or restrictive trade practices lies with the Director General of Fair Trading. If anyone has evidence of price fixing or other anti-competitive practices concerning the supply of contact lenses, spectacle lenses or spectacle frames, they should bring this to the attention of the Director General so that he can investigate.

Intolerance and the Left Wing

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Williams of Mostyn on 10 May (WA 124), whether they are aware of any left wing groups "promoting racial and other intolerance, extreme nationalism and bigotry" or whether these attributes are in their view attributes only of right wing parties.[HL2497]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): We have never suggested that intolerance is confined to one side of the political spectrum. As my earlier Answer made clear, the phrase "extreme right wing groups" is not a technical term.

Joint Committee on Human Rights

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the statement by the Lord Williams of Mostyn on 13 May (HL Deb, cols. 1289-90), whether they envisage that the proposed Joint Committee on Human Rights will be able to conduct enquiries into (a) the case for and against the ratification by the United Kingdom of international human rights treaties and protocols; and (b) the reports made on behalf of the United Kingdom to the human rights treaty bodies, and the recommendations made to the United Kingdom by those bodies.[HL2515]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The terms of reference for the Joint Committee have yet to be finalised and proposed to both Houses. On the face of it, the matters

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referred to by the noble Lord could be considered by the committee.

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