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27 Jul 1999 : Column WA157

Written Answers

Tuesday, 27th July 1999.

Committee on Standards in Public Life

Lord Borrie asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Committee on Standards in Public Life is subject to quinquennial review.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office, (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): The Government are committed to undertaking rigorous management and policy reviews of NDPBs every five years, tailored to the nature of the body concerned. As part of this commitment, the Government will shortly be reviewing the operation and role of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which was established in October 1994.

National Air Traffic Services Ltd.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to proceed with the proposed public private partnership for National Air Traffic Services Ltd.[HL3969]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): The Government issued a consultation paper in October 1998 outlining our preferred option for a public private partnership (PPP) for NATS as set out in our White Paper on the future of transport. We are grateful to those organisations and individuals who responded to our consultation. Their views have been taken into consideration as part of the policy development process for this PPP.

NATS' operational strengths, and its safety record, are among the best in the world but it needs a wider range of management skills, and access to capital, to meet the challenges of the future, in particular the ever-increasing rise in traffic. The Government want to build on NATS' strengths, bring in new management skills such as project management expertise, improve aviation safety, secure long-term investment of £1 billion over 10 years, including completion of Swanwick and the New Scottish Centre, and retain public accountability in a strategic industry.

We have a number of principal objectives for the PPP. These are:

    to maintain and build upon the excellent record of aviation safety in the UK, which was reflected in the Select Committee's recent report;

    to ensure that NATS has adequate funding for investment and to provide it with the commercial freedom to develop its business within a robust framework of economic regulation; and

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    to maintain effective civil/military joint working of the national air traffic system for the benefit of all users and to accommodate national needs in crisis, war and emergency.

The Government are also keen to ensure that best value is obtained for the taxpayer, the NATS' employees should have the opportunity to acquire an interest in the undertaking in which they are employed and to which they have contributed so much, and to preserve the pension rights of both existing and retired employees.

The Government have concluded that NATS should be separated from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which will then become the independent, separate safety regulator of air traffic services. This separation will ensure that safety regulation and service provision are undertaken in separate organisations, as the Select Committee has recommended over many years. This will help to maintain and build on some of the most stringent safety standards in the world.

We intend to effect this new and innovative PPP through the introduction of a strategic partner who will acquire a controlling interest in NATS. The company will then become a New Partnership Company, structured to create a genuine partnership between the public and private sectors and involve the employees, airlines, and other stakeholders in a new Stakeholder Council. Subject to legislation, the PPP could be put in place by the end of the year 2000. Full details of our conclusions thus far are contained in the Government's report on the response to the public consultation, a copy of which has today been placed in the Library of the House.

Nicaragua and Honduras: Minister's Visit

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether there have been any developments in Nicaragua and Honduras following the recent visit by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for International Development.[HL3732]

Baroness Amos: The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development's visit to Nicaragua and Honduras from 5 to 9 July was focused on how the countries are recovering from the effects of Hurricane Mitch. He met President Flores in Honduras, and also had meetings with government officials and representatives of multilateral organisations and civil society.

This was the first visit to Nicaragua by a British Government Minister for several years. The Minister's programme included visits to the Department for International Development (DFID)--funded water supply projects administered by UNICEF; a visit to the Casita volcano, where a mudslide caused by Hurricane Mitch killed an estimated 2,000 people in October 1998; meetings with the Managua-based representatives of the Inter American Development Bank (IDB) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and with International and British aid organisations, NGOs

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and counterparts, and bilateral meetings with Eduardo Montealagre, Minister for External Relations, and with Martha McCoy, Minister of Health.

The meetings with the IDB and UNDP resident representatives were particularly useful in terms of understanding the priorities and concerns of both organisations and their ideas about areas in which DFID could provide support. The IDB confirmed that the Stockholm Consultative Group meeting had been a success for Nicaragua. The challenge now would be to process pledges of assistance efficiently and transparently.

The IDB also stressed the importance of foreign investment, especially in the agro-industrial sector, to generate employment, sustain growth and increase export revenue. It welcomed DfID's intention to work more closely with the multilateral organisations, specifically the CABILICA fund.

The IDB said it would particularly welcome UK support for the technical unit at the Presidency responsible for the design, monitoring and evaluation of post reconstruction projects.

The UNDP said that education would be a prime area for British assistance.

Nicaraguan Ministers welcomed UK interest in the health sector and sought increased investment from British companies, particularly in tourism and energy supply.

In Honduras the Minister saw post-hurricane reconstruction in Choluteca, Comayagua and Intibuca; a housing project run by CARE International, and a burgeoning micro-credit scheme associated with it; and many miles of restored and improved roads giving access to remote (but well-populated) regions which had been cut off by the hurricane.

President Flores was appreciative of UK help. He reiterated the need to make sure the large post-hurricane pledges of aid for Honduras were well spent. Like many others, he was concerned that EC aid, hampered by procedures in Brussels, would spend too slowly.

Development Minister Moises Starkman specifically asked for UK help in working up proposals for spending EC aid.

Last year the Minister made a preliminary assessment of DFID's regional assistance strategy. Following provisional agreement of the strategy last October, it was amended to allow for post-hurricane needs. DFID has worked since then on developing a programme which both responds to the need for reconstruction and fulfils its objective of working through multilateral organisations which are active in the region. Following his visit, the Minister's conclusions were:

    (i) UK-funded post-hurricane activity has been useful. There may be ways of building on specific projects (e.g. micro-credit in Honduras and road improvement schemes);

    (ii) given the large amount of additional money for the region post-hurricane, there is scope for the UK getting involved upstream in project development to help the multilateral organisations spend their money quickly and sensibly;

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    (iii) DFID should consider placing some UK-based staff in the region. The EC office in Managua would welcome UK attachments, to cover areas such as health or social development.

Law Society: Complaints Handling

Lord McCarthy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action has been taken to address the problems faced by the Law Society and the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors about the handling of complaints.[HL3905]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): The performance in the handling of complaints by the Law Society has been deteriorating to an unacceptable level. The Government have therefore amended the Access to Justice Bill to allow for a Legal Services Complaints Commissioner to be appointed. The Commissioner would oversee the handling of complaints by the legal professional bodies. I hope not to have to appoint a Commissioner, but will do so if the situation does not improve significantly.

I have written to Robert Sayer, the President of the Law Society, to set down the improvements in performance by the Law Society and the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors that could persuade the Government that it was unnecessary to introduce the Commissioner. I have arranged for copies of my letter to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Bodies Corporate: Execution of Deeds

Baroness Gould of Potternewton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect to make an announcement on Law Commission Report No. 253: The Execution of Deeds and Documents by or on Behalf of Bodies Corporate.[HL3907]

The Lord Chancellor: The Government accept the Law Commission's recommendations in Report No. 253: The Execution of Deeds and Documents by or on Behalf of Bodies Corporate and will legislate when parliamentary time allows.

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