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Written Answers

Tuesday, 8th February 2000.

Karen Refugees: Humanitarian Aid

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What assistance they have given to Karen refugees in Thailand in the last two years through the United Nations and other channels; and which other donors assist those refugees on a similar scale.[HL830]

Baroness Amos: The Department for International Development has given £537,500 over the last two years to the Burma Border Consortium, a group of NGOs which are the main providers of humanitarian assistance to the Karen refugees in Thailand. Other donors that have provided substantial assistance to these refugees include the Australian, Dutch, Swedish and Norwegian Governments and the European Union.

Poverty in Developing Countries

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they define the poorest group in a developing country to be targeted by international aid; what guidelines they give to the Department for International Development staff overseas on such target groups; and how often these are updated.[HL833]

Baroness Amos: The Department for International Development (DFID) recognises the multidimensional nature of poverty. These dimensions include income levels and assets, health, educational status and opportunity, political empowerment, and security. The International Development Targets (IDTs) set out in the 1997 White Paper on International Development go some way toward capturing all these aspects, and form the centrepiece of this Government's policy towards poverty elimination.

While the IDTs provide a useful focus, country level interventions need to be based on a detailed undertstanding of the particular situation facing the poor in each country. For DFID these interventions are outlined in its Country Strategy Papers. However, even with the best analysis and targeting, reaching the poorest in any community is always a major challenge.

DFID is developing and strengthening the existing guidance and training for all their staff--in the UK and overseas--to help ensure that poverty elimination remains at the centre of all the department's activities. In particular the guidance and training will:

    introduce staff to the dimensions of poverty in developing countries;

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    assist staff to understand and diagnose the key factors influencing poverty;

    help staff use the diagnosis to develop appropriate targeted country strategies.

We are planning to make enhanced guidance and training available to DFID staff this year. This will be updated on an ongoing basis.

Bonded Labourers

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In which developing countries bonded labourers are listed by the Department for International Development among the poorest groups, and to what extent they are being targeted by development assistance such as micro-credit and income generation schemes.[HL834]

Baroness Amos: The Department for International Development (DFID) does not keep lists of the poorest groups or lists of developing countries in which bonded labourers are amongst the poorest groups. Bonded labour exists, in many guises, in many countries, despite international conventions and national laws which clearly identify bonded labour as a contravention of human rights. Marginalisation and poverty are key factors which help to maintain this practice.

The elimination of poverty and fulfilment of human rights for all are comprehensively linked. We are supporting many activities which encourage governments actively to uphold human rights and to develop policies for trade and economic investment which encourage wide based growth and reduce social marginalisation and inequality. We are also supporting advocacy and action by civil society organisations and encouraging socially responsible business practices within the private sector.

In some instances, the availability of micro-credit and other income generating schemes can offer poor people a viable alternative to bonded labour. DFID supports micro-finance and income-generation projects for poor groups all over the developing world, particularly in East, Central and Southern Africa, and South Asia. Services such as savings and micro-credit for income generation are delivered through some form of private, community-based institution, which is itself typically supported by a larger organisation such as a bank, a credit co-operative or an NGO. For these support institutions to develop and to be effective, a minimum level of social organisation is required amongst the savers and borrowers. However, where bonded labour relations exist, vested interests that control that labour will usually obstruct any form of social organisation, especially by external institutions. This situation can severely inhibit the successful extension of effective micro-credit institutions to bonded labourers.

To date, no DFID micro-finance projects have explicitly targeted bonded labourers. However, DFID has delivered credit services to very poor communities

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that include bonded labourers. For example, in India, the DFID/CARE International Credit and Savings for Household Enterprises (CASHE) project in Andrha Pradesh includes many bonded labourers. In Western and Southern Orissa, where bonded labour is prevalent amongst tribal people, micro-finance is one among several interventions DFID is supporting to increase the security and range of livelihoods available to poor rural people.

Criminal Justice System in Northern Ireland: Review

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

    Whether they intend to publish the report of the Review of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.[HL885]

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I can confirm that the Government intend to publish the report of the Review of the Criminal Justice System in Northern Ireland.

Marine Environmental High Risk Areas: Report

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to issue for consultation the report commissioned from Dovre Safetec on Marine Environmental High Risk Areas; and which bodies they will consult.[HL916]

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston): We will publish the report very shortly. We will consult anybody who has an interest, including maritime, environmental and coastal interests.

RAF Personnel Premature Voluntary Retirement

Lord Swinfen asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many members of the Royal Air Force had applied for Premature Voluntary Retirement at 1 January or the nearest convenient date.[HL685]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): On 1 January 2000 there were 1,561 members of the Royal Air Force who had applied for Premature Voluntary Retirement.

Depleted Uranium Anti-tank Ammunition

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have considered withdrawing depleted uranium anti-tank ammunition.[HL821]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: We have no plans to remove depleted uranium based anti-tank ammunition from service.

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Depleted Uranium and Gulf War Illnesses

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in the absence of clinical indications, they will test a sample of Gulf veterans for presence of depleted uranium (DU) in order to eliminate it as a cause of Gulf War illness and to restore confidence in DU ammunition.[HL822]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The Ministry of Defence is well aware of the suggested link between exposure to DU and the illnesses being experienced by some Gulf veterans. However, this is only one of a number of factors which have been suggested as causes of Gulf veterans' illnesses and, pending further medical and scientific evidence, the Ministry of Defence is keeping an open mind.

The Ministry of Defence is aware of DU testing work involving UK Gulf veterans that has been undertaken in Canada which has led to some veterans being told that they are excreting unusually high levels of DU. The Ministry of Defence still has not seen any robust scientific data justifying this claim. Recognising that this has caused veterans some concern, however, the MoD has offered to arrange independent DU testing for those UK veterans who had their urine tested for DU in Canada. A draft protocol under which this would take place is currently being considered by veterans' representatives. I should add that this new initiative must not be taken as an indication that the Ministry of Defence believes veterans do have high levels of DU in their bodies. Rather it is something the Ministry of Defence would like to do so that we can move forward from a firm scientific basis. This initiative is in addition to our policy which has been in place since March 1999 whereby Gulf veterans referred to the Ministry of Defence's Medical Assessment Programme will be tested for uranium where clinically appropriate.

New Millennium Experience Company: Chief Executive

Lord Hoyle asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether there has been a change of Chief Executive at the New Millennium Experience Company.[HL929]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): Yes. Jennie Page has resigned as Chief Executive of NMEC. The NMEC Board have appointed Pierre-Yves Gerbeau to succeed her. He took up his post yesterday. A copy of the Press Notice has been placed in the Libraries. Jennie Page has done a sterling job seeing the Millennium Dome through from its inception to opening, on time and on budget, on 31 December. The scale of this achievement should not be underestimated. However, it is the view of the NMEC Board, supported by the Shareholder on behalf of the Government, that a different approach and different skills are now needed to manage the project successfully during its year of operation.

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