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Written Answers

Thursday, 13th April 2000.

Racial Discrimination: International Convention Declaration

Baroness Whitaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many states have made a declaration under Article 14 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination so as to allow individual petition to the monitoring body set up by the treaty; and whether the United Kingdom will join them.[HL1858]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): Thirty states have made declarations under Article 14 of the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination concerning the competence of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to receive and consider communications from individuals or groups.

The Government have no present plans to give new rights of petition under any UN human rights treaty. This reflects the outcome of a thorough review of our obligations under international human rights treaties in March 1999. We will review the position again when the Human Rights Act 1998 has been implemented and is properly bedded down.

The Human Rights Act 1998, which gives direct effect in the UK to the obligations set out in the European Convention on Human Rights, will enter into force in England and Wales on 2 October 2000.

Zimbabwe: CMAG Mandate

Lord Moynihan asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in view of conditions in Zimbabwe, they will call for a review of the rules of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group regarding suspension from the Commonwealth.[HL1897]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) has a mandate from Heads of Government to deal with serious or persistent violations of the fundamental political values contained in the 1991 Harare Commonwealth Declaration. The Commonwealth High Level Group, set up under the chairmanship of President Mbeki of South Africa at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Durban in November 1999, will be considering whether, and if so how, CMAG's mandate should be expanded.

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Lord Moynihan asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group is the custodian of the Harare Principles.[HL1899]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) was established in 1995 in order to deal with serious or persistent violations of the fundamental political values contained in the Harare Commonwealth Declaration of 1991.

Lord Moynihan asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether membership of the Commonwealth implies the observation of the fundamental values expressed in the Harare Declaration, and in particular the values of democracy, human rights, the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and good governance.[HL1900]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: All Heads of Government of member countries at the time of the Harare Commonwealth Declaration in 1991 declared their commitment to the fundamental principles expressed in this declaration. In 1997, at the Edinburgh Heads of Government Meeting, it was agreed that prospective new members should comply with the Commonwealth values, principles and priorities as set out in the Harare Declaration.

Lord Moynihan asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What would constitute a serious and continuous violation of the Harare Declaration, worthy of demanding investigation by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, in the context of the farm policy in Zimbabwe.[HL1907]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: There is no agreed definition of a serious or persistent breach of the principles of the Harare Commonwealth Declaration. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) has hitherto confined its attention to countries where democratically elected civilian governments have been overthrown unconstitutionally. CMAG's task is to assess the nature of any infringement of the Harare Commonwealth Declaration which is brought to its attention. A decision to add a country to the agenda would, however, have to be taken by consensus by all the members of the group.

Intelligence Services Tribunal

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What arrangements have been made following the expiry of the terms of appointment of the members of the Intelligence Services Tribunal on 15 December 1999.[HL2050]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Lord Justice Mummery has been appointed as president of the tribunal for a period of five years, following his

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predecessor's acceptance of an appointment to the post of Intelligence Services Commissioner. Sheriff John McInnes has been re-appointed as vice-President of the tribunal and both he and Sir Richard Gaskell have been re-appointed to the tribunal for a further period of five years.

Lord Justice Simon Brown, formerly president of the Intelligence Services Tribunal, has accepted an appointment as the Intelligence Services Commissioner for a period of three years from 1 April 2000.

Chechen Refugees in Georgia

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many Chechen refugees are in Georgia; and whether the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is providing funds to meet their needs.[HL1886]

Baroness Amos: The United Nations' High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) calculates that by the beginning of April 2000, 7,000 people had fled from Chechnya into Georgia, of whom approximately two-thirds were Chechens. The UNHCR branch office in Georgia is providing emergency food and medical aid, as well as blankets and sleeping bags.

Asylum Support Service

Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What policy the National Asylum Support Service is following in relation to (a) the provision of toys for refugee children; and (b) the giving of change to asylum seekers when the purchase price of food is less than the value of a voucher.[HL1885]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): The new support system is intended to meet the essential living needs of destitute asylum seekers on a short-term basis until the determination of their asylum applications. Toys cannot be considered an essential living need and they have been excluded from being treated as such by the Asylum Support Regulations 2000. However, that does not prevent asylum seekers from using their vouchers and cash to purchase toys. Nor does it prevent accommodation providers or voluntary organisations from providing toys if they choose to do so.

Asylum seekers will be spending their vouchers in the knowledge that no change will be given. There is no reason why an asylum seeker should not be able to obtain the full value of his voucher allocation. The largest denomination voucher will be a £10 cash voucher, exchangeable for pounds sterling at a nominated post office. Each asylum seeker and each dependant will be issued one such £10 cash voucher per week. The other vouchers will be in denominations of £5, £1.50p and a further voucher to cover any odd

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pence in the designated level of support. Asylum seekers will be able to use a combination of their vouchers and cash to ensure that they do not lose out.

Government Departments: External Consultancy Costs

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord McIntosh of Haringey on 6th April, whether they are satisfied that no record is kept centrally of the value of external consultancy contracts entered into by the Government on a departmental basis.[HL1963]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: In collecting information at the centre, the Government seek to strike a proper balance between cost and advantage. The Office of Government Commerce is considering with departments the case for collecting more aggregate information on government procurement of goods and services.

DTI's Role

Lord Patten asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the purpose of the Department of Trade and Industry.[HL1782]

The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): The DTI is central to the Government's modernising agenda for the economy. A healthy business sector is vital to our standard of living as a nation, and the department has front-line responsibility for supporting British business and for much of the underlying framework for economic activity. Business must lead in the process of modernisation by responding to the spur of competition and exploiting market opportunities. The DTI's task is to help make the UK a more competitive and profitable base for business. It works to do this at home, in Europe and on the wider international stage.

Among the key elements of its work, the department is working to increase enterprise, innovation and the exploitation of science, to capitalise on the immense potential of electronic commerce and to help business to wire up to the digital market place. It provides help to small businesses to grow, to invest and to improve their skills. It supports economic growth in the regions working with the regional development agencies and others. It is empowering consumers and increasing protection from rogue traders taking forward the Government's energy policy and helping to ensure that business can find people with the skills it needs. The department also seeks to promote the highest standards of scientific excellence, to make the most of the advances made by science, engineering and technology, improving our quality of life, promoting sustainable growth and underpinning the UK's standard of living now and in the future.

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It works to create open, efficient and competitive markets which reward innovation and enterprise. It aims to provide a regulatory structure for business which promotes fairness and avoids unnecessary burdens on business. It is promoting a framework for employees and employers which promotes partnership and a skilled and flexible labour market.

The department's aim is to increase competitiveness and scientific excellence in order to generate higher levels of sustainable growth and productivity in a modern economy. The department's objectives, which support this aim, are to promote enterprise, innovation and increased productivity; to make the most of the UK's science, engineering and technology; to create strong and competitive markets; and to develop a fair and effective legal and regulatory framework.

The department is responsible for over £3 billion of public expenditure each year, around 50 per cent of it on the seven research councils which support science.

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