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The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): The current Government's spending priorities throughtout the United Kingdom were determined in the 1998 Comprehensive Spending Review. At the conculsion of the Review, Northern Ireland Office Ministers decided, when allocating resources in Northern Ireland, to give top priority to health, education and law and order services. Spending priorities for the three years from 2001/2002 will be a matter for the Executive Committee to consider in the current Spending Review 2000 exercise.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My honourable friend the Minister of State at the Home Office, Mr Clarke, received 60 replies to the consultation exercise. Many respondents did not comment directly on the need for action and just under half (27) specifically stated there was a problem which needed
No single straightforward solution emerged from the consultation responses, although there was strong support both for call barring and for a new criminal offence. We accept that action should be taken on both these fronts together.
On the new criminal offence, respondents to the consultation exercise expressed differing views on how an effective new criminal offence could be formulated. They highlighted the need for the new offence to fit coherently into controls and regulatory schemes already in place. My honourable friend, the Minister of State for the Home Office, Mr Clarke, has therefore asked his officials to meet local authorities, OFTEL, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and other agencies to draw up final proposals with a view to legislating when parliamentary time allows.
In taking this action, my honourable friend the Minister of State at the Home Office, Mr Clarke, has looked carefully at whether effective measures against prostitutes' cards could lead to an increase in street prostitution, and whether, if so, the cards should be seen as the lesser affront. He raised this issue specifically as part of the consultation. However, the responses as a whole did not suggest this was a major concern. It was noted that street prostitution had not decreased with the advent of carding. Moreover, the number of prostitutes advertising in this way in London was estimated at between 250-400, but the number of cards produced was 13 million per year. Prostitutes outside London and Brighton do not normally have recourse to this particularly offensive form of advertising, although we are aware of small scale use of this form of advertising in a few other areas. My honourable friend the Minister of State at the Home Office, Mr Clarke, has therefore concluded that action against carding is justified and is very unlikely to be counter productive.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am delighted that Her Majesty the Queen has consented to an extension of the appointment of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, until July 2001. Sir David has made a great contribution to our shared goal of ensuring that prisoners are held securely in safe, decent and healthy establishments. I am pleased that he will continue in his role beyond the expiry date of his original appointment.
Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Probation, Sir Graham Smith, also retires close to the end of July 2001. Aligning the dates when both posts will be vacant gives the Government flexibility in considering how best to ensure that the arrangements for inspection of prisons and the Probation Service best support closer working between the services as well as ensuring that the individual services continue to be inspected rigorously and independently as they have been. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary will be making a further statement to Parliament on this in due course.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: The usual ceremony at the Cenotaph will be held on Remembrance Sunday. The Royal British Legion has made proposals which will allow other relevant groups and individuals who have not in the past taken part in the march-past at the conclusion of the official ceremony to do so. I welcome these proposals, which the Royal British Legion are now taking forward. Interested parties will be able to apply through the Royal British Legion.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): The Gaza EU Hospital is expected to open for its first outpatient on 15 July 2000 and its first inpatient on 15 October 2000. The hospital plans to be fully operational by 15 January 2001. The European Commission and the Palestinian Authority are working together to enable the EU hospital to open on time.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Her Majesty's Government have adopted a policy of critical engagementthe pursuit of political dialogue wherever it can produce benefits. Her Majesty's Government therefore promote human rights through dialogue wherever and whenever we can. The nature of that dialogue varies according to the circumstances. In some cases we have a formally structured dialogue (such as that held with China). We hold regular discussions on human rights issues with the majority of countries in the world. Where we have human rights concerns, we will take every realistic and responsible step to pursue them.
The UK does not pursue a policy of sanctions against states solely because they will not engage in a dialogue on human rights. However, the UK is currently implementing sanctions, under UN, EU and national regimes, against a number of states whose human rights performance we consider to be unsatisfactory.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: In proceeding with our programme to help create new, democratically accountable Sierra Leone Armed Forces, we sought and secured in March 1999 an assurance from President Kabbah that children would not be used by the Sierra Leone Armed Forces or the Civil Defence Forces.
President Kabbah has reaffirmed his commitment to these assurances. The Government of Sierra Leone has issued an order for all those under the age of 18 fighting on its sides to be immediately withdrawn from military service, demobilised and reintegrated into civilian life.