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Written Answers

Tuesday, 13th February 2001.

Newbridge-on-Wye: Proposed BiomassPower Plant

Lord Moran asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton on 19 June 2000 (WA 9), whether the investigation into the allegations that have been made regarding the proposed biomass power plant at Newbridge-on-Wye has taken place; and, if so, whether the conclusions are available.[HL336]

The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): The Department of Trade and Industry has received some information on the allegations relating to the proposed biomass power plant at Newbridge-on-Wye. Further clarification is needed before the department can make a firm decision whether or not to proceed with an investigation. This clarification has now been sought.

ECGD: Claim Payments and Premium Income

Lord Shutt of Greetland asked Her Majesty's Government:

    For what reasons, in respect of defence related exports supported by the Export Credits Guarantee Department, was there a shortfall between claims paid (£789 million) and premiums paid (£213 million) for the year 1999-2000.[HL574]

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: The level of claims paid by ECGD in 1999-2000, both overall (£296 million) and in respect of defence business (£152 million), was largely affected by claims paid in respect of business with Indonesia insured earlier in the 1990s.

Payments from Indonesia are currently being received under the terms of Indonesia's Paris Club rescheduling and ECGD expects to recover in due course the claims which it is paying currently on Indonesia.

Premium income in 1999-2000 of £102 million (of which £27 million related to defence business) was in respect of new business supported in the year and not the business from earlier in the 1990s which was the subject of claims in 1999-2000.

Grant-awarding Research Councils: Quinquennial Review

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the Quinquennial Review of the six grant-awarding research councils will take place; and what the terms of reference for the review will be.[HL714]

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Lord Sainsbury of Turville: I am today launching the Quinquennial Review of the grant-awarding research councils.

Reviews of Non-Departmental Public Bodies (NDPBs) are a key part of our programme to modernise government. The Government are committed to achieving better public services that are of higher quality and are more responsive to the needs of the people who use them. Regular NDPB reviews are an important element in ensuring that we have in place the right structures to deliver the Government's agenda effectively and to provide a strong focus on improving future performance.

The purpose of the six grant-awarding councils is to deliver government policy for publicly funded research and postgraduate training. It would be impossible to conduct a fundamental review independently from that policy. For this reason, although quinquennial review of the six councils was due in 1999, it has been appropriate to postpone their quinquennial review until the outcome of the relevant policy reviews had been completed, so that the role of the councils could be considered in that context. Together the White Papers on Science and Innovation (Excellence and Opportunity; Cmd 4814) and the Knowledge Economy (Opportunity for All in a World of Change; Cm 2250) now provide the context for the review.

The terms of reference for the review of the research councils are:

    The review will consider the six grant awarding research councils individually and collectively.

    The review of the councils will be undertaken in two stages.

    The first stage will examine the role and organisation of the councils, by reference to their charters and missions, evidence of work already undertaken to review and improve performance, current best practice for NDPBs and the councils' contribution to the delivery of government policy for publicly funded scientific research and training in the context of the new White Paper. It will set the detailed terms of reference for the second stage.

    The second stage will examine the efficiency and effectiveness of the councils' operations. It will look for further opportunities for improving performance by reference to such issues as boundaries between the councils, management structures, aims and objectives, role of funded institutes, performance targets and service standards, use of processes and new technology, delegated authority and accountability and changes to the operating environment since the councils were awarded their Royal Charters in 1994, including the Modernising Government agenda.

    The review will consider, in particular, how the councils can best fulfil their strategic role in identifying the key areas for future investment in research that will offer the best opportunities for

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    science, social development, industrial application and economic growth.

    The review will be conducted in accordance with the current Cabinet Office guidance (published on 31 January 2000) and will include consultation, either in person or in writing, with members of council, staff of the executive and the councils' customers and key stakeholders. It is expected that a number of working groups will be established to address key issues in detail in the second stage.

    The review team will be directed by a review board which is chaired by the Director General of the Research Councils, Dr John Taylor, and with a membership which will include key representatives of both industry and academia drawn from the stakeholder communities. The review board will ensure that Ministers, the Treasury, the Cabinet Office, and the staff and customers of the councils are kept informed of the progress of the review and will facilitate the gathering of information for the review team and their communication with staff and other stakeholders.

The review team will be supported by officials in the Office of Science and Technology, with specialist advice as appropriate. The aim will be to complete the review within approximately six months, as recommended in the Cabinet Office guidance.

Self-determination Claims

Viscount Waverley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will list all the regions in the world where a claim to self-determination exists.[HL502]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): Article I of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article I of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provide that all peoples have the right of self-determination. This right has been claimed in many instances around the world. There is no agreed list of such claims.

Zimbabwe: Encouragement of Good Governance

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In the light of the recent bombing of the printing presses of the Daily News, Harare, what action they are taking to secure their foreign policy objectives of good governance and democracy in the particular context of Zimbabwe.[HL565]

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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We deplore the attack on the printing presses of the Daily News. We have, with our EU colleagues, issued a statement condemning the attack, and asserting that a free and independent press is a vital element in the maintenance of democratic values and respect for the rule of law in any country. We urge the Zimbabwean Government to do all it can to bring the culprits to justice.

Sudan: Cathedral Bombing

Lord Archer of Sandwell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What recent reports they have received concerning the aerial bombing of the Episcopal Church Cathedral in Lui, Equatorial Province of Sudan; and what representations they have made or are intending to make to the Sudanese authorities concerning the bombing of civilian centres such as the cathedral.[HL589]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We have received several reports from NGOs and church representatives regarding the aerial bombing of the Episcopal Church Cathedral in Lui in southern Sudan. Our Ambassador in Khartoum has made our concerns about the bombing of the cathedral, and other civilian targets, clear to the Sudanese authorities. We will continue to urge both sides in Sudan's civil war to return to the negotiating table and agree a comprehensive ceasefire.

Sudan: Abduction

Lord Archer of Sandwell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What representations have been made to encourage the "Committee for the Eradication of Abduction of Women and Children" set up by the Sudanese Government, in particular:

    (a) aiding it to examine the underlying causes of slavery; and

    (b) providing the means for independent investigators and human rights experts to work alongside the committee.[HL588]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Abduction is a key issue to which we pay particular attention in Sudan and we are active in our support of the Committee for the Eradication of the Abduction of Women and Children (CEAWC).

Through the EU, we have part financed the work of the CEAWC. Our Ambassador in Khartoum has visited the areas affected and has attended CEAWC workshops in Khartoum to urge all concerned to greater efforts and to demonstrate our concerns. Both UNICEF and Save the Children Fund (UK) are closely involved in efforts to resolve this distressing problem.

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