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30 Jul 2002 : Column WA161

Written Answers

Tuesday, 30th July 2002.

First World War Debt

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord McIntosh of Haringey on 17 July (WA 158–59) concerning First World War debt, what is the rate of interest for each amount stated; and what would the total amounts be today; and [HL5441]

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord McIntosh of Haringey on 17 July (WA 158–59) concerning the First World War debt, what are the nations which owe £2.269 billion; and how much each nation owes; and [HL5442]

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord McIntosh of Haringey on 17 July (WA 158–59) concerning First World War debt, what is the status of 4.368 billion dollars owed to the United States. [HL5443]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The United States proposed a one-year moratorium on all First World War debts in 1931, which allowed extensive international discussions on the general problems of debt repayment to be held. However no satisfactory agreement was reached and in the absence of such an agreement no payments have been made to, or received from, other nations since 1934.

Details of First World War debts due to the United Kingdom from other nations at the time of the moratorium can be found in the finance accounts of the United Kingdom for the financial year 1930–31 (HC 106).

The Answers to the further Questions can be obtained only at a disproportionate cost. The specific details of each loan would have to be located from the files (dating back more than 80 years) held at the Public Records Office.

Customs: Vehicle Seizure at Channel Ports

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many cross-Channel shoppers have had their cars seized by Customs officials on their return to United Kingdom ports in each of the last three years; how many of these vehicles were subsequently sold by Customs and Excise; how many were destroyed by the department's car-crushing machine in Dover; how many were the vehicles of disabled people; and what income the Treasury has derived from the sales of seized vehicles. [HL5502]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Customs action at the Channel ports, including vehicle seizure, is solely focused on tackling smugglers, not honest cross-Channel shoppers.

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The total number of vehicles seized for all Customs offences across the whole of the UK was 3,193 in the financial year 1997–98, 5,200 in 1999–2000 and 10,219 for the year 2000–01. Figures for 2001–02 will be published later this year together with the general assessment of progress against the tackling tobacco smuggling strategy.

Customs does not hold information centrally on the number of vehicles sold or destroyed or the income derived from the sale of seized vehicles.

Customs does not collate statistics on the number of vehicles seized from particular categories of driver.

Investment in Industry

Lord Higgins asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord McIntosh of Haringey on 22 July (WA 13), whether they accept that there is a difference between a correlation and a causal relationship; what evidence they have that there is a causal relationship between the change in ACT (advance corporation tax) made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer's first Budget and investment in industry; and what that relationship is.[HL5570]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The abolition of Advance Corporation Tax was part of a package of reforms that included the abolition of payable tax credits on dividends and cuts in Corporation Tax rates. It is inappropriate to consider any of these elements in isolation, but it is not unreasonable to assume that the reforms have had a significant impact in increasing total business investment, as detailed in my Written Anwer on 22 July (WA 13).

EU Financial Management: 5 Per Cent Error Rate

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What improvements there have been since the findings of the European Court of Auditors that 5 per cent of the total European Union budget could not be properly accounted for each year and that a further 5 per cent is not spent on the purposes for which the funds were appropriated. [HL5571]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The Court of Auditors, through its annual report and special reports, plays a vital part in improving financial management in the EU. Details of recent measures and actions taken to improve financial management in the EU, including commentary on the 5 per cent error rate, are set out in the White Paper on European Community Finances published in July 2002: Statement on the 2002 EC Budget and Measures to Counter Fraud and Financial Mismanagement, Cm 5547. Actions by both the Commission's anti-fraud body, OLAF, and by member states to reduce irregularities are detailed in the Commission's report: Protecting the Communities' financial interests and the fight against fraud (2001).

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The White Paper also sets out details on the introduction of activity based budgeting. This new budgeting system is designed to ensure that the allocation of EU funds is better linked to the pre-set political objectives and that the spending is properly monitored to ensure that the objectives are met. This should help to reduce waste as well as ensuring the moneys are spent for those activities for which they were appropriated.

Contingent Liabilities of Government

Lord Roberts of Conwy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will list those bodies, similar to Network Rail, whose borrowing is supported by the Government but is classified as a private sector borrowing, and indicate the extent of such borrowing in each case. [HL5579]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The standby credit facilities made available to Network Rail by the Strategic Rail Authority are unlikely to be drawn upon and have been reported to Parliament as a contingent liability. All outstanding contingent liabilities of government larger than £100,000, including those to private sector companies, are listed annually in the Supplementary Statements to the Consolidated Fund and National Loans Fund accounts.

Treasury Special Advisers

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will list the names, ages and university from which they first graduated, of the special advisers in HM Treasury. [HL5581]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Sir Richard Wilson wrote to the Public Administration Select Committee on 1 August 2000 describing government policy on disclosure of personal information such as age, career history and educational qualifications. Such information cannot be supplied as it is personal between the employer and employee.

A copy of Sir Richard's letter can be found in the Fourth Report from the Public Administration Select Committee for the 2000–01 Session HC 293, which is available from the Library of the House.

Legislation: Human Rights Act

Baroness Greengross asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they stand by the assurance in the preface to the Home Office published Study Guide to the Human Rights Act that the Act "is a form of higher law in the United Kingdom', that is, that it has primacy over any domestic legislation which may conflict with the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights which Britain had ratified in 1951". [HL5533]

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The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): The Human Rights Act provides that, so far as it is possible to do so, legislation must be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with the convention rights. This applies to all primary and secondary legislation whenever enacted. To that extent, the Human Rights Act may be described as a form of higher law.

However, the Human Rights Act provides that the validity, continuing operation or enforcement of primary legislation of the United Kingdom Parliament is unaffected by any incompatibility with the convention rights. In this way, the Act unequivocally preserves Parliament's ability to pass Bills that are or may be in conflict with the convention.

Laganside Courts, Belfast: Information Signs

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Baroness Scotland of Asthal on 24 July (WA 76) concerning languages used at Laganside Courts in Belfast, why they consider that English, Irish and Cantonese are languages which court users are likely to want to use. [HL5663]

The Lord Chancellor: English, Irish and Cantonese were selected for use in the talking information signs at Laganside Courts on the basis of anticipated demand by court users for this facility.

English is the first language used in Northern Ireland. The 1991 Census figures indicate that approximately 10 per cent of the population in Northern Ireland speak Irish. Information provided by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure suggests that the Chinese community in Northern Ireland is the next largest ethnic group likely to require this facility.

Khamisiyah Demolitions

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What response they will be making to the offer by Congressman Christopher Shays, the Chairman of the United States Congressional Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans Affairs and International Relations, to include British service men and women in the investigations now proceeding in the United States into the effects for troops exposed to the toxic plume created by the demolition of the Iraqi chemical weapons stored at Khamisiyah in Southern Iraq. [HL5159]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministery of Defence (Lord Bach): The Government's initial assessment of the implications for United Kingdom personnel of the Khamisiyah demolitions was published in December 1999 in a Ministry of Defence paper entitled: Review of events concerning 32 Field Hospital and the release of nerve agent arising from US demolition of Iraqi munitions at the

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Khamisiyah depot in March 1991. The paper is available in the Library of the House and on the internet at: The paper's main conclusion was that up to 9,000 UK troops might theoretically have been exposed to nerve agent following the demolitions but that the level of exposure would have no detectable effect on human health, either in the short or long term.

In April this year, the US DoD published the final version of its case narrative report on US demolition operations at Khamisiyah and a related technical report. Both reports are being analysed by Ministry of Defence officials. The implications for UK personnel will be made public when available, but at this stage there is no evidence to link the Khamisiyah demolitions with the range of symptoms of ill health being experienced by some UK Gulf veterans.

The Government are seeking clarification from Congressman Shays, through his office, of what work he had in mind when referring to UK personnel and the Khamisiyah demolitions during his visit to London last month.

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