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25 Feb 2003 : Column WA11

Written Answers

Tuesday, 25th February 2003.


Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are supporting the Sudanese memorandum of understanding signed on 6 February; if so, by what methods; and whether they will encourage the monitors of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development and United States peace process to work towards reconciliation between the Dinka and Nuer tribes to prevent further ceasefire violations.[HL1713]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): We do support the addendum to memorandum of understanding (MoU) on cessation of hostilities signed on 4 February between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). The addendum aims to strengthen the MoU which was signed at Machakos on 15 October 2002 and extended on 18 November 2002. It contains many new and welcome initiatives to build confidence between the parties and make more unlikely the sorts of outbreaks of fighting which we have seen recently in Western Upper Nile.

We also welcome the establishment of the new verification and monitoring team (VMT). We are ready to contribute both personnel and funds to support its important work.

The VMT will investigate alleged violations of the MoU by the Government of Sudan and the SPLM/A. The VMT will report to the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) MoU Committee chaired by the Kenyan special envoy, Lt-General Sumbeiywo.

The Sudan peace talks are facilitated by IGAD. The US, alongside the UK, Norway and Italy has observer status at the talks.

Zimbabwe: Cricket

Lord Blaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

    On what date they first advised (a) the England and Wales Cricket Board and (b) the Professional Cricketers' Association about the undesirability of the England cricket team playing a test match in Zimbabwe in the course of the current cricket World Cup series.[HL1734]

Baroness Amos: Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials first discussed Zimbabwe in relation to the Cricket World Cup with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) at a meeting on 5 July 2002. A minute recording this meeting has been placed in the Library of the House. FCO and DCMS Ministers and officials met the ECB and the Professional Cricketers'

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Association on 9 January 2003. They reiterated the Government's position on the England cricket team playing in Zimbabwe at the current time.

Treasury Counsel

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

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Chancellor on 10 February (WA 76), whether the Lord Chancellor participates either directly or indirectly with the appointment of Treasury Counsel.[HL1635]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney-General is responsible for appointing Treasury Counsel. In doing so, he may consult widely and his consultations could extend to the Lord Chancellor if he so chose.

Ram Doctrine

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

    Whether they consider it to be in accordance with contemporary principles of British parliamentary democracy for legislation to be necessary (in a political, if not a legal sense) to authorise an extension of Ministers' powers; and, if not, why not; and[HL1275]

    Further to the Written Answer by Baroness Scotland of Asthal on 22 January (WA 98), whether reliance on the so-called Ram doctrine is compatible with a modern system of public law, including the principles of legality and legal certainty; and, if so, how; and[HL1302]

    In what circumstances and upon how many occasions during the past five years Ministers of the Crown and their departments have relied upon the Ram doctrine as the legal basis for the exercise of their public powers; and[HL1598]

    What were the circumstances that gave rise to the Ram doctrine.[HL1599]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): The Ram doctrine reflects a well-established principle of constitutional law. Like many other persons, Ministers and their departments have common law powers which derive from the Crown's status as a corporation sole. Ministers and their departments also exercise prerogative powers of the Crown. Common law and prerogative powers may be limited by statute either expressly or by necessary implication and in this respect are subject to direct parliamentary control. The courts have recognised the legitimacy of these principles.

Whether legislation is necessary or appropriate to authorise government actions depends on the circumstances and the matters in issue. Sometimes it

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will be clear that legislation is needed, for example, when the proposed action might substantially interfere with human rights. In such cases a clear and reasonably accessible legal framework is required in order to comply with human rights law. At other times, the legal necessity for legislation will not be clear, in which case a political as well as a legal judgment has to be made as to whether legislation is desirable. Such a judgment may take into account a number of factors, including whether the proposed action is a priority and whether authorising that action by legislating represents a good use of Parliamentary time.

The principles governing the use of the annual Appropriation Act to provide authority for the exercise of functions by government departments where such functions may involve financial liabilities extending beyond a year are stated in the Public Accounts Committee Concordant, 1932 (see Annex 2.1 of Government Accounting 2000).

During the past five years, as in previous periods, the common law powers of the Crown have often been relied upon as the legal basis for government action. Common law powers form the basis of such governmental actions as entering into contracts, employing staff, conveying property and other management functions not provided for by statute either expressly or by implication. To require parliamentary authority for every exercise of the common law powers exercisable by the Crown either would impose upon Parliament an impossible burden or produce legislation in terms that simply reproduced the common law.

Finally, the circumstances that gave rise to the Ram doctrine are that the Ram opinion (the text of which was made available when an earlier Question [HL595] was answered on 22 January 2003) was given when the Ministers of the Crown (Transfer of Functions) Bill was being considered. This Bill later became the Ministers of the Crown (Transfer of Functions) Act 1946. The opinion addresses the need for legislation to confer power to add new functions to exisiting government departments by order. At that time Ministers were considering machinery of government changes following the Second World War.

Equality Legislation

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

    Whether work being undertaken by them in Northern Ireland in preparing a single equality Bill is to be matched by similar work in Great Britain.[HL1597]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: No. Equality legislation is devolved to Northern Ireland and the decision to move towards a single equality Bill was made by Ministers of the Northern Ireland Executive in light of the particular history and circumstances there.

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With the current suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Northern Ireland Ministers agree that the work should progress so that on their return local Ministers will have fuller information upon which to base their future decisions on the issue.

In Great Britain the circumstances are different. Work is under way to take forward the Government's full agenda of action on equality matters, including targeted legislation.

Corporation Tax Reforms

Lord Patten asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How much money they have raised from 1997 to date from the levying of tax on dividends flowing into pension funds.[HL1648]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The Government's package of corporation tax reforms included measures to boost corporate investment by removing tax distortions. The withdrawal of payable tax credits on dividends was just one part of these measures. Pension funds and others will share in the long-term benefits from these changes to corporation tax.

The outturn effect on tax receipts of these changes will depend on a variety of factors, including pension schemes' asset allocation and investment policies, as well as investment returns generally.

Krebs Tuberculosis Trials

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What extra resources have been made available in both human and financial terms to catch up with the Krebs tuberculosis trials since the foot and mouth disease outbreak in 2001.[HL1537]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): Field work associated with the Krebs badger culling trial was suspended during the foot and mouth disease outbreak as a disease control measure. Normal field operations resumed fully during 2002. An additional £300,000 was made available to the Central Science Laboratory (CSL) (£50,000 to provide additional manpower during the busiest part of the year and £250,000 for additional survey work). £900,000 was made available for replacement traps etc.

During 2002–03 an additional £3 million has been made available to the State Veterinary Service (SVS) to recruit staff to help clear the backlog of overdue TB tests and to cope with the increase in numbers of TB breakdowns. Local veterinary inspectors who carry out much of the routine and backlog TB testing have significantly stepped up their work on behalf of Defra, resulting in an increased spend in this area as well. Veterinary Laboratories Agency costs associated with laboratory diagnosis of bovine TB have also been increased substantially. It is not possible to identify separately the proportion of these additional resources which were directed to badger culling trial areas.

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In addition, new contracts were placed with the CSL to collect badgers killed in road traffic accidents at a cost of £90,000 and with ADAS to work on TB99 questionnaires at a cost of £150,000.

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