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20 Mar 2003 : Column WA39

Written Answers

Thursday, 20th March 2003.

Ulster Scots Language

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have any plans to bring the Ulster Scots language to stage three status of the Council of Europe's Charter for Minority Languages; and, if so, what is the timetable.[HL2075]

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): The Government have no specific plans in place at this time. However, achievement of Part III status was identified as a major project at the Ulster Scots Future Search Conference on 28–30 November 2002. Officials from the Northern Ireland Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure are engaged in discussions with representatives from the Ulster Scots community to agree how this should be progressed.

The achievement of Part III status of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages requires that a minimum of 35 out of 65 paragraphs or sub-paragraphs can be applied to a language. Developing the Ulster Scots language to that level will require a co-ordinated effort across a wide range of statutory and non-governmental organisations.

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the WEU Assembly:UK Delegation

Lord Dubs asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What changes have been made in the composition of the United Kingdom Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Assembly of the Western European Union.[HL2243]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Baroness Knight of Collingtree has been appointed a full member of the United Kingdom Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Assembly of Western European Union; the honourable Member for North Dorset (Mr Walter) has been appointed a substitute member.

China: Human Rights

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the United Nations will (a) appoint a special rapporteur to assess the human rights situation in Tibet; and (b) publish reports on conditions in labour camps in China.[HL1927]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): As far as we are aware, the UN has no plans to appoint

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a special rapporteur on Tibet; nor are we aware of any plans by the UN to publish reports on labour camps in China.

We continue to urge the Chinese to extend invitations to a range of special rapporteurs and would welcome it if Tibet could be included in their China itinerary. We raise our concerns about the human rights situation in Tibet with the Chinese at our biannual UK-China human rights dialogue.

Medical Research Council Facilities in the Gambia

Lord Turnberg asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the implications for United Kingdom relations with the Gambia of decisions to be taken by the Medical Research Council about its major unit in that country.[HL2101]

Baroness Amos: The MRC facilities in the Gambia provide valuable scientific research into many areas of tropical medicine and disease control. The Department for International Development contributes substantially to funding for the research facilities and the High Commission in Banjul keeps in close touch with the MRC director for the Gambia and his staff. The Government of the Gambia take a keen interest in the work of the facility which is an indication of the high esteem in which its scientific research is held.

During its recent review the MRC recognised the importance of MRC Gambia in providing high quality research aimed at reducing the mortality and morbidity in developing countries. Discussions are now underway to strengthen the relationship with the Government of the Gambia and other countries in West Africa, to build regional capacity, and to develop a research agenda relevant to local and international priorities. A partnership agreement between MRC and the Government of the Gambia is being developed.

Zimbabwe: President Mugabe's Honorary Knighthood

Lord Watson of Richmond asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will advise Her Majesty the Queen to withdraw the honorary knighthood conferred on President Mugabe.[HL2123]

Baroness Amos: This honour was conferred in 1994, by the previous government. Withdrawing it is not our immediate priority, although we may revisit the question in the future.

We are concentrating instead on feeding Zimbabwe's hungry and, with our EU, Commonwealth and US partners, are doing all we can to encourage the return of good governance, including respect for human rights and the rule of law.

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Iraq: Legality of Armed Force

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

    Whether the principles of international humanitarian law set forth in the Statute of the International Criminal Court would be binding upon the United Kingdom and its allies in the event of military action against Iraq; and, if not, which principles of international humanitarian law set forth in the statute would be inapplicable. [HL2054]

Baroness Amos: The Statute of the International Criminal Court sets out offences, including breaches of international humanitarian law, over which the court has jurisdiction under certain conditions. UK forces comply with the provisions of international humanitarian law in the conduct of any military operation. The USA and Iraq are not state parties to the ICC Statute.

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

    What are the principles of public international law that govern and prescribe the circumstances in which it would be lawful for the United Kingdom and its allies to launch military action against Iraq, and the manner in which such action should be taken. [HL2053]

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): Our view of the legal position on military action against Iraq was laid out in detail to the Foreign Affairs Committee and can be found in its 20 June 2002 report on the foreign policy aspects of the war against terrorism (

Southern Lebanon

Lord Turnberg asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the nature and extent of the build-up of arms, including short and medium range rockets, in southern Lebanon. [HL2102]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: We are aware of media reports, but are not in a position to verify the nature or extent of any arms build-up in South Lebanon. The UN Secretary-General reported to the Security Council on 14 January that "There were some improvements in, and new construction of, field fortifications by Hizbollah". Given tension in the region, we continue to urge all parties, including Hizbollah, to respect the UN Blue Line and refrain from actions which might inflame the situation.

Terrorism Threat: Information

Baroness Gould of Potternewton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will be issuing information to the public about the threat of terrorism.[HL2241]

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The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): When the Home Secretary spoke to the House of Commons about terrorism on 3 March 2003, he made clear that this country continues to face a significant threat from international terrorism.

In agreeing to renew Part Four of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, Parliament accepted that we need to continue to protect ourselves from those who recognise no legal procedures, no boundaries and no parameters in terms of the action they are prepared to take.

The terrorist threat remains real, and is serious. In the context of the present situation and concern that terrorists may seek to exploit the commencement of hostilities with Iraq by attempting attacks, I should assure the House and the public that we have taken and are taking every feasible precautionary measure to protect British citizens both here and abroad.

I must re-emphasise that if a warning is necessary to protect safety, we issue it—and will issue it—without hesitation; and we will give any further information that helps people respond effectively.

As the Home Secretary promised the House of Commons on 3 March, we have set up a dedicated website,, which went live on 18 March. That website provides a central point to publish advice and information from the security and intelligence services, on civil resiliance, and other material that departments publish. It gives advice to the public on what measures they can take to protect themselves and their families at home, at work and when preparing to go abroad. It provides information on the measures the Government are taking to protect British citizens and British interests, including information on departments and agencies, legislation, protecting our infrastructure, and resilience and contingency planning.

The Home Secretary further made it clear in a written statement on civil contingencies (available on the "reports and publications" section of the new website) laid before the House on the same day that we have taken important steps to improve our resilience and contingency planning to deal with terrorist attacks should they occur.

The emergency services now have more equipment and trained officers to enable them to respond to a release of CBRN material and this has been accompanied by the publication of specific protocols for dealing with this kind of attack. For example, under a £5 million programme, the Department of Health has provided 360 mobile decontamination units; the CBRN Police Training Centre has been established at Winterbourne Gunner and the police now have 2,350 officers trained and equipped in CBRN response. Since 11 September 2001 £96 million has been spent on CBRN medical countermeasures, including spending on extra vaccines and antibiotics.

We have also looked hard at local resilience and London resilience and taken steps at both these levels to review and improve capability through funding and personnel training. But we must continue to

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strengthen and improve our resilience as part of a long-term strategy to work with our partners and allies to remove the terrorist threat and the threat of fear from the United Kingdom and the international arena.

Many people will be aware that action taken in 1991 to detain large numbers of Iraqi citizens proved to be ineffective. We do not consider the action taken in 1991 to have been the most appropriate means to deal with the situation then and I do not intend to repeat it now. Now in 2003, we are aware of only a very small number of people in this country who may be sympathetic to the Iraqi regime. These individuals are being interviewed and we will continue to keep under close review any threats posed by them or others to our security. However, we have no current reason to intern or otherwise detain citizens of Iraq who are resident in this country, but I remain in close touch with the Security Service and the police over this and we will take whatever action is necessary to protect the public based on constant threat assessments.

Military action in Iraq should not—and will not—detract from our commitment to a multi-racial and diverse Britain—one which values the contribution made by each of our many diverse ethnic, cultural and faith communities. We want a truly dynamic society, in which people from different backgrounds can live and work together—while retaining their distinctive identities—in an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding. But we understand that military action in Iraq will have an impact on how some members of our society feel—not least in increasing insecurity.

We are therefore working with the police and other local agencies to ensure that tension levels within our communities are monitored on a daily basis. Within local areas agencies are working together—and with local communities—to provide reassurance and to ensure that there are arrangements in place to deal with any potentially difficult situations that might emerge. At this stage the assessments provided give us no reason to believe that there is a serious risk of a disturbance—but we are not complacent about this.

We have taken precautionary measures to deal with the events that we can anticipate. We cannot guarantee 100 per cent security but we are preparing for a range of eventualities. We are in a situation that can develop at speed and change at speed. We will keep all aspects of our planning under review and I undertake to keep Parliament and the British public informed of any significant developments.

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