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Sexual Offences Bill: Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Williams of Mostyn: This is a matter for the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. The chief commissioner has been asked to write to the noble Lord. A copy of his letter will be placed in the Library.

Belfast Arms Find

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Williams of Mostyn: On 22 March 2003, as a result of a police operation, an AKM assault rifle and a large quantity of ammunition, along with other items, were discovered in Essex Street, Lower Ormeau Road, Belfast. A number of items have been sent for forensic examination and at this stage it is too early to provide details as to the origin and age of the weapons, timer power units and the other items seized. The police have stated that they believe the Provisional IRA was responsible. Two persons have been charged in connection with this incident and police inquiries are continuing.

Self-contained Air Cartridge System Air Guns

The Earl of Shrewsbury asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): We estimate that there are about 70,000 self-contained air cartridge weapons currently in circulation.

As indicated in the recent White Paper on tackling anti-social behaviour, these weapons are easily converted to take conventional ammunition and have become popular with criminals. In 2001–02 they were used in at least seven murders and 10 attempted

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murders. In the same period, the Forensic Science Service saw over 100 such weapons in connection with a range of offences.

We intend therefore to ban their import, sale, transfer and manufacture. Current owners will be able to keep their guns on licence and the question of compensating them does not therefore arise. I am considering the position in relation to United Kingdom dealers and manufacturers.

HM Land Registry Performance Targets

Lord Peston asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What key performance targets have been set for Her Majesty's Land Registry executive agency for 2003–04.[HL2368]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): The following list sets out the key performance targets that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has set for Her Majesty's Land Registry for 2003–04.

Her Majesty's Land Registry Key Performance Indicators and Targets 2003–04 1

Customer Service


Percentage of office copy and official search applications processed within two working days: 98 per cent.

Percentage of all registrations processed within 20 working days: 80 per cent.


Percentage of registrations processed free of any error: 98.5 per cent.

Overall Satisfaction 2 :

Percentage of customers who, overall, are very satisfied/satisfied with the full range of services provided by Land Registry: Better than 94 per cent.


Percentage return on average capital employed: 6 per cent.

Efficiency 3

Cost per unit in cash terms 4 (real terms) 5 : £29.08 (£22.17).


Start pilot implementation for e-Discharges.

Make all key Land Registry information services available over the Internet.

Critical Action Points:

Implement the Land Registration Act 2002.

Report to Ministers on proposals for e-conveyancing services and procurement strategy.

    1 More information on these and other key targets is published in the strategic and business plans.

    2 Results from YTD monthly mini satisfaction survey and Customer Service Survey 2002.

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    3 This is a milestone towards the HM Treasury-agreed cost per unit target for 2006–07 of £28.62 in cash terms (£20.27 in real terms).

    4 Based on the GDP deflator issued by HM Treasury on 23 December 2002 (base year 1992–93).

    5 The real term unit cost in the base year of 1992–93 was £30.65.

Game Licences

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    On what statistical basis they believe that if the price of a game licence had kept pace with inflation it would cost about £2,000 rather than £6.[HL2157]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): The Game Licences Act 1860 set the price of an annual licence to kill game at £3. The current price is £6. The average weekly earnings of regular full-time men farm workers increased from around £0.70 in 1860 to £367 in 2002. If the price of a licence to kill game had increased in line with farm workers' earnings since 1860 it would now be £1,600.

My earlier statement that the equivalent today would be about £2,000 had not properly allowed for the increase in the cost of the licence to £6 in 1968. I apologise to the noble Lord for the slight misunderstanding.

British Tourist Authority Offices Abroad

Lord Fearn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether any of the British Tourist Authority's offices abroad are to be closed this year; how many, if any, are planned to be opened in the next two years; and in which countries.[HL2202]

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Blackstone): VisitBritain (formerly the British Tourist Authority) has recently reviewed its operations in Germany and South America, which will result in some rationalisation following consultations with staff. Over the next two years VisitBritain plans to expand its activities into China, South Korea, Poland and Russia, but currently there are no plans to open offices in those countries or elsewhere.

United Nations Population Fund: China's Population Policy

Lord Elton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, following the decision of the United States Government that China's population policy amounts to a programme of coercive abortion and therefore to cease their funding of the United Nations Population Fund, whether they will now cease their funding of the United Nations Population Fund.[HL2281]

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Baroness Crawley: The Government increased their core contribution to the United Nations Population Fund in 2002 to £18 million to support the important work the fund is doing to improve the sexual and reproductive health of the poor. We will remain strong supporters of UNPFA.

Highway Schemes: Public Inquiries

Lord Hoyle asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How public inquiries into highway schemes will be handled in the future.[HL2361]

The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker): With the agreement of the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Transport, I wish to make an announcement concerning the Lord Chancellor's panel of independent inspectors. This follows informal consultations with relevant parties. From today I have asked the Planning Inspectorate Executive Agency to take on full responsibility for arranging for suitable inspectors to carry out public inquiries into proposed road schemes.

The Lord Chancellor has nominated inspectors for road scheme inquiries since acceptance of a recommendation in the 1978 White Paper on the handling of the 1970s roads programme. The Planning Inspectorate was established as an executive agency in 1992, bringing with it the high standards of impartiality, openness and fairness that are a hallmark of the work of the inspectors.

The Planning Inspectorate has established a deserved reputation for the independent and impartial way it conducts inquiries. That is rightly regarded as key to the process of public participation at inquiry stage, which the Government recognise and value. I therefore have every confidence in asking the agency to take on the task of arranging for suitable inspectors to carry out road inquiries. And that confidence will, I know, be shared by all holding an informed view of the process.

The Planning Inspectorate places great importance on employing inspectors with an appropriate range of technical skills. Over the last few years it has recruited as inspectors a number of highly qualified and experienced men and women. Their expertise now covers a wide area, including planning, the environment, architecture, engineering, housing and transport issues. Such high quality recruitment is a continuing feature of the agency's profile.

This change will provide greater flexibility for the Planning Inspectorate to manage resources more effectively, enabling it to deliver an enhanced service, while maintaining and improving quality.

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