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Written Answers

Tuesday, 29th April 2003.

Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission: Iraq Statement

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether Section 69(3)(b) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 permits the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to issue a statement criticising the United Kingdom Government in connection with the war in Iraq; whether they accept the view of the commission that the war in Iraq is a violation of international law; and whether public authorities are permitted to engage in such criticism.[HL2270]

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): Section 69(3)(b) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 states that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission shall advise the Secretary of State of legislative and other measures which ought to be taken to protect human rights on such occasions as the commission thinks appropriate. The Government are satisfied that, in providing advice on this matter, the commission has not gone beyond its remit. The legal basis for war in Iraq was set out in the Attorney-General's Written Answer of 17 March, col. WA3. This remains the Government's view.

The Government always consider and value advice from public bodies, such as the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, whether it is supportive or critical.

North/South Ministerial Council

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps have been taken to create a tri-lingual logo for the North/South Ministerial Council; and when such logo will be in place.[HL2327]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Administrations North and South agreed the current logo for the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) and the Joint Secretariat, with titles in English and Irish, in April 2001.

In July 2002 the Joint Secretariat was asked to consult with both administrations on a tri-lingual logo for the council and the secretariat. Work on a revised logo has been completed by officials and will be submitted to the two administrations following the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland.

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the affairs of the North/South Ministerial Council can be scrutinised by the Northern Ireland Ombudsman.[HL2328]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The North/South Ministerial Council is not subject to investigation by the Assembly Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.

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With the exception of those covered by Schedule 4 to the Ombudsman (Northern Ireland) Order 1996, the actions of the Northern Ireland departments, including those relating to the affairs of the North/South Ministerial Council, are subject to investigation by the ombudsman.

As provided for in Annex 2, Part 7, paragraph 5 of the agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of Ireland done on 8 March 1999, contained in Schedule 1 to the North/South Co-operation (Implementation Bodies) (Northern Ireland) Order 1999 and Article 8(1) of, and Schedule 2 to, the Ombudsman (Northern Ireland) Order 1996, the North/South Implementation Bodies are subject to investigations by the ombudsman.

Northern Ireland: Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the current purpose of the First Minister's and Deputy First Minister's office in Northern Ireland.[HL2357]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister is a fully functioning department of the Northern Ireland administration with a wide range of responsibilities. The strategic objectives of the department include supporting Ministers and the institutions of government; building a programme for government and modernising government programme; and promoting better community relations, a culture of equality and rights, and targeting social need and promoting social inclusion.

During suspension of the devolved institutions the staff who provide direct support and advice to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister have been redeployed to other duties. Otherwise the department continues to discharge functions which have been conferred on it by statute or added to by the Northern Ireland Assembly from time to time. In particular the department is concerned with economic policy issues such as the Reinvestment and Reform Initiative incorporating the Strategic Investment Board, rights and equality issues including the establishment of the Office of the Commissioner for Children and Young People as well as the promotion of modernisation and the development of electronic delivery of public services and information.

Waterways Ireland

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How much Waterways Ireland spent on entertainment and public relations in 2000, 2001 and 2002.[HL2358]

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Lord Williams of Mostyn: Details of Waterways Ireland's expenditure on entertainment and public relations are as follows:


Human Rights Act 1998: Local Authority Policies and Travelling People

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why over 40 per cent of local authorities have not reviewed their policies, and 65 per cent of those have not reviewed their travelling people policies, to ensure compliance with the Human Rights Act 1998, as shown in the recent study by the Cardiff Law School; and what steps they will take to ensure that local authorities do comply with the Act, particularly with regard to travelling people.[HL2431]

The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker): The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister does not have direct responsibility for ensuring that local authorities review their policies to comply with the Human Rights Act. However, the forthcoming joint ODPM/Home Office guidance on managing unauthorised camping will, among other things, remind local authorities of their duties under the Human Rights Act. A victim of an act of a public authority which is not in compliance with the Human Rights Act has a right to bring legal proceedings in connection with the breach.

FCO Focus Programme

Baroness Turner of Camden asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's review of its Focus Programme.[HL2565]

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My honourable friend, Mr Rammell, in his reply of 12 December to a question by my honourable friend Derek Wyatt, in another place (Official Report, col. 459W) concerning the FCO's IT systems, promised a further announcement on the FCO's Focus Programme.

We reviewed all the FCO's information and communications technology programmes earlier this year, in the light of the financial constraints we face. Given the relative low priority of the Focus Programme and a substantial increase in its estimated

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cost from £23.5 million of £42 million over six years (reflecting significant changes to the scope of the programme which involved a greater training requirement, enhanced security arrangements and, post-11 September, a considerable extra investment in back-up and disaster recovery), we decided to negotiate the cancellation of the contract for the Focus Programme. Agreement was reached with Fujitsu and the cancellation took effect from 31 March 2003.

At the point of cancellation, the FCO had spent in the region of £9.5 million on the Focus Programme. From this expenditure, we will retain a global electronic directory and a facility allowing on-line discussion groups to help cross-departmental team working. The directory will provide the FCO with savings estimated at £2.5 million over the next five years. We will also be using one of the software licences brought as part of the Focus Programme to develop a new FCO intranet. ral

EU Arms Embargo: Bosnia and Herzegovina

Baroness Turner of Camden asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether any goods subject to the EU arms embargo have recently been approved for export to Bosnia. [HL2566]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: In September 2002 the Government issued a licence for the export of military listed components for use by the Canadian contingent of the Stabilisation Force (SFOR). The components are for logistical purposes. They will be used for the specific purpose of repairing palletised load handling system vehicles used for transporting containers.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is subject to an EU arms embargo (imposed by Common Position 96/184/CFSP). The embargo was put in place mainly to ensure the safety of international troops and civilian personnel deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This decision does not affect the Government's continued support for the EU Common Position on arms exports to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The decision was made in accordance with our practice occasionally to make an exemption to our interpretation of the embargo by approving exports of non-lethal military goods to humanitarian, media or peacekeeping organisations where it is clear the embargo was not intended to prevent those exports and there is a strong humanitarian case for them.

Her Majesty's Government fully support the Canadian element of SFOR and recognise their legitimate need for the right tools and reliable vehicles to carry out their job effectively. The decision underlines HMG's continued support for the work being done by SFOR in maintaining security and development in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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