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Written Answers

Thursday, 1st May 2003.

Waterways Ireland

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What capital work is currently underway for Waterways Ireland; when contracts were sought; on what basis they were awarded and to whom; what are the related costs; and when the work will be completed.[HL2522]

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): Waterways Ireland is currently carrying out a number of capital projects by direct labour. Works include dredging, bank protection, access, landscaping and the provision of additional jetties and moorings. No external firms are employed as main contractors on these projects.

In addition two major supply contracts were awarded as follows: Supply and Installation of five floating jetties on the Lower Bann; Contract sought: 18 December 2002 Tender Price: £147,784 Supply and Installation of 180m floating moorings at Shannonbridge, Co Offaly. Contract sought: 31 May 2002 Tender Price: E81,000 Both contracts were awarded to: Inland & Coastal Marina Systems Ltd, Banagher, County Offaly on the basis of meeting the specifications, being deemed to be suitable and being the lowest tenders. Related costs: During the course of a capital project many small supply contracts are awarded for materials such as timber, concrete, sand, gravel and the hire of plant and machinery, as required. Completion date: Both contracts are scheduled to be completed by December 2003.

Northern Ireland Departments: Spending

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the projected underspend for each Northern Ireland Department for the year 2002–03.[HL2387]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Information on the extent of any underspend for the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland Administration for the year 2002–03 will not be available until May 2003 and June 2003 respectively.

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I shall write to the noble Lord as soon as this information is available and will ensure that a copy is placed in the Library of the House.

Self-Contained Air Cartridge System Air Guns

The Earl of Shrewsbury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they intend to trace all the current owners of self-contained air cartridge system air guns in the event of Parliament prohibiting the import, sale, transfer and manufacture of such weapons, whilst allowing the retention under licence by current owners.[HL2556]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): It will be the responsibility of existing owners to apply for a licence if they wish to retain their firearm. Anybody who is subsequently found to be in possession of an unlicensed gun will be liable to prosecution. We are proposing to introduce a minimum sentence of five years for possessing a prohibited firearm.

The Earl of Shrewsbury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many of the estimated 70,000 current owners of self-contained air cartridge system air guns they envisage will apply for licences following prohibition.[HL2557]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: It is envisaged that existing owners will be able to either dispose of their gun before any ban takes effect or apply for a licence for it. No estimate has been made as to how many will choose each option.

Immigration Control: Algerian Nationals

Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What new measures are being proposed in respect of immigration control for the UK.[HL2671]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The Government are firmly committed to maintaining effective immigration controls while at the same time ensuring that genuine passengers are able to pass through our ports with the least possible inconvenience.

The number of Algerian nationals arriving at UK airports who are found to be inadmissible is unacceptably high. Although Algerian nationals must obtain a visa to enter the UK they may, in common with other nationalities, transit this country for up to 24 hours without a visa. However, this is a concession open to abuse by those who are intent on circumventing our immigration controls. A significant number of Algerian nationals who do not qualify for leave to enter or remain in the UK go on to make unfounded asylum claims, some 1,060 in 2002. Therefore from 00.01 hours on Friday, 2 May all

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Algerian nationals wishing to transit the UK will require a direct airside transit visa to do so.

To avoid undue hardship for those who had already made their travel plans, we have agreed to operate a grace period. Until 23.59 hours on 6 May any transit passenger who bought their ticket on or before 1 May will not be refused transit solely on the basis of not holding a valid transit visa. Also, any person on the return leg of a journey they commenced before 1 May and who passed through the UK on the outward leg of their journey will be allowed to transit the UK without a visa.


Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they can explain why the number of United Kingdom passports reported stolen, lost or unavailable increased from 31,497 in 1998 to 114,624 in 2000 and to 166,358 in 2002; and whether they will give the comparable number for the first three months of 2003.[HL2476]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Filkin): It is our view, subject to the results of ongoing work, that there are a number of factors which have contributed to the increase in the recorded figures for passports lost, stolen or unavailable since 1998. Key among these are likely to be an increase in identity fraud and an increase in the number of reports being made to and recorded by the United Kingdom Passport Service.

As recognised by the Cabinet Office Identity Fraud: A study published in July 2002, identity fraud is a serious and growing problem for the UK and it is possible that this has contributed to the increase in passports being reported as lost and stolen. However, there is no evidence currently available which could establish the degree to which the increase in identity fraud has resulted in the increase in reports of lost and stolen passports.

Both the United Kingdom Passport Service and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) have undertaken campaigns in recent years to encourage members of the public to report the loss or theft of passports. These campaigns will also have contributed to increased reporting and will be reflected in the figures we have given.

Furthermore, the current passport issuing system, which was installed in UK passport offices between October 1998 and November 2001, provides for a more consistent and structured way of recording reports of losses than was available on the previous system. This provides figures which more accurately reflect the true extent of reported losses.

The UK Passport Service is far from complacent about the large number of passports, which become separated from their rightful bearer. Instances of forgery and manipulation of the UK passport are kept under constant review as are the security features in the passport book itself. The current digital passport has

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a number of very advanced security features which makes it extremely difficult to alter or replace the genuine details.

The number of passports reported stolen, lost or unavailable in the first quarter of 2003 was 46,273.

Social Security (Incapacity Benefit) (Her Majesty's Forces) (Amendment) Regulations 2003

Lord Randall of St Budeaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to amend the Social Security (Incapacity Benefit) (Her Majesty's Forces) (Amendment) Regulations 2003.[HL2672]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My honourable friend the Minister for Veterans (Dr Moonie) confirmed that on 14 April 2003 in another place the Department for Work and Pensions laid before the House the Social Security (Incapacity Benefit) (Her Majesty's Forces) (Amendment) Regulations 2003. The regulations provide that people discharged from the Armed Forces may in future count days of absence from duty on health grounds while in service towards the higher rates of incapacity benefit.

For many years there have been special pay arrangements in place for members of the Armed Forces which recognise their unique position. Veterans with continuing health problems are able to make a claim for incapacity benefit immediately on discharge. However, until now, they were required to be in receipt of incapacity benefit for 28 weeks before qualifying for the higher rates. The new regulations, which take effect from 5 May, bring ex-members of the forces into line with civilian claimants who have been in receipt of statutory sick pay.

We are grateful to DWP Ministers for making this change, which serves as an illustration of the power of the Veterans Initiative launched by the Prime Minister with the aim of joining up the Government's response to veterans' concerns. We would also like to pay tribute to ex-service organisations such as South Atlantic Medal Association (82), who first brought this matter to my attention, for the valuable work they do in the interests of ex-servicemen and women and their dependants.

European Convention on Human Rights: Breaches

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

    Whether they will introduce legislation authorising United Kingdom courts to give direct effect to decisions of the European Court of Human Rights finding breaches by the United Kingdom of the European Convention on Human Rights; and if not, why not.[HL2497]

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The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): The Government are bound by Article 46 of the European Convention on Human Rights to abide by any judgment of the European Court of Human Rights to which the United Kingdom is a party. Under Section 10(2) of the Human Rights Act 1998 if, after a finding of the European Court of Human Rights, it appears to a Minister that a provision of United Kingdom legislation is incompatible with the convention, then the Minister may make such amendments to the legislation as is considered necessary to remove the incompatibility. We see no reason to amend the arrangements made so recently by Parliament.

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