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28 Jan 2009 : Column WA43

Written Answers

Wednesday 28 January 2009

Afghanistan

Questions

Asked by The Earl of Sandwich

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): Risk management has been an important aspect of the development of the Afghan Social Outreach Program (ASOP), and a process which the UK has been involved in. Non-military risks and benefits have been identified, including the need to have close co-ordination with other government ministries to avoid overlaps. The community councils established under ASOP are designed to fill a hole in local governance left after the postponement of district council elections scheduled to take place in 2005. It is intended that community councils will cease to exist once democratically elected district councils are established in 2010. In insecure areas, ASOP forms a significant step toward improvements in local governance, by offering communities a means to present priorities and concerns to government. Rural development projects will not be adversely affected by ASOP councils, as these offer a single forum for prioritisation and co-ordination.

Asked by Lord Dykes

Lord Malloch-Brown: It is vital to the UK that Afghanistan once more becomes a stable and secure state, able to suppress violent extremism within its borders therefore contributing to wider regional security. Britain's own security is at risk if we allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorists.

UK forces, along with 41 other contributing nations, are in Afghanistan at the invitation of the democratically elected Afghan Government, with the support of the vast majority of Afghans and at the request of the United Nations. The reason we are there is to establish the right security environment in which accountable and effective institutions can develop and where Afghan-led reconstruction and development can be established.

Our Armed Forces in Afghanistan consistently perform their duties with bravery, commitment and professionalism. They have a difficult job to do and the progress they have made is a credit to their proficiency and dedication. However, that progress has come at a high cost, including loss of life. Every military casualty is a tragedy and our condolences go to the families of

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the men and women killed in Afghanistan. We have no illusions about the challenges posed by those who oppose central government rule. But we have the right strategy for delivering success, and members of our Armed Forces are resolute in doing what their country asks of them.

Afghanistan: Air Power

Question

Asked by The Earl of Sandwich

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): The UK works constantly to improve co-operation between international forces, Afghan national security forces (ANSF) and the Government of Afghanistan. We do not agree that the formal arrangements need revision, but endorse fully the requirement to improve co-operation and co-ordination between the ANSF and international forces. In December 2008, Commander ISAF, General David McKiernan, issued a new tactical directive on respect for Afghan culture, specifically house searches, during military operations. This directive has been widely welcomed by the international community and represents a further significant step by ISAF in its efforts to minimise the impact of its operations on ordinary Afghans.

Agriculture: Incineration

Question

Asked by Lord Taylor of Holbeach

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): Local authorities regulate few incinerators. When individual authorities do so, they have discretion in the way they determine applications, provided they comply with all the legislative requirements and have regard to any relevant statutory guidance.

Statutory guidance to local authorities on handling applications for all installations they regulate under the Environmental Permitting Regulations is contained in the General Guidance Manual on Policy and Procedures for A2 and B Installations, published on Defra's website.



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Local authorities regulating animal carcase incinerators under the same integrated pollution prevention and control regime enforced by the Environment Agency must also have regard to Defra guidance note SG10, Animal Carcase Incineration with Capacity of Less Than 1 Tonne Per Hour, which specifies pollution control standards. Other smaller incinerators are regulated by local authorities only to control air emissions, and separate guidance on standards is also published for these.

Armed Forces: Aircraft

Question

Asked by Lord Lee of Trafford

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): The acceptance process for the Hawk T2 (128) has recently commenced and delivery of the first aircraft is expected shortly.

The current estimate, based on BAE Systems' production plan, is that 22 aircraft will be delivered in 2009 and six in 2010.

The in-service date of the aircraft is November 2009.

Armed Forces: HMS “Endurance”

Question

Asked by Lord Astor of Hever

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): HMS “Endurance” is safe and stable and is currently berthed at Mare Harbour in the Falkland Islands. The investigations into the circumstances that led to the flooding incident are continuing.

Azerbaijan: Broadcasting

Question

Asked by Lord Hylton



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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): Our ambassador to Azerbaijan has made clear to the Government of Azerbaijan on several occasions that we share the serious concern of the EU at the Azeri authorities' decision not to renew the licences of foreign broadcasters to transmit on national FM radio frequencies from 1 January 2009 and the detrimental impact this decision has on access to independent information throughout Azerbaijan.

We have also raised this issue with EU partners in Brussels and the Czech Government as current EU presidency. Representations have been made to the Government of Azerbaijan by the presidency and the External Relations Commissioner during their recent visits. The Azeri decision has also been criticised by the EU's High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Council of Europe and many others.

The ban is inconsistent with Azerbaijan's existing EU eastern neighbourhood policy commitments and with the principles of the future, deeper eastern partnership which the Azeri Government have strongly welcomed.

We continue to monitor the situation and to urge the Government of Azerbaijan to reconsider the decision and permit broadcasting by non-Azeri broadcasters on FM frequencies.

Bailiffs

Questions

Asked by Lord Lucas

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): The National Standards for Enforcement Agents are intended for use by enforcement agents rather than magistrates or Her Majesty's Courts Service fines officers. However, both magistrates and Her Majesty's Courts Service fines officers routinely consider the circumstances of defendants and defaulters as part of their decision-making process. Where issues of vulnerability are made known to them, these will be taken into account.

Her Majesty's Court Service contracts place a specific obligation on its private enforcement agents in respect of vulnerable members of society. This requires them to adhere to and implement these standards while engaged on enforcement activities on behalf of Her Majesty's Courts Service. They are instructed not to take any action to levy distress without prior reference to the court where the individual falls into one of categories deemed as vulnerable. Complaints by members of the public about the conduct of the contractor must be reported to Her Majesty's Courts Service regional contract managers together with details of

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how those complaints have been dealt with and resolved. These are reviewed as part of the contract management process.

The contract requires AEAs to provide a monthly management report to HMCS regional contractor managers on contractor performance. The report provides details on the execution rate of warrants, training undertaken by contractor staff and any complaints received by the contractor on action taken by their staff. Contractors must report any circumstances and situations where a complaint or issue is raised by defaulters who consider the enforcement of the warrant has been undertaken inappropriately or incorrectly. These will include any situations involving those in the vulnerable person categories. Any complaints or correspondence received by contractors must be investigated. In addition, Her Majesty's Court Service regional management will investigate the complaint to determine that the bailiff took the correct action or if the situation requires further investigation.

Further reporting protocols in new proposed contracts will strengthen the control and monitoring arrangements available to HMCS on contractor performance. This includes quarterly and six-month assurance reporting. There is also a requirement for each contractor to make an annual operation report reviewing their management of the contract. Combined, these reports form the basis for the HMCS director of enforcement to make an annual report covering the operation of all regional contracts.

The reports received as the six-month and yearly stages of the contract would be reviewed and reported on to the HMCS compliance and enforcement and main HMCS management boards as part of this report. It is expected that the contractor will detail its procedures and processes and the agreed authorisation methods with each HMCS region and area within these reporting requirements.

Asked by Lord Lucas

Lord Bach: The enforcement provisions in the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 are far reaching reforms. The provisions have recently undergone a comprehensive reassessment by Ministers to ensure that they remain appropriate even under this difficult financial climate. This assessment has now been concluded and a statement will be made shortly.

Bees

Question

Asked by Lord Taylor of Holbeach



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The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): Defra has allocated new resources for the bee health programme to fund the implementation of the bee health strategy. On top of its current £1.3 million, an additional £1.137 million will be provided to the National Bee Unit in the financial year 2009-10 and £1.158 million in 2010-11 to implement the first stage of the strategy.

Additional funds are also being provided for research, with £400,000 added to the existing £200,000 provision for each of the next five years. £500,000 of this will be made available to a new research programme which will consider the widest problems facing pollinators. The details of the programme are still being worked on and further information will be available in the near future.

Benefits

Question

Asked by Lord Steinberg

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): The latest available information is that the number of working age and pension age benefit claimants has increased by 2.89 per cent over the five years to May 2008. Within this total, the number of working age claimants went down by 5.81 per cent, the number of pension age claimants increased by 7.03 per cent.

Charities: Fraud

Question

Asked by Lord Morris of Manchester

Lord Patel of Bradford: The information requested falls within the responsibility of the Charity Commission. I have asked the commission to reply.

Child Protection

Question

Asked by Lord Roberts of Llandudno



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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): Guidance for the vetting and barring scheme will be issued in advance of introduction of the scheme. In addition to general guidance on different elements of the scheme, the Government also intend to issue guidance tailored for specific sectors of the children's and vulnerable adults’ workforce.

Sectors will include education, health, social care, volunteering, housing and transport.

Common Travel Area

Question

Asked by Lord Laird

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): The UK Government have been working in partnership with the Governments of Ireland and the Crown Dependencies, as well as the Northern Ireland Office and Northern Ireland Executive, to review the rules and operation of the common travel area (CTA) and explore how border security can be strengthened in the future.

A public consultation was carried out between 24 July and 16 October on proposals to strengthen and reform the CTA and the government response to this consultation and a full impact assessment were published on 15 January.

Crime: Domestic Violence

Question

Asked by Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): We understand from CAADA (Co-ordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse) that there are over 100 multiagency risk assessment conferences (MARACs) across England and Wales. Some MARACs overlap more than one local authority area. MARACs are either held fortnightly or monthly, depending on the volume of cases.


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