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7 Mar 2012 : Column WA417



7 Mar 2012 : Column WA417

Written Answers

Wednesday 7 March 2012

Afghanistan

Question

Asked by Lord Hylton

Baroness Northover: The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates 447,524 internally displaced people (IDPs) in Afghanistan as of January 2012. IDPs have limited access to proper housing, clean water and sanitation. They suffer from hunger and experience high unemployment.

The Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation (MORR) is developing a strategy with UNHCR to manage population movements and ensure minimum standards of living for returnees. This will include basic healthcare for 4 million returnees, clean water and sanitation for 533,161 families and education for 1.5 million children. A National Steering Committee will be established by the MORR and UNHCR to co-ordinate efforts and monitor progress.

Aviation: Passenger Duty

Questions

Asked by Lord Bradshaw

The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): Airlines, not passengers, are responsible for paying air passenger duty (APD) to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs. A liability only arises on the departure of a passenger on a flight from a UK airport. Generally, airlines pass on the duty charge to their passengers, although they are not required to do so by law. No estimates of the total value of charges collected by airlines ahead of passenger departures are available.

The provision of refunds for a passenger who has paid, but does not fly, is a matter for airlines. The Government expect APD liable aircraft operators to observe the Office of Fair Trading's guidance on unfair contract terms.



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Bank of England

Question

Asked by Lord Myners

The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): Sir David Lees is currently serving his first term as chairman of the Court of the Bank of England, which expires on 31 May 2012. Her Majesty the Queen has approved the Chancellor's and Prime Minister's recommendations for Sir David's re-appointment for a second term.

The Bank of England Act 1998 states that: "appointment as director of the bank shall be for a period of three years". However, Sir David has indicated that he will step down from court at the end of 2013, once he has overseen the transition of the bank's new responsibilities and personnel.

Appointments as non-executive directors of court are subject to the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments' code of practice. As such, the vacancy will be advertised at the appropriate time before Sir David's departure.

Burma

Questions

Asked by Baroness Goudie

Baroness Northover: Department for International Development (DfID) staff frequently discuss financial support for the Thailand Burma Border Consortium with European Commission counterparts as well as with other donors. DfID has consistently made clear that the well-being of Burmese refugees in Thailand should not be adversely affected by funding reductions.

Asked by Baroness Goudie

Baroness Northover: In 2011-12 the combined total expenditure on civil society capacity building in Burma was around £1.2 million. Forecast expenditure for 2012-13 is around £2 million.

Additionally, through the British embassy, the UK provided support for capacity building and for programmes on democracy, human rights and governance with funding of around £500,000 in 2011-12 to civil society in Burma.



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Asked by Baroness Goudie

Baroness Northover: As standard practice the Department for International Development (DfID) does not make advance payments through grants, but instead requires organisations to reclaim costs in arrears. This helps ensure better management of British aid funds. Some organisations working in the Thailand-Burma border, on an exceptional basis, receive grants from DfID as it would be too difficult for them to operate without first receiving an advance. Before agreeing to advances full justification, on a case-by-case basis, is required. Such arrangements are kept under review to ensure that they continue to be necessary and meet the required standards of financial accountability. In all such cases our determination is to ensure the full value of British taxpayers' money.

Asked by Baroness Goudie

Baroness Northover: The UK does not have programmes in Burma that provide direct assistance to women and children who have been raped by members of armed forces. However, the Department for International Development does provide support for legal assistance centres in Burmese refugee camps in Thailand, which can help in dealing with rape cases.

During Burma's Universal Periodic Review session at the UN, the UK urged the Government to end impunity for human rights violations. At the Human Rights Council in March and the UN General Assembly in November, the UK supported text that strongly called on the Government to take urgent measures to end the targeting of civilians in military operations, and rape and other forms of sexual violence.

Asked by Baroness Goudie

Baroness Northover: Department for International Development (DfID) officials regularly meet with civil society organisations and non-government organisations based along both sides of the Thailand-Burma border, both bilaterally and at meetings of the Committee for the Co-ordination of Services to Displaced Persons in Thailand. Most recently DfID officials attended the Committee for the Co-ordination of Services to Displaced Persons on 26 January, and met bilaterally with the Thailand-Burma Border Consortium in February.



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CAFCASS

Question

Asked by Lord Wills

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): The Department for Education does not hold this information but I have asked the chief executive of CAFCASS to reply. A copy of his reply will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010

Question

Asked by Lord Lester of Herne Hill

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): The Government intend to commence Section 45 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 to reduce the 30-year rule to a 20-year rule from 2013, and will bring forward the necessary commencement order in sufficient time to facilitate this.

Data Protection

Question

Asked by Lord Birt

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): The processing of personal data must comply with the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998, including that all processing must be fair and lawful unless a relevant exemption applies. In addition, under the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (as amended), organisations are required to obtain consent to access information on a user's equipment.

On 25 January 2012 the European Commission published a proposal for a new EU data protection regulation that will replace the Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC, which the Data Protection Act 1998 transposes into UK law. The Government are working with stakeholders to establish a UK position on the draft regulation, which will meet data subjects' concerns while at the same time not imposing disproportionately burdensome requirements upon public and private sector organisations.



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Elections

Question

Asked by Lord Ashcroft

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): British and Irish citizens are entitled to register to vote in UK parliamentary elections, local elections, European parliamentary elections and, where relevant, elections to the devolved Assemblies, provided that the other registration criteria are also met.

To be eligible to register a person must:

be resident in the constituency (subject to certain exceptions),be over 18, or become 18 within the lifetime of the next electoral register andnot be subject to any legal incapacity to vote.

The Representation of the People Act 1985 provides for British citizens resident overseas to be able to register to vote in UK parliamentary and European parliamentary (but not local) elections in the UK, provided that they have been registered in the past 15 years on the basis of residence in the UK (or were resident in the UK in the past 15 years and were too young to register at the time).

The Government are considering whether the 15-year time limit on voting rights for British citizens overseas remains appropriate.

Energy: Biofuels

Question

Asked by Baroness Smith of Basildon

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Lord Marland): As stated in the Renewable Heat Incentive policy document (published in March 2011), we are considering whether to support bioliquids as part of our policy development for the support of renewable heat in households (the non-domestic scheme was launched in November 2011). Further information on timings will be announced shortly.

Energy: Red Diesel

Question

Asked by Lord Berkeley

The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): In order to halt infringement proceedings against the UK practice of allowing the use of red diesel to propel private pleasure craft with full duty paid, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) reached an agreement with the European Commission to limit the use of red diesel to UK waters and require purchasers to sign a declaration acknowledging that, if used in the territorial waters of another member state, it would be subject to the prohibitions and restrictions of that member state. We maintain that the UK procedures are in accordance with EU legislation. However, without this agreement, there is a risk of an adverse ruling that would lead to the enforced use of white diesel.

HMRC held informal consultations over a period of several months in 2011-12 with a number of organisations representing pleasure craft users and fuel suppliers.

HMRC does not have information on the number of suppliers who intend to supply white diesel. That is a commercial decision for suppliers.

HMRC has informed the representatives of marine craft owners in the UK that the use of red diesel with full duty paid to propel pleasure craft is a UK procedure permitted within UK waters. If red diesel is used outside UK waters, users must be aware that they will continue to be subject to the national legislation, including any restrictions and prohibitions, of the member state in whose territorial waters it is being used.

Government Departments: Staff

Questions

Asked by Lord Laird

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Henley): The Home Office has made no assessment on the percentage of its civil servants who take time off work each year through smoking-related illnesses. This is

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because, in line with all other government departments, the Home Office is required to collect, analyse and report its sick absence-related data using Cabinet Office guidelines based on the World Health Organisation International Classification of Diseases. Sick absences are primarily recorded based on the symptoms of a particular health problem rather than their underlying cause.

Asked by Lord Laird

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): The Ministry of Defence does not hold information on whether individual civil servants smoke or not. However, the department does recognise that smoking will make a significant contribution to sickness absence due to diseases of the respiratory system, and to a lesser extent diseases of the circulatory system and neoplasms.

Figures for days lost for these conditions during 2010 and 2011 are contained in the following table. Not all of these absences will be smoking related.

Cause of Absence20102011

Diseases of the respiratory system

70,560

61,320

Diseases of the circulatory system

24,360

22,580

Neoplasms

17,470

17,520

The MoD has robust stop smoking policies in place, including banning smoking in the workplace. We support initiatives to stop smoking and actively encourage employees to give up by involving the NHS and other relevant groups in staff well-being events.

Greece: Financial Support

Question

Asked by Lord Maginnis of Drumglass

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): No assessment has been made. These are bilateral matters between Greece and the countries concerned.



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Honours and Decorations Committee

Question

Asked by Lord Craig of Radley

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): I refer the noble and gallant Lord to the answer given by my right honourable friend the Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare, and Veterans (Mr Robathan) in the other place on 20 February 2012 (Official Report, col. 599) to the honourable Member for Gosport (Ms Dinenage).

Israel and Palestine

Question

Asked by Baroness Tonge

Baroness Northover: While water desalinisation has been identified as an area of common interest for co-operation between British Water and the Israeli Industry Centre for Research and Development, there are no details yet on specific projects under the agreement. It is not possible therefore to make an accurate assessment of whether the new partnership will lead to benefits for water desalinisation within Gaza. We hope that Gaza will be able to benefit from any new technologies developed through the agreement to help address the urgent need for clean water in Gaza. The fair and effective distribution of shared water resources across the Middle East is of great concern to the UK. We regularly discuss the issue of access to water in the Occupied Palestinian Territories with the Israeli authorities.

Justice: Pardons

Questions

Asked by Lord Sharkey



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The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): The information provided was in respect of pardons granted on the recommendation of the Secretary of State for Justice, and excluded the general pardon under Section 359 of the Armed Forces Act 2006 for servicemen executed for disciplinary offences during the First World War.

The exercise of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy for cases in Northern Ireland is a matter for the Northern Ireland Executive and was outside the terms of the Question to Her Majesty's Government.

Legal System: Translation and Interpreting Services

Questions

Asked by Baroness Coussins

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): (1) It is estimated that the improvements will save the Government at least £18 million a year on the cost of interpretation and translation. We still expect to achieve these savings once the contract becomes fully embedded.

(2) The MoJ remains committed to ensuring the rights and needs of those who require interpreters are safeguarded, and is currently monitoring ALS's performance against the contract on a daily basis.

Migrant Domestic Workers

Question

Asked by Lord Hylton

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Henley): Changes to the overseas domestic worker (ODW) routes announced on 29 February will apply to those who make an application for entry clearance on or

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after 6 April. The current Immigration Rules and existing protections will continue to apply to ODWs who are already here on 6 April or who apply to come here by 5 April. Appropriate protections are being put in place for ODWs who come here from 6 April.

Office of Fair Trading

Question

Asked by Lord Clement-Jones

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Wilcox): Following last week's announcement by the current chief executive of the Office of Fair Trading of his planned resignation, BIS is now considering with the Office of Fair Trading how best to recruit a successor, and we will make an announcement in due course.

Overseas Aid

Question

Asked by Lord Ashcroft

Baroness Northover: When making a decision on providing aid to a country, the Department for International Development (DfID) considers a wide range of criteria-including the pattern of, and trends in, public expenditure. Spending on defence versus education and health, for example, is one aspect of this. National budgeting processes are complex and depend on many different factors. DfID therefore assesses the model for public resource allocation and the resulting distribution of the national budget (across sector, geography, type of spend et cetera) on a case-by-case basis.

Palestine

Question

Asked by Baroness Tonge

Baroness Northover: The UK's statebuilding programme in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) is designed to help build the institutions for a capable, accountable and responsive future Palestinian state. Our support to the Palestinian Authority is governed by a memorandum of understanding that sets out shared commitments to respecting human rights and delivering clear and accountable governance in the OPTs.



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The UK is currently developing a programme to build the capacity of Palestinian citizens to hold to account the authorities operating in the OPTs. We are supporting the training of Palestinian security personnel in order to deliver better security for the Palestinian people and support human rights. We are developing family protection units and providing training to members of the police and justice sector to improve security and justice services for women who are victims of violence. We are also working with the Palestinian Ministry of Interior to identify how the UK can best support stronger central governance of the security sector.

Pensions

Question

Asked by Lord Jones of Cheltenham

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): The UK state pension is payable world-wide but is only up-rated if the recipient is residing outside the UK where there is a legal requirement or reciprocal agreement to do so. There are no plans to change the current arrangements. The Government believe that, particularly in the current economic climate, resource priorities should remain focused on pensioners within the UK.

Racism

Question

Asked by Lord Ouseley

Baroness Verma: The Government Equalities Office (GEO) does not provide support or representation to individuals. GEO is creating a new equality, information and advisory service to provide in-depth support. GEO has engaged widely on this and hopes to make a further announcement shortly.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is an arm's-length body; the following is based on information it has provided.

The EHRC has a range of powers through which it can provide support and representation to victims of discrimination, including its strategic casework.

The EHRC collects information about the type of discrimination alleged by, and the ethnic origin of, those using the support and representation it provides.



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Railways: West Coast Franchise

Question

Asked by Lord Bradshaw

Earl Attlee: The base bid for the franchise must be compliant with the train service requirement specified.

The Department for Transport welcomes proposals that enable the delivery of more efficient services and represent better value for money for passengers and taxpayers (incremental options). Bidders are free to propose incremental options that could therefore involve solutions requiring changes to the train service requirement specified. The department will consider purchasing incremental options offered by the winning bidder subject to affordability constraints and economic appraisal criteria.

Roads: A13

Question

Asked by Lord Marlesford

Earl Attlee: West of the M25 the Highways Agency is responsible for the A13 up to the A1306 Wennington interchange. From Wennington, litter-picking is the responsibility of Transport for London.

The agency's contractors work in accordance with the Environmental Protection Act and its associated Code of Practice.

The last litter-pick in this area was on 24 February. The last inspection was on 28 February and the area was graded to be "mainly widespread distribution of litter and/or refuse with minor accumulations". Certain areas were noted to be in a worse state. The next litter-pick is scheduled week commencing 12 March 2012.

Shipping: Escorts

Question

Asked by Lord West of Spithead

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): Type 26 Global Combat Ships will begin to replace Type 23 Frigates soon after 2020.



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St Helena: Airport

Question

Asked by Lord Ashcroft

Baroness Northover: On 3 November 2011 the St Helena Government signed a contract with Basil Read (Pty) Ltd of South Africa for the design, construction and operation of an airport on St Helena.

Work on constructing an airport on St. Helena is proceeding on schedule. The contractor has established offices in Longwood and has cleared and prepared lay-down areas in Rupert's Valley. The contractor has started construction of a temporary wharf in Rupert's Bay to facilitate the delivery of equipment and materials for the main works.

Taxation

Questions

Asked by Lord Stoddart of Swindon

The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): The Government keep all income tax allowances under review. Any decisions on changes will be taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as part of the annual Budget process in the context of decisions on the wider public finances.

Asked by Lord Kennedy of Southwark

Lord Sassoon: At Budget 2011, the Government published "Tackling Tax Avoidance". This document outlined Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs' (HMRC) anti-avoidance strategy with its three key strands of preventing, detecting and counteracting tax avoidance. As part of its efforts to prevent tax avoidance, HMRC advises the Government on effective policy design; engages with its customers to provide certainty on its approach to influence avoidance behaviours; consults on new measures; and carries out risk assessments of new legislation. All of these activities help to minimise opportunities for avoidance from the outset.

Asked by Lord Myners



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Lord Sassoon: The Mirrlees review makes an interesting contribution to the long-term debate on the tax and welfare system in the UK and the Government will consider its findings as they develop tax policy.

The Government have committed to restoring the UK tax system's reputation for stability, simplicity and predictability. The Government have made a number of improvements to the way in which they make tax policy, with consultation on policy design and scrutiny of draft legislative proposals as the cornerstones. Further details may be found online at: http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/tax_policy_making_ new_approach.htm.

Welfare Reform Bill [HL]

Questions

Asked by Lord Empey

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): At their request, an official from my department gave evidence to the Northern Ireland Committee for Social Development in March 2011 and set out the Government's position on the impact of any breach of parity. In addition, there are regular meetings at ministerial and official level to discuss implementation plans.

Asked by Lord Empey

Lord Freud: Responsibility for the social security system in Northern Ireland is devolved. There is, however, a longstanding policy of parity with Great Britain. The Northern Ireland Executive will bring forward their own legislation in due course.

Young Offender Institutions

Question

Asked by Lord Beecham

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) has agreed with Serco, which manages Ashfield,

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the actions needed to address the areas of concern noted in the inspection report. NOMS will ensure that implementation of the action plan is closely monitored.

There are no plans to review the suitability of Serco and GEOAmey as managers or providers of services to custodial institutions. With regard to their involvement with the prisoner escort contracts: robust contract management mechanisms are in place, which have brought about improvements in delivery since the latest contracts came into operation in August 2011.

Zimbabwe

Question

Asked by Lord Ashcroft

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): The Government have no plans to remove the entitlement of eligible Zimbabwean citizens to vote in United Kingdom elections.

Following Zimbabwe's withdrawal from the Commonwealth, the UK Government decided to maintain Commonwealth rights for Zimbabwean citizens in the UK, drawing on a precedent set with Fiji. As such, Zimbabwean citizens are still allowed to benefit under any relevant nationality provisions including voting rights. The UK Government look forward to a time when the conditions are right for Zimbabwe to return to the Commonwealth.


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