Questions

Asked by Lord Patten

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what recent assessment they have made of the economic benefits of upgrading the single line railway between Salisbury and Exeter to double tracks over the whole of its length.[HL1052]

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what recent assessment they have made of the social benefits of upgrading the single line railway between Salisbury and Exeter to double tracks over the whole of its length.[HL1053]

Earl Attlee: We have not made a recent assessment of the economic or social benefits of upgrading the Salisbury to Exeter line or doubling it along its whole length.

Railways: Fare Evasion

Question

Asked by Lord Bradshaw

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Earl Attlee on 27 June (WA 76), whether, for future franchises where revenue support is provided, they will specify the level of enforcement of ticket evasion, leaving the means of implementation to be determined by the franchisee. [HL1210]

Earl Attlee: We have not ruled out the possibility that where commercial incentives are not sufficient, the Department for Transport may choose to specify targets for reducing ticket evasion in future franchises. This will depend on a case by case assessment of the circumstances of each individual franchise competition. If such targets are specified, the department would generally expect the means of achieving them to be determined by bidders.

Railways: Gatwick

Question

Asked by Lord Harrison

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to support the provision of improved rail links to and from Gatwick, including an improved high-quality and dedicated express railway link into London.[HL1107]

Earl Attlee: The Government appreciate the importance of high quality surface access links to our major airports.

In line with the Government’s policy on rail franchising, bidders for the new combined Southern, Thameslink and Great Northern franchise will be required to consider the needs of different rail user groups, including those who are travelling to Gatwick and those bound for other destinations such as commuters.

Regional Growth Fund

Question

Asked by Lord Harrison

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Wilcox on 16 March (WA 123), how many applications they received for the third round of Regional Growth Fund; how many small businesses made applications; and when they will publish the results of the application process.[HL1104]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Wilcox): 412 applications have been received for the third round of Regional Growth Fund. Of these, 240 are from applicants who in their application have indicated that the principal recipient of RGF funds is a small or medium sized enterprise. The results of the third bidding round are expected to be announced in the autumn.

Sexual Offences Act 2003

Question

Asked by Lord Morrow

To ask Her Majesty’s Government on how many occasions in the past five years action has been taken under Sections 60A or 60B of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 concerning the detention or forfeiture of vehicles (1) in England and Wales, and (2) in Northern Ireland.[HL1115]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): Section 60A of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 gives authority to a court to order the forfeiture of a vehicle where a person has been convicted under Sections 57 to 59 (trafficking for sexual exploitation) of this same Act. The number of defendants found guilty at all courts for offences under Sections 57 to 59 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, by the number of forfeitures, in England and Wales, from 2007 to 2011 can be viewed in the table.

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Section 60B states that if a person has been arrested for an offence under Sections 57 to 59, a constable or a senior immigration officer may detain a relevant vehicle, ship or aircraft. The Home Office advises that information on arrests under Sections 57 to 59 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, and subsequent actions under Section 60B of the Act, is not available. Arrests data reported to the Home Office are provided at offence group level only: for example, violence against the person and sexual offences. From these centrally reported categories it is not possible to separately identify arrests made under specific offences. Data on detentions of vehicles resulting from arrests are not collected by the Home Office.

Information for Northern Ireland is a matter for the Department of Justice, Northern Ireland.

Shipping: Armed Guards

Question

Asked by The Lord Bishop of Wakefield

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to use armed contractors to protect British-registered vessels transiting the Gulf of Aden from Somali pirates.[HL1027]

Earl Attlee: The UK Government recognise that the engagement of armed guards is an option to protect human life on-board UK registered ships from the threat of piracy, but only in exceptional circumstances and where it is lawful to do so.

The decision to use armed guards is one for shipping companies to make following completion of a full risk assessment and the submission of a counter-piracy plan to the Department for Transport.

Turks and Caicos

Question

Asked by Lord Jones of Cheltenham

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the status of loans they have granted to the Turks and Caicos Islands; what value of loans is guaranteed; and when they expect that the islands will be in a position to start repaying those loans.[HL1150]

Baroness Northover: DfID currently has no outstanding loans to the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI).

TCI currently holds £119 million in debt guaranteed by Her Majesty's Government. Of this, £4 million is due to be repaid in July 2012. The remaining £115 million is due to be repaid in its entirety in February 2016. By building a track record of sound financial management and a significant cash reserve, we expect at this point the TCI Government to refinance their debts without a UK guarantee. The chief financial officer ordinance enables the UK Government to retain sufficient control over the public finances and so protect the interests of the UK as loan guarantor.

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UN: Rio+20

Question

Asked by Lord Stevens of Ludgate

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their estimate of the cost of the UK delegation to the Rio+20 UN conference on sustainable development; and how this compares with the cost of the delegation to the previous conference in Helsinki held in May 2011.[HL922]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Taylor of Holbeach): The UK delegation at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) included representatives from several government departments, the devolved Administrations, businesses and non-governmental departments (NGOs). Each government department is covering its own costs, as are the devolved Administrations, businesses and NGOs. Guidelines are in place for all government departments to ensure best value for money.

In addition to negotiating the final Rio+20 agreement, the delegation has also used the opportunity for many bilateral meetings with other nations and to boost British trade and growth opportunities. A final cost of Rio+20 will be published shortly.

The UK did not send any delegates to the meeting of the UN Secretary-General's High-level Panel on Global Sustainability in Helsinki, held in May 2011. Defra does not have a representative on the panel, and key officials were attending other key meetings—such as the Conference for Sustainable Development No.19 (CSD 19) and Global Environment Facility (GEF)—during the same period.

Uzbekistan

Questions

Asked by Lord Hylton

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the Government of Uzbekistan about reported deaths in prison in 2011 and investigations into them, and about arbitrary and pre-trial detention; and with what results. [HL1092]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): There were a number of cases of reported deaths in prison in Uzbekistan in 2011, and several cases where bodies were reportedly returned to families with what appeared to be torture marks on them. Of particular concern were the reported deaths in prison of Okikhon Ziyokhonov, Abdullaev Mukhiddin, Umid Batirkhanov and Abdulaziz Mirzaev—who had been detained on charges ranging from attempting to overthrow the constitutional system and religious extremism, to theft—and the apparent lack of investigation into these cases.

We also have concerns about the use of arbitrary detention in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan adopted habeas corpus legislation in 2008. We are working with the Uzbek Government to encourage full implementation

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of this law. In 2011 the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that Akzam Turgunov, a human rights defender and member of the opposition “Erk” party, was being held arbitrarily. We continue to raise Turgunov’s and others’ cases with the Uzbek authorities.

In 2011-12 the UK supported a criminal and justice reform project, linked to habeas corpus, which focused in particular on supporting judges’ and lawyers’ capacity to uphold rule of law and international human rights standards in torture cases. In March 2012 Baroness Stern CBE, Honorary President of Prison Reform International, visited Uzbekistan for a three-day visit and held frank talks with the Uzbek Government on penitentiary reform issues. We are developing a project as part of follow-up to the Baroness’s visit.

Two UK experts are also currently participating full time in a wide-ranging European Union-led project on criminal and judicial reform.

We continue to raise our concerns on these issues with the Uzbek authorities, and through the Human Rights Report at www.fco.gov.uk/hrdreport; and to monitor trials and cases closely.

Asked by Lord Hylton

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will ask Uzbekistan to admit the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture for the first time since 2002. [HL1093]

Lord Howell of Guildford: A lack of verifiable information and limited access make allegations of

3 July 2012 : Column WA166

torture and other ill-treatment in Uzbekistan difficult to assess. The international community, including the UK, regularly requests the Uzbek authorities to allow the return of the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Torture. We will continue to lobby persistently on this issue. We also encourage the Uzbek Government to sign and ratify the UN Convention against Torture and its optional protocol.

Asked by Lord Hylton

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will make fresh representations to the Government of Uzbekistan about freedom of religion and belief, in particular with regard to ending harassment of individuals and churches, and allowing access to the Hajj for all would-be pilgrims.[HL1094]

Lord Howell of Guildford: We raise freedom of religion issues with the Uzbek authorities on a regular basis. We believe that constructive engagement offers the best chance of making progress in this area and we will continue to raise our concerns with the Uzbek Government. We do this bilaterally, including through meetings at ministerial and senior official level, and jointly with the United Nations, European Union and Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The visit to Uzbekistan by the Minister without Portfolio, my right honourable friend Baroness Warsi, in April 2012, which included a call on the Bukhara representative of the Muslim Board of Uzbekistan, presented opportunities for detailed discussion on freedom of religion issues. We also highlight freedom of religion issues in our human rights report, which can be found at www.fco.gov.uk/hrdreport.