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Written Answers

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Afghanistan

Question

Asked by Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the success of the system currently in place in Afghanistan by which Afghans are required to travel to military bases to make a complaint if their friends or relatives have been wrongly killed. [HL5684]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): Any incident involving civilian casualties is a matter of deep regret and we take every possible measure to avoid such incidents. We have strict procedures, frequently updated in the light of experience, intended both to minimise the risk of casualties occurring and to investigate any alleged incidents.

Local nationals in Afghanistan who wish to report civilian casualties do not have to travel to a military base to report injuries or fatalities which may have been caused by the actions of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Within the UK area of operations in central Helmand, Afghans are able to register claims arising from ISAF operations with the Ministry of Defence Area Claims Officer who is based at the main operating base in Lashkar Gah. If they are unable to register in person, a range of other options are available to individuals including contacting any member of ISAF or asking, for example, a village elder to report on their behalf. Afghans have actively used all the options available to them to report civilian injuries and fatalities. The process is publicised by local radio and leaflets. But any allegation, even if a claim is not pursued, will be investigated, however it is received.

In addition to the UK process in central Helmand, ISAF also operates similar reporting processes across Afghanistan.

Armed Forces: Autonomous Weapon Systems

Question

Asked by Lord Harris of Haringey

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had (1) within NATO, and (2) with the Government of the United States, on the use of autonomous weapon systems.[HL5795]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): We have had no discussions within NATO or with the United States about the use of systems that operate without human intervention in the weapons command and control chain.

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Banks: Green Investment Bank

Question

Asked by Lord Barnett

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the Green Investment Bank lends only on normal commercial terms.[HL5824]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Viscount Younger of Leckie): The UK Green Investment Bank provides finance on commercial terms to projects that demonstrate ability to make both a positive financial return to the bank and also deliver a strong green impact, and where its involvement helps to mobilise additional private sector capital.

Drones

Questions

Asked by Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Lord Wallace of Saltaire on 7 February (Official Report, col. 349–51), whether the RAF-piloted armed United States drones were part of NATO’s military effort in the Libyan conflict.[HL5685]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): I refer the noble Baroness to the answer given by my right honourable friend, the Minister for International Security Strategy, in the other place on 21 November 2012 (Official Report, Commons, col. 494W).

Asked by Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Lord Wallace of Saltaire on 7 February (Official Report, col. 349–51), whether Afghanistan is the only country where the United Kingdom flies armed drones.[HL5686]

Lord Astor of Hever: The UK operates Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems Reaper, in support of UK and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Asked by Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many civilians have been killed or hurt by United Kingdom armed drones.[HL5687]

Lord Astor of Hever: I refer the noble Baroness to the answer I gave on 4 December 2012 (Official Report, col. WA 119) to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton.

We deeply regret all civilian casualties. While we investigate carefully all alleged incidents involving UK forces, the Government do not record total figures for civilian casualties from whatever cause in Afghanistan because of the immense difficulty and risks that would be involved in collecting robust data.

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European Defence Agency

Question

Asked by Lord Stoddart of Swindon

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Statement by Lord Astor of Hever on 12 February (WS 41), why they have decided to remain a member of the European Defence Agency; and what is the annual cost to the United Kingdom of membership.[HL5732]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): As set out in the Statement of 12 February, the Government have concluded that the agency has achieved some progress against identified shortfalls. There is, however, further work to be done to improve its performance. We will work with the agency and its member states to achieve this, and review our continuing membership in late 2013.

Our EDA membership costs some £3 million to £4 million per annum and is calculated on gross national income (GNI).

Government: Ministerial Visits

Question

Asked by Lord Ashcroft

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what was the estimated cost to public funds of the recent trip by the Prime Minister to India.[HL5704]

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Hill of Oareford): Details of the Prime Minister’s overseas travel are published on a quarterly basis. Details for the period January-March will be published in due course.

House of Lords: Reform

Question

Asked by Lord Greaves

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Wallace of Saltaire (WA 176) in which he stated that “in a modern democracy it is important that those who pass legislation should be chosen by those to whom the legislation applies”, whether they intend to appoint further life peers; whether they intend to resume the passage through Parliament of the House of Lords Reform Bill; and, if not, why not.[HL5737]

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: As stated in the programme for Government, appointments will be made to the House of Lords with the objective of creating a second Chamber that reflects the share of the vote secured by the political parties at the last general election.

The Government regret that their reform Bill did not command sufficient support. The Government have no further plans for legislation to reform the House of Lords in this Parliament.

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Housing

Questions

Asked by Lord Greaves

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many new housing units were completed in each English region in each of the past five years; what was the net increase in the number of housing units; and what is their estimate for those figures in the current year and in each of the next five years.[HL3882]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): Official statistics on housebuilding are available at: www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/live-tables-on-house-building.

Housebuilding statistics are published every three months. The most recent figures are available at: www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-communities-and-local-government/series/house-building-statistics.

As outlined in the Written Ministerial Statement of 18 September 2012 (Official Report, col. 31 WS), my department no longer publishes statistics at a regional level.

We do not publish future central estimates or targets for house building.

Asked by Lord Myners

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many new house builds were started last year and in each of the previous 20 years.[HL5780]

Baroness Hanham: Statistics on housebuilding starts by tenure are published in the department’s live Table 208 which is available at the following link: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/live-tables-on-house-building.

Iraq: Chilcot Inquiry

Question

Asked by Lord Smith of Clifton

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what are the reasons for the delay in the publication of Sir John Chilcot's report on the United Kingdom's intervention in Iraq; and when they now expect it to be published.[HL5784]

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Hill of Oareford): The inquiry has made extensive progress in drafting its report, but its task is not yet complete.

The inquiry has said that it expects to be able to submit its report to the Prime Minister once the “Maxwellisation” process, through which those whom the report will criticise are notified and given an opportunity to make representations to the inquiry's committee, is complete. The inquiry expects to begin this process in the summer.

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Nuclear Weapons

Question

Asked by Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they last made a full assessment of the developmental, economic and environmental consequences of the detonation of a nuclear weapon.[HL5363]

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: The 2010 National Security Risk Assessment (NSRA), which informed the 2010 national security strategy, included both state and terrorist use of nuclear weapons. This assessment is reviewed biennially to ensure it continues to reflect the most up-to-date evidence. It includes an assessment of harm to people; the economy and infrastructure and territory as well as restrictions on our freedom to act in UK national interests and psychological impacts. The precise details of the assessment remain classified for national security reasons.

The National Risk Assessment (NRA) complements the NSRA and is designed to inform how we prepare for emergencies and takes a more detailed look at domestic civil emergencies that could reasonably occur over a five-year period to inform contingency planning. A public version—the National Risk Register (NRR)—is available on the Cabinet Office website and noted that the “likelihood of terrorists obtaining...a functional nuclear device remains low, but not negligible; and the

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impacts are potentially very serious”. The National Risk Register 2013 is due to be published later in spring 2013.

More generally, the Government also continue to recognise the serious threat posed to international peace and security by the proliferation of nuclear weapons and are fully committed to working with international partners to further the goals of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Schools: Failing Schools

Question

Asked by Lord Taylor of Warwick

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of comments by the head of Ofsted about the failure of local authorities to intervene over failing schools.[HL4767]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Nash): The Chief Inspector’s annual report highlights significant differences in the availability of places in good and outstanding schools in local authorities across the country. It is worrying that some authorities have failed to use the powers available to them to hold schools to account where the performance of those schools is not good enough. We welcome the Chief Inspector’s announcement that he intends to take a closer look at some of these authorities and will consider the findings of that work when these are available.