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1996 - PMQT Written Answers 4th March 1996

Below is the text of the written answers relating to Prime Minister's Question Time from 4th March 1996.


PRIME MINISTER:

Scott Inquiry

Mr. Kaufman: To ask the Prime Minister what steps he will take as a result of the finding of the Scott inquiry that the letter written to the hon. Member referred to in paragraph D.4.43 concerning changes in the Government's policy on the supply of arms to Iraq was misleading.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have been asked to reply.

The Government continue to take the view that the Howe guidelines were not changed. My right hon. Friend does not consider that further action is necessary.

Mrs. Clwyd: To ask the Prime Minister what action he proposes in respect of Scott's recommendation, K8.8, that the refusal to answer parliamentary questions on sales of arms or defence-related equipment to other countries should be re-examined.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have been asked to reply.

As my right hon. Friend, the President of the Board of Trade made clear in his speech in the House on 26 February, the Government will be considering the extent to which information about overseas defence sales can be publicly disclosed. A background note on "Ministerial Accountability and the Release of Information on Defence Related Exports" has been placed in the Library of the House.

Mr. Kirkwood: To ask the Prime Minister if he accepts the observation contained in the Scott report, section K3.3, that the DTI should not continue to be the export licensing authority in respect of goods whose export is primarily the policy concern of some other Department; and if he will make a statement.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have been asked to reply.

Sir Richard Scott recommends that consideration should be given as to whether the DTI should continue to be the export licence authority for the good concerned. The Government accept this and propose to publish a consultation paper on export control legislation and procedures. We will reach decisions on particular issues in the light of comments received, in response to the consultation paper.

Mr. Hall: To ask the Prime Minister how many civil servants had direct sight of the Scott report as of 13 February.

The Deputy Prime Minister [holding answer 16 February 1996]: I have been asked to reply.

As of 13 February, only those required to assist the Government in preparing their response to the report, as agreed between the Government and the Scott inquiry.

Mr. Kirkwood: To ask the Prime Minister what action he will take in response to the conclusion in section K4.1 of the Scott report that the role of Customs and Excise in policing and prosecuting export control offences is anomalous; and if he will make a statement.

The Deputy Prime Minister [holding answer 27 February 1996]: I have been asked to reply.

As my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade told the House in his speech during the debate on a motion for the adjournment of 26 February 1996, Official Report, column 597, the Government accept that there are benefits in Sir Richard Scott's recommendation that in future the role of the Attorney-General should include the exercise of increased supervision of Customs and Excise prosecutions in relation to export control matters. The Government are urgently developing proposals on the precise nature and scope of the increased supervision, and the Attorney-General will be reporting to the House as soon as possible.

Mr. Dalyell: To ask the Prime Minister if he will enumerate and detail the shortcomings of Government in relation to the Scott report to which he referred during Prime Minister's Question Time on 22 February.

The Deputy Prime Minister [holding answer 27 February 1996]: I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Member to the speech made by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade on Monday 26 February, Official Report, column 589.


Scottish Grand Committee

Mr. Foulkes: To ask the Prime Minister when he plans to attend a meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee; how many officials will attend with him; how many of these will be press officers; and what estimate he has made of the total cost involved.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend expects to attend shortly. Details of officials and costs are not yet known.


Women's Issues

Ms Jowell: To ask the Prime Minister if he will name the members of the Cabinet committee dealing with women's issues.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply that my right hon. Friend gave to the hon. Member for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn) on 18 July 1995, Official Report, columns 1005-12.


Iraq (Exports)

Mrs. Clwyd: To ask the Prime Minister if Her Majesty's Government will now make public details of the involvement of British companies in Iraq's (a) chemical, (b) nuclear and (c) biological and chemical warfare programmes as communicated to Her Majesty's Government by UNSCOM--the UN special commission on Iraq.

The Deputy Prime Minister [holding answer 26 February 1996]: I have been asked to reply. UNSCOM has communicated to us in confidence the names of a number of British companies which may have been involved in supplying items found at sites associated with Iraqi programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction. UNSCOM does not make this information public, and it is important that we respect its confidence. UNSCOM considers that a high degree of confidentiality is essential to the successful performance of its work.

Moreover, release of the names included in UNSCOM reports could unreasonably damage the reputation of British companies. It would be wrong to conclude without further analysis that companies whose names might appear in reports from UNSCOM have behaved wrongfully. Should any evidence of wrongdoing emerge, it will be investigated and, if appropriate, will be a matter for the courts.


Western European Union

Mr. Llew Smith: To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the policies he presented to the Western European Union assembly in London on 23 February; and if he will place a copy of his speech in the Library.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have been asked to reply.

This Government's approach is set out in detail in a memorandum of 1 March 1995. Copies of this and of my right hon. Friend's speech to the WEU assembly have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.


Export Credits Guarantee Department

Mr. Kirkwood: To ask the Prime Minister on what dates between 1987 and 1990 he met officials from the Export Credits Guarantee Department; and if he will make a statement.

The Deputy Prime Minister [holding answer 27 February 1996]: I have been asked to reply.

Advice about policy on export credit cover would normally be given to my right hon. Friends, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer by Treasury officials. It is not possible, without disproportionate cost, to ascertain if, and on what dates, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister may have met ECGD officials between 1987 and 1990. It would, however, have been unusual for Ministers to receive advice on export credit policy from officials other than those in their own Departments.