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Written Answers

Volume 589: debated on Thursday 30 April 1998

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Written Answers

Thursday, 30th April 1998.

Dunblane: Role Of Central Scotland Police

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether, in view of the findings of the external investigation of Grampian Police, they will consider an investigation into the Central Police at the time of the Dunblane disaster, when the Central Police investigated their own affairs. [HL1581]

The role and actions of Central Scotland Police were fully examined by Lord Cullen's public inquiry and covered in detail in his subsequent report.

Grampian Police: Report

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will place in the Library of the House a copy of the report by Graham Powers, Deputy Chief Constable of Lothian and Borders Police, on the Grampian Constabulary. [HL1582]

Yes. Copies of this report which was commissioned by Grampian Police have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Terrorist Weapons

Official Report a catalogue of the terrorist weapons surrendered to the authorities in Northern Ireland up to the latest convenient date. [HL1576]

No terrorist weapons have yet been decommissioned. In signing up to the Political Agreement, the Government, along with the Government of the Republic of Ireland and all the parties in talks, reaffirmed their commitment to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations and confirmed their intention to use any influence they may have to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within two years of an endorsement of the agreement in the referendums.

Guardsmen Fisher And Wright

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they plan to reappraise the case for release of Guardsmen Fisher and Wright. [HL1536]

In October 1997 the Secretary of State decided that the cases of the two Guardsmen should be considered by the Life Sentence Review Board in October this year. The timing of this review is currently the subject of a judicial review. The judgment is awaited.

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether the continued imprisonment of Guardsmen Fisher and Wright is in accordance with the principles of natural justice. [HL1535]

The two soldiers were convicted of murder by due process of law and received the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. The Secretary of State has personally decided the cases. They have been considered at all times in accordance with the established procedures for the review of such cases. I can assure the House that they have been considered strictly on their own merits and based on the facts as found by the independent courts.

Medway Secure Training Centre

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether children detained in the Medway Secure Training Centre will have access to the Prisons Ombudsman. [HL1562]

Complaints from those detained in a secure training centre are outside the remit of the Prisons Ombudsman. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 makes provision for the appointment of independent persons to whom representation may be made by those young offenders detained in secure training centres. Voice for the Child in Care, an organisation with experience in representing young people in secure accommodation, has been appointed to provide the independent person service at Medway. An independent person will visit within 24 hours of a request and will assist in making formal representation or complaint. Young offenders also have access, through their Member of Parliament, to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration.

asked Her Majesty's Government:What assistance, financial, or otherwise, will be available to parents for visits to children detained in the Medway Secure Training Centre. [HL1563]

The Home Office will pay for the cost of weekly visits to the centre by two visitors. This includes the return fare by public transport to the secure training centre or a contribution towards fuel costs if the family travels by private motor vehicle, including road/bridge tolls, as long as these are not more than the cost of public transport—once a week. There is also limited provision at the centre for overnight accommodation should this prove necessary, and a contribution to other reasonable expenses would also be considered.

Property Confiscated In Wartime: Internet Information

asked Her Majesty's Government:What arrangements have been made for publishing on the Internet the details of those whose property was confiscated under wartime legislation. [HL1727]

My right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade has today made available on the Internet the details of those residents of Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, Japan and Romania whose property was confiscated during the Second World War by the British Government under Trading with the Enemy legislation.The information on the website is the same as that already available on summary record cards at the Public Record Office. Each record consists of a name and, where we have it, the address, summary details and value of the property seized. There are over 25,000 records, covering individuals and commercial organisations.The DTI also holds less detailed records of about 5,000 cases from other countries, which my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade intends to post on the Internet in due course.The website can be found at www.enemyproperty.gov.uk. It will be possible to search the records using a name and/or an address.We are also establishing a helpline, available between 9.30 and 5.30 on working days, for those who do not have access to the Internet on 0171–215–6374 or 0171–215–6160.As I announced on 3 April, the Government have decided to establish a claims procedure. This will be based on the principle that confiscated assets placed in the UK by victims of Nazi persecution should be returned to them by the UK where practicable and where claims can be validated. The Government have also accepted the suggestion that an independent third party should consult interested parties, and advise on the form of the scheme the Government should adopt. My right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade will announce the appointment of the independent third party as soon as possible.

Peers And Mps: Salaries And Expenses

asked Her Majesty's Government:

  • (a) both the total salary bill of peers in receipt of official salaries (exclusive of ministerial salaries) and the total expenditure on peers' expenses claims in relation to parliamentary attendance, over the last parliamentary Session; and
  • (b) both the total salary bill (exclusive of ministerial salaries), and the total expense allowances (personal and secretarial) for Members of Parliament over the same period. [HL1547]
  • The information requested is not available by parliamentary session. However, the table below sets out the figures for the financial year 1997–98:

    PeersMPs
    Total salary bill (£)156,026*42,011,687
    Total expenditure allowances bill (£)6,436,601*51,800,402
    *Provisional figures. Also include general election expenses.

    New Deal Employment Conditions

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether an employer who engages an employee under the New Deal for the young unemployed is legally obliged to pay the going rate for the job; whether he is legally obliged not to dismiss another worker in consequence of engaging the New Deal employee; and what other constraints are imposed, and by whom they are enforceable, in respect of the £60 subsidy paid to him. [HL1604]

    The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment
    (Baroness Blackstone)

    Except in rare circumstances, the law of the United Kingdom does not recognise a "going rate for the job". Wages are either set individually or through collective bargaining. It is not clear how the Government could give enough certainty to a condition requiring payment at such a level to render it enforceable and this has not been done. An employer who engages an employee under the employment option of the New Deal for 18–24 year olds is required to pay the New Deal employee at least the full amount of subsidy paid by the Secretary of State, and expected to pay more. Where the employer fails to pay the full subsidy, the Secretary of State will seek to recover it and may terminate the agreement.It is a condition of payment under the employer agreement that no existing employee has been dismissed or made redundant in order to recruit or retain a New Deal employee.The quality criteria used for evaluating New Deal employment opportunities include the expectation that employers will pay the employee a wage which is higher than the amount that they are receiving in subsidy, and one which corresponds to the level of payment that would normally be given to other employees doing similar jobs in that organisation. Other constraints which are imposed are:each New Deal employee must receive at least one day per week, or the equivalent, of good quality training leading to an approved qualificationthey must all agree an Individual Training Plan which sets out what this training will involvethe progress of the participant against their training objectives must be regularly monitoredNew Deal employees must be offered access to a personal supporter in the workplace.

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether an employer agreement concluded when an employer engages a New Deal employee is enforceable in whole or in part and, if so, whether the employee has the right to enforce it either through the contract of employment or otherwise; whether the employee has any remedy if he or she believes the employer is misusing the £60 subsidy; and whether the employee is protected against dismissal, or action short of dismissal, on the part of the employer where one of the reasons given is a complaint by the employee about the misuse of the subsidy or failure to honour the agreement. [HL1605]

    In the opinion of the Secretary of State, the employer agreement constitutes a binding and enforceable contract between the employer and the Secretary of State. Under that agreement the employer undertakes, among other things, to take the New Deal employee into Class 1 employment. As a consequence, the employee should benefit from a directly enforceable contract of employment containing the terms of his or her relationship, including pay. Irrespective of this, however, it is the intention of the Secretary of State to see that employers keep their side of the bargain reflected in the employer agreement by monitoring and, where necessary, enforcement.The New Deal employee can inform the Employment Service of any concerns that the agreement is not being met through a confidential telephone hotline, or through confidential discussion with his or her ES New Deal personal adviser. As an employee in the eyes of the law, a New Deal employee will have the same employment protection, and the same capacity, where a period of continuous service is a prerequisite of such protection, to earn employment protection as any other member of the employer's workforce.Where the employer is in breach of the terms and conditions of the employer agreement, the Employment Service can take any or all of the following actions, depending on the circumstances:

    • rescind the agreement
    • stop future payments
    • cease further client referrals
    • make recovery, if possible, against other or future payments
    • take the employer to court.

    Tax Return Penalty Notices Issued In Error

    asked Her Majesty's Government:How many people have erroneously been fined 1 £100 for not having completed returns or paid tax due by 31 January when their cheques have been banked by the Inland Revenue prior to that date. [HL1494]

    The intention is that nobody should be erroneously fined. A penalty is incurred if a tax return is not received by the due date.

    If a penalty notice was incorrectly issued, the penalty will be reduced to nil on appeal by the taxpayer. A leaflet explaining this, together with an appeal form, is enclosed with every penalty notice.

    War Crimes In Former Yugoslavia: Detention And Trial Of Accused

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they continue to support international efforts to bring to justice those responsible for crimes committed in support of Serbian political objectives during the recent wars in the former Yugoslavia. [HL1595]

    The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
    (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

    Yes. We are determined that all those indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) should be tried in The Hague. The detention on 8 April of two indictees by British SFOR troops in Prijedor reaffirms the high priority we attach to achieving this aim.Her Majesty's Government fully support the work of ICTY. The UK has committed substantial resources to the tribunal to this end: in addition to our assessed contribution of £720,000 in 1997, we are funding the construction of an interim courtroom at a cost of £300,000. We have also supplied a substantial amount of information and are currently seconding eight personnel to the tribunal. We are also contributing £1.22 million towards the tribunal's 1998 exhumation programme.

    Human Rights: Annual Report

    asked Her Majesty's Government:In which countries British diplomatic missions have tried to send officials to visit political prisoners, or to attend allegedly political trials, since 1 May 1997; what criteria are applied in making decisions on these matters; and whether they will clarify their policy in the forthcoming annual report of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on human rights. [HL1571]

    Decisions to attend trials or, where practicable, have contact with prisoners are made case by case, taking into account the interests of the individual concerned and whether attendance at a trial might lend it unwarranted credibility. We keep no central record of such visits. The first published annual human rights report was published on 21 April. A copy has been placed in the Library of the House of Lords.

    Israel: Human Rights

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether the Prime Minister made any proposal to Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Arafat about the use of administrative detention and torture in their jurisdictions, during his visit of 19–20 April; and whether these matters are included in the agenda for the London talks on 4 May. [HL1572]

    The Prime Minister did not raise these issues on his recent visit to the Middle East. But they are regularly raised with both the Israeli Government and the Palestinian authorities during the course of our bilateral contacts. The purpose of the meetings in London on 4 May is to take forward proposals for next steps in the peace process, not to discuss administrative detention and torture.

    Maritime Affairs: Ministerial Responsibility

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Which Minister is now responsible for co-ordinating the conduct of maritime affairs, as regards domestic policy, intra-European Union policy and global policy. [HL1612]

    The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions
    (Baroness Hayman)

    My right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions is responsible for the co-ordination of UK government policy on the marine environment and shipping. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is responsible for the co-ordination of fisheries policy. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs is responsible for the co-ordination of some specific areas of global maritime affairs, including the Law of the Sea.

    A12, Witham: Advertisement Hoardings

    asked Her Majesty's Government:By what authority the hedge screening planted on land owned by the Department of Transport on the north side of Witham bypass on the A.12 trunk road has been cut down to expose the advertising hoardings erected on land belonging to the Braintree District Council, for which hoardings the Braintree District Council gave planning consent in June 1995; whether the removal of such screening is in accordance with their policy to protect and enhance the countryside; and, if it is not, whether they will ensure that the screening will now be allowed to grow back to its full height. [HL1626]

    The hedge along the A.12 frontage is planted on land outside the highway boundary. It is the responsibility of the owner of the land on which the advertising signs stand, and therefore the concern of that landowner. While there is some evidence of earlier unauthorised trimming of shrubs planted within the highway verge, there is no permanent damage and regrowth is satisfactory. The Highways Agency would not permit interference with landscaping on the trunk road to improve the visibility of advertising signs on adjacent land.

    Gypsy Site Provision

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether, in the light of the findings of the Advisory Committee on the Education of Romanies and Other Travellers in their report

    A Directory of Planning for Gypsy Site Provisions in England, they believe that the policies set out in Circular 1/94 have been successful in promoting uniformity of criteria for gypsy site provision. [HL1600]

    The research reveals a disappointing response to Circular 1/94 by local planning authorities. Whilst many have adopted sensible policies for gypsy sites in their Development Plans, a number either have no policies or contain policies which fail to guide applicants towards those locations where planning permission is more likely to be granted. My honourable friend the Minister for London and Construction has discussed the issue with gypsy representatives and my department will be writing to all local planning authorities about the matter.

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether, in the light of the findings of the Advisory Committee on the Education of Romany and other Travellers in their report

    A Directory of Planning Policies for Gypsy Site Provision in England, they believe that Circular 1/94 and the repeal of the Caravan Sites Act 1968 in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 have stimulated the granting of additional planning permission; and, if not, whether they have made any estimates of the probable increase in the number of caravans on unauthorised sites over the next five years arising from the loss of further contributions to the provision of accommodation by local authorities. [HL1601]

    My department welcomes the research already done by the Advisory Council for the Education of Romany and other Travellers (ACERT) on Circular 1/94, to which I refer in my reply to the noble Lord's separate question on this issue, and their current project to assess the success rate of gypsy planning applications and appeals. Their work, which is being part-funded by my department, is making an important contribution to our thinking on policy affecting gypsies and other travellers.The biannual count of gypsy caravans provides my department, and local authorities, with valuable information about the levels of unauthorised camping. The figures show a steady rise in the numbers of caravans on authorised, privately owned sites, but there is no room for complacency and a number of local planning authorities still have work to do to bring their policies in line with Circular 1/94.

    Dvla, Vehicle Inspectorate And Vehicle Certification Agency: Targets

    asked Her Majesty's Government:What targets have been set for the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the Vehicle Inspectorate and the Vehicle Certification Agency.[HL1728]

    The key targets below have been set for the agencies. They are included in the agencies' business plans, which include management objectives, performance indicators and key tasks, where appropriate to the agencies' business. Copies of the business plans will be placed in the Library in due course.The key targets for the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency are to:make an efficiency gain (on the basis of an overall efficiency index) of 2.5 per cent;to recover, through penalties and duty from licensing, at least £2.90 for every £1.00 full cost spent by DVLA on vehicle excise duty enforcement;deliver 95 per cent. of ordinary driving licences to customers within 10 working days, 95 per cent. of vocational driving licences within nine working days, and 95 per cent. of first provisional driving licences within nine working days;deliver 95 per cent. of registration documents for new vehicles within 12 days, and 95 per cent. of changes to vehicle registration documents within 13 days;deliver answers to 96 per cent. of written enquiries within eight working days, and to answer 92 per cent. of telephone enquiries within 30 seconds;ensure that at least 98 per cent. of driving licences, 98 per cent. of registration documents for new vehicles, and 97 per cent. of changes to registration documents, are issued without a DVLA induced error.The key targets for the Vehicle Inspectorate are to:meet the requirements on levels and types of activity laid down in the memorandum of agreement on each road enforcement transport scheme;meet the quality and general effectiveness levels as specified in the business plan measures;improve customer service by extending the range of structured interviews and surveys, acting on the results and devising satisfaction indices;achieve an efficiency target (on the basis of an aggregated cost efficiency index) of 0 per cent;break even while achieving an average 6 per cent. rate of return on capital, over the period 1 April 1998 to 31 March 2003;improve staff awareness and satisfaction as measured through the annual survey;secure the long-term development of the organisation, in the context of the DVO Review, through the implementation of an information

    systems strategy and progression of the MOT computerisation project.

    The key targets for the Vehicle Certification Agency are to:

    achieve break-even or better on the commercial accounts whilst achieving at least a 6 per cent. rate of return on capital employed;

    ensure that at least 98 per cent. of approval certificates are issued error free;

    ensure that at least 98 per cent. of invoices are issued error free;

    audit at least 50 per cent. of VCA's approved type-approval procedures and 100 per cent. of the management system certification procedures, with all major non-compliances found having corrective action plans agreed within 30 working days at the most, with those plans being completed within the specified time.

    Water Companies' Obligations

    asked Her Majesty's Government:What progress has been made towards the setting of price limits for water companies from 1 April 2000. [HL1729]

    The Director General of Water Services sent an open letter and accompanying paper Setting the Quality Framework to my right honourable friends the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Secretary of State for Wales on 30 April, seeking guidance on the quality obligations to be placed on water companies in the period 2000 to 2005. Copies of the Director General's letter and accompanying paper have been placed in the Library of the House.We expect also to receive advice on this issue from the Environment Agency in mid-May, which we shall take into account in formulating the guidance to the Director General. That advice will, similarly, be placed in the Library of the House.The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) will issue a consultation letter on 1 May, seeking the views of all those who have an interest in or involvement with the water industry on the issues raised in the Director General's letter and accompanying paper, and inviting the submission of reasoned arguments over the appropriate level of obligations to place on water companies, to be funded from customers' bills. We are keen to strike the right balance between investment to deliver desirable environmental and quality improvement and the level of water bills.At this stage in the periodic review, costings have not been finalised. Further work will be needed to refine this information. There also remain uncertainties in relation both to the precise nature of some of the EU obligations that water companies will have to meet, as well as to the costings of possible obligations. Against that background, however, we shall seek to give guidance in the summer which is as clear as possible when responding to the Director General. We should welcome views on the issues raised in the Director General's letter and paper, which we shall take into account in providing guidance.A copy of the DETR's consultation letter, which will seek comments by Friday 12 June, will be placed in the Library of the House.

    Nhs Pensions Agency: Key Targets

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will publish the key targets for 1998–99 for the NHS Pensions Agency. [HL1730]

    We have agreed the agency's key tasks and targets for 1998–99, and have placed copies in the Library.

    Public Analyst Services: Review

    asked Her Majesty's Government:What is progress on the review of Public Analyst services in England and Wales. [HL1615]

    The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
    (Lord Donoughue)

    The Government undertook to initiate a review in response to a recommendation in Professor James's report on the Food Standards Agency. My honourable friend the Minister of State (Mr. Rooker) announced on 23 April 1998 the terms of reference of the review, which will be undertaken by an independent review team under the chairmanship of Mr. Alan Turner OBE. Interested parties are invited to submit written evidence to the review team. We hope the review will be completed before the end of the year.