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Written Answers

Volume 590: debated on Tuesday 9 June 1998

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Written Answers

Tuesday, 9th June 1998.

Treatment Of Vulnerable Or Intimidated Witnesses: Report

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether the inter-departmental review of the Treatment of Vulnerable or Intimidated Witnesses announced on 13 June 1997 has now been completed; and whether they propose to publish its findings. [HL2206]

The review of the Treatment of Vulnerable or Intimidated Witnesses has now been completed and copies of the report of the Interdepartmental Working Group, which is being published for consultation purposes, will be placed in the Library tomorrow.

National Blood Authority And Nhs, Scotland

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether the Scottish National Health Service is affected by changes in senior appointments and in organisation being made within the National Blood Authority. [HL2075]

No. The National Blood Authority operates only in England and Wales.

Incontinence Services, Scotland

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether, in view of the proposal in some health boards in Scotland to exclude the supply of incontinence pads from the service provided to incontinent patients by community pharmacies, they will ensure that such pads continue to be supplied in all health board areas; and whether the discontinuance of that service would increase the costs of community pharmacies. [HL2078]

Three health boards are considering pilot schemes for integrating all aspects of the continence services provided to patients in their area. Under these schemes the needs of patients would be assessed by clinical specialists in continence, in accordance with national guidelines, giving patients improved access to products appropriate to their needs. Arrangements for the supply of incontinence pads in other health board areas would remain unchanged.There are no direct costs to community pharmacists as a result of these proposals, although there is a potential loss of revenue in terms of dispensing fees. The purpose of the pilots is to explore the most cost-effective means of providing improved incontinence services to patients.

Disability Discrimination Act 1995: Implementation

asked Her Majesty's Government:When they will implement the remaining provisions of Part III of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. [HL2204]

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

We have decided to implement the remaining provisions of Part III of the Disability Discrimination Act in two stages.From October 1999, service providers will have to take reasonable steps to change practices, policies or procedures which make it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to use a service; provide auxiliary aids or services which would enable disabled people to use a service; and overcome physical barriers by providing a service by a reasonable alternative method.From 2004, service providers will have to take reasonable steps to remove, alter, or provide reasonable means of avoiding physical features that make it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to use a service.In reaching our decision on the timetable for implementation, we have taken full account of advice from the National Disability Council, from organisations of and for disabled people and from business. We have also considered the responses to the 1996 consultation exercise. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment and Equal Opportunities has today written to the National Disability Council asking them to review the code of practice in order to take account of the new duties on service providers. I anticipate that public consultation on the council's revised code of practice and the Government's proposals for a small number of regulations under the Act will begin no later than the beginning of August 1998 and last for three months.We are also publishing today the analysis of the responses to the 1996 consultation exercise on the timetable for implementation. Copies have been placed in the Library.

Primary Class Sizes

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether average primary class sizes have fallen since 1 May 1997. [HL2092]

The average size of primary classes in maintained schools taught by one teacher was 27.7 pupils in January 1998 (provisional), compared with 27.5 in January 1997. This reflects budget decisions taken by the previous government. Average infant class sizes will fall this September as we have allocated £22 million in specific grants to local education authorities to reduce infant class sizes and £40 million for capital to build additional classrooms. This will enable schools to employ around 1,500 teachers and build an extra 600 classrooms, to the benefit of over 100,000 pupils who will be kept out of large classes.

Corporal Punishment Of Children By Childminders

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether, in the light of their obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and of the provision in the School Standards and Framework Bill, which extends abolition of corporal punishment to cover nursery education, the Department of Health will now withdraw the guidance in Local Authority Circular (94)23 which condones corporal punishment of children by childminders. [HL2095]

The Government announced in November 1997 their plans to consult on the law relating to the use of physical punishment by parents. The Government are also currently consulting on the future framework of regulatory standards for early education and daycare. The structure of the new regulatory framework will be informed by the outcome of the consultation on the law. In advance of the outcome of these consultations, the Government have no plans to withdraw the Department of Health's Circular LAC (94)23, responsibility for which has now been assumed by the Department for Education and Employment.

Marine Dredging

asked Her Majesty's Government:What procedures apply for the authorising of marine dredging. [HL2205]

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

We have today announced the introduction of new non-statutory procedures for authorising marine dredging. They are intended to address concerns raised previously by the Crown Estate, environmental organisations and the dredging industry about the present arrangements, and are intended as an interim arrangement until such time as statutory procedures can be introduced. The interim procedures, copies of which have been placed in the House Library, will apply in England and Wales and have been developed following extensive consultation with government departments, the Crown Estate, the dredging industry and environmental organisations. We hope that they will lead to more open and quicker consideration of applications for dredging licences, whilst still enabling full public consultation and protection of the environment.We also announced that the Government intend to introduce statutory procedures for authorising the extraction of minerals by marine dredging by March 1999. These will implement the requirements of EEC Directive 85/337/EEC (as amended by EEC Directive 11/97/EEC) on Environmental Impact Assessment in so far as it applies to the extraction of minerals by marine dredging. There will be appropriate consultation on the provisions.

Cannabis: Reports

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will make available any research the Department of Health has commissioned into the effects of cannabis. [HL2203]

Reports of literature reviews addressing the following aspects have now been submitted to the Department of Health in their final form following peer review:

  • Clinical and Pharmacological Aspects—Professor Heather Ashton (Newcastle University)
  • Psychological and Psychiatric Aspects—Dr. Andrew Johns (Institute of Psychiatry)
  • Therapeutic Aspects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids—Dr. Philip Robson (Oxford University)
These reviews were commissioned by the department but intellectual property right lies with the authors. The views are their own, and are not necessarily those of the Department of Health. Copies have been placed in the Library.

Nhs Staff: Pay Awards

asked Her Majesty's Government:When they expect the pay of NHS employees to increase in real terms above the levels of 1 May 1997. [HL2094]

The Government's approach to pay is part of our wider economic strategy aimed at ensuring a future with low inflation, rising living standards and higher and stable levels of employment. Pay awards for National Health Service staff will be considered within this context.

Nhs Waiting Lists

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether NHS waiting lists have shortened since 1 May 1997. [HL2091]

They have not. We inherited a record number of patients on National Health Service waiting lists and a rising trend in the size of the list. In our first year in office we made sure that the NHS averted a winter crisis. NHS waiting lists have increased despite delivering record amounts of hospital care in 1997–98. In March, we announced an extra £500 million to tackle waiting lists this year—which means a total of £2 billion extra for the NHS since coming into office. In the coming year we will use these extra resources to reverse the upward trend in waiting lists and deliver a record reduction so that by next April they are below the level we inherited. This will be the first step in delivering our pledge to bring waiting lists down by 100,000 over the life of the Parliament.

Disabled Living Allowance And Bip

asked Her Majesty's Government:What urgent action they intend to take in response to the conclusions of the 4th Report of the House of Commons Social Security Committee (Disability Living Allowance HC 641), particularly in relation to the Benefit Integrity Project (BIP); and when present Ministers first became aware of the project's existence. [HL2044]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security
(Baroness Hollis of Heigham)

We welcome the important contribution made by the Social Security Select Committee's report to the debate about Disability Living Allowance (DLA). We will be making a full response to the report in due course and in doing so we will adhere to the usual conventions set out by the Procedure Committee. We are keen to ensure that we consult fully with organisations of and for disabled people on the kind of issues raised in this report. I will be taking this forward in the Disability Benefits Forum we are setting up. The letter from the Permanent Secretary to the chairman of the Social Security Select Committee, which is reproduced at annex 12 to their report, sets out the position on ministerial knowledge of the Benefit Integrity Project (BIP).

Reasonable Doubt: Interpretation

asked Her Majesty's Government:What advice was given to the War Pensions Advisory Group on how to interpret reasonable doubt. [HL2033]

Sir Kenneth Calman, the Chief Medical Officer and chairman of the team reviewing the scientific basis of the assessment of noise induced hearing loss in war pensions, wrote to the expert members of the review team on 12 November 1997 and 22 December 1997 enclosing information on the legal context of the review, including guidance on how to interpret reasonable doubt. I have arranged for copies of the letters and attachments to be placed in the Library.The information note attached to the letter of 12 November refers, in the fourth paragraph, to the case of Miller. This mention was erroneous; the case of Miller did not deal with the question of reliable evidence to raise a reasonable doubt. The reference should have been to the case of Edwards, which is cited again, and quoted, later in the note. A copy of the decision in Miller will, however, be included with the papers placed in the Library.

Droit De Suite

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether their support for artists includes support for

droit de suite; and, if not, why not. [HL2103]

The Government are opposed to the introduction of droit de suite into the United Kingdom. It would damage the international competitiveness of the London art market and lead to the displacement of sales from London to places where the right does not exist.Studies made by my department estimate that British auctioneers and dealers could lose earnings of up to £68 million per year, involving up to 5,000 job losses, whereas at best (assuming no displacement of sales and no drop in prices) artists from across the EU could expect royalties of around £9.8 million. Of this, British artists' would probably get no more than £2 million. The majority probably would get little if anything: in France 75 per cent. of the royalties go to just five families—mainly the heirs of Picasso.The Government cannot support a proposal where the potential costs far outweigh the potential benefits.

Agricultural Gangmasters

asked Her Majesty's Government:What action is being taken to combat exploitative activities by agricultural gangmasters. [HL2176]

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

The Government have been very concerned about the activities of certain agricultural gangmasters who exploit workers, defraud the government and undermine the businesses of those gangmasters who work fairly within the law providing an essential service to the agriculture industry and ultimately the consumer. We therefore set up an interdepartmental working party to investigate the issue. Its report has now been placed in the Library of the House.

In light of the findings and recommendations of the interdepartmental working party and discussions with the industry, we are putting in place a set of measures to tackle the abuses by a significant minority of gangmasters of workers' rights and of non-compliance and fraud against taxation, National Insurance, benefit and immigration systems.

The Government are launching "Operation Gangmaster". This cross-departmental initiative will bring together the work of up to eight different enforcement agencies. The core of this pilot operation will be joint visits concentrating initially on illegal practices in Lincolnshire and East Anglia. Such visits have already occurred this season and one is in train today. This will be supported by general co-operation between enforcement officers alerting other departments to possible illegal activities. Departments will also co-operate in in-depth investigations into illegal gangmaster activities.

In addition enforcement officers in all relevant government departments throughout the country are being briefed on the legislative framework applicable to gangmasters; this will greatly assist strong enforcement and further cement co-operation between departments.

Additional support to Operation Gangmaster will be provided through the Government's Business Anti-Fraud Hot Line. Here the drive to identify fraudulent employers will be helpful in identifying those gangmasters who knowingly employ benefit claimants. Other measures being taken by the Government, including implementing the Working Time Directive and the National Minimum Wage, will contribute to improving the position of casual workers.

Importantly, for the first time, gangmasters, farmers and workers will all be informed of their rights and obligations through leaflets which are being issued widely today. These provide a comprehensive picture of all the relevant aspects of law relevant to gangmasters and the people they employ, covering responsibilities of several different government departments. No one should be in doubt as to their rights or obligations under the law, or be able to claim ignorance of the law, if caught abusing their workers.

I am delighted also that the agricultural and horticultural industries are taking their responsibilities seriously too. The code of practice being launched by the National Farmers' Union and the Fresh Produce Consortium today is an important step. It will be of great assistance to all farmers, growers and pack house operators in understanding the relevant law and best practice to be adopted. I very much welcome that the retail sector have given their support to this code as an initial stage towards controlling gangmasters.

For the longer term, the Government are continuing to examine the scope for registration of agricultural gangmasters and ways to assist the unemployed to take up seasonal agricultural employment more easily, reducing the temptation to work while on benefit and laying individuals open to exploitation by gangmasters.

This comprehensive approach, combining the strength of the several enforcement agencies and providing full information on rights and obligations to workers and employers, and the role the industry itself is playing to tackle the problem of abuse by gangmasters, is breaking new ground.

Food Standards Agency: White Paper

asked Her Majesty's Government:What responses there have been to the public consultation on the White Paper,

The Food Standards Agency: A Force for Change. [HL2057]

The Government have received over a thousand responses to public consultation on the Food Standards Agency White Paper, reflecting the considerable importance that the British public attaches to issues of food safety and standards. The responses show widespread support for the general thrust of our proposals.The many useful comments we have received will inform the preparation of draft legislation, which will be published later in the summer for a final round of public consultation. We will also issue a detailed paper for separate consultation on the proposal to charge the food industry for a greater proportion of food safety costs. The Government are considering, alongside the White Paper responses, the comments made by the Agriculture Select Committee in its recent report on food safety, and will publish its response in due course.I have placed in the Library of the House copies of those responses to the White Paper for which confidentiality was not requested by the respondent. These are accompanied by an alphabetical index and a summary of comments on individual parts of the Government's proposals. All will be available in the Library for the next six months.

Set-Aside: Evaluation

asked Her Majesty's Government:What assessment they have made of the agronomic and environmental implications of set-aside under the Arable Area Payments Scheme. [HL2059]

In 1995 MAFF commissioned a three-year agronomic and environmental evaluation of set-aside in England from a consortium including the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, the British Trust for Ornithology and ADAS and this has now been completed. The evaluation concluded that for most farmers the agronomic costs of set-aside are small, with if anything a yield benefit to crops following set-aside and few increases in pest, weed or disease problems.Many farmers have observed positive environmental effects from set-aside and studies indicate that set-aside has benefited some species of farmland birds whose numbers have been in decline in recent years. Field studies showed that set-aside was an important habitat for these birds, providing breeding sites and valuable food resources. The Government will consider how voluntary set-aside and the agri-environment schemes can be used to help to retain these benefits if the rate of compulsory set-aside is reduced as a result of EU Commission CAP reform proposals.I am placing copies of the full report of the evaluation in the Library of the House.

International Whaling Commission

asked Her Majesty's Government:What was the outcome of the recent meeting of the International Whaling Commission. [HL2060]

The International Whaling Commission's 50th annual meeting was held in Oman from 16 to 20 May. The United Kingdom delegation was composed of officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, assisted by officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and by representatives of environmental organisations.At this meeting our delegation emphasised that the UK remains strongly opposed to all whaling, other than some limited subsistence whaling by indigenous people. We made it clear that we would like to see all other forms of whaling, including so-called "scientific" whaling, brought to an end and a permanent, comprehensive international ban on whaling introduced.It is with these objectives in mind that we are participating in consideration of ideas put forward by Ireland at the IWC's last annual meeting in Monaco last October. These ideas are intended to provide the basis for a compromise solution acceptable to both countries opposed to, and those in favour of, whaling. There was only limited further discussion of the Irish proposals in Oman. The UK delegation made it clear once again that while we were prepared to discuss these proposals, and all other possible ways of improving the conservation of whales, we continued to have serious reservations about some aspects of them, in particular those concerning coastal whaling. We and a number of other countries also stressed that further progress on them was unlikely unless the two whaling countries, Norway and Japan, indicated a readiness to end pelagic, and in particular so-called "scientific", whaling and to accept a ban on international trade in whalemeat: this they declined to do. Nevertheless, the Irish Commissioner, who is the current chairman of the IWC, said that the proposals would remain on the table and that he would continue to try to advance them.Throughout the meeting, the UK delegation stressed our strong support for the current moratorium on commercial whaling. We opposed a request by Japan for a quota of 50 minke whales, which I am pleased to say was again defeated, and we supported resolutions criticising Norway and Japan's continued whaling activities; although these do not conflict with the letter of the IWC's rules, we and many others believe that they are contrary to their spirit and undermine the credibility of the IWC and of the moratorium.In recent years the UK has been arguing that environmental pollution and climate change may pose significant long term threats to whales and other cetaceans, and urging the IWC to devote more effort towards assessing these threats. At this meeting, two significant resolutions were adopted. The first confirms that environmental issues are central to the IWC and directs the IWC's scientific committee to continue its work on the development of long term research programmes on the effects of pollution and climate change on cetaceans. The second deals with the financing of these programmes; it records an agreement in principle to find the necessary funds, drawing if need be on the IWC's financial reserves, and to consider establishing a dedicated Environment Research Fund. We very much welcome the increased emphasis that the IWC is now placing on this important area.The UK delegation again expressed our concern about the cruelty involved in killing whales. It was agreed that a workshop comprising scientific and veterinary experts would meet next year, immediately before the next annual meeting, to consider ways of improving the humaneness of whale killing methods. The UK will be playing a full role in the workshop.Small cetaceans continue to be threatened by human activities in many parts of the world. We took the lead in putting forward a resolution which drew attention to the number of beluga whales killed in subsistence hunts in West Greenland and to doubts among scientists that the current level of exploitation may not be sustainable. The IWC Scientific Committee will be examining this issue at its meeting next year. We also drew attention to the numbers of Dall's porpoise killed in directed takes in Japan.Other important issues were discussed at this meeting. We and a number of other delegations expressed concern at evidence presented to the IWC's Scientific Committee suggesting that illicit trade in whalemeat may be taking place, and a resolution was adopted reaffirming the need for close co-operation between the IWC and CITES on trade issues and calling on all IWC members to respect previous resolutions on illegal trade in whalemeat. There was a positive debate on whalewatching. The UK highlighted the continuing expansion of this popular tourist activity and underlined the importance of the IWC's role in preparing guidelines and overseeing development in this area. Finally, Japan's proposal to amend the IWC's rules of procedure to allow secret voting on policy issues was heavily defeatedOverall, we believe that this was a successful meeting for the UK. We achieved the majority of our objectives: in particular the moratorium on commercial whaling has not been weakened and there was further recognition of the increasing importance to the IWC of environmental issues. We will now be working with the environmental organisations and government departments represented on the Consultative Forum on Whaling to formulate our objectives for the IWC's next annual meeting, which will take place in Grenada in June 1999.