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Written Answers

Volume 688: debated on Wednesday 24 January 2007

Written Answers

Wednesday 24 January 2007

Agriculture: Incomes

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether their efforts to persuade British farmers that their incomes will not be adversely affected by pro-environment farming practices and methods are proving successful. [HL1476]

Uptake of schemes and initiatives designed to promote environmentally sensitive farming practices suggests that farmers understand and support the need to maintain and enhance the country’s natural asset base. Environmental Stewardship, in particular, has been well received. By the end of 2006, 28,000 farmers had entered 4 million hectares into this voluntary scheme, where payments are made on the basis of income forgone compared with normal commercial farming practices.

Armed Forces: Food

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Who is responsible for purchasing food for consumption by United Kingdom-based personnel serving in (a) the Army; (b) the Royal Navy; and (c) the Royal Air Force. [HL1261]

Under the new Pay As You Dine (PAYD) project, currently being introduced across the UK, the provision of catering, leisure and retail facilities for non-operational bases and barracks is being consolidated and let under regionally based “super multi-activity contracts” and private finance initiatives. Under these arrangements, the contractor is responsible for the provision of food for consumption to the standards laid down in the particular regional contract. Where PAYD has not yet come into effect, individual bases and barracks use the MoD's single global food supply contract with Purple Foodservice Solutions for their food requirements.

Bangladesh: Women and Ethnic Minorities

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have made an assessment of the lessons which can be learned from experience in Bangladesh concerning the participation of women from ethnic minorities in public and civic life. [HL787]

In the last Bangladesh parliamentary election in 2001, women candidates won just six of 300 general seats (2 per cent). In response to this situation, Parliament passed a Bill in November 2004 to reintroduce 45 additional reserved parliamentary seats for women.

These reserved seats do not represent geographical constituencies; rather, new women MPs are selected by the elected MPs, with a proportionate distribution of the new seats among the parties represented in the House. This law is valid for 10 years. The introduction of the Bill was contested by several women's groups who campaigned for these seats to be directly elected and for the number of reserved seats to be increased. There are no reserved seats specifically for women from ethnic minorities.

Overall, we do not see strong lessons from the experience in Bangladesh that could successfully be applied to improve the participation of ethnic minority women in public life within the UK.

Benefits: Housing

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why housing benefit cannot be paid direct into a Post Office card account. [HL1282]

The Government believe that, where possible, payments of housing benefit and local housing allowance should be paid direct to tenants, as are most other benefits and tax credits. To support financial inclusion we want people to have their housing payments paid into a bank account and to set up a direct debit or standing order to pay the rent to their landlord. This has the advantage of being a safe and secure method of payment and provides certainty for landlords that rent will be paid.

The Post Office card account was designed to be a very simple account with very limited functions. It does not have the facility for the account holder to set up direct debit or standing order payments and is therefore unsuitable to receive payments of housing benefit or local housing allowance.

British Library

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What response they have made to the British Library's statement on the consequences of the proposed cuts in the spending round 2007; and whether they will negotiate further with the British Library to ensure that it maintains its standing as the world's best research library. [HL1321]

As part of the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) process the British Library has provided its sponsoring department with detailed evidence of the impact that a cut could have on its services. I cannot anticipate the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review at this stage, either for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport as a whole or for the British Library specifically. I can, however, say that the Government are proud of the British Library's status as a world- class research library and will continue to work with the British Library board and executive into the CSR period to effectively protect this status.

Civil Service: National Retirement Age

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why different decisions have been reached by government departments about the adoption of the national default retirement age; and how they explain these differences. [HL1293]

Responsibility for setting retirement ages for staff below the senior Civil Service is delegated to individual departments under the Civil Service (Management Functions) Act 1992. This delegation allows departments to adopt different retirement ages or a policy of not relying on the national default retirement age depending on their own business needs. Retirement age for members of the senior Civil Service is not delegated to departments to decide on and is 65.

Civil Service: Performance Monitoring

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are the policies and practices for dealing with poor performance and incompetence among employed government officials. [HL1291]

Responsibility for setting policies and practices for dealing with poor performance for staff below the senior Civil Service is delegated to individual departments and agencies under the Civil Service (Management Functions) Act 1992.

The Civil Service Management Code, under which this delegation is given, requires departments and agencies to have in place performance review systems and reporting arrangements which are capable of identifying performance which is unsatisfactory or unacceptable. The performance of all members of the senior Civil Service is also for individual departments and agencies to manage within a central framework determined by the Cabinet Office, which includes provisions for managing poor performance.

Where ongoing unsatisfactory performance is identified, whatever the grade of the individual, departments and agencies are required to have procedures in place that should either result in a return to satisfactory performance or an exit from the service. The individual is informed of the areas were performance falls below the expected standards, what support they will receive to assist them to improve and the timeframe in which they will need to do so. Where the required level of improvement is not forthcoming, dismissal is the ultimate sanction.

Common Agricultural Policy: Single Farm Payments

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many farmers have outstanding queries on their single farm payments.[HL1464]

There are fewer than 500 eligible claims to the 2005 single payment scheme where a final payment is outstanding. A proportion of that number is held pending the resolution of issues such as probate. The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) is also checking approximately 20,000 2005 cases, which include those involving queries raised by farmers, to establish whether the correct payment has been made. For the 2006 scheme year, RPA continues to process claims. A small number of payments have been made and no query has yet been raised.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many farmers faced financial penalties as a result of queries raised during discussions on their 2005 single farm payments; and how many of these were due to delays within the Rural Payments Agency.[HL1465]

As at 15 November 2006, 25,551 penalties have been applied to 2005 single payment scheme claims, affecting 19,673 single business identifiers. In addition, a further 1,823 claims were penalised owing to non-compliances found during inspections. Statistics held by the Rural Payments Agency are not categorised in such a way that it would be apparent what reasons caused the non-compliance to occur and hence the penalty to be applied.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What has been the cost of the administration of the single farm payment for 2005 to date; how many people have been employed to administer the scheme; and of those how many were permanent staff.[HL1466]

The allocation of direct costs for administering the single payment scheme (SPS) for 2005 to 31 December 2006 amounted to £104 million. This includes the costs of scheme processing but excludes apportioned overheads. At the end of 2006, there were circa 2,000 full-time equivalent staff employed to administer the SPS. Of these, 47 per cent were permanent, fixed-term or casual employees. The remaining 53 per cent were temporary workers engaged mainly through employment agencies.


asked Her Majesty's Government:

How they define the constitution for the purposes of determining the responsibilities of the Department for Constitutional Affairs. [HL1243]

My responsibilities as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs cover constitutional issues generally, including devolution; data protection; freedom of information; human rights; electoral law; custody and exercise of the Great Seal; judicial appointments and all matters related to the judiciary and lay magistracy; procedural rules, appointments to rule committees/advisory councils, fees as applicable in criminal justice, civil justice, family justice and administrative justice; HM Court Services; the Tribunals Service; the Land Registry; the Northern Ireland Court Service; the Law Commission; public records; the National Archives; the Crown dependencies; legal aid; and regulation of the legal professions.

Court Martial: Sergeant Selman and Others

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Following the cases of Sergeant Selman and others acquitted at court martial, whether (a) the witness statement provided by Sergeant Selman and (b) the transcript of Sergeant Selman's interview under caution were excluded from evidence and did not go before the court; and, if so, for what reasons. [HL1205]

The witness statement provided by Sergeant Selman was excluded from evidence by the Judge Advocate. This ruling was in response to a submission by Sergeant Selman's counsel that the Royal Military Police had reasonable grounds by the time his statement was taken to suspect his involvement in an offence. That being so, he should have been treated as a suspect rather than a witness, and cautioned and interviewed under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. The transcript of Sergeant Selman's interviews under caution was not excluded but the Judge Advocate ordered that those parts of the interview which related to the witness statement should be removed. Following this ruling the prosecution decided not to use the interviews of Sergeant Selman in evidence.

Crime: Rape

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have assessed the appropriateness of the appointment of Mr D Farrell QC as representing both the Crown in the Warren Blackwell appeal hearing and the Crown in the original trial of Warren Blackwell; and whether this is normal practice. [HL1216]

It is normal practice to brief counsel who conducted the original trial to represent the Crown at any subsequent appeal hearing, unless it is clear from the grounds of appeal that the conduct of prosecution counsel was an issue. In this case the appeal was on two grounds: the first, based on new evidence about the complainant, which was conceded by the Crown; the second, based on non-disclosure by the Crown, which was not conceded by the Crown, and was not considered by the court.

In view of the fact that counsel's judgment was in question and that this could have led to a conflict of interest, he should not have continued to be instructed on the appeal and new counsel should have been appointed by the Crown for the appeal. CPS guidance on the appointment of counsel in appeals referred by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) to the Court of Appeal has been issued.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether disciplinary action is to be taken in the case of prosecutors in the Warren Blackwell trial and appeal for failure to disclose evidence of importance to the case for the defence. [HL1217]

The case was properly reviewed by the Crown prosecutor, who sought and obtained advice regarding disclosure from senior counsel conducting the trial. There are no grounds for disciplinary action against any individual. The Court of Appeal judgment has been brought to the attention of all Crown prosecutors.

EU: UK Net Contributing Cost

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by Lord McKenzie of Luton on 29 November 2006 (WA 58-59), whether, over the five-year period 1997 to 2005 inclusive, the cumulative United Kingdom net contribution to European Union institutions, on a current account basis, was £44 billion; and whether, on the same basis, the cumulative United Kingdom deficit on trade in goods, services and income with the European Union member states was £72.5 billion. [HL1239]

The information requested falls within the responsibility of the National Statistician, who has been asked to reply.

Letter to Lord Vinson from the National Statistician, dated January 2007.

The National Statistician has been asked to reply to your recent Parliamentary Question asking about the United Kingdom (UK) net contribution to European Union institutions and the UK deficit on trade in goods, services and income with the European Union. I am replying in her absence. (HL 1239)

I have assumed that net contributions to the EU are equivalent to UK official transactions with European Union institutions. These, as included in the National Accounts, can be found in table 9.9 of the UK's Balance of Payments Pink Book (p. 149 of the 2006 edition),

However, capital transfers are included in the total net contribution to the EU, outlined in the table detailed above, and I have assumed that these should be subtracted to calculate the net contribution on a current account basis. These capital transfers are UK receipts relating to the Agricultural Guarantee Fund, the European Regional Development Fund and other capital transfers from EU institutions. Data for 1997 to 2005 are available in table 9.9 of last year’s Pink Book.

Over the period 1997-2005 inclusive, the cumulative United Kingdom net contribution to European Union institutions, as I have defined above, is £32.6 billion.

Data for the United Kingdom's goods, services and income balances with European Union member states can be found in Pink Book tables 9.4, 9.5 and 9.6 respectively (pages 135, 139 and 143 in the 2006 Pink Book). Please note that although the 10 accession countries joined the EU in 2001, I have calculated the cumulative deficits below with the 25 countries that were European Union member states in 2006. Please also note that prior to 1999, data are not available for some of the accession countries; consequently I have only calculated the cumulative deficits from 1999 onwards.

Over the period 1999 to 2005 inclusive, the cumulative deficit on trade in goods, services and income with the EU 25 member states, excluding those with EU institutions and the European Central Bank, is £80.1 billion. For the current account as a whole—that is additionally including current transfers— the cumulative deficit is £80.7 billion.

Healthcare Commission: Annual Report

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by the Minister for Housing and Planning, Yvette Cooper, on 2 October 2006 (HC Deb, 2542W), what are the reasons for (a) a fall in derelict land and buildings in the east of England from 2,610 hectares in 2001 to 1,740 hectares in 2002 and a rise in 2003 to 2,420 hectares; and (b) the changes in the number of hectares in the south-west from 1,870 in 2001, to 1,630 in 2002, 2,250 in 2003 and 1,900 in 2004. [HL1294]

Changes in the amounts of derelict land and buildings in a region are the result of the development of some sites and by new sites coming into scope. It is also the case that estimates for the early years of the survey are less reliable than those from more recent years because they were based on responses from fewer local authorities, as shown in the table below. An allowance is made for missing data but this is necessarily approximate.

Proportions of Local Authorities Making a Return to the National Land Use Database of Previously Developed Land. (per cent)

East of England



















Housing: Planning Permission

asked Her Majesty's Government:

In which local authorities in England there is a moratorium on giving new planning permissions for any additional housing by new building or conversions, other than in exceptional circumstances. [HL865]

Her Majesty's Government are not aware of any local planning authorities where there is a moratorium (that is, a blanket ban) on additional housing, although we are aware that in some areas local planning authorities have introduced local policies or supplementary planning guidance that seek to restrict development in particular circumstances.

Planning Policy Statement 3 (PPS3) Housing, published on 29 November, puts in place a new national policy framework aimed at ensuring that sufficient land is made available to provide for the new homes required to meet growing need and demand. PPS3 makes it clear that local planning authorities and regional planning bodies should work together to determine how many new homes are needed, which takes into account the Government's overall ambitions for affordability across the housing market, including the need to improve affordability and increase housing supply.

Railways: Network Rail

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are the criteria against which bonus payments are made to the executives of Network Rail. [HL1363]

Network Rail is a private sector company and so decisions on bonuses paid to its executive directors are a matter for it, not for the Government. Network Rail's annual report and accounts 2006 provides information on the criteria for the award of such bonuses, and is available on the company's website,

Railways: North-west

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have made an assessment of the cost of reinstatement of (a) the Todmorden railway curve, and (b) the passing loop at Nelson, together with any other necessary changes. [HL1346]

To advance infrastructure proposals, a business case for the proposals should first be developed, usually by local or regional bodies working with Network Rail. The Government have not made an assessment of the costs of these railway schemes as no business case has been received.

Railways: West Coast Main Line

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When a decision will be reached on the provision of additional vehicles for the west coast main line Pendolino fleet. [HL1364]

Department for Transport officials are currently working closely with the rail industry on a number of options for increasing capacity on the west coast main line in the light of continuing growth of both passenger and freight business. In this connection, a formal proposal from Virgin Trains to lengthen the Pendolino trains has only now been received. A decision on this will be taken shortly.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by Lord Davies of Oldham on 9 January (WA 74), why they did not follow their stated policy of re-tendering franchises in the case of the west coast main line rather than renegotiating the franchise from a contribution of over £1 billion to the Government to a subsidy of £1,552 million over the period 2006 to 2012. [HL1366]

The Department for Transport does not renegotiate franchises. The original franchise agreement term was until 2012 and based on certain assumptions that Network Rail would deliver contractual commitments by 2005. The letter of agreement provided for services to continue to be provided while the reconfigured west coast modernisation project was completed. The reinstatement of the franchise agreement provides better value to the tax payer and benefits of continuity to the passenger than the buying-out of the franchise from Virgin and re-tendering through the franchise replacement process earlier than the contractual term ending in 2012.