Skip to main content

Written Answers

Volume 692: debated on Thursday 24 May 2007

Written Answers

Thursday 24 May 2007

Agriculture: Borrowing

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the United Kingdom agricultural industry's annual total borrowing for the year 2000 to 2006 inclusive. [HL3907]

The total liabilities for the United Kingdom farming industry as at December for the years 2000 to 2005 are given in the following table. Note that estimates for December 2006 are not yet available and will be published in March 2008.

Liabilities for the UK farming industry

As at December each year

£ million

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005 (provisional)

Liabilities

Long and medium-term:

AMC and SASC (a)

1,377

1,339

1,334

1,313

1,317

1,363

Building societies and institutions

396

379

389

460

474

457

Bank loans

2,367

2,202

2,284

2,435

2,371

2,403

Family loans

430

449

450

529

531

538

Other

232

248

271

263

260

338

Total long and medium-term

4,802

4,617

4,728

5,000

4,954

5,099

Short-term:

Leasing

95

94

113

130

139

121

Hire purchase

479

517

593

724

695

602

Trade credit

1,250

1,193

1,238

1,423

1,325

1,388

Bank overdrafts

3,015

2,814

2,991

2,949

2,869

3,485

Other

114

118

128

120

134

128

Total short-term

4,953

4,735

5,063

5,347

5,163

5,726

10

10

Total liabilities

9,755

9,352

9,790

347

117

10,825

(a) Agricultural Mortgage Corporation (AMC) and Scottish Agricultural Securities Corporation (SASC).

Source: Agriculture in the United Kingdom 2006, table 9.3

Animal Welfare: Dogs

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will make mandatory the periodic worming of pet dogs in order to tackle the rise in liver damage to sheep attributed to more people with dogs visiting the countryside. [HL3844]

My department has no plans to make the worming of dogs mandatory. However, we advise that adult dogs should be wormed at least every six months. Pregnant bitches and bitches with young puppies should be wormed more frequently. It is essential that puppies are wormed when they are about two weeks old and then treated at regular intervals until they are at least six months old. Products should be used in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions and veterinary advice should always be sought before worming puppies or if the owner has any doubt as to the timing, dosage or selection of the appropriate product.

Armed Forces: Conscription

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether there are any plans for the reintroduction of conscription to the Armed Forces. [HL3953]

I refer the noble Lord to the Answer I gave on 25 April 2007 (Official Report, col. WA 137) to the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley.

Arts: Orchestras

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assessment they have made of Building on Excellence—Orchestras for the 21st century as a 10-year mission statement from England's publicly funded orchestras; and whether they are considering any action in support of its aims. [HL3783]

The Government are very interested and encouraged by Building on Excellence—Orchestras for the 21st century, and welcomes this collaboration of the eight orchestras towards a single mission to reach and enable new generations to experience the value of symphonic music.

The mission of these orchestras is consistent with the recommendations in the Music Manifesto Report No. 2 about improved partnership working between music providers to ensure that every child gets the chance to make and enjoy music. The Government have already given their support to these recommendations and will continue to work alongside England's publicly funded orchestras to explore ways to support these shared aims.

Arts: Royal Opera House

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will provide an assurance that the recently announced bequest of £10 million to the Royal Opera House will have no impact on their usual level of funding for that institution regardless of the current need to find additional funds for the 2012 Olympic Games. [HL3866]

Public funding for the Royal Opera House is channelled through Arts Council England and Ministers do not play a role in making individual funding decisions. Grant-in-aid funding to Arts Council England will not be affected by the 2012 Games. The £10 million donation to the Royal Opera House was made specifically to establish a permanent Paul Hamlyn Education Fund, which will support education and access projects.

Common Agricultural Policy: Single Farm Payment

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether there is a reserve mechanism available by which moneys required for completing single farm payments in any year are held over pending the resolution of complex problems; and how any residues of such resources will be spent. [HL3585]

The timing of payment to single payment scheme claimants is dependent on the completion of validation of individual claims. However, in all cases payments are made in full regardless of whether the payment takes place before or after the end of the EU regulatory payment window. Where payments are made after the end of that window, EU funding remains available up to a level equating to 4 per cent of the value of payments made before the end of window. Once that 4 per cent “pot” is exhausted, EU funding may still be available, albeit at reduced levels, depending on how many months after the end of the window the payments are made.

Constitutional Reform Act

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by Lord Falconer of Thoroton on 8 May (WA 245), what procedure, including the process of consultation, they intend to follow before appointments are made of Lords of Appeal in Ordinary who will become Justices of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. [HL3728]

I am considering whether it is right for future appointments of Lords of Appeal in Ordinary to be made according to the procedure set out in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. Before doing so, I will want to be certain that all practicalities and logistics are settled. I will make an announcement about my decision shortly.

Crafts Council

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What further plans they have to support small and medium-sized enterprises through (a) the Crafts Council's Next Move graduate incubation scheme; (b) the development award scheme; and (c) the programme of support for regional curators to improve opportunities for the public to enjoy contemporary craft.[HL3569]

The Crafts Council, which is funded by Arts Council England, supports small and medium-sized enterprises through Next Move, the Crafts Council development award and a programme of support for regional curators.

Further plans to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) through these programmes are as follows:

the Crafts Council is piloting the Next Move programme in higher education institutions in Cardiff and Swansea to develop the programme as a national scheme;

the Crafts Council development award continues to support emerging craft makers and will run until 2008-09. It will be evaluated to assess its impact and effectiveness in 2007-08; and

the programme of support for regional curators was launched this year and is due to run until 2009-10, when it will be evaluated along with other Crafts Council schemes.

Crime: Sex Offenders

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) is advised of those persons who are put on the sex offenders register; if not, whether they will arrange for the register to be put on to the IPS database; and whether they will arrange for an electronic record to be made of those on the register who enter the United Kingdom. [HL3743]

Offenders who are subject to the notification requirements of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 are required to notify certain personal details to the police on a regular basis. The Identity and Passport Service supports the police, whose responsibility the management of these offenders is, by recording the names of registered sex offenders who have failed to register their current address or other details and for whom an arrest warrant has been issued. At present the IPS has a record of the names of 95 individuals assessed by the Serious and Organised Crime Agency as being high risk offenders.

The notification requirements do not in themselves prevent offenders travelling abroad and there is no bar on such offenders holding passports, but those who choose to travel abroad for three days or longer must inform the police. The police can and do inform their counterparts in the destination country of an offender's intention to travel, where appropriate. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 allows police to seek a court order to prevent a registered sex offender who has offended against children from travelling if there is evidence that he would pose a significant risk of sexual harm by doing so.

Department for International Development: Ecosystem Services

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Statement by the Lord President (Baroness Amos) on 13 October 2005 (Official Report, col. 488) that the Department for International Development's work also involves the development of market-based approaches to the provision of ecosystem services such as water, biodiversity and carbon, what progress they have made in the development of market-based mechanisms for the provision of ecosystem services. [HL3889]

There are four strands to DfID's work on market-based approaches for the provision of ecosystem services. The first concerns improving the supply of information on emerging markets and payments for ecosystem services. This is done through support to the ecosystems marketplace, a not-for-profit organisation, which provides timely information and guidance, such as that recently published on Voluntary Carbon Markets: A business guide to what they are and how they work. Information on the ecosystems marketplace can be found at http://ecosystemmarketplace.com/index.php.

The second strand of work concerns markets for watershed services. A major piece of work led by the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED), and funded by DfID, has recently concluded. It has provided the main sources of evidence available on this subject, and has made major contributions to policy development and capacity building in the Caribbean, China, Bolivia, India, Indonesia and South Africa. Details of this work can be found at http://www.iied.org/NR/forestry/projects/water.html.

The third strand relates to the clean development mechanism (CDM). The CDM was established under the Kyoto Protocol as the main market-based instrument for transferring carbon finance and technology to developing countries in support of greenhouse gas emissions reductions. DfID is working closely with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the African Development Bank, to fulfil the commitments under the Nairobi framework for expanding CDM investment in Africa and other less developed countries. We are working to increase the emphasis in these countries on the potential role of carbon finance in supporting sustainable development and access to energy. DfID is also working with academics and the private sector on analysis for developing the CDM further, post-2012 and the end of the current commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, shifting it from a project-based instrument to funding programmes generating emissions reductions in countries.

The final strand of work relates to collaborative research between DfID, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) into how to achieve sustainably managed ecosystems. This work is at the final planning stage. Four regional situation analyses are in progress for the Andes and the Amazon basin, the arid and semi-arid regions of Africa, Northern India and neighbouring countries, and China.

Deputy Prime Minister: Barbados

asked Her Majesty's Government:

In relation to the Deputy Prime Minister's forthcoming trip to Barbados (a) what is the estimated total cost of this trip to the United Kingdom taxpayer; (b) how many officials will accompany him, and whether he will be accompanied by a family member; (c) what proportion of the visit will be spent on official duties; and (d) what proportion of the cost will be met by the Deputy Prime Minister personally as he will be visiting a family member. [HL3925]

Since 1999, the Government have published, on an annual basis, details of overseas visits by Cabinet Ministers costing over £500, as well as the total cost of all ministerial overseas travel. Information for 2007-08 will be published in the usual way.

There is no expenditure by the Deputy Prime Minister's Office other than the cost associated with the official party.

Embryology

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What treatments for cerebral palsy, using stem cells from umbilical cords, are available in the United Kingdom; what assistance is being given to families with children suffering from this condition to travel to countries where the treatment is available; and when it is anticipated that comparable treatments will be available in the United Kingdom. [HL3854]

Such treatments are not currently available in the National Health Service. Before such treatments could be made available for human application, rigorous research and clinical trials would have to be completed.

Whether to give assistance to NHS patients seeking treatment from outside the European economic area is a decision for each NHS trust or primary care trust to make based on agreed criteria.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What research is being undertaken into the use of cells from umbilical cords as treatments for cerebral palsy; whether umbilical cords used for this purpose are retained or destroyed; and what percentage of the funds allocated for stem cell research has been reserved for the development of work with stem cells derived from umbilical cords. [HL3855]

The department is not aware of any studies or trials being carried out in the United Kingdom on the use of cells from umbilical cords as treatments for cerebral palsy. The UK Government are, however, committed to providing the best possible support for stem cell research and other experimental avenues of biomedical research that may, in the future, benefit patients suffering from a range of diseases.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath on 30 April (WA 182), what information they have on proposals to use embryonic stem cells in therapies; and what therapies are currently available (a) in the United Kingdom, and (b) overseas using adult stem cells. [HL3857]

Stem cell research shows great promise for understanding the basic development of different cell types. There have been a number of encouraging preclinical studies and clinical trials with adult and embryonic stem cells. This research is at a very early stage but it does show considerable promise for new therapies. This may include using them to replace damaged or diseased tissue. The studies may also provide the basis for studying diseases if specific cells lines are created. Stem cells may also provide better tests to test research drugs for signs of toxicity, reducing animal studies and improving the safety of drug trials.

The biological properties of stem cells have been exploited over the past several decades to develop a number of highly successful treatments using adult stem cells including bone marrow transplants, corneal transplants, related donor cord blood transplants and skin grafting.

It is difficult to assess stem cell therapies offered abroad as not all are associated with rigorous clinical trial data.

EU: Constitution

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether a United Kingdom representative was present at the informal meeting held in Sintra, Portugal, on 13 May to discuss the European Union constitution. [HL3785]

No Government representative was present at the informal meeting in Sintra, Portugal on 13 May. The meeting was convened by European Commission President Barroso and brought together German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as current president of the European Council, Hans-Gert Pöttering—president of the European Parliament—and the Prime Ministers of Portugal and Slovenia, as representatives for the next two upcoming EU presidencies.

EU: Membership

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the answer by Baroness Royall of Blaisdon on 8 May (Official Report, col. 1263), which specific studies already available in the United Kingdom support their view that the costs of European Union membership “are far outweighed” by the benefits to the British people. [HL3775]

A number of studies related to the costs and benefits of various aspects of the European Union are available. The Government take account of such studies as part of their approach to European Union policy issues. We continue to believe that the benefits of the European Union to the United Kingdom far outweigh the costs of membership.

EU: Racism and Xenophobia Directive

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assessment they have made of the European Union's proposed framework decision on combating racism and xenophobia (5118/07); and whether they have given an assurance to the Government of Germany that they will support its adoption by the end of the German presidency. [HL3746]

The framework decision to combat racism and xenophobia is intended to ensure that all citizens across the EU are afforded equal protection against discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, descent, religion or belief, and national or ethnic origin. It is not intended to restrict free speech or remove political opposition. The Government believe that it reaches a balance between free speech and protecting the public from racist behaviour.

The Government participated in a general approach at the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council on 19 April, thereby indicating that we are content with the measure as it currently stands. The UK and some other member states did, however, note their scrutiny reserves at that time.

The measure cannot be formally adopted until these have all been lifted.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assessment they have made of the effect on United Kingdom domestic law that would arise if the European Union's proposed framework decision on combating racism and xenophobia (5118/07) is adopted. [HL3747]

The UK will be able to comply with the council framework decision on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of current criminal law without making changes to domestic legislation.

EU: Regulatory Reform

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by Lord Davies of Oldham on 15 May (WA 23), how they intend to fulfil their commitment to European regulatory reform bearing in mind that the United Kingdom has only 8 per cent of the votes in the Council of Ministers. [HL3860]

The UK’s commitment to an ambitious regulatory reform agenda in Europe is shared by the European Commission and other member states. With strong UK encouragement, particularly through our presidency of the EU, the Commission has begun to deliver a comprehensive strategy to reform Europe’s approach to regulation which encompasses reducing administrative burdens, simplifying existing legislation and withdrawing pending proposals that do not support the jobs and growth agenda.

The UK has continued to advance this agenda. EU leaders recently agreed at the 2007 spring European Council the Commission’s target to cut administrative burdens stemming from EU legislation by 25 per cent by 2012. We will continue to work with forthcoming presidencies to make further progress on delivering regulatory reform.

Euro-zone

The Government's policy on membership of the single currency is unchanged. It remains as set out by the Chancellor in his Statement to the House of Commons in October 1997, and again in the Chancellor's Statement on the five tests assessment in June 2003. The determining factor underpinning any government decision on membership of the single currency is the national economic interest and whether the economic case for joining is clear and unambiguous.

The Chancellor announced in Budget 2007 that,

“the Government do not propose a euro assessment to be initiated at the time of this Budget”.

The Treasury will again review the situation at Budget time next year as required by the Chancellor's June 2003 Statement.

Female Genital Mutilation

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by Baroness Scotland of Asthal on 20 April (WA 98), what financial and other resources have been used in educating communities to abandon the practice of genital mutilation since the coming into force of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003; and [HL3460]

Further to the Written Answer by Baroness Scotland of Asthal on 20 April (WA 98), whether they have evaluated the impact of their policy of educating communities to abandon the practice of genital mutilation. [HL3461]

In 2004, the Home Office gave a total of £10,000 to the Agency for Culture and Change Management (ACCM) and £20,000 to Black Women's Health And Family Support specifically to take forward a programme of awareness-raising activities about the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 in practising communities. These activities included workshops, the training of community advocates and the production of leaflets and material in other media and in various languages. A report was published in December 2004 on the effectiveness of these activities.

The Department of Health has funded £20,214 for an FGM prevalence study, £30,761 for the development of FGM DVD for health professionals, and funding to the specialist organisation Foundation for Women's Health, Research and Development (FORWARD), including core funding of £42,000 in 2005-06, £35,000 in 2006-07 and £30,000 in 2007-08. It previously provided project funding over three years between 2002-03 and 2004-05 for FORWARD’s positive partnership with communities, which aimed to identify challenges to change, work with men and establish peer educators. The Department for Education and Skills provides the ACCM with ongoing funding under the children, young people and families grant scheme.

Food

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How much publicly procured food is produced in the United Kingdom each year. [HL3904]

The department does not hold this information, but Defra's Secretary of State has commissioned work to determine the proportion of publicly procured food that is British. The work will be completed by the late autumn of this year, and I will place the information in the Library of the House.

Gangmasters

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority or the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre have received complaints against Focus Staff Limited or Mr Michael Dickensen, concerning the exploitation of migrant workers; if so, what was their content; and whether investigations and legal action will follow. [HL3476]

The Gangmasters Licensing Authority initiated an investigation earlier this year in response to various allegations against Focus Staff Limited but I cannot comment on the detail of operational matters.

The Gangmasters Licensing Authority's investigation has led to Focus Staff Limited losing its licence and further action is being considered by the appropriate authorities.

Government: Guarantees

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What current government guarantees there are; and what are the amounts involved in each. [HL3940]

Government guarantees and the amounts involved, where these are quantifiable, are recorded in audited annual departmental resource accounts that comply with generally accepted accounting practice (GAAP). Departmental resource accounts also include material guarantees that are not required to be disclosed under GAAP but are disclosed in accordance with the requirements of government accounting.

All guarantees are subject to approval by Parliament where required by statute or if they are in excess of £250,000, outside the course of departmental normal business or are of a sufficient size or risk.

Health: Alcohol

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have, as part of their revised alcohol harm reduction strategy, to promote the identification by general practitioners, accident and emergency departments and other outpatient departments of patients whose alcohol consumption may be causing them harm, and to persuade those patients to accept counselling. [HL3816]

The department published Alcohol Misuse Interventions: Guidance on developing a local programme of improvement in November 2005. This guidance encouraged local primary care trusts to work with general practitioners and other healthcare settings including accident and emergency departments and appropriate out-patient departments to implement programmes to identify hazardous and harmful drinkers and offer them advice about reducing their alcohol use.

The department is funding a consortium headed by St George's Medical School and Newcastle University to establish a series of alcohol identification and brief advice trailblazers projects.

The renewed alcohol harm reduction strategy will be published shortly.

Health: Dementia and Cancer

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What estimate they have made of the number of people in England suffering from (a) all kinds of dementia, and (b) all types of cancer; and what estimate they have made of the comparative cost of treating and caring for them. [HL3695]

The department has not made an estimate of the number of people in England suffering from all kinds of dementia. However, figures from the Office for National Statistics in 2004 indicate that 233,621 people were diagnosed with cancer in England.

The department has not estimated the comparative cost of treating and caring for people suffering from dementia and cancer.

Details of expenditure on social care for people with dementia and cancer are not held centrally. However, estimates of National Health Service expenditure on mental health, including dementia, and cancer are available from the programme budgeting returns. In the 2005-06 financial year, gross expenditure on mental health was estimated at £8.5 billion, with £0.9 billion of this total made up of spend on dementia. A further £4.3 billion was spent in 2005-06 on treating all cancers.

Health: Dentistry

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is (a) the patient charge revenue shortfall; and (b) the average value of a unit of dental activity, in each primary care trust. [HL3802]

Full data on patient charge income in 2006-07 are not yet available. Dentists have up to two months after the end of the financial year to submit final details of charges collected and the information then has to be processed by the National Health Service Business Services Authority. The data collected by the department centrally do not identify the average value of a unit of dental activity in each primary care trust (PCT). These values will vary because of a number of factors, including differences in treatment patterns and treatment needs in different areas, the contract values negotiated locally by PCTs and dental practices, and the degree to which PCTs and practices may have agreed service outputs that cannot be measured through patient courses of treatment.

Human Rights: Northern Ireland

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the remit provided to the chair of the Bill of Rights Forum includes the intention detailed by the chair in a press statement of 4 April of developing a new international standard in a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland to reflect the needs and views of all sectors of society. [HL3312]

The Bill of Rights Forum is independent of government and it will be for the forum under the chairmanship of Chris Sidoti to consider exactly how it interprets its remit.

Immigration: Caseholders

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by Baroness Scotland of Asthal on 30 April (WA 184), what is the normal range of the number of cases held at any one time by those caseholders of the Border and Immigration Agency who deal exclusively with asylum applications. [HL3527]

It is not possible to give the normal range of the number of asylum cases held by caseholders.

Since 5 March 2007, all new asylum applications are allocated to a case owner who is responsible for the case until conclusion (grant or removal) under the new asylum model process. The number of cases held by each case owner will vary over time depending on their experience and on the rates of new asylum intake and case conclusion.

Detailed arrangements for the processing of the backlog of older unresolved asylum cases are under development. Many of these cases do not yet have an allocated caseholder.

Immigration: Sudan

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether Mr Mohammed Abdulhadi Ali or any other asylum applicants from Darfur were deported to Khartoum on 27 March despite reports that to do so would expose them to risk of death or torture; and, if not, what plans they have for Mr Ali and any other Darfuris who were due to be deported on that date. [HL3093]

Border and Immigration Agency records show that on the 27 March, one Sudanese national, who was not from Darfur, was removed to Khartoum.

Imports

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to encourage the transport of goods imported into the United Kingdom by sea rather than by air.[HL3932]

The Government support the EU Marco Polo scheme that encourages greater use of water transport between EU states in preference to road transport.

Because of the higher costs involved in air transport this tends to be restricted to goods of a specialist nature and goods with a time constraint. As a result, air freight does not compete generally with water transport.

Irish Language Bill

asked Her Majesty's Government:

To what equality considerations the potential Irish Language Bill has been subjected. [HL3599]

In accordance with the requirements of Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, an equality impact screening exercise was carried out as part of consultation on Irish language legislation and, as a result, an equality impact assessment was conducted and published for consultation. Part one of the equality impact assessment was published on 13 December 2006; part two was published on 19 January 2007.

This is now a matter for the devolved administration.

Israel and Palestine

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they support the recommendations of the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, concerning 33 detained members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, including its speaker, and their conditions of captivity; whether they will raise the particular issue of the detention of Dr A A Dweik (the speaker) and his poor state of health with the quartet and directly with the Government of Israel. [HL3765]

We do share the concerns of the Inter-Parliamentary Union concerning the 33 detained members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, including its Speaker Abdel Dweik. Although we have no plans to raise this with the quartet (EU, US, UN and Russia) or the Israeli Government, we do support the EU’s calls at the 22 January General Affairs and External Relations Council for the immediate release of Palestinian Ministers and legislators detained in Israel.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their response and that of the Middle East Quartet to the list of 33 benchmarks to be implemented by Israel and the Palestinian Authority during 2007; and whether they include family reunification in both the West Bank and Gaza. [HL3766]

As the proposals are currently being discussed between the parties, the quartet (EU, US, UN and Russia) has made no comment. However, we do believe it is essential that progress is made on movement and access in and between the West Bank and Gaza, and we support the development of a functioning and accountable security sector to ensure a viable future Palestinian state. Although the benchmarks do not specifically include a reference to family reunification, we remain concerned at the effects of Israel’s Nationality and Entry into Israel Law, which discriminates against Israelis who marry non-Israelis. We will continue to raise our concerns about this with the Israeli Government.

Israel and Palestine: East Jerusalem

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the Middle East quartet has discussed Israel's plans to build 20,000 houses in east Jerusalem; if not, whether they will put this on their agenda as a matter of urgency; whether they have raised the subject bilaterally; and, if so, when they raised it. [HL3764]

The quartet (EU, US, UN and Russia) has not discussed these plans with Israel. We will continue to discuss settlement activities with EU parties, including with EU High Representative Solana and EU Special Representative Otte, both of whom attend quartet meetings.

We are concerned about the announcement of new housing units in east Jerusalem. We have raised this with the Israeli Government. Our ambassador in Tel Aviv did so on 1 March with Israeli Foreign Minister Livni. Settlements are illegal under international law and settlement construction is an obstacle to peace. We will continue to raise this with the Israeli Government.

Israel and Palestine: Gaza

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assistance is being given by the temporary international mechanism of the European Union to strengthen security forces in Gaza. [HL3672]

The temporary international mechanism (TIM) does not provide assistance to strengthen security forces in Gaza. The TIM focuses on maintaining basic services in the occupied Palestinian Territories, and on supporting the livelihoods of poor Palestinians.

The UK provides bilateral assistance to improve the security situation in Gaza. This includes funding for technical experts to help the Palestinian Authority reform the security sector and over £350,000 to improve security and facilities at Karni, Gaza's main commercial crossing.

Israel: Detention

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they received copies of the recent report from the Centre for the Defence of the Individual and B’Tselem (the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) about Israel's detention and interrogation practices; if so, what conclusions they draw; and when they last discussed these matters with the Government of Israel. [HL3814]

We have not received copies of this report but we are aware of the allegations of torture and other interrogation practices and detention conditions about which there may be cause for concern. We continue to monitor the situation with regard to Palestinian prisoners and regularly raise our concerns with the Israeli authorities. Our ambassador in Tel Aviv last raised this with the Israeli Government on 10 January. In addition, the International Committee of the Red Cross continues to have access to Israeli prisons and detention centres in Israel and the West Bank, and monitors conditions in Israeli prisons on a regular basis.

Mining

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are involved in work to promote health and safety for those employed or self-employed in small-scale mining enterprises in Africa and South America; and, if so, what progress has been achieved recently. [HL3762]

We recognise that health and safety standards are often poor or non-existent in the artisan and small-scale mining (ASM) sector. The Department for International Development has directly and indirectly supported a number of initiatives to promote health, safety and the environment (HSE) in the sector.

DfID supports the World Bank-hosted communities and small-scale mining (CASM) initiative. This includes promoting the health and safety of those employed in small-scale mining. For example, CASM has supported training on good mining and processing practices including health and safety in Ghana, Tanzania, Mali, and Zambia.

CASM is also supporting the work of several agencies investigating the feasibility of certification schemes, for gold and other metal and mineral resources, that amongst other things, aims to give recognition for the adoption of HSE standards by ASM associations.

DfID has directly supported work with ASM communities in Ghana and Tanzania. This included HSE to communicate aspects of occupational and community health and safety directly to ASM communities in their own languages.

Together with the United Nations environment programme, the International Council on Mining and Metals and the UN Commission on Trade and Development, DfID supports a website that selects and communicates good practice in mining, including HSE standards.

DfID has been involved with the Global Mercury Project (GMP), which is co-ordinated by the United Nations International Development Organisation (UNIDO). Since 2002 this has demonstrated ways to reduce the use of mercury in gold processing in six countries including Brazil, Sudan, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. This project has introduced environmental and health assessments, alternative gold-processing technologies, training and capacity-building in government and mining communities, and has reduced the hazards posed by mercury use.

The EU mercury abatement project, initiated in Ghana in 2005, has developed a new direct smelting method (with no mercury), which has significantly reduced the use of mercury in some ASM areas and is now being demonstrated throughout Ghana.

Palestine: Revenue

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assessment they have made of the current level of funding in the public sector of the Palestinian Authority. [HL3673]

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that the Palestinian Authority (PA) had a fiscal deficit of almost $1 billion in 2006. This was mainly because Israel withheld Palestinian revenues after Hamas won the Palestinian elections in January 2005. Other reasons were a decline in domestic tax revenues as the economy contracted and unsustainable increases in the PA's wage bill in 2005.

The UK and other members of the international community suspended direct aid to the PA after the formation of the Hamas Government in March 2006, when that Government failed to meet the quartet principles. However, this was offset by increased funding through other channels such as the temporary international mechanism (TIM).

The Palestinian Finance Minister, Salam Fayyad, estimates a financial gap of $1.6 billion for 2007. The UK is keen to resume direct funding to the PA as soon as the quartet principles are met, and continues to call on the Israeli Government to release the withheld customs revenues.

Passports

asked Her Majesty's Government:

At which of the United Kingdom's points of entry there are now facilities for electronic passport reading; and when such facilities will be installed at each of the points of entry where they are not yet available. [HL3744]

Electronic passport-reading facilities are in place at all ports of entry enabling all passports with machine readable zones to be read.

Pensions

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assessment they have made of the likely net cost of permitting (a) men, and (b) women reaching state pension retirement age in 2007, 2008 and 2009 respectively to buy class 3 national insurance contributions of up to six years to provide a full basic state pension, assuming average life expectancy. [HL3583]

The information requested is in the table below.

The estimates assume that people who are projected to reach state pension age in 2007, 2008 and 2009 without a full basic state pension buy as many extra qualifying years as are needed to provide a full basic state pension, up to a maximum of six, when they reach state pension age. Not all these people would, however, achieve a full basic state pension.

Estimates further assume that people gain the higher basic state pension for the remainder of their lives. They do not make any allowance for issues associated with category B pensions. For example, in reality, some women may gain from this option only until their husband reaches state pension age, when they may become eligible for a higher basic state pension through their husband's entitlement (termed category B(L) pension).

Estimates of costs and revenue

£ billion, 2007-08 prices—UK + overseas

2007

2008

2009

2010

2015

2020

2025

2030

2040

2050

(a) Increased spend on basic state pension

0.2

0.6

0.9

1.1

1.1

1.2

1.2

1.1

0.6

0.1

(b) Net benefit cost

0.2

0.4

0.7

0.8

0.9

0.9

0.9

0.8

0.4

0.1

(c) Revenue from class 3 contributions

-1.1

-1.0

-0.9

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

(d) Net benefit cost less revenue (b-c)

-1.0

-0.5

-0.2

0.8

0.9

0.9

0.9

0.8

0.4

0.1

Source: Information about people’s national insurance records has been obtained from the Lifetime Labour Market Database 2, 2005 release. Costs have been estimated based on mortality assumptions for Great Britain from the 2004 based population projections.

Notes:

1. Estimates have been rounded to the nearest £0.1 billion. Estimates may not sum due to rounding.

2. Estimates assume basic state pension is uprated in line with earnings from April 2012.

3. People who fail the “25 per cent rule” both before and after they have purchased six extra years are assumed not to purchase extra years.

4. Estimates assume that people buy additional class 3 national insurance contributions in whole years, even if less than 52 weeks of additional contributions are required to achieve a qualifying year. People buy these extra years when they reach state pension age in either 2007, 2008 or 2009.

5. Estimates assume that the option to buy extra years is available to everybody with a national insurance record and can be used to fill any deficient year during the working life.

6. Estimates on this basis are not available split by gender.

7. Estimates are based on a sample of national insurance records as at the end of the financial year 2003-04.

8. Net benefit costs in (b) are costs after taking account of income related benefit savings.

Police: Police Direct

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When the Police Information Technology Organisation withdrew support for the Police Direct messaging service; how many police officers were using it at the time of withdrawal; how much notice of withdrawal was given to police forces; why it was withdrawn; and when it is planned to resume the service. [HL3194]

The Police Direct messaging service was one of a number of services provided by the police portal, the contract for which was managed by the Police Information Technology Organisation (PITO) and expired on 31 March 2007. PITO was abolished when the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) vested on 1 April 2007. As provision of any national service similar to the portal will be a matter for NPIA, working with the police service, I have asked the NPIA chief executive to write to the noble Lord to explain the background to the decision not to extend the contract for the police portal. A copy of the reply will be placed in the House Library.

Prime Minister: Helicopters

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the Prime Minister's use of a Royal Navy helicopter for transport between destinations on his farewell tours is consistent with their policies on the environment and on limiting carbon dioxide emissions by the use of the train for domestic journeys rather than aircraft. [HL3851]

The Prime Minister travels making the most efficient and cost-effective arrangements. His travel arrangements are in accordance with the arrangements for official travel set out in chapter 10 of the Ministerial Code, and the accompanying guidance document, Travel by Ministers. All the Prime Minister's flights are offset.

Railways: Investment

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their response to the criticisms by the Confederation of British Industry on 15 May on the long-term problems caused by under-investment in railway infrastructures and the delays in the Crossrail project. [HL3843]

While the affordability challenge represented by Crossrail is significant, the Government remain committed to the project. This commitment is demonstrated by the progress made on the Bill and the fact that over £400 million has been committed to fund work developing the detailed Crossrail plans, including an additional £154 million that has been recently agreed for ongoing project development.

Across the rail network as a whole, the Government are spending an unprecedented £88 million a week. This is making up for maintenance backlogs, helping deliver major projects such as phase two of the Channel Tunnel rail link and the west coast main line upgrade, and contributing towards a range of other improvement and capacity enhancement schemes.

Reserve Forces: Road Transport Regulations

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What will be the impact of the European Union Drivers’ Hours Regulations (EC 561/2006), brought into effect on 11 April, on Voluntary Reserve Forces training activities. [HL3738]

The Ministry of Defence is in the process of assessing the impact that the EU regulation may have on Voluntary Reserve Forces’ training activities and is developing guidelines that outline how vocational drivers can manage their reserve service in accordance with the new EU regulation.

I will write to the noble Lord once the assessment of long-term impact of the EU regulation has been completed and place a copy of my letter in the Library of the House.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When a vocational driver who is also a member of the Voluntary Reserve Forces starts a training weekend on or after 7 pm on a Friday and finishes no later than 5 pm on the Sunday, at what time the driver is legally allowed to recommence work under the European Union Drivers’ Hours Regulations (EC 561/2006). [HL3739]

Under the European Drivers' Hours Regulations, a vocational driver must take a regular weekly rest period of at least 45 consecutive hours, which can be reduced down to 24 hours every other week, before recommencing work.

Unless the driver is able to complete the required weekly rest period before commencing weekend training as a member of the Voluntary Reserve Forces, the driver must take the required weekly rest period as soon as that training finishes.

This would mean that a driver who finishes training at 5 pm on a Sunday would not be able to recommence work until 5 pm on the following Monday (if taking a reduced rest of 24 hours) or 2 pm on the following Tuesday (if taking the full 45 hours).

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What short-term effect the European Union Drivers’ Hours Regulations (EC 561/2006) will have on the logistical support that the Territorial Army is able to provide for military operations. [HL3740]

EC 561/2006 does not apply to members of the Territorial Army once they are mobilised. We do not envisage that the introduction of the EU regulation will affect the logistical support that the TA is currently providing to military operations.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What long-term effect the European Union Drivers’ Hours Regulations (EC 561/2006) will have on the logistical support the Territorial Army is able to provide on military operations. [HL3741]

The Ministry of Defence is in the process of assessing the long-term impact that the EU regulation may have and is devising ways of minimising it. However, given the exceptional circumstances the Government will seek a formal derogation from certain aspects of the EU regulation for professional drivers who are members of the Voluntary Reserve Forces as soon as practicably possible. As my honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport (Dr Ladyman) promised the noble Lord when they met on 23 April, he will update Parliament when these details have been finalised. The final decision to grant the derogation rests with the European Commission.

I will write to the noble Lord once the assessment of long-term impact of the EU regulation has been completed and place a copy of my letter in the Library of the House.

Roads: Safety

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assessment they have made of the suggestions on road safety contained in the RAC Report on Motoring 2007. [HL3972]

Rural Payments Agency: Staff Bonuses

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Under what criteria performance-related bonuses are paid to employees of the Rural Payments Agency. [HL3903]

The criterion in respect of bonus payments to employees of the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) is that staff up to and including grade 6 are eligible for an “exceeded” bonus if they achieve an “exceeded” assessment in the annual reporting round. The Treasury approves RPA's yearly pay remit and “exceeded” bonuses are then paid as part of the subsequent annual pay award.

Bonus awards for senior civil servants (SCS) in the Defra family, including RPA, are deliberated upon by the Defra SCS pay committee. The precise funding available to departments is decided by the Government taking into account recommendations by the independent Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB), based upon economic evidence and movements in the private and wider public sector markets for senior executives. Following the Government's decision in response to the SSRB findings, the Cabinet Office sets out the framework within which departments may make pay and bonus awards to SCS staff. Departments may exercise discretion in the detailed application of pay awards, within the framework.

Transport: Number Plates

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What data they hold on the number of sets of registration plates produced in each of the past 10 years for new vehicles and as replacements for vehicles already registered and on the road. [HL3895]

The current estimate from leading number plate manufacturers varies from 6 million to 7 million, with around 2.5 million being fitted to new vehicles, and a similar number being fitted to used vehicles at motor dealerships.

However, the Government do not keep figures for the number plates produced whether for new vehicles or as replacements for vehicles already registered and on the road.

It would be possible to extract data on the number of new vehicles registered in each of the past 10 years and use this to provide the number of registration plates fitted to those vehicles, but this could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What survey data they hold regarding the number of vehicles displaying illegal vehicle registration marks over each of the past 10 years. [HL3896]

The number of vehicles displaying illegal vehicles registration marks over each of the past 10 years is not known.

Waste Management: Brofiscin Quarry

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by Lord Rooker on 16 April (WA 31), what was their source for stating that the original depth of the Brofiscin Quarry would have been approximately six metres below current surface levels; and [HL3348]

Further to the Written Answer by Lord Rooker on 16 April (WA 31), by what route access was given to the vehicles carrying toxic waste materials into Brofiscin Quarry between 1965 and 1972; and [HL3349]

Further to the Written Answer by Lord Rooker on 16 April (WA 31), what was their source for stating that the Brofiscin Quarry contains some 72,000 cubic metres of waste material; and what is the approximate tonnage of this volume of waste. [HL3350]

Information relating to the original depth of Brofiscin Quarry was provided by the Environment Agency (EA). We understand that boreholes drilled through the waste mass have encountered solid limestone at approximately 6 metres below the current surface level of the quarry floor.

We have been advised that the exact route taken by haulage vehicles carrying waste material to the quarry was not documented.

The EA also provided information relating to the tonnage of waste at Brofiscin Quarry. We understand that they have made no estimates of the tonnage that this would represent, and that this has not been an objective of inspections to date. The tonnage would depend on the density of the material.

Waste Management: St Albans

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When an application was made by Redland Purle and Monsanto for a licence to dispose of hazardous waste at a centre near the Rothamsted Research Station, St Albans; what means of disposal was proposed; and what was the outcome of the application. [HL3221]

Defra has no knowledge of any application having been made by Redland Purle or Monsanto for a licence to dispose of hazardous waste at a centre near the Rothamsted Research Station, St Albans.

Water Supply: Abstraction

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many abstraction licences will need to be amended or revoked in order to meet obligations for Natura 2000 sites and their public service agreement target for site of special scientific interest condition. [HL3791]

The Environment Agency is undertaking a review of abstraction licences that may impact on the integrity of Natura 2000 sites; this work should be completed in 2008. Similar work is being undertaken on abstraction licences that may be damaging sites of special scientific interest in England. The number of abstraction licences that will need to be amended or revoked to meet obligations for Natura 2000 sites and sites of special scientific interest will become clear when this work has been completed.