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Written Answers

Volume 696: debated on Wednesday 5 December 2007

Written Answers

Wednesday 5 December 2007

Abortion

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What consideration they have given to the compatibility of legislative provisions permitting abortion of disabled babies up to birth with the Human Rights Act 1998 and other provisions dealing with equality and discrimination. [HL590]

The European Court of Human Rights has recognised that it is for member states to determine when life begins for the purposes of the European convention, in the absence of a consensus on the matter. We therefore consider that the Abortion Act 1967, as amended, is not in breach of any laws on equality or prohibiting discrimination.

Airports: Capacity

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether it is still government policy to support the creation of a second runway at Stansted Airport; and [HL491]

Whether the Secretary of State for Transport's comments regarding airport capacity, as reported in the Times newspaper of 22 November, represent a change of existing government aviation policy; and [HL492]

What are the implications of the Statement made by the Secretary of State for Transport on 22 November for the policies set out in the White Paper The Future of Air Transport, published in December 2003, regarding the creation of a third runway at Heathrow Airport; and whether they will highlight each resulting change in policy accordingly; and [HL493]

Whether they will outline the proposed timetable for the creation of a second runway at Stansted Airport. [HL494]

The Government outlined their policy support for a second runway at Stansted in the 2003 Future of Air Transport White Paper. The Government’s position on this has not changed, and the airport operator expects to be in a position to submit a planning application around the turn of the year.

The Government recently published a consultation on proposals for a third runway at Heathrow. The proposed development of Heathrow does not affect the Government’s support for new capacity at Stansted. The White Paper supported two new runways in the south-east by 2030, the first to be at Stansted.

Airports: Stansted

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When the Secretary of State for Transport last discussed the development of a second runway at Stansted Airport with representatives of BAA or Ferrovial; on what date such discussions occurred; who was present at the meeting or participated in the discussion; and whether they will place a copy of the minutes of the meeting or conversation in the Library of the House. [HL495]

The Secretary of State has regular meetings with Stephen Nelson, chief executive of BAA, to discuss a range of issues relating to BAA airports, including Stansted. These meetings are usually attended by senior officials from the department's aviation directorate.

The last meeting took place on 10 October. As the meeting note contains information which is commercially sensitive, I am not able to place a copy in the Library of the House.

Armed Forces: Manpower

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by Lord Drayson on 30 October (WA 176), what is the current long-term plan database assumption for the planned trained manpower requirement for (a) the Royal Navy; (b) the Army; and (c) the Royal Air Force for each financial year from 2008–09 to 2010–11. [HL365]

Asylum Seekers: Driving Licences

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Under what circumstances persons applying for asylum in the United Kingdom are entitled to apply for United Kingdom driving licences. [HL526]

Persons applying for asylum in the United Kingdom are entitled to apply for a United Kingdom driving licence. If they are able to meet the relevant identity and residency requirements, they will be issued with a driving licence. In most instances, this will be a provisional licence.

British Citizenship

asked Her Majesty's Government:

On what dates, between 1 January 2006 and 30 June 2007, the British consulate-general in Hong Kong sent to the consulate-general of Nepal in Hong Kong the Nepalese passports and Nepalese citizenship certificates of British nationals of Nepalese origin who were successfully registered as British citizens under the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act 1997; and whether they will place in the Library of the House anonymised copies of the covering letters that were sent in each case. [HL527]

On 10 May 2006 our consulate-general in Hong Kong sent to the consulate-general of Nepal in Hong Kong the Nepalese passports and Nepalese citizenship certificates of 45 British nationals of Nepalese origin, who were successfully registered as British citizens under the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act 1997. This is the only occasion that this occurred within the dates specified. An anonymised copy of the covering letter will be placed in the Library of the House.

Buses

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by Lord Bassam of Brighton on 21 November (WA 74), how many local authorities have made representations to the Department for Transport about the insufficiency of funding for concessionary bus travel. [HL531]

Out of the 336 representations received, 34 said they did not have enough funding available. The Department for Transport is confident that the existing statutory minimum—free off-peak bus travel for older and disabled people in their local authority area—is sufficiently funded in aggregate. Local authorities were fully consulted on how the extra funding—£350 million for 2006-07 and £367.5 million for 2007-08—would be distributed as part of the local government finance settlement consultation.

We are confident that the extra funding for the national bus concession will be sufficient in aggregate as it is based on generous assumptions about the probable cost impact of the new concession. The department's consultation on the formula basis for the distribution of the special grant closed on 23 November. A summary of the responses will be published in due course.

Children: Fostering

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether an independent review mechanism already exists in relation to foster care; and, if so, whether it consists of one or more panels; who are their members; and whether they have powers to consider and resolve allegations against foster parents. [HL637]

There is currently no independent review mechanism for foster carers. However, Clause 29 of the Children and Young Persons Bill currently being considered by Parliament, amends Schedule 2 to the Children Act 1989, to allow for the independent review of decisions by fostering service providers on the suitability of foster parents. This mechanism will allow all prospective and existing carers whose approval has been turned down or removed the option of having the decision reviewed by an independent panel.

Under the Bill, the panel will not have the power to consider or resolve allegations against foster parents; this function will remain with the fostering service provider. However, the DCSF has funded the publication of a range of information and training materials relating to improving the way in which allegations against foster carers are handled and to support foster carers through that process. In addition, a review of the implementation of guidance on handling allegations is currently under way and the outcome of this review is due to be published in early 2008.

Crossrail

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What percentage of optimism bias uplift is included in the current estimate of the total cost of the Crossrail project; and [HL15]

What is the breakdown of funding sources for the construction of Crossrail between (a) central government; (b) Transport for London; (c) other public sector funding; (d) each individual company which has committed funding. [HL17]

I refer the noble Lord to the Written Statement on Crossrail made by the Secretary of State for Transport on Monday 26 November (Official Report, cols. WS 133-34).

Cultural Olympiad

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the proposal to divert lottery funds to pay for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games will have an adverse effect on the ability of voluntary groups and organisations to participate in the Cultural Olympiad. [HL60]

Voluntary groups and organisations will continue to benefit from lottery funding in the run-up to 2012 and there will be many opportunities for them to participate in the Cultural Olympiad. Although there will be a lottery contribution towards the Olympics, the arts, heritage and sport sectors can each still expect to receive around £900 million of new lottery money between 2007 and 2012. The Big Lottery Fund will honour its commitment to give 60 to 70 per cent of its funding to the voluntary and community sector, and has extended this beyond the Olympic period.

Driving: Penalty Points

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many holders of a current driving licence have three, six and nine points, respectively, on their licences; and how many drivers are currently disqualified from driving. [HL524]

Although the DVLA records details of driving convictions on its driving licence records, it does not have available a statistical breakdown of the numbers of current licence holders who have three, six and nine points or how many drivers are currently disqualified from driving.

Driving: TV Interviews

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether it is against the law for a person to be interviewed on television while driving a vehicle on a public road; and, if so, whether television companies have been made aware of the law.[HL627]

There is no specific offence. However, it is an offence if a person drives or causes or permits any other person to drive,

“if he is in such a position that he cannot have proper control of the vehicle or have a full view of the road and traffic ahead”,

under Regulation 104 of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986.

The police use that to deal with cases of poor driving where the driver has been distracted for any reason (eg, eating, drinking, using a hands-free phone, speaking to camera, et cetera). Should there be a crash or incident, depending upon the circumstances, there might be a prosecution on the more serious charges of driving without due care and attention or dangerous driving.

Advice for all road users on distractions is set down in Rules 148 to 150 of the Highway Code (available from www.direct.gov.uk). Specific advice for broadcasters is in the booklet Presenting Road Safety: A Guide for the Media, published by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents with support from the department—that is available online at www.rospa.com/roadsafety/info/roadmedia.pdf. Under the heading “Bad Practice” it includes, “Drivers having long conversations with a passenger, or speaking to camera, without watching the road ahead”.

Driving: Zimbabwe Licences

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why Zimbabwe is one of only two countries in Africa whose driving licences are recognised as valid in the United Kingdom; and whether the standards for the issue of driving licences in Zimbabwe make it appropriate to recognise these licences in the United Kingdom. [HL525]

Providing they hold a full driving licence or driving permit, visitors to this country are able to drive for up to 12 months from the date of entry. A visitor may drive vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes and with up to eight passenger seats.

The arrangements which allow holders of foreign licences from certain designated countries, such as Zimbabwe, to exchange their licences for the British equivalent are based on statutory provisions. The designation of a country for licence-exchange purposes depends on it having satisfactory arrangements in place for the issue of driving licences; the driving test and licensing procedures must be comparable to those in this country.

Drug Tariff

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the prolonged price freeze arising from the review of Part IX of the Drug Tariff and movements in raw materials will be taken into account when determining future reimbursement of products. [HL545]

Reimbursement proposals are currently contained within the arrangements under Part IX of the Drug Tariff for the provision of stoma and incontinence appliances and related services to primary care consultation.

We are unable to prejudge the outcome of this consultation before its completion and welcome all comments on the proposals.

Egypt: Human Rights

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in the light of the Human Rights Watch report Prohibited Identities: State Interference with Religious Freedom, published in November 2007, they will raise with the Government of Egypt, as well as proposing to the European Union that it should do so via the Egypt–European Union Association Agreement, the matters dealt with in the chapter entitled “Egypt's Baha'is and the Policy of Erasure”. [HL569]

We are concerned about issues identified in the joint Human Rights Watch/Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights report, including the problems arising from Egyptian identity cards that allow one of only three religions to be listed on them.

We raise this regularly with the Egyptian Government, both through the European Union and bilaterally, the last occasion being in September 2007. We will continue to raise this matter and encourage the Egyptian Government to resolve it.

EU: Diplomatic Service

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How an enlarged European Union diplomatic service will affect the size and influence of the United Kingdom diplomatic service. [HL622]

The EU reform treaty makes provision for an European External Action Service, drawn from relevant departments of the General Secretariat of the Council and of the Commission as well as staff seconded from member states' diplomatic services. It will assist the high representative of the Union for foreign affairs and security policy, and simplify the existing arrangements for support to the high representative for the common foreign and security policy and the Commissioner for External Relations. It will not replace the UK diplomatic service.

The declarations covering the common foreign and security policy accompanying the treaty clearly state that the treaty's provisions,

“will not affect the existing legal basis, responsibilities, and powers of each member state in relation to the formulation and conduct of its foreign policy, its national diplomatic service, relations with third countries and participation in international organisations, including a member state's membership of the Security Council of the UN”.

EU: Economic Impact

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the statement by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Mr Andy Burnham, on 19 November (Official Report, col. 981) that the European Union accounts for 58 per cent of our economy is based on official figures. [HL640]

As the Chief Secretary to the Treasury explained (Official Report, col. 981) the EU is the UK's largest trading partner. The 57 per cent figure that he cited refers to Table 9.3 (Trade in goods and services) of the 2007 edition of the Office of National Statistics Pink Book, which indicates that in 2006 UK import trade with its European Union partners equated to 57.3 per cent of total UK imports. Export trade with our European Union partners amounted to 55.5 per cent of total exports.

Flooding

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What advice is being made available to assist potential claimants accessing the European Union solidarity fund as a consequence of flood damage earlier this year. [HL441]

The UK made application to the fund on 20 August, 2007. On 31 October Commissioner Danuta Hübner announced that she would recommend an award of approximately £110 million. The Commissioner's recommendation is subject to approval by the College of Commissioners. A budget amendment proposal has then to be agreed by the Council of Ministers and EU Parliament. It is unlikely that any funds would be available before the end of March 2008.

Consideration is currently being given to how any funds received could be used to greatest benefit and the mechanics for their allocation.

Fluoridation

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have made an assessment of the research by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics regarding overall potential benefits and harms deriving from fluoridation of drinking water; and whether they are reviewing their policy on this issue. [HL335]

We welcome the recommendation in the report, Public Health: Ethical Issues, that decisions on fluoridation schemes should be taken locally since this is the guiding principle of the Water Fluoridation (Consultation) Regulations approved by Parliament in 2005. We do not therefore intend to change our policy, but we are acting on the report's other main recommendation by continuing to commission research into the effects of water fluoridation.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What percentage of the United Kingdom population has imposed fluoridation of its drinking water supply; and what areas or regions are currently exempt. [HL336]

Following consultations in which the local population were found to be in favour, the areas in the strategic health authorities listed in the following table receive drinking water to which fluoride has been added to a target concentration of 1 part per million. We would encourage other areas with high levels of tooth decay to consider fluoridation, but this is for local decision.

Strategic health authority

Percent of population with fluoridated water supply

Yorkshire and the Humber

2.6 per cent

North West

3.8 per cent

Eastern England

5.4 per cent

East Midlands

13.8 per cent

North East

34.8 per cent

West Midlands

84.0 per cent

Food: Labelling

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they intend to vote against any proposed food labelling scheme which would ban “made in Britain” labels and institute instead a “made in the EU” label. [HL620]

There have been claims in the press that the European Union wants to ban food labels that say “made in Britain”. The European Commission has confirmed that there is no basis to this story.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Public Counter

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What savings they expect to make from moving the public counter service of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Legalisation Office; and whether they have estimated the additional cost to users of the service. [HL425]

The move of the Legalisation Office is not a cost-saving exercise. The current premises are not able to cope with the increasing demand for legalisation services, and allow no room for expansion. The move to Milton Keynes will provide the space required and further enable the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to provide a significantly improved service. In order to respond to the needs of business, we will retain a small operation in London.

As part of this exercise we will review the fee for this service. No figures are yet available, as lease negotiations are ongoing and refurbishment costs have yet to be finalised, before any decision on a fee increase is made.

It is intended that, should the fee increase, the bulk will fall on business customers using the London processing centre, as the running costs for providing this service will be higher than for the Milton Keynes operation.

Health: Coronary Care

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have to assess the impact on the ability of the National Health Service to meet an 18-week waiting-time target for coronary artery bypass surgery should the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence's decision not to recommend treatment with drug-eluting stents in the National Health Service be upheld; and [HL582]

In the light of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence's decision not to recommend treatment with drug-eluting stents in the National Health Service, what advice they will give to primary care trusts which find their budgetary provision for coronary artery bypass surgery is inadequate as a result of increased demand. [HL583]

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is reviewing its October 2003 guidance on the use of drug-eluting stents for the treatment of coronary artery disease. NICE is currently considering the responses it has received from stakeholders during the recent consultation on its draft recommendations. I understand that NICE expects to publish final guidance in March 2008. In the mean time, the recommendations in its original appraisal continue to apply.

Health: MRSA

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

How many isolations of meticillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus from England and Wales were analysed by the Staphylococcus Reference Laboratory of the Health Protection Agency to identify their type in each of the last three years, and, of these, how many were tested using the method known as pulsed field gel electrophoresis[HL207]

The Health Protection Agency Staphylococcus Reference Laboratory received a total of 18,290 staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) for typing in the past three years (2004, 2005 and 2006) from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The majority (about 70 per cent) are meticillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus. Pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) was performed on 5,186 (28 per cent) of S. aureus received (see following table).

Year

Number of S. aureus referred for typing

Number of S. aureus tested by PFGE

2004

5835

1206

2005

6266

2050

2006

6189

1930

Total

18290

5186

Health: NICE Guidance

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What processes exist for resolving disputes in relation to the assumptions made by a National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence Appraisal Committee and used as the basis for appraisal determination. [HL585]

Stakeholders are consulted during the development of National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) technology appraisals and any comments received are carefully considered by the appraisal committees. Stakeholders also have the opportunity to appeal against NICE's final appraisal determination and final guidance is not published until all appeals have been heard.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will require the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence to employ list prices or market average prices for medical devices evaluated under its technology appraisal programme. [HL586]

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence's approach to medical device evaluation is set out in its guide to the methods of technology appraisal. The current version of this document is published on the NICE website at www.nice.org.uk/page.aspx?o=201973. This guidance is being reviewed and NICE has begun a public consultation on its revised draft.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence might take into account new information pertaining to mortality benefit of a medical technology if that information becomes available after the publication of an appraisal consultation document or final appraisal determination. [HL587]

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) makes exhaustive efforts to identify and consider relevant information during the course of an appraisal. New evidence can be submitted to NICE in response to a consultation on an appraisal consultation document (ACD) and, if important and genuinely new evidence becomes available after consultation on an ACD has closed but prior to the issuing of a final appraisal determination (FAD), then NICE will make every effort to consider its impact on the relevant appraisal. However, NICE will not generally consider new evidence once a FAD is issued.

Health: Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answers by Lord Darzi of Denham on 22 October (WA78-79), why the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority does not hold data on the numbers of in vitro fertilisation patients who have produced 20 or more eggs when this is considered to be associated with an increased incidence of hospitalisation due to ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome; and [HL77]

Further to the Written Answers by Lord Darzi of Denham on 22 October (WA 78-79), as the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority appears to have incomplete records regarding ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome such that this is not necessarily reported by clinics unless treatment was discontinued, whether treatment has always been discontinued whenever ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome was or is suspected; and [HL130]

Further to the Written Answers by Lord Darzi of Denham on 22 October (WA 78-79), whether they will describe the incidents in which adverse clinical effects associated with ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome have been recorded by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority at each respective licensed centre since records began. [HL131]

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 requires a report to be made to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) on every cycle of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment carried out in the United Kingdom. This report includes information on the number of eggs retrieved from the patient.

While the HFEA has responsibility for the overall regulation of IVF treatment, decisions on whether to discontinue treatment in individual cases are matters of clinical judgment, taking account of professional guidance on the management of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). In many cases it may be possible to continue with treatment after an adjustment to the patient's ovarian stimulation regime. Details of decisions made on patient care are recorded in local health records, which can be examined by HFEA inspectors when they visit the clinic.

The seventh edition of the HFEA's code of practice, which came into effect on 5 July 2007 to coincide with the introduction of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Quality and Safety) Regulations 2007 that implemented EU directive 2003/23/EC setting standards of safety and quality for human tissue intended for human application in respect of reproductive cells, requires any occurrence that is inconsistent with routine patient care to be reported to the authority. The HFEA expects an incident report from a licensed clinic whenever the clinic is made aware of a case of severe OHSS resulting in prolonged hospitalisation.

The HFEA recognises that licensed clinics might not always be made aware of developments in patient care after initial treatment, so the data submitted via the incident reporting system are not sufficiently comprehensive to allow statistical analysis of all OHSS cases.

Housing: Flood Plains

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have plans to introduce a statutory veto for the Environment Agency for planning applications involving construction on areas designated as at high risk of flooding. [HL506]

There are no plans for the Environment Agency to be given powers to veto planning applications for development in flood risk areas. We have made the Environment Agency a statutory consultee on planning applications in flood risk areas and introduced a flooding direction so local authorities heed the agency's advice. Planning authorities and the agency must work closely together to achieve appropriate planning outcomes where there is a risk of flooding.

Housing: Home Information Packs

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have assessed the effect of the introduction of home information packs on the housing market. [HL481]

Identity Management

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they anticipate that the report from the Public-Private Forum on Identity Management, chaired by Sir James Crosby, will be published. [HL468]

Sir James Crosby was appointed to establish and chair the Public-Private Forum on Identity Management in July 2006 with a remit to produce a preliminary report to Ministers by Easter 2007. In March 2007 he discussed his preliminary conclusions with the then Chancellor of the Exchequer and was invited to work on with the forum to produce a fuller report later in the year. The report is now being finalised. It is expected to be delivered to Ministers later this year, as agreed with Sir James. No date has been fixed for publication, which may be later this year or next year.

Immigration: Detention and Removal Centres

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have to close the immigration detention centres, particularly those which have experienced fires and protests from detainees about their treatment. [HL97]

We have an ongoing improvement and replacement programme for immigration removal centres. No immediate closures are planned.

However, we announced in July that two of the four accommodation wings at Harmondsworth are being rebuilt. We are also building a new centre at Gatwick.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are taking account of the comments of a group of MEPs from the European Parliament Committee on Civil Rights, Justice and Home Affairs who visited three immigration detention and removal centres, on the detention of children, the mixing of criminals with asylum seekers, and the length of the detention of some individuals. [HL536]

We have noted the committee's comments following its visits to three immigration removal centres and await its official report with interest.

The detention of families with children is an emotive issue but it is a necessary measure in those circumstances where those concerned, who have no legal basis of stay in the UK, refuse to leave the country voluntarily.

The routine use of prison accommodation to hold immigration detainees ended in January 2002. Immigration detainees, including those who have been convicted for criminal offences, are therefore held in prison establishments only when they present specific risk factors that indicate they are unsuitable for immigration removal centres. Former foreign national prisoners are transferred to the immigration detention estate and allocated to a particular removal centre only following risk assessment.

Immigration Act powers of detention are not time-limited. However, domestic and ECHR case law provides that detention must last for no longer than is necessary for the purposes for which it was authorised and must not be of excessive duration. Our detention policies and procedures comply with that principle. Where detention is prolonged it is often as a consequence of attempts to frustrate the removal process.

Iraq: Violence Against Women

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assessment they have made of reports by police that anti-women violence in Basra has increased in recent months and has forced women to stay indoors. [HL509]

We have no information to suggest that the number of attacks on women in Basra has increased over the last few months.

Basra’s provincial director of police, General Jalil, is raising public awareness of violence against women in the local media. He has also raised the problem with the Ministry of Interior and is attempting to pursue serious investigations into these crimes, including with the support of British police advisers based in Basra.

We condemn all intimidation of and violence against women. We welcome the pledge made by General Jalil to,

“lead a campaign to protect women's rights in Basra”.

Criminal violence, including murder, is an issue which General Jalil and his police force commanders are tackling. The UK military and civilian policing advisers are supporting those forces, both army and police, as they continue to grow in confidence and ability.

Israel and Palestine: West Bank

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assessment they have made of the new Israeli travel restrictions on aid workers in the West Bank; and whether they have assessed the restrictions' likely impact on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency's ability to undertake humanitarian work. [HL510]

UN staff have informed our consulate-general in Jerusalem that they have experienced increased demands for the searches of their vehicles as well as requirements that they obtain permits to enter the seam zone areas (area of land in the West Bank located east of the 1967 borders and west of the barrier). These requirements are creating major operational difficulties for the UN Relief and Works Agency, leading to delays, higher costs and reduced outreach, ultimately limiting its ability to meet the needs of vulnerable Palestinians. Other international agencies, such as the World Food Programme, have been affected by these restrictions.

My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary raised our concerns about movement and access on his recent visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories on 17 and 19 November.

Lifeboats

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the design and operation of ships' lifeboat release mechanisms are standardised or whether there are significant variations. [HL565]

The design and operation of ships’ lifeboat release mechanisms are not standardised and there are at present over 70 different designs made by over 25 different manufacturers. The operation of the release mechanism can also vary between different designs both in operation and visual indication of the status of the hook.

To address this situation the United Kingdom is working at the International Maritime Organisation to amend the design criteria to mandate that all new on-load systems have standard functionality so that operating controls are the same. The United Kingdom has also recommended that there is a visual sign to clearly show when both hooks are either disengaged or engaged and reset with a standardised colour code.

Maritime Safety

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by Lord Triesman on 19 February (WA 202) and in light of the recent maritime accident in Antarctic waters, what developments have taken place concerning the provision of ice strengthening and the hull type of ships operating in ice-covered waters. [HL557]

International regulations (in the International Maritime Organisation's International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974, as amended) require that ships shall be designed, constructed and maintained in compliance with the structural requirements of a classification society. Any ice strengthening of ships' hulls for operation in ice-covered polar waters is decided by the ship owner in consultation with the classification society. The International Association of Classification Societies (IACS) will be publishing early in 2008 an updated set of requirements that its members will be applying in order for a ship to be assigned one of seven ice classes, depending on the severity of the conditions expected to be encountered. The insurers of the vessel will take into account, in their assessment of a ship, any ice class that is assigned by a classification society to a ship that intends operating in such waters.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting guidelines for ships operating in ice-covered waters were endorsed by the International Maritime Organisation; and whether the cruise ship “Explorer” was conforming to the proposed regulations when it sank this month. [HL558]

The UK Government are actively participating both in the ongoing work at Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings (ATCM) and in the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to review the safety and environmental protection standards applicable to ships operating in ice-covered Antarctic waters.

The Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting has not yet adopted any such guidelines, but has agreed comments and recommendations as to how the existing IMO guidelines for ships in operating in ice-covered Arctic waters could be used as a basis for ships operating in ice-covered Antarctic waters. The IMO will consider this issue further at a meeting of one of its technical sub-committees in March 2008. The UK Government are keen to see this work at the IMO finalised as a priority.

The “Explorer” was registered not in the UK but in Liberia. It is not known if the vessel was complying with the existing IMO recommendations for ships operating in ice-covered Arctic waters. However, international regulations (in the International Maritime Organisation's International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974, as amended) require that casualty investigations are undertaken by the maritime administration of the country where the ship is registered and the pertinent findings of such investigations are submitted to the IMO.

Northern Rock

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How the £24 billion loaned to Northern Rock is shown in the accounts of the Bank of England. [HL453]

Drawings by Northern Rock appear as an asset on the Bank of England's weekly Bank Return under “other assets”. However, this line also includes transactions with the UK Government, foreign central banks and international financial institutions, and as such any movements in “other assets” are not due solely to Northern Rock. The Bank of England does not disclose any breakdown of the components of other assets.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How the £24 billion loaned to Northern Rock is shown in the National Accounts. [HL454]

The loan from the Bank of England to Northern Rock is shown as an asset of the Bank in the National Accounts.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the financial assistance to Northern Rock will cause any cutbacks in their spending for the next few years; if so, how and when; and, if not, from what source the funding came. [HL646]

I refer the noble Lord to the Answer I gave to Earl Atlee on 3 December (Official Report, col. WA 169).

Olympic Games 2012: Transport

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What additional financial support they will make available to the British Transport Police to provide for the extra passengers expected to visit the 2012 Olympic Games. [HL402]

The security programme for the London 2012 Olympic Games is currently being developed with the involvement of key stakeholders including the British Transport Police. Decisions about funding, including that of the BTP, will be made as part of this process.

Parliament: Number of Members

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assessment they have made of the current number of MPs and Peers in light of the changing relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom. [HL623]

The Government have carried out no such assessment. The relationship between the EU and the UK is governed by the EU treaties. Member states agree any changes to the treaties and the implementation of such changes has always been subject to approval by Parliament.

Prisoners: Education

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What representations they have received from the Independent Monitoring Board at HM Prison Holloway regarding the Learning and Skills Council's proposals for the education of prisoners, Developing the Offenders’ Learning and Skills Service: The Prospectus; and whether they will place a copy of their response in the Library of the House. [HL459]

The Independent Monitoring Board at HMP Holloway has submitted a response to the Learning and Skills Council’s consultation on its document Developing the Offenders' Learning and Skills Service: The Prospectus.

The prospectus consultation response will be published in due course, and a copy will be placed in the Library of the House.

Public Transport: Overcrowding

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to reduce overcrowding on public transport; and what account they are taking of health and safety regulations in relation to overcrowding. [HL561]

The Government are tackling crowding on public transport through a combination of investment in additional capacity and improved use of existing capacity.

The carrying capacity of buses operated as public service vehicles is specifically controlled by the Public Service Vehicles (Carrying Capacity) Regulations 1984, and these are enforced by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency.

In relation to rail transport, we look to the Office of Rail Regulation to enforce applicable health and safety legislation.

Railways: Channel Tunnel

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How the public interest and United Kingdom taxpayers will benefit from any sale to private equity buyers of High Speed 1 rail services. [HL421]

We believe the best way of delivering continuing value for money from High Speed 1 is through an open, transparent, competitive process.

This was explained by the then Secretary of State for Transport when he informed Parliament in a Written Ministerial Statement of 30 March 2006 (Official Report, col. 111WS), and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (the honourable Member for Glasgow South), during the Second Reading of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Supplementary Provisions) Bill on 20 November 2007.

The Government will not speculate on valuation or who might choose to bid. However, they expect that process to maximise and deliver significant receipts, benefiting the public interest and United Kingdom taxpayers.

Railways: Ebbsfleet International

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What public transport connections are possible with Ebbsfleet International station by domestic passenger train or scheduled bus services. [HL520]

Connections to Southeastern train services are possible today at Dartford, Greenhithe and Gravesend via the local Fastrack rapid bus transit service from Ebbsfleet International. Local feeder bus routes augment the Fastrack link and there is a taxi rank at the new station. Additionally, from December 2009, most Southeastern high-speed domestic trains will stop at Ebbsfleet International.

Revenue and Customs: Loss of CDs

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the compact disc lost by HM Revenue and Customs en route from Newcastle to Edinburgh containing information on 15,000 Standard Life customers was encrypted; and [HL198]

How many compact discs sent by HM Revenue and Customs have been lost during 2007; and [HL199]

What steps HM Revenue and Customs have taken to prevent the loss of compact discs in transit in the future. [HL201]

On 13 November HMRC initiated immediate increased security with a new process:

transfers will now take place only if they are absolutely necessary;

written authorisation for the transfer has to be given by a senior HMRC manager; and

a clear instruction has been given regarding the appropriate standard of protection for the transfer.

Where directors decide that a data transfer by disc is unavoidable such media must, in every case, be securely encrypted at the appropriate level.

On 20 November the Chancellor announced an independent review of HMRC's data-handling procedures to be conducted by Kieran Poynter, the chair of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why Standard Life customers whose data was on the compact disc lost by HM Revenue and Customs were not notified until a month after the loss was reported.[HL200]

It was reported to HMRC in late September that the CD had not been received. Action was taken immediately to establish with the external courier and the data production/dispatch areas within HMRC whether the discs were still in their possession. The courier was also requested to make extensive searches throughout all its depots. Once it was established from the courier that the data were definitely lost, steps were taken to issue letters to customers.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

With regard to the two information discs which went missing during transportation between their offices, and which were the subject of a Statement in the House, whether passwords were written on the discs or available in the packaging; and, if so, whether this is current government procedure. [HL489]

It would be inappropriate for me to provide information relating to this issue at this stage, as there is an ongoing Metropolitan Police Service investigation.

On 20 November the Chancellor also announced an independent review of HMRC's data-handling procedures to be conducted by Kieran Poynter, the chair of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they have taken to improve security for discs carrying confidential government information during transportation between departments. [HL490]

Government policy requires that departments,

“handle personal data in ways which incorporate appropriate technical and organisational measures against unauthorised or unlawful processing and against accidental loss or destruction of or damage to such data”.

Procedures for the security of discs carrying sensitive data, along with all other relevant procedures, will be examined as part of the reviews announced by the Prime Minister on 21 November (Official Report, col. 1179.)

Risks: Insurance

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have made an assessment of (a) the costs, and (b) the benefits of establishing one government insurance scheme for exceptional risks (as operated in Spain) to cover the costs of those (i) uninsured, or (ii) unable to obtain insurance from the private sector; and [HL570]

What discussions they have had with the Association of Insurance and Risk Managers in Industry and Commerce on the establishment of a government insurance scheme for exceptional risks. [HL571]

The Government have made no recent assessment of the costs and benefits of establishing a general scheme to cover “exceptional” insurance risks and have not discussed this issue with the Association of Insurance and Risk Managers in Industry and Commerce.

Where cover is available in the market, the Government's approach is that it is for individuals and businesses to make an assessment—based on their own circumstances—on whether to take out insurance.

The Government are working, in partnership with the industry, to ensure that people are not excluded from the appropriate financial services, including insurance.

Shipping

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the resources of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency have mirrored the increase in the size of the United Kingdom flagged fleet or the number of shipping movements in United Kingdom waters. [HL568]

The Government have consistently increased the financial resources available to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency—rising, for example, from £122.5 million in 2003-04 to £130.5 million in 2006-07. The deployment of resources within the agency is a matter for the chief executive, taking account of risks and priorities. Technical and human resources assigned directly to dealing with the safety of UK-registered ships have increased steadily over the same period.

Sri Lanka: Humanitarian Access

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assessment they have made of humanitarian access to resettlement areas in Sri Lanka where nearly 100,000 internally displaced persons have been resettled since June 2007. [HL511]

Officials from our high commission in Colombo and from the Department for International Development regularly travel to conflict-affected areas in eastern Sri Lanka. Most recently they visited Batticaloa in mid-November. During the most intense periods of fighting in eastern Sri Lanka in the summer, humanitarian access was extremely difficult. It has improved, but there remain significant obstacles in terms of physical access and bureaucracy.

In its role as local presidency of the EU, our high commission in Colombo participates with the Sri Lankan Government in the high-level committee that co-ordinates humanitarian affairs and that is tasked with resolving issues around access and security. The Government are a signatory to Guiding Principles for Humanitarian and Development Assistance to Sri Lanka, which seeks to ensure a consistent treatment of the humanitarian community, and our high commission regularly meets British non-governmental organisations operating in Sri Lanka to discuss security and access issues.

Terrorism

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Statement by the Lord President (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) on 14 November (Official Report, cols. 477-95), what will be their criteria to define radicalisation in their action to root out terrorism; whether they will distinguish between radicals who do not embrace terrorism and those who do; and what steps they will take to develop contact and dialogue with the former. [HL346]

It is not the Government's intention to in any way curtail the fundamental democratic right for individuals and organisations to seek to represent their views or impinge on lawful freedom of expression.

However, the Government have made clear that they are fundamentally rebalancing their engagement with Muslim organisations towards those organisations which take a leadership role in rejecting and condemning violent extremism and upholding shared values. A key government objective in engaging with organisations or individuals claiming to represent or work on behalf of Muslim communities is to counter violent extremism and foster community cohesion.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Statement by the Lord President (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) on 14 November (Official Report, cols. 477-95), whether they will clarify the terms “deal with” and “tackle” in relationship to radicalisation in their action to root out terrorism and to win hearts and minds. [HL347]

The Prime Minister's Statement of 14 November set out the Government’s approach to countering radicalisation. This will be delivered by working with communities and individuals to:

challenge extremist propaganda and support alternative voices;

disrupt the promoters of violent extremism by strengthening our institutions and supporting individuals who may be being targeted;

increase the capacity of communities to resist and reject violent extremism; and,

address issues of concern exploited by ideologues and where, by emphasising our shared values across communities, we can both celebrate and act on what unites us.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Statement by the Lord President (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) on 14 November (Official Report, cols. 477-95), how they will define “extremist” in their determination to act against extremist influences on the internet and in institutions, including prisons, universities and some places of worship; and how they will avoid counterproductivity and ensure not playing into the hands of dangerous extremists by too loose a definition. [HL350]

In this context extremist influences are those that can increase the risk of people becoming violent extremists. In the context of international terrorism, the main extremist influence is a narrative that manipulates political and humanitarian issues and distorts legitimate theology to support the violent extremists’ violent and divisive agenda, which justifies terrorism.

Challenging this, and providing a positive alternative, is a key element of our strategy. We will work with communities to deliver this, building consensus and isolating the terrorists.