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Written Answers

Volume 697: debated on Monday 10 December 2007

Written Answers

Monday 10 December 2007

Agriculture: Cattle

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in light of the bovine tuberculosis and bluetongue outbreaks, there is any research data which relate to the possibility (a) that in-breeding has lowered the resistance of farm stock, particularly dairy cattle; (b) that particular breeds of either cattle or sheep have a greater resistance than others to either of these diseases; or (c) that less intensive farming, for example organic, reduces incidence. [HL499]

With regards to bovine tuberculosis, there is anecdotal evidence that some breeds of cattle, for example Zebu in Africa, are more resistant to infection by mycobacterium bovis than other breeds. Research is under way in Great Britain (funded by the Welsh Assembly Government) and the Republic of Ireland to determine whether there is any evidence of inherited traits for increased resistance or susceptibility to the disease in cattle. In addition, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is funding research into the “interplay between host and pathogen genetic factors in the increasing incidence of bovine TB”, which should provide fundamental information on host genetic factors that influence TB susceptibility in cattle.

As far as farming practices are concerned, data collected as part of the epidemiological survey overseen by the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB (ISG) did not indicate that organic status was associated either with an increased or decreased risk of a TB breakdown. The findings of the survey into farm-level risk factors have been published in the ISG's final report which is available on the Defra website and in the Libraries of the House.

With regard to the recent bluetongue outbreak, given the limited number of premises and animals infected, it is not possible to evaluate the factors which may influence resistance or incidence of infection at this stage. Surveillance and epidemiological investigation are ongoing.

Apprenticeships

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the level of accuracy of recent figures showing rapidly rising completion rates for apprenticeships. [HL665]

The highest possible level of accuracy in published apprenticeship completion rates is ensured by a combination of quality-assurance arrangements. Completion rates are based on individual learner data submitted in a standard format by Learning and Skills Council (LSC)-funded apprenticeship providers. Providers' internal quality processes alongside qualification-awarding bodies' verification processes ensure that learner assessments are robust and accurate. In addition, LSC audits monitor the public funding claimed by each learning provider that delivers apprenticeships.

Benefits: Fraud

asked Her Majesty's Government:

On how many occasions in the past five years officials concerned with enforcement action against benefit fraud have visited Glastonbury in Somerset. [HL559]

The information is not available.

Benefit fraud investigators from the DWP and Mendip District Council will visit various addresses in Glastonbury during the course of their investigations. The total number of times these visits are carried out is not centrally collated.

Census

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the European Union has the powers to carry out a compulsory census of all people residing in the European Union; what would be the purpose of such a census; whether any consideration has been given to the questions that might be included in any such census; and whether such a proposal would have to be approved by both Houses of Parliament. [HL621]

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

Letter from the National Statistician and Registrar General, Karen Dunnell, to Lord Stoddart of Swindon, dated 10 December 2007.

As National Statistician and Registrar General for England and Wales I have been asked to reply to your recent Question asking whether the European Union has the powers to carry out a compulsory census of all people residing in the European Union; what would be the purpose of such a census; whether any consideration has been given to the questions that might be included in any such census; and whether such a proposal would have to be approved by both Houses of Parliament. (HL621).

No, the European Union has no powers to carry out a compulsory census of all residents in the European Union. The European Parliament is currently considering a Council regulation relating to the provision to the Commission of harmonised statistics by member states. Such statistics are to be derived from nationally conducted censuses of population and housing, or from alternative sources of data such as sample surveys or registers of administrative records. All such data will be subject to appropriate statistical disclosure control measures.

The Commission needs to be in possession of sufficiently reliable and comparable data on population and housing in order to fulfil the tasks assigned to it, notably by Articles 2 and 3 of the treaty establishing the European Community.

Such statistics as are provided for by the Council regulation will relate only to those topics designated as “core” in the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe's Recommendations for the 2010 Censuses of Population and Housing, and which have been endorsed by the Conference of European Statisticians. The Office for National Statistics played a prominent role in the preparation of these recommendations. The content of, and mode of access to, the statistics will be prescribed by a subsequent European Commission regulation in due course.

Neither the EU Council regulation nor the Commission regulation will require the approval of either House, but are subject to examination by Parliament through the European Scrutiny Committee. However, the content of the relevant 2011 census for England and Wales will be subject to the approval of both Houses of Parliament.

Children: Disappearances

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many persons have been charged with offences under Section 49 of the Children Act 1989 in each of the past five years; whether recovery orders under Section 50 are regularly sought when looked-after children disappear from local authority care; and whether the port authorities are informed of all recovery orders. [HL427]

In order to respond to the noble Lord's Questions, my department will need to collate information from several different sources. I shall write to him with the information that he requests and place a copy of that reply in the Library.

Crossrail

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the breakdown of capital cost estimate for Crossrail for (a) central tunnel and stations including south of the Thames; (b) Great Western Main Line works; (c) Great Eastern Main Line works; and (d) rolling stock. [HL16]

Around 15 per cent of the budgeted £15.9 billion capital cost of Crossrail is related to the works on the Great Western and Great Eastern Main Lines, excluding the depot at Old Oak Common. The current intention is that rolling stock will be supplied through a lease arrangement and it is therefore treated as an operating cost outside of the capital cost budget.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assurances have been given to those companies committed to providing private sector funding for Crossrail in respect of frequency of train services; and [HL18]

What government guarantees, if any, have been given to those companies committing to contributing to the funding of Crossrail. [HL19]

I refer the noble Lord to the Written Statement made by the Secretary of State on Monday 26 November (Official Report, cols. WS 133-4). Detailed negotiations with a number of third parties are continuing. Details of any such assurances will be issued when those negotiations have been completed. Any government guarantees or other contingent liabilities will be reported to Parliament in the normal way.

Cycling: Offences

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether it is illegal for cyclists to travel on public roads after dark without a light at the front or at the back of the cycle. [HL648]

Regulations 18 and 24 of the Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations 1989 No 1796, as amended, make it illegal for cyclists to travel on public roads at night without a white light at the front and a red light at the back of the cycle.

Embryology

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answers by Lord Triesman on 26 November (WA 98–9), whether there has been any conclusive demonstration in any species of how somatic cell nuclear transfer can overcome the problems of immune rejection with patient-specific embryonic stem cells; and how the current level of state support for such research in humans has taken account of all relevant international conventions. [HL589]

Employment: Allowances

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What safeguards are in place to ensure that increased rates of employment and support allowance do not raise claimants' income to levels marginally above the threshold for other benefits or exemptions from charges, thereby making them worse off overall. [HL519]

We will ensure that people will have access to all of the income-related passported benefits that they currently have on income support. Customers who qualify for income-related employment and support allowance will, as now under income support, be entitled to maximum housing benefit and council tax benefit, without the need to provide details of their income and capital.

We expect that the income-related strand of employment and support allowance will offer access to all the same benefits and schemes, including free prescriptions.

Employment: Local Partnerships

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have for the Local Employment Partnerships scheme to offer specialist placement and support for people with mental health problems. [HL516]

Support for people with mental health problems is provided through Pathways to Work. We intend to ensure that Pathways providers are able to refer jobseekers to suitable Local Employment Partnership opportunities.

Employment: Pathways to Work

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How Pathways to Work providers will be encouraged to work with people who have recently left prison. [HL515]

Private and voluntary sector providers will be paid by results. They will receive a payment when a person starts work and a further payment if that work is sustained. They will therefore be encouraged to work equally with ex-prisoners, as with all other people on incapacity benefits. Pathways support is tailored to the needs of the individual and the specialist adviser would consider all aspects of the customer's recent history.

Energy: Biofuels

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether definitive evidence is available to establish that, from original seed production to fuel tank, biofuels are beneficial against climate change; and, if such evidence is available, whether they will publish it. [HL497]

In the UK and internationally, there has been a significant number of commercial and government-funded independent assessments of the field-to-tank carbon impacts of biofuels. The results are published and freely available.

Recent studies have indicated typical savings in carbon emissions of 20 to 80 per cent for biofuels derived from both UK-produced and imported feed stocks. The range is very wide as the carbon savings achieved depend on many assumptions and on the particular supply and production chains studied. The treatment of co-products has a major impact, as do assumptions on how the land would otherwise have been used.

With the introduction of the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation in April 2008, the Government will require companies supplying transport fuels to report on the carbon intensity of the biofuels they are sourcing. A detailed methodology for assessing this has been developed, and the Government were consulted on this approach in June 2007. Copies of the consultation paper were placed in the House Libraries and are available on the Department for Transport website.

The Government are working with other member states and the Commission towards a harmonised EU approach to this issue. We are also working with international bodies such as the Global Bioenergy Partnership to seek international agreement on an approach to the measurement of carbon benefits.

Families: Multiple Births

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will review the Sure Start maternity grant with a view to ensuring that higher payments are made to families expecting multiple births, to reflect their higher care costs. [HL687]

The Government recognise the higher costs to families expecting multiple births and provide a Sure Start maternity grant of £500 for each baby expected by, or born to, people on qualifying income-related benefits or tax credits. The payment of £500 per child is a significant and worthwhile contribution towards the costs associated with a new baby.

There are no plans to review the amount of the Sure Start maternity grant at this time.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they will review the eligibility criteria for the eldest child rate of child benefit, to allow multiple-birth families to receive equal payments for children of equal age. [HL688]

Since 1991, a higher rate of child benefit has been available for the first child. The Government continue to keep the first and subsequent child rates of child benefit under review.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they will review the baby element of the child tax credit with a view to ensuring that a higher payment is made to families expecting multiple births to reflect their higher care costs. [HL689]

Families: Premature Babies

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have to reflect the additional costs of families of premature babies in the benefit system. [HL690]

The Government have increased the level of financial support for families with babies through a number of measures, and will continue to review their financial support for families on a regular basis. Families having their first child can receive up to £4,300 financial support in the first year of the child’s life, and a further £4,400 in statutory maternity pay.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assessment they have made of the report Financial Help for Families produced by BLISS, the premature baby charity, regarding the additional costs of families of premature babies. [HL691]

The Government welcome the support from BLISS for the health in pregnancy grant which will be available to all women after the 25th week of pregnancy.

Fishing: Cod

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How, at the forthcoming European Council of Ministers, they will take into account the advice of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea on the establishment of quotas for cod in the North Sea. [HL630]

The total allowable catch (TAC) for cod in the North Sea was decided in an agreement between the European Union and Norway on 27 November 2007 and will be ratified at the December European Agriculture and Fisheries Council of Ministers. A cod TAC increase of 11 was secured. This is a significant step in helping fisheries managers to reduce discarding of the stock. It is also consistent with the EU cod recovery plan and International Council for the Exploration of the Sea scientific advice which indicates that the status of the stock is improving, through the recruitment of the 2005 year class. The UK, and other member states, are also committed to reducing discards in fisheries which catch cod. The UK is therefore currently piloting a number of measures within the North Sea cod fishery to reduce further mortality of cod.

Flooding

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to promote (a) better foundations; (b) stone floors; (c) high electrical wiring; and (d) no fixed wooden furniture on ground level for buildings constructed in areas designated as at high risk of flooding. [HL486]

Projects are under way as part of the developing cross-government strategy to improve flood risk management, “Making space for water”, to improve the flood resilience of both new and existing buildings.

In the case of new buildings, Planning Policy Statement 25, “Development and flood risk”, from the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) expressly seeks to avoid increasing flood risk as a result of development, either to the new development itself or in other areas. Where building is necessary in flood-risk areas, the policy is that it must be safe. CLG is seeking to encourage the use of flood resilience techniques and, with Defra and the Environment Agency, has published a technical guide, Improving the Flood Performance of New Buildings: Flood Resilient Construction, with the longer-term aim of developing resilience standards for building regulations, subject to the outcome of further research and consultation.

We are also seeking to encourage installation of resilience measures in existing buildings and are engaged in a pilot project to examine the feasibility of a possible grant scheme to encourage uptake, particularly in areas where community defences to reduce flood risk cannot be justified. The Environment Agency has published a damage limitation guide with CIRIA, Standards for the repair of buildings following flooding, to encourage people to consider flood-resilient walls and floors, raised wiring, switches and sockets and moveable kitchen units made of either solid wood or plastic when refurbishing their properties.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What discussions they have had with the insurance industry on (a) the costs and (b) the benefits of co-ordinated betterment in addressing the problems of buildings located in areas designated as at high risk of flooding. [HL487]

There have been regular discussions between Defra, the insurance industry and other stakeholders regarding the increased resilience of properties at risk of flooding. This has included joint workshops with the Association of British Insurers (ABI), and ongoing work around the resilience pilot grant scheme that the department is funding.

A research project is under way to develop the evidence base for flood resilience, and this will include property level estimates of costs and benefits of resilience. The ABI has been kept informed about this work at all stages.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to ensure clearer lines of responsibility for the prevention of flooding in those areas designated as at high risk. [HL574]

The Environment Agency is the principal operating authority with responsibility for flood risk management in England. It is empowered to manage flood risk from the sea and on all watercourses identified as creating the greatest flood risk.

In recent years, powers have been transferred to the Environment Agency for 1,800 further watercourse lengths, partly to clarify responsibilities. Our developing cross-government strategy to improve flood risk management, “Making space for water” intends to give the Environment Agency a strategic overview of the management of flood risk from all sources (including rivers, the sea, sewer, surface water and groundwater).

We have announced the detailed form that this new role will take on the coast and are considering how it should be applied inland. As with the coastal overview role, inland changes will be informed by public consultation.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they anticipate coming to conclusions on the effective prioritisation process for the Environment Agency's capital programme for the fund for flood defences; and whether they will publish their findings and those of the public consultation. [HL681]

The Environment Agency and Defra are continuing work on a revised prioritisation process for the Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Capital programme. The findings of this work will be published in due course.

Written responses to the public consultation, Outcome Measures and prioritisation approaches for flood and coastal erosion risk management, are available on the Defra website.

Flooding: Insurance

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What discussions have taken place regarding their role as insurer of last resort for flood damage caused on buildings to be constructed in areas designated as at high risk of flooding. [HL508]

There is a functional and competitive insurance market through which cover for flooding is available to nearly all households.

The Government have no plans to subsidise flood insurance or act as insurer of last resort for flood damage, which we believe would damage the insurance industry, be unfair to taxpayers and be unsustainable in the long term.

Flooding: Prevention

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assessment they have made of the need for a further increase in spending on flood preparation and prevention as a consequence of the floods in Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire earlier this year. [HL504]

Following consideration in the comprehensive spending review, we have announced that funding for flood and coastal erosion risk management in England will rise progressively over the next three years, with increased spending in 2010-11, a minimum of £200 million above current levels.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many flood-prevention schemes have been (a) identified; (b) costed; and (c) had funds allocated since the flooding earlier in the year. [HL505]

There are currently over 300 Defra-funded capital schemes being delivered that will reduce flood risk to communities across the country.

Prioritised and costed investment plans for new flood risk management schemes are submitted annually by individual operating authorities. It is anticipated that there will be over 150 new projects planned to start during the Comprehensive Spending Review period, starting in April 2008. This is subject to my departmental funding allocations to all operating authorities.

In addition to the allocation of funds to new flood alleviation schemes, the Environment Agency has also re-allocated funding this year to undertake important remedial work following the June and July floods.

Immigration: Detention

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will set a limit to the length of immigration detention after which each person's case must be reviewed by a magistrate or judge. [HL726]

The Government have no plans to change the basis on which detention under Immigration Act powers is reviewed. Existing procedures, including access to the processes of judicial review and habeas corpus to challenge the lawfulness of detention, comply fully with the requirements of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress the Borders and Immigration Agency has made in improving healthcare for detainees, in particular mental health care in immigration detention and removal centres. [HL728]

Every IRC is required to have a medical team, at least one member of which must be a doctor who is trained as a general practitioner. The team also consists of nurses, including registered mental nurses, the number of which would depend on the centre. There are regular meetings to discuss healthcare issues between Border and Immigration Agency staff, NGO’s and Department of Health officials in order to develop and improve healthcare in the removal centres. Mental health issues are discussed at these meetings.

Immigration: Powers of Detention

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 action they are taking to ensure that where the new UK Border Agency uses powers to detain and other powers otherwise exercised by the police, its personnel will be subject to the same rigorous standards of conduct as those laid down for the police in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 code of practice. [HL348]

The Government are committed to ensuring that in the exercise of all their enforcement powers, including those to detain individuals at ports in support of the police, officers of the new UK Border Agency are subject to comparable standards of conduct as those laid down for the police. Similarly, appropriate and proportionate safeguards and oversight mechanisms are also in place.

The specific new power to detain mentioned by the Lord President (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) in her Statement on 14 November are those contained in Sections 1 to 4 of the UK Borders Act 2007. In commencing these powers, robust safeguards and oversight mechanisms in the form of clear and specific standard operating procedures are being developed alongside specialist training before individual immigration officers are designated with these powers.

Immigration: Removals

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether closed-circuit television footage has been retained of an alleged incident which occurred during the process of attempting to remove Ms Susan Pandirai, a citizen of Mozambique, on 20 November. [HL657]

We do not comment on individual cases. However, it is our policy to retain CCTV footage of planned removals from immigration removal centres for a period of 30 days.

Job Centres: Advice Lines

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many complaints they have received that Jobcentre Plus advice lines are constantly engaged. [HL577]

The information requested is not available. Jobcentre Plus does not collate information on the number of complaints received about its telephone lines being constantly engaged. Complaints about telephone calls are collated and summarised under three broad headings: “Answering telephone calls”; “Customer passed on/Hand Offs”; and “Call Back Services”.

Lifeboats

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have assessed the extent to which seafarers are affected by the current rate of on-load hook failure accidents during lifeboat drills; and what assessment they have made of the attitude of seafarers to lifeboat drills; and [HL566]

Whether they have assessed the current rate of on-load hook failure accidents during lifeboat drills. [HL567]

An assessment of accidents can be found in the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s (MCA) Research Project 555 on the development of lifeboat design, which is located on the MCA’s website as follows: www.mcga.gov.uk/c4mca/mcga-guidance-regulation/mcga-dqs-research_reports/2006_-_2010-2.htm

Feedback to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) suggests that seafarers have concerns with participating in a drill where they are required to be lowered in a lifeboat fitted with on-load release gear.

The United Kingdom is working at the International Maritime Organisation to amend the requirements for on-load hooks so that all new hooks fail-safe in the closed position.

Marine Environment: Protected Areas

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in preparing the draft Marine Bill, they will be obtaining international scientific advice; whether the draft Bill will reflect the action plan agreed in Johannesburg in 2001 for a global network of marine protected areas by 2012; and whether it will reflect the emerging European Marine Strategy Directive. [HL631]

In preparing proposals for a Marine Bill, the Government have consulted widely and have considered relevant European and wider international policy and scientific developments.

Marine conservation zones introduced by the Bill will help to deliver an ecologically coherent network of well managed protected areas by 2012 and thereby to meeting a range of international commitments, including those under OSPAR, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

The Marine Strategy Directive seeks to achieve good environmental status in Europe's marine environment. It is a framework directive and is still being negotiated. The Marine Bill will include new powers to help achieve the goal of the directive.

Parole Board

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have made an assessment of the number of judicial chairs and panel members required to enable the Parole Board to carry out its work effectively. [HL547]

Every year the Parole Board provides the Secretary of State with projections for the number of new appointments it requires in order to handle its projected caseload. Its assessment is usually accepted; any adjustment is normally made in consultation with the Parole Board.

Police

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by Lord McKenzie of Luton on 21 November (WA 84–5), whether it is appropriate that health and safety legislation should be invoked in circumstances where the police and security forces are dealing with terrorist incidents, particularly in light of the specific exemptions from criminal prosecution in these circumstances for the police and the armed forces set out in the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. [HL609]

Health and safety legislation is potentially applicable in the circumstances described. Whether it is invoked is a matter for the prosecuting authorities applying the guidelines set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors.

Post Office

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by Lord Jones of Birmingham on 29 October (WA 165), when a reply from Mr Alan Cook, Managing Director of the Post Office, can be expected; and what are the terms of any agreement or understanding relating to the Answer of Parliamentary Questions by the Post Office or the Royal Mail Group. [HL496]

I understand that the Managing Director of Post Office Limited will reply shortly. It has now been agreed that copies of such responses will be placed in the Library of the House.

Poverty

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many families they estimate are likely to be living below the poverty line by 2010. [HL541]

I refer the noble Lord to the projection of the number of children in relative low-income poverty set out on page 12 of the Harker Review (Delivering on Child Poverty: What Would It Take?, DWP November 2006 available at www.dwp.gov.uk/publications/dwp/2006/harker/harker-full.pdf).

Policies announced since the review was published in both the Budget 2007 and the recent Pre-Budget Report will help lift up to an additional 300,000 children out of poverty.

Research Facilities: Merial Laboratory

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What history there has been of shortfalls in the quantity of virus recorded each week at the Merial animal health laboratory. [HL456]

These data are not recorded by the Government, but once Merial animal health had identified that a leak may have occurred, albeit one that was contained within the system, it informed Defra officials of this incident and the action that it had taken. Having learnt of this possible breach of a Specified Animal Pathogens Order (SAPO) licence condition, Defra suspended Merial's SAPO licence with immediate effect.

Revenue and Customs: Alcohol

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are the estimated average strengths used by HM Revenue and Customs to convert the quantities of beer, wine, spirits and cider respectively into hectolitres of pure alcohol in the published statistics on the amount of alcohol released for home consumption in each of the years 2000–01 to 2006–07. [HL529]

The estimated strengths used to convert quantities of beer, wine and cider in to hectolitres of alcohol are:

Wine Average Strength (a)

Beer Average Strength

Cider Average Strength

2000-01

10.28 per cent

4.19 per cent

5.03 per cent

2001-02

10.07 per cent

4.16 per cent

5.02 per cent

2002-03

11.39 per cent

4.17 per cent

5.02 per cent

2003-04

11.74 per cent

4.19 per cent

5.02 per cent

2004-05

11.74 per cent

4.21 per cent

5.03 per cent

2005-06

11.77 per cent

4.17 per cent

5.03 per cent

2006-07

11.81 per cent

4.20 per cent

5.03 per cent

Note: (a) The increase in average strength in 2002-03 is caused by the reclassification of most “cooler/alcopops” to spirits-based “ready to drink”.

An average strength is not needed to produce the quantities of pure alcohol for spirits as the duty is charged on the quantity of alcohol released for consumption.

Revenue and Customs: Northern Ireland

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many people in Northern Ireland were employed by HM Revenue and Customs on 1 January each year since 2000. [HL626]

HM Revenue and Customs (the Inland Revenue and HM Customs and Excise before April 2005) employed the following numbers of people in Northern Ireland at the dates shown in the table below. Staff numbers at 1 January are not available before 2003, so figures for 1 April have been provided.

1 April 2000

2,078

1 April 2001

2,129

1 April 2002

2,164

1 January 2003

2,341

1 January 2004

2,595

1 January 2005

2,724

1 January 2006

2,551

1 January 2007

2,518

Roads: Traffic Volumes

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What reviews have been undertaken recently of the validity of the passenger car unit formulation currently used by the Department for Transport in assessing traffic densities and forecasting future traffic volumes and flows; and, in particular, of the currently governing equation that one heavy goods vehicle is equivalent to two passenger cars. [HL546]

Russia: International Organisations

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether Russia is fulfilling its international obligations as a member of the Council of Europe, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Inter-Parliamentary Union. [HL634]

We have been clear in our private discussions with the Russian Government, and in our public statements, that we have concerns about the situation of democracy, the rule of law and human rights in Russia.

The Council of Europe's monitoring mechanisms have regularly reported on the level of Russia's compliance with Council of Europe commitments. We continue to urge Russia to make progress in implementing the recommendations of these bodies, including through our bilateral human rights consultations and the EU-Russia human rights dialogue. Russia is also subject to the scrutiny of the Committee of Ministers in which the UK plays an active role. Furthermore, judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in certain cases brought by Russian citizens against the Russian Federation, have highlighted areas where the level of protection of human rights in Russia is inconsistent with Russia's Council of Europe obligations. The Committee of Ministers supervises the execution of these judgments.

In the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the EU and UK have repeatedly called on Russia to adhere to its OSCE commitments, and expressed concern in areas such as media freedom, freedom of association and electoral conduct, where failings have been apparent. Most recently, my honourable friend the Minister for Europe, Jim Murphy, attending the OSCE Ministerial Council in Madrid on 29 and 30 November, said, “We regret that the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights has recently faced a number of unprecedented restrictions and bureaucratic obstacles to observing the Russian Duma elections”.

Russia is a regular attendee of Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) meetings and has a member on the IPU's executive committee. The Russian group of the IPU visited the UK in 2002 and hosted a return visit by the British group of the IPU in 2004.

Schools: Admissions

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assessment they have made of the particular difficulties of parents of twins and higher multiple birth families in gaining admission for all their children to the same primary or secondary school. [HL614]

We are aware that this can be an important issue for parents in this situation, particularly when applying for places at a primary school.

We introduced a new school admissions code in 2007. Local authorities and admission authorities must act in accordance with it. In relation to siblings at primary schools, it says that admission authorities should make sure in their oversubscription criteria that, as far as possible, siblings (including twins, triplets or children from other multiple births) can attend the same primary school, as long as they comply with the infant class-size regulations.

The code goes on to say that children at secondary school age are usually more independent, but does provide guidance for admission authorities on how to help meet parents' wishes where they wish siblings to continue to attend the same school.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What effect the 2007 school admissions code has had on twins, triplets and other multiple-birth families in obtaining admission to their first choice of school. [HL615]

We introduced a new school admissions code in 2007. Local authorities and admission authorities must act in accordance with it. The code makes schools' admission arrangements fairer and more transparent for parents. The code applies to admissions to schools from September 2008. We are therefore planning to look at what impact the code has had from 2008, and can then assess the effect on different types of families.

Schools: Disruptive Children

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What further action they propose to take against disruptive children in schools. [HL696]

The proportion of schools judged by OFSTED to have unsatisfactory standards of behaviour is at an historic low. However, the Government remain determined to achieve further improvements. We will therefore continue to implement our comprehensive national programme to strengthen the capacity of schools to manage behaviour. This includes giving schools access to high-quality guidance, training, curriculum materials and advice from expert consultants, establishing a clear statutory basis for teachers' disciplinary authority, providing extra resources for schools facing the greatest challenges, giving schools statutory power to search pupils for weapons and encouraging the placement of police officers in schools.

Further developments this term include the extension of behaviour partnerships to most secondary schools, the extension of the “Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning” programme to secondary schools, and new legal duties for parents to arrange supervision for their children for the first five days of any exclusion from school and for schools or local authorities to provide supervised education from the sixth day.

Schools: Specialist Curriculum

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What changes they will propose for specialist secondary schools' curriculum coverage following the latest Ofsted report. [HL708]

The department, working closely with the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust and the Youth Sport Trust, will continue to support specialist schools to improve the delivery of specialist curriculum subjects and drive whole school improvement. Schools can specialise in one of 10 curriculum areas. The published guidance sets out the requirements of being a specialist school, which include setting attainment targets in their chosen specialist subjects and developing as a centre of curriculum excellence. Specialist schools' progress is assessed on a regular basis linked to the Ofsted inspection cycle.

Schools: Teachers

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have any proposals to change the standard of dress of school teachers. [HL673]

The Government do not regulate standards of dress for the school workforce and have no plans to do so. This is a matter which is best determined at local level as part of the general terms and conditions of employment agreed between employer and employee. In doing so, our view is that a dress code should be relevant to the individual setting, taking into account the requirements of the post and equality and diversity matters.

Schools: Uniform

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will promote school uniforms to help improve discipline in schools; and [HL674]

Whether they have assessed the accuracy of the comments of head teacher, Carol Jones of Fulham Cross School, that GCSE passes have risen from 42 per cent to 53 per cent since school uniforms were introduced. [HL675]

We published updated guidance on school uniform and related policies in October 2007. This guidance strongly encourages schools to have a uniform as it can instil pride; support positive behaviour and discipline; encourage identity with, and support for, school ethos; ensure that pupils of all races and backgrounds feel welcome; protect children from social pressures to dress in a particular way; and nurture cohesion and promote good relations between different groups of pupils.

We have not assessed whether there is a direct link between the improved results and the new school uniform policy at Fulham Cross School. However, we are encouraged by Ms Jones's comments about the positive impact of the new policy.

Skills

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many young people aged between 16 and 18 years are not in education, employment or training; whether the numbers are increasing year on year; and what plans they have to assist these young people with a view to their futures. [HL538]

The table below shows the proportion of young people aged between 16 and 18 years who were not in education, employment or training (NEET) at the end of each of the past 10 years. The proportion NEET at the end of 2006 was 10.3 per cent.

Table—young people aged 16 to 18 not in education, employment or training

End of calendar year

1997

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006 provisional

Proportion

8.5%

9.4%

8.1%

9.1%

9.5%

9.5%

9.2%

9.7%

10.9%

10.3%

Numbers

154,300

170,300

144,500

162,900

175,900

180,200

178,700

190,000

217,100

206,200

Source: SFR 22/2007—www.dfes.gov.uk/rsgateway/DB/SFR/s000734/sfr22_2007.pdf

Young people who are NEET have a very mixed range of characteristics. Not all are unemployed—they may be taking a gap year, caring for family, or simply be between jobs or courses.

The department's strategy for assisting young people to re-engage is based on four key elements: careful tracking to identify young people's needs; a flexible mix of learning provision designed to meet the needs of every young person in every area; good advice and support to enable young people to access suitable provision; and a set of clear rights and responsibilities for young people to re-engage should they become NEET. Together with the education and training and Youth Matters reforms, these will make a significant reduction in the proportion of young people NEET and put us on the pathway to ensuring that all young people participate in education or training up to the age of 18.

A strategy, setting these out in detail, was published in November 2007, and is available on the DCSF website at www.dfes.gov.uk/1419/index.cfm?sid=42& pid=343&lid=336&ctype=Text&ptype=Single).

Sport: Greyhound Racing

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they propose in response to the report by Lord Donoughue concerning greyhound racing. [HL744]

I welcome the independent review of the greyhound racing industry, chaired by Lord Donoughue. We will consider fully the appropriate recommendations of the report when we draft any regulations.

Ministers will also consider the greyhound racing industry's response to the review, which I hope will be positive and swift. The Government have made it clear to the industry that a lot needs to be done to get its house in order to help improve welfare standards for the dogs used in racing.

There will be a public consultation on our proposals for greyhound racing before approval by Parliament. We intend to give this matter our priority, although the timing of the consultation will be dependent on the response of the industry to the recommendations made by the Donoughue inquiry.

Sudan: Guidance for Teachers

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will issue new guidance notes to United Kingdom aid workers and teachers planning to work in the Sudan. [HL712]

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice contains information about local laws and customs. We urge all travellers to respect these regardless of which country they are visiting, as we expect others to respect our laws and customs.

The Government are currently reviewing their travel advice with regard to local laws and customs in all Muslim countries.

Waste Management: London

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the current position regarding the implementation of the London Waste and Recycling Fund; and [HL308]

Further to the comments by Lord Rooker on 26 June (Official Report cols. 507-9) on the London Waste and Recycling Fund, whether they are still in support of its implementation; and [HL309]

Whether they have made any progress in discussions with the Mayor of London on his contribution to the London Waste and Recycling Fund, which is currently being withheld. [HL310]

The Government intend to set up the London Waste and Recycling Board as soon as possible to ensure that the fund can be disbursed in 2008-09 in a strategic way and for the objectives, set out in the Greater London Authority Act 2007, to be met.

The details of the constitution and administration of the board are currently being considered and discussed, including with London councils. It is disappointing that the Mayor has announced his intention not to sit on the board or contribute to the fund. However, the Government will continue to seek ways of working together to ensure that the efforts of the board and the Mayor to improve waste infrastructure in London are mutually reinforcing.