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Written Answers

Volume 698: debated on Thursday 7 February 2008

Written Answers

Thursday 7 February 2008

Alcohol: Revenue and Customs

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will recalculate the consumption of wine given by HM Revenue and Customs for each of the years 2000–01 to 2006–07 on the basis of the method contained in ONS Methodological Series No 37 paper Estimating alcohol consumption from survey data: updated method of converting volumes to units. [HL1685]

While the ONS methodology gives a single estimate of the current strength of wine it does not show how the strength may have increased over the last few years. HM Revenue and Customs is currently reviewing the methodology it uses to calculate the consumption of pure alcohol from wine, in conjunction with the Office for National Statistics and the Department of Health, in view of new information. Once the review is complete HMRC will recalculate their estimates of the consumption of wine since 2000-01 on the basis of the new methodology.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why, as beer is taxed according to its strength, HM Revenue and Customs do not calculate clearances of pure alcohol attributable to beer directly from the amount of tax collected. [HL1686]

The clearances of pure alcohol for beer are derived from the tax receipts and do not depend on the strength of beer.

Figures on the average strength of beer were given in my Written Answer of 10 December 2007 (Official Report, col. WA 15) as this is the strength which links the two published data series on pure alcohol clearances of beer, and on total clearances of beer. However a strength estimate is only necessary in the calculation to convert pure alcohol clearances to quantities for the small proportion of total beer clearances which are not home produced. This is in contrast to clearances of spirits for which we only produce data on pure alcohol and not total clearances and an average strength is not needed.

Building Regulations

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the 2005 report of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee on Housing: Building a Sustainable Future, whether they plan to encourage companies that insure newly built homes to include part L of the building regulations, relating to energy and water efficiency, in their policies. [HL1388]

We have no current plans to do so. Companies that insure newly built homes are private companies and the Government do not seek to influence what should be in their policies. Under current legislation it is the function of building control bodies, comprising both local authority building control and private sector approved inspectors, to ensure that any building work complies with all of the requirements of building regulations, and there is no current intention to alter this position.


asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the grant provided by them in the current financial year to each local authority in England for the issue of concessionary bus passes; and how much the authorities estimate the concessionary bus passes will cost them in the current financial year; and [HL1524]

What will be the grant provided by them in the financial year 2008–09 to each local authority in England for the issue of concessionary bus passes; and how much the authorities estimate the concessionary bus passes will cost them in that financial year. [HL1525]

Travel concessionary authorities’ (TCAs) responsibilities for implementing the statutory minimum travel concession will generally result in costs in three areas: issuing passes, reimbursing operators, and administering the scheme.

The Government are paying a grant of over £31 million in total to TCAs in England outside London in this financial year (2007-08) to cover the cost of issuing concessionary travel passes. The amount of grant to London is to be confirmed. The grant to each TCA is based on £4 per pass currently in circulation, uplifted by 20 per cent to recognise that the new concession is likely to be more attractive than the existing one. It is not possible to say how much it will cost each TCA to produce passes as this will depend on a number of factors, including the state of their existing data on concessionaires and whom they have contracted with to produce their passes. Details of the grant to cover the cost of passes are available in a supplementary table to this Answer in the Library of the House.

The costs of reimbursing bus operators and administering concessionary travel schemes are generally covered by amounts included in the formula grant settlement for each TCA. TCAs do not separately identify the costs of administering the scheme in their returns to Government.

The department is also paying a special grant in the following three years (2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11) to cover the cost of improving the statutory minimum bus concession from free off-peak local travel to free off-peak travel anywhere in England. The proposed distribution of this grant is set out in a further supplementary table. The final distribution will be subject to a parliamentary debate in due course.

Central-Local Concordat

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What changes they propose to make to the policies and working arrangements of the Department for Children, Schools and Families following the signing of the Central–Local Concordat on 12 December 2007, both in general and in specific response to the agreement in the concordat (a) that “there should be a presumption that powers are best exercised at the lowest effective and practical level”; (b) that central government undertakes to “progressively remove obstacles which prevent councils from pursuing their role, including reducing the burden of appraisal and approval regimes, the ring-fencing of funds for specific purposes and the volume of guidance it issues”, (c) that the number of national indicators should be “around 200”; (d) that in relation to the negotiation of new-style local area agreements “this objective will require major changes in behaviour and practice from central government departments, their agencies, government offices, councils and local partners”; and what is the process and timetable for such changes. [HL1725]

The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) is fully committed to the principles set out in the Central-Local Concordat, including in particular the new performance management arrangements for local authorities and their partners, based on a single set of 198 national indicators and a limited number of targets agreed in local area agreements (LAAs). The new system of comprehensive area assessment will significantly reduce the burden of inspection for children's services from next year; DCSF has contributed over £1 billion of funding to the new, un-ring-fenced area based grant for 2008-09; and the number of targets DCSF agrees with local authorities will be significantly reduced from April by the transition to new LAAs. DCSF is currently working closely with other government departments, government offices, national agencies and others to agree the new LAAs with local authorities and their partners by June.

Climate Change: Emissions Trading

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Following the publication of the European Commission's climate and energy package, whether they will ring-fence money raised by auctioning of European Union Emissions Trading Scheme carbon permits for energy savings, investments in renewable energy and other measures to combat climate change. [HL1659]

The Government's spending priorities are not, in general, determined by the way in which the money is raised. Hypothecating revenues to particular spending programmes imparts inflexibility in spending decisions and can lead to a misallocation of resources, with reduced value for money for taxpayers. The spending review process ensures that resources are allocated efficiently to deliver government objectives and ensures priorities, such as education and health, receive the increased levels of funding, as set out in the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR).

The CSR increases Defra's budget by 1.4 per cent in real terms, from £3,508 million in 2007-08 to £3,960 million. This increase allows the Government to allocate substantial resources to tackle climate change including the Environmental Transformation Fund, and increased resources for flood defences to help the UK adapt.


asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the United Kingdom, as a guarantor power under the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee, has made any representations to Tassos Papadopoulos and the Greek-Cypriot leadership to reconsider their rejection of President Talat's offer of 5 September 2007 to resume negotiations. [HL1667]

We have not made any representations to President Papadopoulos regarding Mr Talat's offer in September 2007. It is vital however, if progress is to be made, that there exists constant contact and dialogue at all levels between the two communities. We continue to urge all parties to take measures to help build trust on the island and demonstrate the necessary political will to turn words into actions.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the United Kingdom, as a guarantor power under the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee, has discussed with Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations Secretary-General, the package of proposals presented by President Talat of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus at their meeting on 16 September 2007. [HL1668]

We have not discussed with UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, the package of proposals presented by Mr Talat, leader of the Turkish Cypriot community, in September 2007. However, we were encouraged by Mr Talat's expression of support for the 8 July agreement and the list of confidence-building measures that he proposed.

We continue to encourage all parties to the Cyprus problem to engage fully with the efforts of the UN to achieve a comprehensive solution based on the 8 July agreement. 2008 presents a unique opportunity to make decisive progress towards a comprehensive settlement. We urge all parties to take measures to help build trust on the island and demonstrate the necessary political will to turn words into actions.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the United Kingdom, as a guarantor power under the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee, has taken steps to assist the Turkish-Cypriot people, as promised by the then Prime Minister Tony Blair after the referendum on the Annan Plan on 24 April 2004. [HL1669]

We continue to support fully the EU's commitment of 2004, reaffirmed in 2007, to support the economic development of the Turkish Cypriot community, thereby facilitating a settlement.

The EU aid package of €259 million is starting to make a visible difference to the lives of Turkish Cypriots. To date, €88 million have been tendered for, €33 million have been contracted and €12 million have been spent.

At the same time, we remain committed to achieving further trade liberalisation and will continue to support the efforts of the EU presidency to secure such an agreement. Improving the ability of Turkish Cypriots to trade with the EU will bring the community closer to Europe and reduce dependence on Turkey.

However, while efforts to ease the isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community are important, ultimately this isolation will only be fully lifted in the context of a UN brokered comprehensive settlement to reunite the island.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their assessment of Ban Ki-Moon's recent report on Cyprus; and whether, as a guarantor power under the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee, they will implement paragraph 47 of that report, which encourages economic, social and cultural ties between the international community and the Turkish-Cypriot people. [HL1670]

We fully endorse the remarks made in the latest report from the UN Secretary-General that “it is regrettable that the ongoing debate on the lifting of the isolation of Turkish Cypriots has become a debate on recognition”. We remain committed to supporting the economic development of the Turkish Cypriot community, thereby facilitating a settlement.

The recent UN Security Council Resolution on Cyprus (1789) was agreed with consensus among the five permanent members of the Security Council. The resolution stressed the importance that all parties focus on making decisive progress towards a comprehensive settlement in 2008.


asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by Lord Darzi of Denham on 7 January (WA 152), what was the outcome of deliberations on the appropriateness of the term “child donor” in the context of proposed new paragraph 9 of Schedule 3 to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, inserted by paragraph 12 of Schedule 3 to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, with particular reference to the term used in the analogous situation in proposed new paragraph 10; and whether they intend to change the term to “child patient”. [HL1615]

The Government have no plans to change the term “child donor” in the context of proposed new paragraph 9 of Schedule 3 to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 at the present time. The use of the term “child donor” has the specific meaning set out in that paragraph and does not have any broader meaning. The Government do, however, recognise the need to ensure clarity in the use of terminology and will consider this matter further as the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill progresses.

EU: Structural and Cohesion Funds

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What administration costs were incurred by the Department for Transport in relation to the European structural and cohesion funds for the last financial year for which figures are available. [HL1387]

EU structural funds in the UK are not administered by the Department for Transport but by the appropriate managing authority.

Food: Supplements

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by Lord Davies of Oldham on 8 January (WA 196), what are the relevant criteria with which imports from the Channel Islands must comply in order to benefit from low value consignment relief. [HL1689]

Goods imported into the United Kingdom from the Channel Islands are generally subject to import VAT in the same way as goods imported from any country outside the European Union.

EC Legislation provides that import VAT is not payable on commercial consignments, for example on goods purchased over the internet, if the total value of the goods in the consignment does not exceed £18. This de minimis limit is set out in Article 22 of Council Directive 88/331/EEC amending Directive 83/181/EEC as regards exemption from value-added tax on the final importation of certain goods.

The legislation states:

Goods of a total value not exceeding 10 ECU shall be exempt on admission. Member states may grant exemption for imported goods of a total value of more than 10 ECU but not exceeding 22 ECU.

The UK choose to exempt goods with a total value up to 22 ECU.

In order to comply with this legislation packets must bear a customs declaration which indicates that the value of the goods is 22 ECU (£18) or less.

Health: A&E

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many Accident and Emergency departments have been closed by London hospital trusts in the last 36 months. [HL1735]

The information requested is not held centrally. Any changes to the provision of emergency care facilities including accident and emergency departments, are matters for the local National Health Service.

Health: Single-sex Accommodation

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will ensure that all patients who need or wish to be treated in single-sex accommodation in mental health services are so treated. [HL1662]

Appropriate gender separation on mental health units is essential for privacy, dignity and safety. The environment plays an important part in this, however policy, practice and training are equally important. Good progress on mixed-sex accommodation in mental health has been made; 70 per cent of available beds across the mental health estate is in single rooms. Recent guidance to the National Health Service makes it clear that men and women in mental health units should never have to share bedrooms, or bed bays, with the opposite sex. However, we know that further improvements can be made and consequently have included mixed-sex accommodation in the operating framework for the NHS this year to make sure that it is at the top of the agenda. Primary care trusts have been asked to assess the situation in all their trusts and to agree and publish stretching plans for improvement.

House of Lords: Members' Tax Returns

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the tax returns and records of members of the House of Lords are subject to the same level of security by HM Revenue and Customs as those of members of the House of Commons. [HL1655]

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) applies high standards of confidentiality and security to all customer data. Additional safeguards may be provided, within HMRC, for the records of members of the House of Lords, depending on their personal circumstances.

NHS: Food

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What mechanisms are in place for patients to comment on the food they receive in NHS hospitals; and [HL1730]

Whether the NHS offers advice to patients regarding what food to bring with them for a prolonged stay in an NHS hospital; and [HL1731]

Whether NHS hospitals are required to state clearly whether the food they provide for patients' consumption contain nuts or other ingredients that may cause allergic reactions; and [HL1733]

How they plan to increase the number of nutritional screening policies in place in NHS hospitals; and whether they plan to make screening of patients for undernutrition a mandatory requirement on the NHS. [HL1734]

Patients are able to comment on the food they receive in hospitals in several ways. The Healthcare Commission National Inpatient survey (due to be published this year) asks a sample of patients, how they would rate hospital food and if they were offered a choice of food. The Healthcare Commission's Maternity Survey 2007 also asked women for information about the quality and quantity of food they received during their time in hospital. Additionally, patients are able to comment directly to the nursing staff on the ward. This will facilitate an immediate resolution to any problems at source. Trusts may also conduct their own patient satisfaction questionnaires to assess patient satisfaction with hospital meals.

All hospital inpatients are entitled to have their meals provided free of charge in National Health Service hospitals. Some patients may wish to bring their own food into hospital and individual trusts will advise patients on whether this is appropriate. They will also advise on the safe management of food they bring in.

Patients who have identified food allergies should be provided with an appropriate meal that meets their dietary needs. The patient's name and diet type is normally clearly identified on the meal.

The Food Standards Agency has issued best practice advice to help food retailers and caterers selling foods that is not pre-packed to give information on the allergen content of the foods they provide. These principles are applicable to healthcare caterers. The guidance is voluntary.

Local National Health Service trusts are responsible for nutrition screening policies. To help trusts devise their policies we have produced Essence of Care which sets benchmarks for screening and assessment to identify patients' nutritional needs in health and social care settings, and helps healthcare professionals form appropriate care plans.

We have also produced the Improving Nutritional Care, which outlines a range of actions to tackle malnutrition and ensure the nutritional needs of older people in hospitals and care homes are better met. It aims to ensure that health and social care staff and managers are well informed, equipped and supported to provide good nutrition and effective nutritional care.

The National Patient Safety Agency is also supporting the wide use of screening across the NHS.

Prisoners: Voting Rights

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What conclusions they draw from the consultation on the voting rights of convicted prisoners; and when they intend to implement the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights on this matter. [HL1641]

The Government are currently considering how to take forward the implementation of the Hirst judgment in light of the first stage consultation on this issue.

Prisons: Circuit Judges

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many judges went on circuit for the last year for which figures are available; and, of these, how many visited a women's prison while on circuit. [HL1658]

Eighty puisne judges of the High Court Judge sat on circuit during 2007, the breakdown between the three divisions being as follows:

Chancery Division x 2;

Family Division x 18; and

Queen's Bench Division x 60.

In addition, two of the Heads of Division—the President of the Queen's Bench Division and the Chancellor of the High Court—also sat on circuit during the same period.

Records are not kept (by the Judiciary or the Judicial Office) of visits undertaken by individual judges to prisons (male or female).

Questions for Written Answer: Unanswered Questions

asked the Leader of the House:

Further to her Written Answer on 17 January (WA 107) in reply to a Question asking why 64 Written Questions were overdue for Answer on 6 December 2007, why there remained 51 overdue Questions on 16 January. [HL1656]

My office continues to work closely with departments to address the issue of outstanding Questions for Written Answer and to ensure they are answered accurately and wherever possible within the 14-day deadline. On Thursday 7 February there remained 32 Written Questions overdue for Answer.

Railways: West Coast Main Line

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How they propose to deal with any capacity problems on the West Coast Main Line railway which may arise if the existing trains and platforms are not lengthened and adequate car parking facilities are not provided. [HL1671]

A 30 per cent increase in capacity will be available on the West Coast Main Line with the intensification of the new timetable, currently planned for introduction in December this year.

The provision of extra capacity for long-distance services on the West Coast Main Line is envisaged in the high level output specification (HLOS) statement published in July 2007. The Rolling Stock Plan published on 30 January 2008 set out an indicative number of 106 additional vehicles for InterCity West Coast by 2014.

The existing West Coast Trains franchise is committed to putting forward business cases for expansion of car parking accommodation along the route. Such work is well advanced.

Scotland: Reserved Matters

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Which reserved matters in Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998 are capable of devolution to the Scottish Parliament. [HL1694]

Since 1999 Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act has been amended nine times. The Government will only consider further changes to the devolution settlement which strengthen Scotland's position in the Union.

Southampton Docks: Container Crane

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assessment they have made of the economic consequences of the collapse of the container crane at Southampton docks and of the adverse impact on the ability of the United Kingdom to import shipping containers. [HL1718]

The immediate impact of the collapse of the crane (and the subsequent withdrawal from service of a number of other similar cranes, pending inspection) has been that around 40 per cent of vessels have had to be diverted from Southampton to other European container ports. However, by increasing the productivity of other cranes, Southampton Container Terminals Limited (SCT) has continued to serve the larger turnaround vessels from China and the Far East, minimising the impact on customers and the supply chain.

SCT are working with the crane inspectors and the HSE to ensure that the affected cranes are phased back into operation as soon as possible. In addition, two new “super post panamax” gantry cranes are expected to become operational during June 2008. On this basis, it is unlikely that the incident will have a significant impact on UK container capacity beyond the short term.

Telecommunications: Mobile Charges

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will hold discussions with United Kingdom mobile telephone companies to promote further reductions in charges to United Kingdom customers making calls to other European Union countries. [HL1157]

The Government hold regular discussions with mobile phone companies operating in the UK at which a number of issues are discussed. The regulator, the Office of Communications (Ofcom), holds discussions with all the UK mobile phone operators regarding the roaming regulations generally, including compliance with the pricing caps.

The Mobile Roaming (European Communities) Regulations which came into force on 30 July 2007 set a downward path for the cost of both calls made and received in each of the next three years. Moreover, the regulations require regulators to report on progress in the roaming market and the EU Commission is obliged to bring forward proposals by December 2008 on whether it wants to extend regulation beyond a time period of three years. The Government would continue to welcome comment from either business or consumers on the implementation and future of regulation in this area.

Vehicles: Speed Limits

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have considered requiring all road vehicles sold in the United Kingdom to have a maximum speed of 70 miles per hour; and, if so, what was the result of any such consideration. [HL1771]