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Written Answers

Volume 699: debated on Wednesday 20 February 2008

Written Answers

Wednesday 20 February 2008

Agriculture: Bluetongue

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the advice contained in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs publication Bluetongue: Guidance on Protection from Vector Attack, dated 21 December 2007, will be of practical assistance to working farmers. [HL1816]

EU rules provide various options for the safe movement of animals out of bluetongue infected areas. One such option includes “protection from attack by vectors”. In order to allow affected farmers this possibility, we provided guidance in consultation with experts from the EU reference laboratory at Pirbright. However, the necessary conditions are onerous and could not be achieved under commercial farm conditions, although such facilities do exist elsewhere in the EU. We would not wish to compromise on this standard because it could increase the risk of the disease spreading to bluetongue-free areas of the UK.

Armed Forces: Future Rapid Effects System

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they expect the future rapid effects system integrated project team to complete its assessment of industry responses to the pre-qualification questionnaire for the utility vehicle integrator role. [HL1857]

The Ministry of Defence is currently answering industry responses to the pre-qualification questionnaire for the utility vehicle integrator role. An announcement will be made in due course.

Army: Prosecuting Authority

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will place in the Library of the House the report by HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate following its inspection of the Army Prosecuting Authority in February and March 2007. [HL1742]

A copy of the report was provided to the Library of the House on its publication in June 2007 by HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate. A further copy will be placed in the Library.

Arts: Funding

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many, and which, regularly funded theatre-based producing companies in the regions were supported by Arts Council England (ACE) in 2007–08; and how many, and which, ACE plans to support, subject to an appeal process, in 2008–09. [HL1228]

The Arts Council operates at arm's length from the Government and decisions about which arts organisations to fund are entirely for it.

In 2007-08 the Arts Council is supporting 35 regularly funded theatre-based producing companies outside London. These are:

Belgrade Theatre Coventry

Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Bolton Octagon Theatre

Bristol Old Vic

Chichester Festival Theatre

Colchester Mercury Theatre

Contact Theatre Manchester

Derby Playhouse

Dukes Playhouse Lancaster

Hull Truck Theatre Company

Leicester Theatre Trust

Live Theatre Newcastle

Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse

New Vic Theatre Stoke

New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich

Northampton Theatres Trust

Northcott Theatre Exeter

Northern Stage

Nottingham Theatre Trust

Norwich Puppet Theatre

Nuffield Theatre Lancaster

Nuffield Theatre Southampton

Oldham Coliseum Theatre

Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester

Royal Shakespeare Company

Salisbury Playhouse

Sheffield Theatres

Stephen Joseph Theatre

Theatre by the Lake Keswick

Theatre Royal Plymouth

Watermill Theatre Newbury

Watford Palace Theatre

West Yorkshire Playhouse

York Theatre Royal

Yvonne Arnaud Theatre Guildford

In 2008-09 the Arts Council will support 33 regularly funded theatre-based producing companies outside London. These are:

Belgrade Theatre Coventry

Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Bolton Octagon Theatre

Bristol Old Vic

Chichester Festival Theatre

Colchester Mercury Theatre

Contact Theatre Manchester

Dukes Playhouse Lancaster

Hull Truck Theatre Company

Leicester Theatre Trust

Live Theatre Newcastle

Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse

New Vic Theatre Stoke

New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich

Northampton Theatres Trust

Northcott Theatre Exeter

Northern Stage

Nottingham Theatre Trust

Nuffield Theatre Lancaster

Nuffield Theatre Southampton

Oldham Coliseum Theatre

Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester

Royal Shakespeare Company

Salisbury Playhouse

Sheffield Theatres

Stephen Joseph Theatre

Theatre by the Lake Keswick

Theatre Royal Plymouth

Watermill Theatre Newbury

Watford Palace Theatre

West Yorkshire Playhouse

York Theatre Royal

Yvonne Arnaud Theatre Guildford

British Overseas Territories: Fish

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What measures they have in place to protect fish stocks in waters around the British Overseas Territories. [HL1866]

UK Overseas Territories with a commercial fishery within their waters engage in the management and conservation of fish stocks by participating in applicable regional fisheries management organisations. Where appropriate, UK Overseas Territories also participate in bilateral discussions on the management and conservation of straddling stocks. Certain UK Overseas Territories with commercial fisheries protect their resources utilising a range of measures including fisheries protection vessels, aircraft surveillance, satellite-based vessel monitoring systems and the deployment of observers.

Central-Local Concordat

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What changes they propose to make to the policies and working arrangements of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport 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 undertake 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. [HL1726]

The Central-Local Concordat, agreed between the Government and the Local Government Association (LGA), on behalf of local authorities in England, was signed in December last year. It commits both parties to a framework of principles to secure a new relationship between central government and local government. Discharging the rights and responsibilities of central government and local government set out in the concordat will require major changes in the behaviour and practice of both parties. The operation of this agreement will be monitored on a continuing basis, through renewed central-local partnership arrangements.

We are discussing with the LGA how we take forward the concordat, focusing on its guiding principles and specific commitments. These include encouraging councils to make effective use of their power to promote the well-being of their area; enabling local government to conduct a growing share of the business of government; central government consulting and collaborating with councils in setting national policies and proposing legislation; reducing the burden of appraisal and approval regimes and the volume of guidance issued by central government to local authorities; supporting and encouraging strong leadership and effective partnership working at local level; and increasing local democratic accountability of key public services.

A single set of 198 national indicators for local authorities and local authority partnerships was announced as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review 2007 and consultation on detailed definitions of the set concluded on 21 December 2007, with the aim of announcing final decisions in February.

Local authorities across England are currently engaged in discussions with government offices on behalf of all government departments on the content of new-style local area agreements, which will have effect from 2008-09.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What changes they propose to make to the policies and working arrangements of the Department for Transport 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 undertake 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. [HL1747]

The Central-Local Concordat, agreed between the Government and the Local Government Association (LGA), on behalf of local authorities in England, was signed in December last year. It commits both parties to a framework of principles to secure a new relationship between central government and local government.

The Local Transport Bill currently under consideration includes measures designed to improve transport governance, particularly in cities, by enabling authorities to propose changes designed to strengthen leadership and delivery. Crucially this allows for different arrangements in different areas, designed to meet their particular needs, and will ensure that powers are exercised at the most effective level.

The emphasis of local transport policy for the past decade has been on enabling and supporting authorities to determine and tackle their own transport priorities, and the great majority of transport funding support has been through non-ring-fenced allocations in the single capital pot and revenue support grant. We have announced further steps to include a number of further grants within the area-based grant, which councils will be free to use as they think fit. The Department for Transport is also currently consulting on its approach to appraisal, taking into account the needs and priorities of users.

A single set of 198 national indicators for local authorities and local authority partnerships was announced as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review 2007 and consultation on detailed definitions of the set concluded on 21 December 2007, with the aim of announcing final decisions in February. Local authorities across England are currently engaged in discussions with government offices on behalf of all government departments on the content of new-style local area agreements, which will have effect from 2008-09.

A number of multi-area agreements, which may be particularly suitable for transport delivery, are also in development.

We are keeping in close touch with the LGA as we take forward the Concordat, focusing on its guiding principles and specific commitments.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What instructions and advice are being given to the Arts Council and its regional organisations concerning changes to their policies and working arrangements 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 undertake 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”; and (c) 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. [HL1912]

The Central-Local Concordat, agreed between the Government and the Local Government Association (LGA), on behalf of local authorities in England, was signed in December last year. It commits both parties to a framework of principles to secure a new relationship between central government and local government. This framework will apply to non-departmental public bodies, including Arts Council England. Discharging the rights and responsibilities of central government and local government set out in the Concordat will require major changes in the behaviour and practice of all parties. The operation of this agreement will be monitored on a continuing basis, through renewed central-local partnership arrangements.

We are discussing with the LGA how we take forward the Concordat, focusing on its guiding principles and specific commitments. These include encouraging councils to make effective use of their power to promote the well-being of their area; enabling local government to conduct a growing share of the business of government; central government consulting and collaborating with councils in setting national policies and proposing legislation; reducing the burden of appraisal and approval regimes and the volume of guidance issued by central government to local authorities; supporting and encouraging strong leadership and effective partnership working at local level; and increasing local democratic accountability of key public services.

Local authorities across England are currently engaged in discussions with government offices on behalf of all government departments on the content of new-style local area agreements, which will have effect from 2008-09.

Climate Change: Patio Heaters

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their response to the outline proposals of the European Commission to prohibit the use of patio heaters by restaurants and bars as part of their emissions reduction programme. [HL1706]

The Government are committed to raising product standards and reducing energy wastage in consumer products. We have lobbied the EU to press for improvements in efficiency, particularly through directive 2005/32/EC on the eco-design of energy-using products.

We want the Commission to concentrate its initial efforts on the directive to drive improvements in the major energy using products such as lights, household appliances, consumer electronics, air conditioning and electric motors. While patio heaters are wasteful, they account for a relatively small amount of energy use in comparison.

Community Projects

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What procedures are in place to monitor, audit and assess the success of local voluntary sector and community projects and initiatives that are funded from central government and government-funded agencies, both during and after their completion; and what procedures are in place to make such information publicly available. [HL1839]

As part of funding voluntary and community sector projects, the Government will set in place routine and proportionate monitoring requirements, in line with guidance set out in the compact, the agreement between the Government and the sector.

The role of the Office of the Third Sector (OTS) in the Cabinet Office is to lead work across government to support a thriving third sector (including voluntary and community sector organisations). The government strategy for the third sector is set out in the July 2007 final report of the third sector review The Future Role of the Third Sector in Social and Economic Regeneration: Final Report which builds on two key action plans published in 2006—Social enterprise action plan—scaling new heights and Partnership in public services—an action plan for third sector involvement. The Government have reported publicly on the progress of the measures in the two action plans one year on from their publication and will do so for the final report of the third sector review. Progress on all third sector programmes run by the Office of the Third Sector is also included in the Cabinet Office annual report and accounts.

The success of the Government's work with the third sector over CSR 07 will be measured through the set of public service agreements (PSA) and the local government performance framework. There are two new third sector indicators within the local government performance framework against which every local authority area will be assessed publicly. PSA 21 “Build more cohesive, empowered and active communities” includes a measure of a thriving third sector, progress on this indicator will be made public.

Of note in this area is that, as announced in the final report of the third sector review, the Government will invest, jointly with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in a new £10 million national research centre to build the evidence base on the nature and work of the third sector.

Crime: Guns and Knives

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether there has been an increase in gun and knife crime in major conurbations. [HL1818]

Provisional figures published on 24 January show an increase of 4 per cent in overall firearms offences in the 12 months to September 2007, but a decrease of 11 per cent in firearms homicides and a decrease of 16 per cent in serious injuries caused by firearms during the same period. The majority of firearms offences occur in the Metropolitan, West Midlands and Greater Manchester police force areas.

Figures from the British Crime Survey show that offences involving knives remain relatively stable at around 6 to 7 per cent of all violent offences. Data on knife-enabled grievous bodily harm and robbery offences have been collected centrally since April 2007. Figures for 2007-08 will be published in July 2008 in the next annual Crime in England and Wales volume.

Defence Equipment and Support

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When the Defence Equipment and Support organisation expects to complete its skills audit. [HL1853]

Work to identify those posts in key skill areas that need to be filled by individuals who have an appropriate qualification or licence, and to establish the initial skills baseline position in these areas, is planned to be completed shortly.

Diplomatic Service

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will continue the practice of attaching members of the diplomatic service to the instructional and student body of the Royal College of Defence Studies. [HL1859]

We continue to be committed to supporting the college's aims and objectives. The secondee position in the senior directing staff, which was last filled by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), was offered to the Ministry of Defence this year as it had identified a strong candidate. However, FCO interest in the job for the future remains. Although the FCO has not recently taken up a full-time student place, we continue to look at ways to ensure future FCO participation.

Electoral Commission

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath on 31 January (WA 140), what has been the cost of police investigations into complaints by the Electoral Commission; whether the Electoral Commission has directly contributed towards police costs; and, if so, what that contribution has been in each year since the Electoral Commission was established. [HL1755]

I understand from the Metropolitan Police Service that there have been two referrals to it from the Electoral Commission to date. The investigations by the Metropolitan Police Service have not yet been concluded and therefore it is not in a position to confirm the costs at this time.

The Electoral Commission is a body wholly independent of the Government. The commission reports directly to Parliament, including through the Speaker's Committee. Electoral Commission costs are a matter for the Speaker's Committee.

Equatorial Guinea: Simon Mann

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will summon the ambassadors of Equatorial Guinea and Zimbabwe to explain the apparent abduction of Simon Mann from Zimbabwe to Equatorial Guinea; and what action they plan to take to secure his safe return. [HL1899]

I met the Equatorial Guinean ambassador to the UK, Mr Agustin Nze Nfumu, on 7 February to discuss Simon Mann's case and request immediate consular access. I then telephoned the ambassador on 11 February to reiterate this request and stress the need for UK officials to be granted access to Mr Mann. Consular access was granted on 12 February. UK officials will be in touch with the ambassador of Equatorial Guinea as the need arises.

Our concerns were conveyed to the Zimbabwean ambassador, prior to Mr Mann's removal. Our primary concern at this point must be for Mr Mann's immediate welfare.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have to ensure that Simon Mann is visited regularly by United Kingdom diplomats to ensure he is being treated humanely while in prison in Equatorial Guinea; and whether they will make representations to other countries for him to receive similar diplomatic visits from them. [HL1901]

Our deputy high commission in Lagos provides consular assistance to British nationals in Equatorial Guinea. Our consul in Lagos travelled to Equatorial Guinea on 5 February, as soon as it was confirmed that Mr Mann had been extradited. We were granted consular access to Mr Mann and visited him on 12 February. We expect the authorities in Equatorial Guinea to treat him in line with international standards. The authorities have offered assurances that he will be treated well while in detention.

We will continue to visit Mr Mann in prison in line with our consular policy. We will also discuss with EU partners what assistance they may be able to provide.

Forced Marriage

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will ensure that all police officers are trained to respond appropriately to complaints about planned forced marriages; and whether they will issue guidance to the courts on suitable sentences for honour killings, marriage coercion and related violence. [HL1647]

The issue of forced marriages and how to respond is covered in the initial police learning and development programme (IPLDP) training material on domestic violence. All new police officer recruits undertake the IPLDP.

In addition, in 2005 the Forced Marriage Unit issued guidance for police officers on dealing with cases of forced marriage. The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act, which received Royal Assent in July 2007, makes provision for these guidelines to be reissued on a statutory footing.

Last year, the Sentencing Guidelines Council consulted on guidance on sentencing for assault which included advice that offences committed in the “context of an attempted honour killing or in an effort to force a victim into an arranged marriage” should have the general aggravating factors “abuse of trust” and/or “abuse of power” applied to the assessment of the level of seriousness, and therefore severity of sentence. Definitive guidelines are in the process of being published. Sentencing for murder is governed by statute (Section 21 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003) and, as such, no guidance is issued in relation to murder.

Government Historic Estates Unit

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many people are employed in the Government Historic Estates Unit; and what proportion of their working time is taken up by their responsibilities at the unit. [HL1697]

There are six full-time specialist staff in the unit, supported by a part-time administrative assistant, all based at English Heritage. All of their duties are connected with giving advice on the care of the Government's historic estate in England. As well as advising government departments, the unit gives site-specific casework advice to the Royal Household, Historic Royal Palaces and the Parliamentary Estates Directorate. The unit also gives policy advice on the management of their historic estates to several non-departmental public bodies and agencies including English Partnerships, Network Rail and British Waterways.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many cases the Government Historic Estates Unit took up with government departments and other public bodies in each of the past five years. [HL1698]

The Government Historic Estates Unit deals with a wide range of casework in relation to the government historic estate ranging from general inquiries about disposals and buildings at risk to statutory notifications in relation to development proposals. Although precise statistics are not available, a breakdown of the different types of work carried out by the unit is contained in its biennial report.

The last report, published in 2006, included a commentary on progress with disposals and referred to several cases on the MoD estate that were then current. These were HMS Daedalus (Hampshire), RAF Upper Heyford (Oxfordshire), RAF Bicester (Oxfordshire), RAF West Raynham (Norfolk), RAF Coltishall (Norfolk) and RAF Neatishead (Norfolk).The report also included two case studies of completed disposals—the Royal Army Medical College on Millbank and Shoebury Garrison in Essex.

The next report is due to be published in about three weeks' time. This will refer to more recent disposal cases on the MoD estate, including heritage buildings at Aldershot and Colchester garrisons. The report will also give an account of work that English Heritage and GHEU have been doing on the assessment of the redundant NHS hospital sites, in partnership with English Partnerships. I will arrange for copies of the 2008 report to be placed in the House Libraries on publication.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How much capacity the Government Historic Estates Unit has to provide advice to local authorities in relation to individual cases of vacant or dilapidated historic properties in the authorities' ownership. [HL1699]

The Government Historic Estates Unit (GHEU), which was established in its current form in 1996, provides a central source of advice to government departments and agencies regarding their historic estates in England. The unit's role is explained in further detail in the Biennial Conservation Report on the Government's Historic Estate, published by English Heritage. The unit itself does not provide casework advice in relation to local government historic estates.

English Heritage is consulted about all applications for listed building consent where the building is in local authority ownership. In addition, through the HELM (Historic Environment—Local Management) project led by English Heritage, it also engages with local government to provide guidance and training on managing and protecting the local historic environment. The HELM website (www.helm.org.uk) features case studies, guidance documents and policy statements produced by English Heritage, as well as further publications produced by local authorities, regional agencies and other key organisations.

Health: Contaminated Blood Products

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by Lord Darzi of Denham on 30 January (WA 127), whether they will apologise to NHS haemophilia patients for supplying contaminated blood products that infected them with HIV and hepatitis C, and to the dependants of the 1,757 who have died since being infected; and whether they will reach agreement with the haemophilia community to provide compensation for pain, suffering and deaths that ensued. [HL1840]

The Government deeply regret that patients with haemophilia were infected through contaminated blood products. We have great sympathy for patients who contracted HIV and or hepatitis C, and fully appreciate the hardship and pain experienced by families who cared for those who have died.

In 1988, the Macfarlane Trust was set up to administer a fund to assist people with haemophilia who had contracted HIV infection through contaminated blood products as a result of National Health Service treatment. In 2004, the Skipton Fund was established to administer an ex-gratia payment scheme for people infected with hepatitis C through contaminated blood or blood products following treatment on the NHS.

Health: Diethylstilbestrol

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assessment has been made of women who have been exposed to diethylstilbestrol; and [HL1795]

What assessment has been made of children of mothers who received diethylstilbestrol while pregnant; and [HL1796]

What is their assessment of the long-term side effects on women who received diethylstilbestrol while pregnant. [HL1798]

Diethylstilbestrol (DES) is an oestrogenic hormone formerly used in the treatment of threatened miscarriage.

In the United Kingdom in 1978 the Medical Research Council commissioned a study that assessed women who were known to have been exposed to DES and their offspring for significant health outcomes.

There is little good evidence of harm for women who received DES while pregnant. Some studies have found there to be a possible small increase in the risk of breast cancer but this has not been confirmed in other studies.

In 1971 an assessment of women in the United States of America with clear-cell adenocarcinoma of the vagina/cervix led to the first association between the development of this condition and prenatal exposure to DES. This large epidemiological study is still ongoing and is examining various health outcomes in women who were exposed during pregnancy, in their children who were exposed in the uterus, and in their children's children.

Health: Dieticians

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How long on average a patient must wait before seeing a dietician in NHS hospitals. [HL1792]

Health: Incontinence

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How much was spent in each of the past five years by the NHS on (a) dressings and chemical reagents for incontinent patients, and (b) appliances for incontinent patients. [HL1799]

Information is not collected on the condition for which a prescription is issued.

Information on the total net ingredient cost of all dressings and incontinence appliances dispensed in the community in England is in the following table. These include dressings and appliances prescribed for reasons other than incontinence. Chemical reagents are not separately identifiable.

Year

Dressings Net ingredient cost £(000s)

Incontinence appliances Net ingredient cost £(000s)

2002

123,620.6

34,309.4

2003

138,711.9

34,660.6

2004

151,354.8

35,490.8

2005

163,960.8

36,650.2

2006

168,590.3

38,747.8

Source: Prescription Cost Analysis (PCA) system

Health: Overseas Visitors

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What evidence they have of people travelling to Britain to use health services, whether at primary or secondary level. [HL1906]

The department does not compile statistics on the numbers of overseas visitors treated under the NHS (Charges to Overseas Visitors) Regulations 1989, as amended, including those who travel to the United Kingdom specifically to use health services.

There are provisions for overseas visitors travel to the UK specifically for treatment with prior approval. Following rulings by the European Court of Justice, there are currently two procedures that cover patients travelling to another European economic area (EEA) member state for planned treatment (whether that be residents from other EEA states coming to the UK or vice versa)—the E112 route and the Article 49 route.

Recent data show that in 2006-07 there were approximately 735 E112 referrals to the National Health Service from other EEA countries.

Data on Article 49 referrals to the UK are held by primary care trusts and are not collected centrally.

The UK also has a number of bilateral agreements with other, non-EEA countries (mainly crown dependencies/overseas territories such as Isle of Man, Channel Islands, Gibraltar) under which they are entitled to refer cases to the UK. Recent data show that in 2006-07 these countries referred approximately 4260 cases to the UK.

Health: Untreatable Patients

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether criminal justice legislation rather than mental health legislation should be invoked when there are concerns that patients suffering with untreatable personality disorders may harm others. [HL1829]

Criminal justice legislation cannot be used when a person has not committed a crime. People with personality disorders can be treated under mental health legislation if treatment is appropriate and available for the individual in question.

Interception of Communications

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have sought the opinions of senior judges and lawyers dealing with cases involving violent crime and terrorism on the efficacy of the use of telephone intercepts; and, if so, with what result. [HL1911]

The Chilcot Review on Intercept as Evidence considered this issue and concluded,

“that a limited number of new successful prosecutions would be made possible by the use of intercept as evidence. The UK already achieves very high rates of successful prosecution of serious criminals and terrorists; there is limited room for substantial further improvement in such cases through the use of intercept as evidence”.

The review's conclusion on this issue was informed by the views of a number of senior judges and lawyers. These included the Attorney-General's Office, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Treasury Solicitor, Sir Igor Judge, Sir Brian Leverson, the Lord Chief Justice, Nigel Sweeney QC and Stephen Williamson QC.

Iraq: Cancer

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their assessment of reports that since the 1990–91 Gulf War there has been a significant increase in the incidence and severity of cancer and foetal abnormality in southern Iraq; and [HL1682]

Whether they will facilitate an independent epidemiological study of the incidence and prevalence of cancer and foetal abnormality in southern Iraq since the 1990–91 Gulf War. [HL1683]

The Government are aware of reports of high rates of cancer and foetal abnormalities in recent years in Iraq. However, due to the security situation and consequent constraints on access by aid agencies to affected populations, there are currently no independent, reliable data on this.

The Department for International Development (DfID) does not currently regard an epidemiological study as a priority for our work in Iraq. We are focusing our efforts on meeting urgent humanitarian needs, including in the field of health. For example, we are supporting the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which is providing urgently needed medical supplies, such as war wounded kits to hospitals dealing with mass casualties, and improving health facilities (physical rehabilitation and training for staff). We are also supporting the United National High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which is helping healthcare services in Syria and Jordan to cope with the influx of Iraqi refugees. As part of this support, Iraqis are receiving treatment for cancer in Syrian hospitals. The British Council and Department of Health are also building the capacity of the Iraqi health sector by training Iraqi doctors. So far 50 doctors have been trained and another 25 have been sent to the UK for two months.

Israel and Palestine: Gaza

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza. [HL1352]

In 2007-08 DfID has given £15.6 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency to provide essential services such as food, housing and education to Palestinian refugees in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the region. Refugees make up 70 per cent of Gaza's population. We have provided £15 million to the temporary international mechanism (TIM) since 2006. The TIM funds emergency fuel and electricity production, water and sanitation services for Gaza, as well as health services and allowances for Palestinian government workers in Gaza and the West Bank. We have also given £1 million to fund the International Committee of the Red Cross's (ICRC) emergency appeal for the West Bank and Gaza.

The UK Government have regularly raised the humanitarian situation in Gaza at senior level with the Government of Israel and with the Palestinian Authority. On 11 January the Secretary of State for International Development and the Foreign Secretary issued a statement expressing deep concern at the growing humanitarian impact of restrictions by the Government of Israel on industrial diesel supplies to Gaza, particularly on the most vulnerable sections of the population. They welcomed Israel's recent decision to increase the supply of industrial diesel and continued to urge Israel to lift all restrictions on fuel with immediate effect. We will continue to monitor the humanitarian situation closely.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress was made at the international donor conference for the Palestine authorities to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza. [HL1353]

The UK pledged up to £243 million over three years at the Paris Conference. In order to meet the Palestinian Authority's urgent funding needs we are doubling our assistance from £30 million in 2007 to £62 million in 2008. This funding will benefit Gazans directly.

The Paris Conference pledges from the 87 participant nations and international organisations will more than cover the $5.5 billion (£2.8 billion) financing gap identified by Palestinian Prime Minister Mr Fayyad. The Palestinian leadership is committed to helping Gazans benefit from the Paris pledges.

In addition the European Commission has recently secured a further €85 million (£65 million) to support the temporary international mechanism until the end of March 2008.

Obscene Publications

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many prosecutions there have been in the past 10 years under (a) the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act 1955, and (b) the Obscene Publication Acts 1959 and 1964; how many of these were successful; and what penalties were imposed. [HL1721]

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) captures some information on the volume of prosecution of specific offences in its Offence Based Universe of the Compass Management Information System. These records have existed only since April 2004, following the full implementation of the Compass system.

The records show that there have been no offences contrary to the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act 1955 recorded since April 2004. The number of offences contrary to the Obscene Publications Acts 1959 and 1964 recorded between 1 April 2004 and 1 February 2008 are as follows:

Obscene Publications Act 1959 {2(l)}

441

Obscene Publications Act 1964 {2}

3

While the Offence Based Universe shows the nature of the offence at the outset of proceedings in magistrates' courts it provides no information on any subsequent modification to charges, nor does it provide any information on the outcome of proceedings.

Passports: Interviews

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by Lord West of Spithead on 17 October 2007 (WA 54), whether the passport interview office in Armagh city opened in November 2007; and what are the future plans for this office. [HL1612]

The passport interview office in Armagh opened on 19 November 2007. The role of the office is to carry out passport interviews for first-time adult applicants.

The future plans for this office are that it will remain open for passport interviews and it is anticipated that around 2000 of these interviews will be carried out in 2008.

Pitcairn Island: Tortoises

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will discuss with the Government of New Zealand the possibility of locating one or more additional giant tortoises on Pitcairn Island alongside the sole surviving member of the species on the island. [HL1869]

Preservation of rare species and the environment is a continuing concern of the Government. The Government have supported various environmental and conservation programmes on Pitcairn Island through our high commission in Wellington. However, the Government are not currently planning to discuss with the Government of New Zealand the relocation of additional giant tortoises on to Pitcairn Island.

Police: Northern Ireland

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the average number of days sick leave as a percentage of total working days recorded by the Police Service of Northern Ireland in each of the past five years; and how this figure compares with the national average. [HL1693]

The Police Service of Northern Ireland has advised that it does not record sick absence as a percentage of total working days as its recording methodology is in accordance with the performance targets set out in the policing plan.

The following table provides details of the average number of working days lost, per person, as a result of sickness absence for the period April 2003 to present:

April 03 March 04

April 04 March 05

April 05 April 06

April 06 March 07

April 07 December 07

Police Officer

16.14

15.30

11.64

11.33

8.58

Police Staff

14.54

15.11

14.92

12.65

8.10

As the Home Offices calculate their sick leave in hours rather than days—owing to the varying lengths of shifts from force to force—it is not possible to provide a comparable figure for the national average.

Police: Tasers

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many persons have suffered serious or permanent injuries as a result of the use of Tasers by police officers in England and Wales. [HL1863]

We are not aware of any persons suffering serious injuries as a result of the use of Taser in the UK. The Defence Scientific Advisory Council's Sub-Committee on the Medical Implications of Less Lethal Weapons (DOMILL), an independent group of medical experts, examines all the available medical reports where Taser has been used in the UK and is content that the risk of life threatening and serious injuries from Taser is low.

However, no less lethal option is risk free. Any use of force carries some risk of physical injury.

Poverty

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they can explain the increase between 1999 and 2003 in the proportion of people living in poverty, at a time of overall economic growth, in the 16 African countries targeted in the Department for International Development's public service agreements. [HL1491]

Reliable estimates of poverty rates in the 16 African countries mentioned are not available for 1999-03, as poverty rates are measured only intermittently. In general terms, as population has increased, the numbers living in absolute poverty have been rising in Africa, while the rate of poverty as a share of the population has started to fall.

Silbury Hill

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What information they have received from English Heritage on the additional costs likely to be incurred in connection with the conservation project to stabilise Silbury Hill following the collapse of material into the Mereweather and Atkinson tunnels; and whether they will make additional funding available to English Heritage to cover this expenditure. [HL1617]

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport was informed of the situation at Silbury Hill, including the increase in project costs resulting from ground conditions due to last summer's heavy rain.

DCMS has no plans to make specific funding for Silbury Hill available to English Heritage over and above its grant in aid of £131.8 million.

The EU has agreed to allocate €162 million from the European Union Solidarity Fund to the UK following the floods of June and July 2007 to help cover the costs of emergency operations undertaken by public bodies during the floods. These operations can include immediate measures taken to protect the cultural heritage.

We are currently working with the European Commission to finalise the implementation agreement for this money, and public authorities will be consulted in due course on the allocation of these funds.

Syria: Damascus Declaration Group

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will make representations to the Government of Syria for the release of 12 detained members of the opposition Damascus Declaration group. [HL1864]

There has been a worrying deterioration in the human rights situation in Syria recently, with the arrest of a number of prominent members of the National Council of the Damascus Declaration. Our ambassador in Damascus raised these cases directly with the Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister on 29 January, calling for the release of all those detained. My honourable friend the Minister for the Middle East, Kim Howells, also raised this issue in another place on 28 January 2008 (Official Report, cols. 141-146) and a Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesman made a statement on 5 February calling for the release of the human rights activists. In addition, the EU presidency, with full UK support, made a statement on 1 February 2008 condemning the recent deterioration in the situation. Our embassy in Damascus, working closely with other EU missions, continues to press the Syrians to improve conditions in general, as well as to raise individual cases of concern.

Timber

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their assessment of the extent to which rainforests in Brazil, the Congo Basin and south-east Asia are being destroyed by legal and illegal logging; and how they are contributing to international action to control these operations. [HL1681]

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UN-FAO) estimates that total rainforest loss between 1990 and 2005 in these regions was as follows: Brazil: 42 million ha; Congo Basin: 11 million ha; and south-east Asia: 39 million ha.

Estimates of the extent of illegal logging and forest clearance are unreliable but could be between 50 per cent and 70 per cent of these totals. The primary driver of forest loss, legal or illegal, is not only logging for timber, but is also clearing for cattle ranching and agricultural crops, such as soy and palm oil.

The UK is contributing £24 million to support implementation of the EU's forest law enforcement, governance and trade (FLEGT) action plan. This involves bilateral agreements between the EU and timber-producing countries that will help them develop and implement timber licensing systems. A new EU regulation will ensure that only timber from these countries licensed as legal will be allowed into the EU. The agreements will also seek to address broader governance problems that allow illegal logging and forest destruction in these countries.

In March 2007, the Government announced a £50 million UK contribution to a fund to help conserve the Congo Basin rainforest. Funds will be available for spending in the financial year 2008-09. This will support proposals by 10 central African countries and civil society groups to protect the Congo Basin rainforest from destruction and will strengthen the work of other donors who are already active in the region.

At the Climate Change Conference in Bali last December, inclusion of payments for reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) in a post-Kyoto climate change treaty was agreed. Projects which reduce deforestation are now likely to attract significant sums of money from private investors. The UK has pledged £15 million to the World Bank's forest carbon partnership facility for pilots to examine modalities for implementation.

Trespass

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many injunctions have been granted against individuals trespassing on government property in each of the past 10 years; and what were the locations. [HL1722]