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Written Answers

Volume 707: debated on Tuesday 10 February 2009

Written Answers

Tuesday 10 February 2009

Armed Forces: War Pensions

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government further to the Written Answer by Baroness Taylor of Bolton on 12 January (WA 84) which indicated that there were “no current plans to seek a time limitation on claims for a war pension”, whether the “preliminary trial on limitation due to commence at the High Court on 19 January 2009” referred to by Mr Kevan Jones MP in his written answer to Mr Nick Harvey MP on 9 December 2008 (Official Report, House of Commons, col. 56W) will not now take place. [HL624]

The two issues are completely separate and unrelated.

My Answer refers to claims for a war pension, under the terms of the war pension scheme, which pays no-fault compensation in the form of tax-free pensions and allowances for ex-service personnel injured as a result of their service. There are no time limits for making a claim under the war pension scheme.

The Written Answer in another place on 9 December 2008 (Official Report, House of Commons, col. 56W) by Mr Kevan Jones refers to a preliminary trial at the High Court, which commenced on 21 January 2009, in relation to a common-law claim for compensation brought by a group of veterans and deceased veterans' dependants or beneficiaries, of the UK's nuclear weapon testing programme. The normal limitation period for personal injury claims is three years from the date the claimant first became aware of the injury, or the cause of the injury.

The purpose of the trial is to assess whether it is fair for the Ministry of Defence to have to continue to defend the claims given the length of time that has elapsed since the tests.

British Coal Compensation

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what progress has been made in the criminal investigation into the British Coal litigation being conducted by South Yorkshire Police and the Serious Fraud Office. [HL1135]

Broadcasting: Audio Description

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to increase awareness of the benefits of audio description for television services. [HL1072]

The Communications Act 2003 sets minimum targets for audio description of programmes by broadcasters. However, it is the responsibility of Ofcom to ensure that these requirements are met and to ensure broadcasters are taking effective steps to publicise awareness of their audio description services.

In 2008, Ofcom facilitated an audio description awareness campaign, launched by broadcasters and the Royal National Institute of the Blind. During this six-week campaign, more than 70 television channels broadcast promotions explaining how to find out more about this valuable service. Ofcom's research findings following this campaign showed that the campaign had a positive impact in raising awareness of the service.

Broadcasting: Digital Switchover

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their timetable for digital television switchover in the West Country, Wales and Granada regions. [HL1071]

The timetable for digital switchover in the West Country region is as follows:

Transmitter group

Serving

Starts

Beacon Hill

Torbay and South Devon

8 April 2009

Stockland Hill

Exeter, parts of Devon, Somerset and Dorset

6 May 2009

Huntshaw Cross

North Devon

1 July 2009

Redruth

West Cornwall and Isles of Scilly

8 July 2009

Caradon Hill

Plymouth, parts of Devon and East Cornwall

12 August 2009

The timetable for digital switchover in Wales is as follows:

Transmitter group

Serving

Starts

Kilvey Hill

The Swansea area

12 August 2009

Preseli

South West Wales

19 August 2009

Llanddona

North West Wales

21 October 2009

Moel-y-Parc

North East Wales

28 October 2009

Long Mountain

Parts of East and Central Wales

4 November 2009

Blaenplwyf

Parts of West and Central Wales

10 Feb 2010

Wenvoe

Cardiff, Newport and South East Wales

3 March 2010

The timetable for digital switchover in the Granada region is as follows:

Transmitter group

Serving

Starts

Winter Hill

Liverpool, Manchester, Lancashire, Cheshire and north Staffordshire.

4 November 2009

Crime: Domestic Violence

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the contribution of contact arrangements and the confidentiality of proceedings in family courts to levels of reoffending by perpetrators of domestic violence. [HL545]

The Ministry of Justice does not hold data on the reoffending of perpetrators of domestic violence. These data are not available on the Ministry of Justice extract of the police national computer, which is the source of reoffending data. Similarly applications to family courts on child contact do not require the disclosure of a criminal record so there is no way to extract or cross-reference this information. We do know that family court orders for child contact and residence are often breached but this is not a criminal offence and only extreme cases would be dealt with by way of committal to prison for contempt of court. The court has other measures such as a new order or transferring residence of the child from a parent who continually ignores court orders to someone more responsible.

Crime: Northern Ireland

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many break-ins, robberies or burglaries involving invasion of people's homes when they are present there have been in Northern Ireland in the past 12 months; how many charges have been brought in relation to them; whether there is a pattern to such crimes; and what are the reasons for their frequency. [HL1223]

That is an operational matter for the chief constable. I have asked him to reply directly to the noble Lord, and a copy of his letter will be placed in the Library of the House.

Embryology

Questions

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government further to the Written Answers by Lord Darzi of Denham on 22 January 2008 (WA 28) and 20 January 2009 (WA 197), why outgrowing human embryos are not considered as embryos by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority on the basis of views regarding their potential to implant, if the ability to develop if implanted in a woman is not an essential factor in defining the meaning of an embryo under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. [HL1116]

To ask Her Majesty's Government further to the Written Answer by Lord Darzi of Denham on 22 January 2008 (WA 28), whether Sections 3(3)(a) and 3(4) of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 permit an embryo to be kept in culture for longer than 14 days (notwithstanding cryopreservation) provided that the embryo is cultured in a manner that may be considered as suboptimal for natural development; and, if so, which section of that Act refers to suboptimal culture conditions. [HL1117]

To ask Her Majesty's Government further to the Written Answer by Lord Darzi of Denham on 20 January (WA 196–97), how the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority considered a broad range of available evidence if it did not consider data that appear contrary to its conclusions regarding culture of embryos beyond 14 days, as described in eight or more papers published between 1979 and 2005. [HL1118]

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has advised me that its Scientific and Clinical Advances Group has considered the characteristics of embryonic masses that form when embryos outgrow their structure. The group concluded that these entities should not be considered embryos as they do not have the 3D organisation of an embryo, do not have a relationship between extra embryonic and embryonic tissue essential for normal development and do not develop a primitive streak.

As stated in my earlier reply on 22 January 2008 (WA 28), the HFEA's Scientific and Clinical Advances Group has concluded that embryonic masses that form when embryos outgrow their structure should not be considered embryos. It is for the HFEA to determine what available evidence it considers in reaching a conclusion on a particular issue within its remit.

With regard to the interpretation of Sections 3(3)(a) and 3(4), the 14-day limit applies to all human embryos created in vitro.

Health: Co-morbidity

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the common risk and level of co-morbidity of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease; and what evaluation they have made of how a future strategy may provide integrated prevention, treatment and care. [HL1062]

The vascular checks programme will put in place an integrated, systematic, population-wide vascular risk assessment and management programme for those between the ages of 40 and 74. This national programme will assess people's risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease and offer individually tailored prevention. Phased implementation will begin from April 2009-10.

To inform the development of the vascular checks programme, the department constructed a model based on the common risk factors for these conditions: smoking, obesity, lack of exercise, blood pressure, cholesterol, age and ethnicity. The model drew heavily on the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidance in the relevant areas and went out to consultation in July 2008. The full impact assessment was published in November 2008. The evidence shows that a significant amount of vascular morbidity and mortality is preventable. The modelling work estimates that this programme can prevent 1,600 heart attacks and strokes, save at least 650 lives a year, and prevent over 4,000 people a year from developing diabetes.

Health: Epilepsy

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, as part of the current review of the quality and outcomes framework, they will ensure that primary care trusts collate information about epilepsy patients under the age of 18 to enable services to be developed in line with local needs. [HL1049]

The quality and outcomes framework (QOF) epilepsy register currently excludes patients aged 17 and under because children with epilepsy are generally under the care of a paediatrician. QOF indicators are designed to incentivise high quality of care where the responsibility for ongoing management rests principally with the general practice team. One of the principles underpinning the QOF is that data should never be collected purely for audit purposes.

The department has asked the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence to oversee a new independent and transparent process for developing and reviewing QOF clinical and health improvement indicators for England from 1 April 2009 as part of its role in providing guidance for the National Health Service based on evidence of clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness. We launched a public consultation on the proposed new process on 30 October 2008. The consultation ends on 2 February. Subject to the outcome of that consultation, any proposal for changes to QOF indicators would need to be considered under that new process.

Health: Sexual Health

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government how primary care trusts are prioritising sexual health in their strategic plans to implement world class commissioning; and how many have included sexual health in their goals and targets. [HL1112]

Primary care trusts (PCTs) have produced five-year strategic plans outlining their priorities for investment in improving the health of their local populations. These strategic plans are being reviewed as part of the annual commissioning assurance process, which was launched last year to assess PCT commissioning capability. PCTs have also chosen 10 local health outcomes against which they will be assessed as part of commissioning assurance. Fifty-three of the 152 PCTs have chosen the under-18 conception rate as one of the 10 measures that they will be assessed against, which puts sexual health in the top 10 of outcome areas chosen as priorities by PCTs.

Health: Terminal Illness

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what discussions they will have with the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence about the need to fund treatment for more patients with terminal illnesses who can experience life extensions from certain treatments. [HL1194]

On 2 January 2009, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) issued supplementary advice to its appraisal committees, to provide more flexibility in the evaluation of higher-cost drugs which have been shown to extend the lives of terminally ill patients with less common conditions. This advice is available on NICE's website at www.nice.org.uk/aboutnice/howwework/devnicetech/endoflifetreatments.jsp. A copy has also been placed in the Library.

Primary care trusts have a legal duty to provide funding for treatments recommended in NICE technology appraisals, within three months of the publication of NICE guidance.

I have no plans to discuss this issue with NICE.

National Health Service Litigation Authority

Questions

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government why NHS employees are excluded by statute from complaining about the workings of the National Health Service Litigation Authority. [HL1124]

To ask Her Majesty's Government what avenues of redress NHS employees have if they have a grievance against the National Health Service Litigation Authority. [HL1125]

Any person, including a National Health Service employee, has the right to complain about the NHS Litigation Authority through the NHS complaints procedure if they are affected by its action, omission or decision. The relevant statute that sets out the detail of the complaints procedure is the National Health Service (Complaints) Regulations 2004.

There are specific matters excluded by statute from consideration under the NHS complaints procedure and these are set out in Regulation 7 of the 2004 regulations.

However, employees of the NHS Litigation Authority with a grievance about their employment should follow the NHS Litigation Authority's internal grievance procedure.

NHS: Prescriptions

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what records are kept of the number of free prescriptions dispensed; where those records are held; how many records exist; what details are held on the records; and for how long the records are kept. [HL1115]

The National Health Service (NHS) Prescription Services division of the NHS Business Services Authority holds data on dispensed prescriptions for 60 months. The original prescriptions and scanned prescription images are normally kept for 14 months, then destroyed in line with the retention and destruction policy.

NHS Prescription Services captures dispenser details, payment claim form details, prescriber details and the prescription charge status at point of dispensing. It also captures information on the product and quantity ordered for reimbursement as well as additional information requirements to apply reimbursement and remuneration policy. It does not capture patient details. This information is used as source data for prescribing and pharmaceutical statistics.

The number of records currently held is shown in the following table:

Month

Total prescription items reimbursed (millions)

Prescription items where charges not paid at point of dispensing (millions)1

2003 (December only)

58.5

53.4

2004

679.8

621.2

2005

718.7

661.8

2006

752.0

695.7

2007

796.3

739.2

2008 (January-November)

765.6

712.9

Source: NHS Prescription Services Information Systems

1 Includes items dispensed to patients holding a prescription prepayment certificate (PPC).

Northern Ireland Office: Danger Money

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government further to the Written Answer by the Lord President (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon) on 18 December 2008 (WA 72) concerning payments to staff in the Northern Ireland Office, why the Answer referred to allowances which a Northern Ireland Office spokesman was quoted on 8 January in the Daily Mirror on page 9 as saying were not danger money. [HL794]

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) does not pay danger money. An environmental allowance (referred to as “special allowance” (Official Report, 18 December 2008, col. WA 72) is paid to NIO staff working in Northern Ireland and details of that allowance were provided in the Answer given on 18 December 2008.

Northern Ireland Office: Staff

Questions

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether since 1994 any allowances have been paid to staff in the Northern Ireland Office in respect of (a) rent, (b) the environment, (c) any danger they may encounter, (d) London weighting, (e) travel, and (f) any attraction to working in Northern Ireland; if so, how much; to whom; whether any such allowances have been reviewed; and, if so, with what outcome. [HL797]

(a) Accommodation is provided for staff working away from their home location, but no allowances are paid direct to staff for rental payments.

(b) and (c) Northern Ireland Office (NIO) staff working in Northern Ireland receive an environmental allowance (referred to as “special allowance” (Official Report, 18 December 2008, col. WA 72) which was revised in 1992 and is now under review. This is not regarded as danger money.

(d) London weighting is paid to NIO Home Civil Servants who work in London or have a commitment to maintain a home in GB while working in NI. NICS staff who work in London were previously entitled to the payment of London weighting but this was removed following a review, from 1 January 2008.

(e) Staff claim subsistence and incidental expenses such as car parking and mileage which are travel related.

(f) No allowances are paid to attract staff to work in Northern Ireland.

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is the average number of days taken off on sick leave by staff in the Northern Ireland Office administrative section in 2008. [HL1018]

In 2007-08 financial year, non-uniform grades in the Northern Ireland Office lost an average of 9.9 days due to sickness absence.

Police: Northern Ireland

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many cases the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland has not brought to court because it would not be in the public interest. [HL1014]

The information sought is published in the Public Prosecution Service annual report.

In the year 2007-08 the PPS made 67,795 prosecutorial decisions. In 18,548 of those decisions the PPS concluded that the test for prosecution was not met. Of that number, 1,619 were decisions that prosecution was not necessary in the public interest. Additionally, in 10,714 cases, the PPS concluded that the public interest was best met by diversion, taking the offender out of the criminal justice system and dealing with the matter by way of caution, informed warning, youth conference or Northern Ireland driver improvement scheme.

Population Growth

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to ensure that at the forthcoming G20 Conference the issue of sustainable population growth will be seriously considered, along with ways to meet the needs expressed internationally for family planning services. [HL849]

The London Summit on Stability, Growth and Jobs on 2 April will focus on addressing the economic and financial crisis and restoring faith in globalisation while curbing its excesses, to preserve the open world economy that has helped lift hundreds of millions out of poverty. The London summit will bring together the leaders of the world's major economies and global economic institutions to address the crisis, as requested at the Washington G20 summit last November.

The UK Government have been working hard to ensure the summit also takes steps to protect the poorest from the global recession.

The UK Government remain committed to providing people with reproductive health choices through providing information, supplies and family planning services to enable men and women to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children. This is in line with the international consensus agreed at the International Conference on Population and Development at Cairo in 1994 and reaffirmed at the United Nations World Summit in 2005. We have recently agreed an additional £100 million to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) over five years to improve access to family planning services. We also provide significant resources to support the work of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), as well as other organisations working to promote sexual and reproductive health and HIV prevention.

Roads: Traffic Signs

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the use of any sign, not being a traffic sign, but resembling such a sign in shape and content is a breach of the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) Regulations 2007. [HL1312]

Whether such a sign would require express consent under the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) Regulations 2007 would be a matter for the local planning authority in the first instance and each case will depend on its facts. It should be noted that only the courts can provide a definitive interpretation of the law.

Somalia

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what policies they and the European Union have agreed concerning aid and development, including the return of refugees, in Somalia; and to what extent they reflect the views of Somali non-state actors. [HL1028]

The Department for International Development (DfID) works very closely with several European Union (EU) member states and the European Commission (EC) on Somalia within the context of the EU + Norway 2008-13 joint strategy paper (JSP). The objectives for this are Somali-owned reconciliation, democracy, rule of law and assisting the Somali people (particularly the most vulnerable groups) in the reconstruction of the country.

The joint strategy paper (JSP) is based on the United Nations (UN) and World Bank (WB) reconstruction and development programme (RDP). Somali non-state actors were consulted throughout the development of the JSP and RDP, and in some cases helped with the drafting. Discussions at EU Development Counsellor and Somali Donor Group meetings guide and decide development policy to Somalia.

Refugee flows out of Somalia increased during 2008 as a consequence of the surge in internal violence—there are now more than 230,000 in Kenya alone. The EC's humanitarian aid department (ECHO) has committed €4 million to Somali refugees in Kenya, and other donors have also provided funds. ECHO has also provided funds to assist Somali refugees in Yemen.

UNHCR is the major agency responsible for Somali refugees (and their return). The UK Government and other EU countries provide central funding to UNHCR. In 2009, UNHCR aims to protect and assist the return of an additional 500 refugees to Somaliland and Puntland—2,500 refugees have been previously returned. Should the security situation in south and central Somalia improve, some may be returned there.