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Written Answers
01 February 2001
Volume 621

Written Answers

Thursday, 1st February 2001.

Asylum Appeals: Website

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asked Her Majesty's Government:What provision they are making for the general public, asylum-seekers and their representatives to access information about the asylum appeals system. [HL584]

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The Immigration Appellate Authority is today launching a website—www.iaa.gov.uk. The site features up-to-date information on the organisation, the two judicial tiers it administers and the appeal procedures that apply. The IAA website will have links to the Home Office Immigration and Nationality Directorate and Community Legal Service sites [www.ind. homeoffice.gov.uk & www.justask.org.uk]. The IAA website will provide a useful entry point to gain information on the process of applying for asylum.A key feature of the IAA site is the provision of detailed daily court lists for all the authority's hearing centres—allowing parties involved in appeals access to listing information as early as possible. Supporting the lists with on-line access to leaflets, guidance and travel maps, the website provides asylum-seekers and their representatives with easily obtained practical information.

Domestic Property Revaluation And Council Tax

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asked Her Majesty's Government:What are the regional average movements in house prices since the establishment of council tax bands in 1991; and whether, without revaluation, such changes are undermining the basis of the council tax. [HL468]

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Regional average movements in house prices from the beginning of 1991 to 30 September 2000 are given in the table below.

‥ change in DETR annual house price index Q1 1991–2000 Q3
England58.1
London80.3
South East70.9
South West60.2
East59.1
North East31.8
West Midlands44.6
East Midlands37.6

% change in DETR annual house price index Q1 1991–2000 Q3

North West31.1
Yorkshire and the Humber26.4
Merseyside19.4

In the Green Paper, Modernising Local Government Finance, which we published last September, we invited views on whether there should be a fixed cycle for council tax revaluations.

Properties are revalued for business rates every five years, but there is no fixed revaluation cycle for domestic properties. The Green Paper suggested that revaluations every six, eight or ten years could make the council tax fairer and more predictable. We are currently considering the responses we have received to the Green Paper and will announce our decisions later this year.

Flood Damage: Local Authority Claims

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asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether any local authority has sought central assistance in respect of flood damage involving developments which have been approved in disregard of advice from the Environment Agency or their own officials. [HL504]

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Between 13 October 2000 and 31 January 2001 a total of 104 local authorities had notified my department that they had incurred expenditure for which they would consider making a claim under the Bellwin scheme in connection with the adverse weather events between October and December.No formal claims have so far been received and there is no indication of an expected claim on this topic.

Forty-Four Tonne Lorries

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asked Her Majesty's Government:When will 44-tonne lorries be allowed to operate generally in Great Britain. [HL586]

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The necessary regulations (Statutory Instrument SI 2000 No. 3224—The Road Vehicles (Authorised Weight) (Amendment) Regulations 2000)—will come into force on 1 February. The regulations will allow certain types of lorry to operate at up to 44 tonnes maximum weight in Great Britain. The lorries in question must have six axles, a maximum axle weight of 10.5 tonnes and Euro 2 low emission engines. These vehicles will result in a considerable saving in lorry miles where heavy goods are being carried and will be no bigger, and cause less road wear, than existing 40 tonne, 5-axle lorries.

Culture Online

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asked Her Majesty's Government:What is the range of services which will be provided by the proposed new statutory corporation Culture Online. [HL585]

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My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has today placed a briefing note on Culture Online in the Libraries of both Houses.

Inheritance Tax

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asked Her Majesty's Government:What was the yield from estate duty and inheritance tax for the last year for which figures are available, and for 1990 and 1980. [HL487]

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Figures on yield from inheritance tax on a financial year basis are contained in Table 1.2 of Inland Revenue Statistics 2000. A copy is available in the Library.

Long-Term Care Insurance: Tax Position

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asked Her Majesty's Government:Under what circumstances benefits under long-term care insurance policies are taxable and under what circumstances they are tax-free. [HL488]

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Benefits payable under long-term care insurance originally taken out to meet the costs of long-term care at some time in the future are normally exempt from tax. Benefits payable under long-term care insurance taken out to meet the costs when the need for care has already arisen are outside the scope of this exemption. However, most policies of this type require the insurance company to provide care directly, through an arrangement with a care provider. Since in these circumstances the benefits cannot be paid in cash, they are not taxable.Details of these tax rules are set out in the Inland Revenue leaflet, IR 153, copies of which are in the Library.

Avgas Sales: Duty

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asked Her Majesty's Government:What is the annual net revenue accruing to the Treasury in respect of the duty payable on aviation gasoline (AVGAS). [HL463]

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The amount of excise duty received from AVGAS aviation can be found in the HM Customs & Excise Hydrocarbon Oils Factsheet, a copy of which is held in the Library.

No figures are available for the amount of VAT raised from the sale of AVGAS.

Army Heavy Logistic Support Vehicles

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asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether there are any cases where information as to the number required of any type of Army heavy logistic support vehicles derived from analyses of operational requirements would have to be withheld from Parliament for reasons of national security; and, if so, what are the types and reasons. [HL472]

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In the time available it has not been possible to find an instance where we have withheld from Parliament the number of heavy logistic support vehicles for which we have contracted; and I believe that this will be the case for most future procurements. However, there may be instances where, because knowledge of the size of a fleet could be exploited by a potential enemy, it would be necessary to withhold that information under the exemptions set out in the code of practice on access to government information.

National Blood Service And Anal Sex

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asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether it is the policy of the Blood Transfusion Service to refuse to accept blood transfusions from persons of either sex who have ever engaged in anal sex; and if so, when this policy was introduced; and what are their stated reasons for adopting it. [HL447]

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The National Blood Service has no specific exclusion criteria relating to anal sex.

Bt Local Exchange Unbundling And Broadband Services

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asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether recent opportunities for other operators to take advantage of local loop unbundling of up to 25 British Telecom local exchanges generated appropriate levels of commercial interest; and what the implications of this are for the availability of broadband/high speed Internet access to the consumer; and [HL415]Whether, in the light of the weak commercial response recently to unbundling of 25 British Telecom local exchanges, future availability of broadband services to consumers will be delayed. [HL416]

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The 25 exchanges are the first that BT have offered to operators of nearly 700 going forward in the Local Loop Unbundling (LLU) process. These exchanges are not among those regarded by operators as the most popular. In the light of the commercial response OFTEL has agreed with the operators that survey and preparation of the most popular exchanges should be brought forward. Construction of co-location facilities in the highest priority exchanges should begin before Easter. Work is also progressing well on distant location where operators can connect unbundled loops to equipment installed in locations near to BT exchanges. In early January BT handed over facilities at four trial exchanges enabling the first services over unbundled loops to be provided by other operators.Apart from LLU, higher bandwidth services using ADSL over local exchange lines are already available in many parts of the country on a wholesale and retail basis from BT, and from Kingston in the Hull area. Cable modems, optical fibre, broadband fixed wireless access and satellites all have the potential now or in the near future to offer broadband services.

Criminal Records Bureau: Charges To Voluntary Bodies

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asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will use powers under Part V of the Police Act 1997 to waive charges to voluntary organisations for checks by the Criminal Records Bureau. [HL299]

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Work is continuing to determine the bureau's costs. An announcement about the level of charges will be made as soon as possible. Waiving charges for voluntary organisations would mean imposing an additional burden on the taxpayer, or higher charges for other users of the bureau's services whose circumstances may be no less deserving. But we are determined to keep charges as low as possible.

Emergencies: Co-Ordinated Response

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asked Her Majesty's Government:How they can ensure a co-ordinated approach between the emergency services and local authorities during periods of national or local crisis. [HL525]

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This country deals with major incidents by a local response, only resorting to mutual aid or national support in the most extreme situations.

The Home Office promotes the principles of Integrated Emergency Management, under which all organisations likely to be involved in the response, including the emergency services and local authorities, share their plans and participate in strategic meetings, joint exercises and training.

This approach cannot, in itself, ensure a co-ordinated approach but encourages organisations to work towards this goal.

Treaty On European Union, Treaty Of Nice And Position Of United Kingdom And Ireland Protocol

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asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether any provisions of the Treaty of Nice add to or subtract from the provisions of the Protocol on the Position of the United Kingdom and Ireland annexed to the Treaty of Amsterdam. [HL331]

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The Treaty of Nice does not amend in any way the provisions of the Protocol on the Position of the United Kingdom and Ireland annexed to the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community.

Data Protection Code Of Practice: E-Mail Monitoring

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asked Her Majesty's Government:What are the implications of the delays experienced in drafting the Data Protection Commission's code of practice on e-mail monitoring. [HL389]

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The Data Protection Commissioner was re-named the Information Commissioner on 30 January 2001.The monitoring of e-mails is one of a number of matters covered by the commissioner's draft code of practice on the use of personal data in employer/employee relationships. The closing date for comments on the draft code was 5 January 2001. The commissioner tells me that she has received over a hundred responses. I understand that her office is now carefully considering these and may need to hold follow-up discussions in the light of some of them. I further understand that, although the commissioner had originally hoped to be in a position to finalise the code by the spring of 2001, the volume of responses received means that this may now take somewhat longer.When the code has been finalised it will provide comprehensive guidance on the application of the Data Protection Act 1998 in the workplace context. I have drawn the Commissioner's attention to the noble Earl's interest in the code. She intends to write to him about her plans for publication and related matters.