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Contracts

Mr. Cousins : To ask the President of the Board of Trade how many responses he received to his consultation document on the directive on unfair terms in contracts ; and when he proposes to finalise his conclusions, and place legislation before Parliament.

Mr. McLoughlin : I have received 89 such responses. It is intended to lay regulations implementing the EC Directive on Unfair Contract Terms in Consumer Contracts before Parliament in time for them to enter into force, subject to parliamentary approval, by 31 December 1994.

Industry Awards

Mr. Cousins : To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will publish a table showing the total number of applications, the number of successful projects, the number of participating companies and the total sum committed in (a) SMART and (b) SPUR awards ; and if he will provide a regional breakdown.

Mr. McLoughlin : The number of applications, the number of successful projects and the sum committed between 1 April 1993 and 31 March 1994 under the small firms merit award for research and technology--SMART-- and support for products under research--SPUR--schemes are shown in the tables. Both schemes offer support to single businesses and the number of successful projects is the number of participating companies.


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SMART                                                                           

Small Firms Merit Award for Research and Technology                             

Region/Office           |Applications |Successful   |Sum                        

                                      |Projects     |Committed                  

                                                    |(£ million)                

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

East                    |180          |28           |1.32                       

East Midlands           |118          |26           |1.28                       

North East              |72           |9            |0.39                       

North West              |175          |27           |1.27                       

South East              |443          |61           |2.99                       

South West              |178          |33           |1.57                       

West Midlands           |145          |28           |1.31                       

Yorkshire/Humberside    |116          |25           |1.20                       

Welsh Office            |107          |24           |1.14                       

Scottish Office         |150          |32           |1.57                       

Northern Ireland Office |37           |9            |0.45                       

                        |---          |---          |---                        

Total                   |1,721        |302          |14.49                      


SPUR                                                                         

Support for Products Under Research                                          

Region/Office        |Applications |Successful   |Sum                        

                                   |Projects     |Committed                  

                                                 |(£ million)                

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

East                 |8            |13           |1.25                       

East Midlands        |9            |8            |0.92                       

North East           |10           |6            |0.49                       

North West           |30           |17           |1.19                       

South East           |28           |24           |2.30                       

South West           |24           |16           |1.24                       

West Midlands        |20           |18           |0.80                       

Yorkshire/Humberside |20           |19           |1.71                       

Welsh Office         |12           |8            |0.76                       

Scottish Office      |12           |8            |0.91                       

                     |---          |---          |---                        

Total                |173          |137          |11.57                      

Note: Some successful projects result from applications in the previous      

financial year.                                                              

Mr. Matthew Taylor : To ask the President of the Board of Trade, pursuant to his answer of 4 March, Official Report, columns 891-92, what was the number of responses and applications to (a) the 1994 SMART--small firms merit award for research and technology--scheme and (b) the 1994 Queen's awards.

Mr. McLoughlin : I hope to be able to announce shortly the number of responses and applications to the 1994 SMART scheme. For the 1994 Queen's awards there were 10,733 inquiries and 1,682 applications.

Sizewell B

Mr. Simon Hughes : To ask the President of the Board of Trade which of Sir Frank Layfield's recommendations from the Sizewell B inquiry were accepted by the then Department of Energy.

Mr. Eggar : I refer the hon. Member to the decision letter of 12 March 1987, a copy of which was placed in the Library of the House.

Package Holidays

Mr. James Hill : To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will bring forward legislation to allow deposits in excess of 10 per cent. of the actual purchase price to be charged for goods or services only in circumstances where the seller secures those deposits by means of insurance,


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bonding or by using a trust account, in a similar way to that required for package holidays by the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992, SI 1992, No. 3288, but with improved provision for enforcement.

Mr. McLoughlin : No. Such regulation would be bureaucratic and expensive, and would, through its adverse effect on the cashflow of businesses, be likely to put up prices. This would not be in the long-term interests of the consumer.

Coal Industry

Mr. Simon Coombs : To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will publish the criteria, and procedure of review, to be used to devise the map which will determine the three categories of land use, as specified in the Coal Authority explanatory note.

Mr. Eggar : I intend to make available in due course a draft map of the coalfields indicating the areas in which the terms for access by the coalbed methane industry will be judged. The criteria for delineating the areas will form part of the consultation exercise.

Mr. Simon Coombs : To ask the President of the Board of Trade what plans he has to harmonise the regulatory framework for seismic testing to identify (a) coal deposits and (b) coalbed methane.

Mr. Eggar : I have no plans to harmonise the regulations for seismic testing at this stage. It is important that the regulatory framework for each activity reflects the needs of the relevant industry. Seismic testing to identify coalbed methane is subject to the Petroleum (Production) Regulations. Under the regulatory regime for the privatised coal industry, those wishing to explore for coal will require the consent of the owner of the coal, which would in most cases be the Coal Authority, to enter that coal. A draft model Coal Authority exploration licence, which indicates the form it is envisaged that licence will take, has been made available for consultation to all interested parties.

Mr. Simon Coombs : To ask the President of the Board of Trade what commitments those companies which are granted methane drainage licences will be required to fulfil in relation to the commencement of mining the coal.

Mr. Eggar : Methane drainage licences are granted to enable those engaged in mining the coal to drain methane in order to make mines safe. There are no commitments in relation to the commencement of coal mining, as the sole purpose of this licence is safety.

Gas Prices

Mr. Hardy : To ask the President of the Board of Trade on what date he secured a report from the gas regulator concerning arrangements which may affect the price of gas in certain areas.

Mr. Eggar : The Director General of Gas Supply has no duty to report to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade on gas pricing issues. However, as the President announced on 21 December 1993 the DTI and Ofgas are jointly preparing a consultation paper on the regulation of gas supply after the ending of the statutory monopoly. I expect that this will be published soon.


Column 349

Eurostat

Mr. Austin Mitchell : To ask the President of the Board of Trade (1) what examination he has made of the basis for the figures in the first issue of the Eurostat newsletter "EDICOM/INTRASTAT" for the trade balance between the United Kingdom and France, Germany and Italy shown in the list for the United Kingdom and for each of those countries ;

(2) what assessment he has made of recent Eurostat returns in assessing the accuracy of United Kingdom returns of the trade deficit between the United Kingdom and France, Italy and Germany.

Mr. Nelson : I have been asked to reply.

I refer to the answer given by the Paymaster General to the hon. Member on 26 April, 1994 Official Report, column 88.

NATIONAL HERITAGE

Royal Palaces

Mr. McAllion : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what plans there are to close to the public any of the palaces of the Historic Royal Palaces Agency ; for what purpose ; and for how long.

Mr. Sproat : The 1994-97 corporate plan of the Historic Royal Palaces, which is currently being considered by Ministers, proposes the closure of the state apartments and royal ceremonial dress collection at Kensington palace temporarily for a period of about 18 months, starting no later than autumn 1995, to allow the complete refurbishment, re- presentation and re-interpretation of these parts of the palace, including the updating of fire and security precautions.

Departmental Publications

Mr. Rowe : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage for how many regular publications he was responsible in 1993-94 ; what was their circulation ; and how many were obtainable by subscription.

Mr. Sproat : The Department publishes an annual expenditure plans report, which is a sale publication via Her Majesty's Stationery Office. A short guidebook "A Guide to the Department and its Sponsored Bodies" is updated and distributed free of charge at intervals--circulation 2,500 copies. A number of other annual reports are published each year and the most recent issues of these are : "Report by the Secretary of State for National Heritage on Library and Information Matters during 1993" (HMSO, HoC 339, £7.10 net). "Treasure Trove Reviewing Committee Annual Reports 1991-92 and 1992-93".

"Export of Works of Art 1992-93, Thirty-ninth Report of the Reviewing Committee appointed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in December 1952" (HMSO, Cm 2355, £14.45 net).

"Report by the Secretary of State for National Heritage on the Public Lending Right Scheme 1992-93" (HMSO, HoC 61, £7.65 net).


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ENVIRONMENT

Local Government Commission

Mr. Hinchliffe : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will issue guidance to the Local Government Commission indicating the evidence he will expect to be put forward in any recommendation for a new unitary local authority of effective arrangements for the provision of personal social services within a new authority and for the co-ordination of such services with health services.

Mr. Curry : Annex B of the Department's policy guidance to the Local Government Commission sets out considerations relevant to a range of local government functions, including personal social services. A copy of the guidance is in the Library.

It is for the Commission to decide what evidence it will submit in support to its recommendations. After receiving the Commission's report on an area it is, however, open to my right hon. Friend to direct the Commission to supply him with additional information.

Property Services Agency

Mr. Mudie : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how much has been written off in total in customer debts in the PSA for the 1992-93 appropriation accounts ; and if he will give details of the constituent amounts.

Mr. Curry : The 1992-93 PSA Services appropriation account losses statement included the following abandoned claims :


                                  |£                  

------------------------------------------------------

Milton Keynes Community Transport |37,933.53          

Conder Projects                   |8,407.07           

In addition, £4,674,767.59 was charged to subhead D10 of the account, in respect of the unrecoverable works debts owed by non Exchequer customers :


                                                     |£                        

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Tate Gallery/Tate in the North                       |3,276,911.64             

Imperial War Museum                                  |761,611.42               

Natural History Museum                               |273,138.76               

Miscellaneous other debts individually not exceeding                           

£100,000                                             |363,105.77               

                                                     |-------                  

                                                     |4,674,767.59             

Boat Dwellers

Mr. Simon Hughes : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to amend the law in respect of the payment of business rates and council tax by boat dwellers whose boats are moored in boatyards ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Curry : None.


Column 351

Energy Conservation Bill

Mr. Barnes : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, pursuant to his answer to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) of 20 April, Official Report, column 531, how many letters he had received which were opposed to the Energy Conservation Bill.

Mr. Atkins : None.

Council Tax

Mr. Robert Ainsworth : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the average council tax per household for each district in England.

Mr. Curry : I have arranged for this information to be placed in the Library of the House.

Ordnance Survey

Mr. Lord : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what performance targets have been set for the Ordnance Survey executive agency in the year 1994-95.

Mr. Atkins : The following performance targets have been set for Ordnance Survey in 1994-95.

1. Recover at least 75 per cent. of the total costs incurred by the Agency.

2. Complete and make available to customers the initial digital conversion of basic scale mapping for the whole of Great Britain by 31 March 1995.

3. Survey and map at the basic scales 886,000 units of change. 4. Despatch 90 per cent. of Land-Line digital map units within six working days of a valid order being received.

5. Despatch 90 per cent. of small scale maps within five working days of a valid order being received.

6. Operate a telephone help line service for customers between 8.30 am and 5.00 pm on working days, a 10 second response time within these hours, and a telephone answering service at all other times. These targets require a number of challenging improvements over good performance in previous years.

NORTHERN IRELAND

Sleeping Drugs

Mr. McMaster : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what restrictions are in place on advertising drugs available without prescriptioin which are designed to aid sleep ; what checks are carried out to ensure that addictive or potentially harmful drugs are not advertised for mass consumption ; what health warnings should be given in such advertisements ; in what ways regulations or guidelines on the advertisement of such drugs have been amended or relaxed within the past five years ; what plans he has to introduce new legislation, statutory orders or guidelines to regulate the promotion of aids to sleep which are available without prescription ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Ancram : Licensed medicines may be advertised only under the stringent controls of the Medicines Act 1968 and supporting regulations. These ensure that the advertising is in accordance with the product licence and is not misleading. Products which are available without prescription may be advertised to the public, in compliance with the Medicines (Labelling and Advertising to the


Column 352

Public) Regulations 1978. These regulations prohibit the advertising of a treatment for sleeplessness of insomnia. Advertising for the relief of temporary sleeplessness is permitted.

Medicines which are considered to be addictive or potentially harmful when used without medical supervision are available only on prescription and may not be advertised to the public. Proposed legislation to amend the 1978 regulations in order to implement Council directive 92/28/EEC is currently under consideration.

Agriculture

Mr. McGrady : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will extend the time for claims to be submitted to the agricultural development operational programme to the end of 1994 ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Ancram : The Commission has ruled that financial support under the Northern Ireland agricultural development operational programme will be limited to payments made to farmers by 31 December 1994. In order to comply with this condition it was necessary for the Department to require all claims for grant to be submitted by 30 June 1994 so as to allow sufficient time for claims to be verified and payments issued to farmers by 31 December.

Because of the need to ensure that all payments are made by 31 December 1994 it is not possible to extend the time for claims to be submitted.

SOCIAL SECURITY

Child Support Agency

Mr. Mudie : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is the total salary of the CSA chief executive in 1993-94 ; which part of that figure relates to performance ; and what is the maximum payment possible under the performance payment part of the salary agreement.

Mr. Burt : The current basic salary of the Child Support Agency chief executive is £48,520 plus London weighting of £1,776. Details of the total remuneration, including any performance bonus, will appear in the agency's annual report for 1993-94. However it is not the policy of the Department to give details of chief executive performance pay arrangements.

Mr. Dewar : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is the latest estimate of the total sum collected by the Child Support Agency in maintenance payments in the first year of operation ; and of this, what sum went to parents with care and their children and how much to the Treasury via reduced benefit payments.

Mr. Burt : The administration of the Child Support Agency is a matter for Ros Hepplewhite, the chief executive. She will write to the hon. Member.

Letter from Ros Hepplewhite to Mr. Donald Dewar, dated 28 April 1994 :

I am replying to your recent Parliamentary Question to the Secretary of State for Social Security about the latest estimate of the total sum collected by the Child Support Agency in maintenance payments in the first year of the Agency's operations.


Column 353

To the end of February 1994, £186 million had been collected. This includes £155 million paid direct from absent parents to parents with care, which has offset benefit spending, and £31 million paid through the Agency's collection service. Of the latter figure, £1.8 million has been passed on to parents with care, and £24.4 million has offset benefit spending. The balance remained in the Agency's account awaiting allocation.

I hope this reply is helpful.

Mr. Dewar : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) in how many cases in which the absent parent had not been paying maintenance at the time the inquiry form was issued by the Child Support Agency a maintenance assessment had been finalised at the latest date for which figures are available ; and what percentage that is of the total number of cases where the absent parent was not paying maintenance when the inquiry form was issued ;

(2) in how many cases where an inquiry form has been issued by the Child Support Agency to an absent parent the parent concerned was not paying maintenance on a regular basis at the time the form was issued ; and what percentage that represents of all cases in which an inquiry form has been issued at the latest date for which figures are available.

Mr. Burt : The administration of the Child Support Agency is a matter for Ros Hepplewhite, the chief executive. She will write to the hon. Member.

Letter from Ros Hepplewhite to Mr. Donald Dewar, dated 28 April 1994 :

I am replying to your recent Parliamentary Questions to the Secretary of State for Social Security about the total number of maintenance payments made to the Child Support Agency.

At 28 February 1994, 420,600 absent parents had been issued with maintenance enquiry forms and 188,600 maintenance assessments had been completed. Although the Agency does not keep detailed figures on the proportion of these cases in which maintenance was not already being paid, we estimate that some 60 per cent. of cases taken on during this period were cases where maintenance was not previously in payment.

Housing Benefit

Mr. Battle : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when the housing benefit management information system annual 1 per cent. sample was last updated ; what plans he has to update those data ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Hague : The data contained in the annual one per cent. sample are regularly reviewed to reflect changes to existing policies or the introduction of new benefits. It is expected that the data contained in the May 1993 sample will be available this summer.

Income Support

Mr. Dewar : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will list the circumstances in which a deduction from income support can be made by the Benefits Agency, in the order in which they rank for payment, and the total deduction that can be made as a percentage of the total income support payment.

Mr. Burt : Payments may be made direct from income support to certain third party creditors in the circumstances specified in schedules 9 and 9A to the Social Security (Claims and Payments) Regulations 1987, SI No. 1968.


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Also, deduction may be made for payment of unpaid community charge, council tax and fines and recovery of overpayments of benefit under the appropriate regulatory provisions--SI Nos. 507/1989 and 545/1990, 494/1993, 2182/1993 and 664/1988 respectively. Social fund loans are also recoverable by my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State, through deductions from income support. The rules governing limits on deductions and the priority order for deductions are contained in paragraphs 8 and 9 of schedule 9.

Mr. Dewar : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many recipients of income support in England, Scotland, Wales and Britain there are ; and what percentage of the total had deductions made from benefit for social fund repayments and fuel bills in the latest year for which figures are available.

Mr. Burt : The information is in the table.


                                     |Number of cases|Percentage                     

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

England                                                                              

Deductions for fuel                  |185,000        |4.3                            

Deductions for Social Fund repayment |458,000        |10.7                           

Deductions for fuel and Social Fund  |84,000         |2.0                            

Number of Income Support recipients  |4,282,000      |100.0                          

                                                                                     

Wales                                                                                

Deductions for fuel                  |17,000         |5.9                            

Deductions for Social Fund repayment |34,000         |11.9                           

Deductions for fuel and Social Fund  |8,000          |2.8                            

Number of Income Support recipients  |287,000        |100.0                          

                                                                                     

Scotland                                                                             

Deductions for fuel                  |42,000         |8.1                            

Deductions for Social Fund repayment |94,000         |18.1                           

Deductions for fuel and Social Fund  |22,000         |4.2                            

Number of Income Support recipients  |519,000        |100.0                          

                                                                                     

Great Britain                                                                        

Deductions for fuel                  |243,000        |4.8                            

Deductions for Social Fund repayment |586,000        |11.5                           

Deductions for fuel and Social Fund  |114,000        |2.2                            

Number of Income Support recipients  |5,088,000      |100.0                          

Source: Income Support Statistics Annual Enquiry, May 1992.                          

Notes:                                                                               

1. The figures have been rounded to the nearest thousand, percentages are correct to 

one decimal place.                                                                   

2. Fuel costs include payments for gas and/or electricity. Deductions may be for     

current charges only or may include the standard amount in respect of arrears.       

3. There will be a degree of overlap in the deductions figures in that people with   

deductions for fuel costs may also have a deduction for repayment of a social fund   

loan. Numbers with fuel cost deductions and those with social fund repayment         

deductions do not therefore exactly total.                                           

Parliamentary Questions

Mr. Meacher : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many parliamentary questions, in the period November 1992 to March 1993, were answered with the response that the information requested is not held centrally and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost ; and how many were referred on to an agency chief executive.

Mr. Hague : In the stipulated five-month period a total of 1,183 questions were asked of this Department. The POLIS database in the Library has identified 65 questions


Column 355

as not answered on the grounds of disproportionate cost or because the information was not held centrally. Agency chief executives replied to 150 questions.

Severe Hardship Unit, Glasgow

Mr. Watson : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) what training has been provided for local staff in handling the problems associated with 16 and 17-year-old applicants following the closure of the severe hardship unit in Glasgow ; and what other additional resources have been made available to assist staff to deal with the changes which result ;

(2) what savings he expects to accrue to his Department as a result of the closure of the severe hardship unit in Glasgow.

Mr. Burt : The administration of income support is a matter for Mr. Michael Bichard, the chief executive of the Benefits Agency. He will write to the hon. Member.

Letter from Michael Bichard to Mr. Mike Watson, dated 28 April 1994 :

The Secretary of State for Social Security has asked me to reply to your recent Parliamentary Questions concerning suggestions that the Severe Hardship Claims Unit (SHCU) in Glasgow is being closed. The SHCU unit is not being closed, but there is to be a change in emphasis away from the SHCU to the Benefits Agency (BA) Districts. Following the comments in the 8th Report of the Social Security Advisory Committee, recommendations were made about the claims procedures for discretionary awards for 16/17 year old customers. As a result, from the 4 April 1994 decisions on the majority of these claims will be made by locally based BA staff, rather than by contacting the SHCU. The SHCU will, however, be required to make decisions on the more complex cases and those where the District Office feel that a severe hardship payment should not be made. Before the process of devolving this work commenced, training for the handling of this type of claim was revised. All staff authorised to make decisions about the award of benefit to 16/17 year old customers must complete the new training package before they can carry out these duties. To ensure that all staff are fully trained the SHCU is providing a complete service to all offices until 2 May 1994. In addition, further guidance is available in the form of a Handbook, "Income Support for 16/17 year olds" which has been recently revised and updated. The revised Handbook was issued to all of the BA's District Offices in March 1994 and a copy of it has been placed in the House of Commons Library.

There will be no increase in the workload for locally based BA staff, but in fact a small administrative saving, calculated to be 10 staff years. Instead of having to contact the SHCU in Glasgow, staff will make decisions locally immediately following an interview, thereby leading to an improved service for 16/17 year olds. I hope you find this reply helpful.

Contributions Agency

Mr. Simon Coombs : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when he will publish the revised framework document for the Contributions Agency.

Mr. Hague : The Contributions Agency's revised framework document has been published today. Copies have been placed in the Library.


Column 356

WALES

Forestry Commission Land

Mr. Dafis : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales (1) what is the programme for the disposal of Forestry Commission land in Wales from 1 April 1989 to 31 March 2000 ;

(2) if he will make it his policy not to allow the disposal programme of Forestry Commission land in Wales to be increased without his permission.

Sir Wyn Roberts : In the five years from 1 April 1989 to 31 March 1994 the Forestry Commission sold some 5,500 hectares of forest land in Wales and currently expects to sell about a further 9,000 hectares by the year 2000. Ministers asked the commission to dispose of 100, 000 hectares of forest land in Great Britain between 1989 and the end of the century. The commission is responsible for selecting properties for sale in accordance with criteria laid down by Ministers. Any change to the overall disposals programme would be subject to the agreement of my right hon. Friend.

Consultants

Mr. Morgan : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what was the cost of Touche Ross consultancy exercise, which included the questionnaire sent out on 1 February to all school governors in Wales ; if Touche Ross were awarded the contract as a result of competitive tender ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Redwood : Details of the survey's costs were provided in my reply to the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) on 17 February 1994 at column 947. Touche Ross Management Consultants was appointed to carry out the survey following a tendering exercise in accordance with standard procedures.

Grant-maintained Schools (Promotion)

Mr. Morgan : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what was the cost of the recent conference held in the Copthorne hotel, Calverhouse Cross, to promote grant-maintained schools in Cardiff and the Vale.

Mr. Redwood : The total cost of the three conferences on grant- maintained status held last year was £46,210. It is not possible to identify separately within this figure the costs incurred in relation to the conference held in Cardiff.

Labour Statistics

Mr. Alex Carlile : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how many (a) part-time and (b) full-time jobs were created in Wales in 1993 in (i) the manufacturing industry, (ii) the service industry and (iii) all industries ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Redwood [holding answer 27 April 1994] : Comprehensive information on the number of jobs created is not available. According to the Employment Department's latest quarterly estimates series the change in the number of employees in employment is shown in the following table.


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