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Telecommunications Licences

Mr. Mark Robinson : To ask the President of the Board of Trade how many telecommunications licences have been granted since the duopoly review in March 1991.

Mr. Heseltine : A total of 47 telecommunications licences have been issued since March 1991. In addition, I have now decided in principle to grant licences to Concert--the BT/MCI joint venture which has recently obtained clearance from the United States Department of Justice--and AT and T. Draft licences will be prepared and will be subject to consultation in due course. Public consultation is obligatory for all public telecommunications operator licences, such as AT and T's. It is not obligatory in the case of Concert's non-PTO application. However, I have decided that in this case it would be appropriate to give interested parties the opportunity to comment. The issue of the licences is subject to agreement on the detailed terms and conditions.

Regional Support

Mr. Fatchett : To ask the President of the Board of Trade what was (a) the planned expenditure and (b) the actual expenditure on regional support in 1993-94.

Mr. Sainsbury [holding answer 28 June 1994] : The information on planned expenditure is published in the DTI's 1994 "Expenditure Plans, 1994-95 to 1996-97", a copy of which is available in the House of Commons Library. Final figures on the actual expenditure on regional support in 1993-94 are not yet available. They will be published in the appropriation accounts in due course.

TREASURY

Severe Hardship Unit, Glasgow

Mr. Byers : To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer which members of his Department visited the Department of Social Security severe hardship unit in Glasgow in April ; what was the purpose of their visit ; what recommendations they have made following their visit ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Portillo : Treasury officials paid a visit to the severe hardship unit in Glasgow for discussions about the administration of income support payments to young people. Advice from them or from any other official to Ministers would be treated as confidential in the normal way.


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ATTORNEY-GENERAL

Crown Prosecution Service

Mr. Boateng : To ask the Attorney-General when and by whom the decision was taken to set up a committee to investigate the possibility that the Crown Prosecution Service might be privatised ; who are the members of that committee and what other positions they hold ; how many times the committee has met ; what provisional date has been set for privatisation ; what plans he has to publish a Green Paper and to consult publicly on the proposed privatisation ; and if he will make a statement.

The Attorney-General : I announced on 6 December 1993, Official Report, column 59, that consideration would be given to whether the Crown Prosecution Service, the Serious Fraud Office and the Treasury Solicitor's Department should become executive agencies under the "next steps" initiative. I further announced on 27 April 1994, Official Report, column 234, that prior options studies were being undertaken, to establish whether agency status or other options would be appropriate. The Government's first report on the citizens charter, published in 1992, announced that privatisation is one of the options considered before an agency is set up. Other options include contractorisation and market testing.

The prior options and agency studies for CPS and SFO are being overseen by an interdepartmental steering group which comprises officials from my own Department, CPS, SFO, the Lawyers Management Unit, Home Office, Lord Chancellors Department, Treasury and Office of Public Service and Science. The steering group has so far met on two occasions and is charged with reporting to me by late autumn this year. No decisions have yet been made nor will they be made until the process is completed. In my announcement on 27 April I invited contributions from interested parties. These continue to be welcome and should be sent to :

Mr. S. Guy

Crown Prosecution Service,

50 Ludgate Hill,

London EC4M 7EX

Ms J. Rowe

Serious Fraud Office,

Elm House,

10-16 Elm Street,

London, WC1X OBJ

SOCIAL SECURITY

Child Support Agency

Mr. Pawsey : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) to what extent problems in the Child Support Agency computer system and the EDS application have contributed to the backlog in the agency's work ;

(2) to what extent the Child Support Agency office staff of clerical grade are finding difficulty in accessing, using and reacting to their computer system ; and what assessment has been made of the effects of, and remedies for, the difficulties experienced by Child Support Agency staff ;

(3) to what extent the Child Support Agency has been hampered in its national operation by (a) downtime of the Child Support Agency computer system central IBM mainframe computer and data links and (b) the overrun of night-time batch processing into office hours ;


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(4) how many incorrect assessments, mis- identifying of absent fathers and other maladministration have been made due to mistakes involving the Child Support Agency computer system ;

(5) what proportion of those cases taken on by the Child Support Agency are being dealt with clerically without the aid of the Child Support Agency computer system ; and how many of the assessments made by the agency have been made clerically ;

(6) to what extent the Child Support Agency has been hampered in the regional centres by non-availability of the centre's own server computers.

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

Letter from Ros Hepplewhite to Mr. James Pawsey, dated 8 July 1994 :

I am replying to your recent Parliamentary Question regarding the Child Support Agency computer system.

As with any large, new system, areas where improvements can be made have been identified. There is a continuous programme of improvements to the system including a planned quarterly enhancement to increase functionality. All relevant staff have been trained to use the system, and are generally doing so competently. Advice and support are available in the event of difficulty.

You asked how many incorrect assessments had been made due to mistakes involving the computer system. Wrong assessments can occur because clients of the Agency provide incorrect information or because Agency staff make mistakes. Whilst this can cause incorrect data entry, the computer system is not known, with one exception, to have caused an incorrect assessment or misidentification of an absent parent. The exception occurred recently when, due to a programming fault, errors occurred on 789 assessments. These were identified within two days and remedial action is being taken.

You were concerned about the effect of computer system downtime on Agency operations. Although non-availability of the system can have a disruptive effect, this cannot be measured precisely because the staff also perform non-system tasks which can be pursued during the course of any loss of service.

You also asked what proportion of cases are being dealt with clerically ; and how many of the assessments made by the Agency have been made clerically. Figures available for the year 1993-94 show that a total of 205,400 assessments were made by the Agency, of which 8,100 were assessed clerically.

I hope that this reply is helpful.

Mr. Janner : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many maintenance assessments have been wrongly calculated by the Child Support Agency since its establishment.

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. Greville Janner, dated 7 July 1994 :

I am replying to your recent Parliamentary Question to the Secretary of State for Social Security about maintenance assessments which have been wrongly calculated.

The Agency routinely monitors maintenance assessments to ensure that they are accurate with regard to law, process, procedure and money to be paid. A composite accuracy rate is not available as such, but stringent procedures are in place to minimise the risk of inaccurate assessments.

Additionally, adjudication decisions and appeals in Agency centres are regularly examined by the Central Adjudication Services, an independent body who annually provide the Secretary of State with a report on the adjudication standard of the Agency.


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Mr. Bayley : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) what average amount of money received from absent parents the Child Support Agency holds at any time pending the forwarding of those payments to parents with care of children ;

(2) how much interest the Child Support Agency has received to date from moneys received from absent parents prior to their payment over to parents with care of children.

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 John T. Hughes to Mr. Hugh Bayley, dated 8 July 1994.

In her absence the Chief Executive, Mrs. Hepplewhite, has asked me to reply to your recent Parliamentary Questions to the Secretary of State for Social Security about client funds temporarily held by the Agency.

I can confirm that the Agency does not receive interest from the bank in respect of client funds temporarily held by the Agency. Instead, the Agency's bank charges are abated.

During April and May this year, the average amount of money received from absent parents and awaiting onward transmission to parents with care at any one time was approximately £620,000. This is based on the average volume of daily receipts, the proportion attributable to parents with care and the clearance times of the different payment methods.

I hope that you find this reply helpful.

Lesbian Parents

Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what maintenance payments are due from fathers of children born to unmarried lesbians ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Burt : Under the Child Support Act and regulations, a parent with care who claims or receives income support, family credit or disability working allowance is required to give her authority for maintenance to be pursed from the absent parent unless there is a risk of harm or undue distress occurring to her or any child living with her. If benefit is not in payment it is a matter for the parent with care whether she seeks a child support maintenance assessment. A man who fathers a child has a responsibility to pay maintenance under child support legislation. This applies whether the mother lives alone or with a new partner. However, where a woman attends a licensed centre for artificial insemination by an anonymous donor the donor cannot be treated as the absent parent.

Occupational Pension Schemes

Mr. Duncan-Smith : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when he plans to lay regulations before Parliament to allow occupational pension schemes to reinstate former employees' protected rights as he announced in his statement to the House on 23 June, Official Report, column 359.

Mr. Hague : The Protected Rights (Transfer Payment) Regulations 1987 preclude the transfer of protected rights into an occupational pension scheme where the member is not employed by the contributing employer. Following representations from officials of the Securities and Investments Board and the occupational pensions sector, we have decided to remove this restriction and have today


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laid before Parliament appropriate amendment regulations. Reinstatement will remain at the discretion of the schemes' trustees in the light of their schemes' rules. However, the new regulations will enable schemes who wish to do so, to accept the transfer of protected rights even where the individual is no longer employed by the contributing employer.

Contracts

Mr. Byers : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security on what occasions in the last 10 years he or a Minister in his Department has given a direction to civil servants to award a contract against the advice of the civil service ; what was the subject matter of the contract and its value ; and when it was awarded.

Mr. Lilley : I am advised that there is no knowledge of any such directions being issued in my Department in the last ten years.

WALES

Disability

Mr. Llwyd : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what proposals he has to ensure further education opportunities for young people suffering from muscular dystrophy ; and if he will make a statement.

Sir Wyn Roberts : The Further Education Funding Council for Wales is responsible for ensuring adequate arrangements are in place to meet the needs of all students with learning difficulties or disabilities.

The Council has built into its recurrent funding methodology a significant element to recognise the discrete costs of provision for students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities and to enable such students to access and integrate successfully in mainstream courses.

Planning Procedures

Mr. Wigley : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make it his policy to ensure that full planning permission is required from county councils in order to construct any building, plant or machinery.

Mr. Gwilym Jones : No.

Contracts

Mr. Byers : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales on what occasions in the last 10 years he or a Minister in his Department has given a direction to civil servants to award a contract against the advice of the civil service ; what was the subject matter of the contract and its value ; and when it was awarded.

Mr. Redwood : This information is not held centrally. I am looking at how difficult it would be to obtain it and at what cost.

NHS Trusts

Mr. Morgan : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he expects to announce approval of and the names of the chairmen and board membership of those trusts intended to commence their existence on 1 April 1995.


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Mr. Redwood : Decisions on whether or not to establish further NHS trusts in Wales are expected to be announced in the autumn following statutory public consultation. Announcement of the membership of any further trusts would be made as soon as possible thereafter.

Mr. Morgan : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will list those health trusts in Wales which (a) are and (b) are not achieving a 6 per cent. rate of return with respect to the financial year 1993-94 management accounts.

Mr. Redwood : All but one of the 14 trusts expect to achieve a 6 per cent. rate of return for 1993-94. The rate of return for the South and East Wales ambulance trust may be marginally lower at around 5.7 per cent. The actual outcome will be known following the audit of the annual accounts for each trust.

Mr. Morgan : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received from the trusts in Wales with respect to the 6 per cent. rate of return on capital, with respect to rolling forward interest payments, or adjustment of the (a) 6 per cent. rate of return or (b) the valuation of capital stock ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Redwood : I have regular discussions with the chairmen of Welsh NHS trusts on a range of issues. Trusts have a duty to achieve their statutory financial targets.

GP Referral Letters

Mr. Morgan : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what consultations he has had with the chairmen of the Welsh health authorities and trusts in relation to the timing of the opening of letters from general practitioners to consultants marked urgent and very urgent for triage by (a) others or (b) the consultants themselves ; and what analysis he has made of the impact of setting maximum periods for the opening of general practitioner's referral letters.

Mr. Redwood : I have not discussed these matters with the chairmen of Welsh health authorities and trusts, nor have I considered assessing the impact of such targets.

DEFENCE

Dispersal Programme

Mr. Wilson : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will estimate how many jobs in his Department, transferred to Glasgow under the dispersal programme, have subsequently been re-allocated elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Aitken : Some 1,400 jobs were transferred to Glasgow on dispersal in 1986. Of these, some 63 jobs in the directorate of contracts have been moved to collocate with the single-service directorates they support at Andover, Brampton and Bath.

Official Service Residences

Mr. Byers : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, pursuant to his answer to the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) of 1 July, Official Report, column 764, if he will state the latest valuation of the official service residences and the annual running costs of the residences.

Mr. Hanley : It is, of course, not feasible to value properties accurately without placing them on the open


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market. My Department does, however, assign estimated sale valuations where possible and the latest valuation for official service residences is approximately £34,000,000. This valuation covers 67 of the 77 residences in the United Kingdom and overseas. Not all properties have a valuation assigned to them as some are located within defence establishments and could not be sold separately, whilst others belong to foreign Governments. Annual running costs for individual residences are not held centrally, but the total maintenance and furniture and equipment costs for the last two financial years for all residences is approximately £5,000,000. The annual cost for domestic and household staff for all residences is approximately £5,000,000.

Contracts

Mr. Byers : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence on what occasions in the last 10 years he or a Minister in his Department has given a direction to civil servants to award a contract against the advice of the civil service ; what was the subject matter of the contract and its value ; and when it was awarded.

Mr. Aitken : I refer the hon. Member to the answers given by my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces on 10 March 1994, Official Report, column 401, and 22 March 1994, Official Report, column 174, which list the occasions when a formal direction has been given, five of which related to the award of a contract. The value of individual contracts is commercial-in -confidence information.

TRANSPORT

Birmingham Northern Relief Road

Mr. Mike O'Brien : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport (1) what was the cost of conducting the public inquiry into the Birmingham northern relief road which concluded in 1988 ; (2) what stage the 1988 Birmingham northern relief road inquiry reached ; and what happened to the report from that inquiry.

Mr. Key : These questions relate to matters which are now the responsibility of the Highways Agency ; the chief executive will write to the hon. Member.

Letter from Lawrie Haynes to Mr. Mike O'Brien, dated 7 July 1994 :

You asked the Secretary of State for Transport what was the cost of conducting the 1988 inquiry into the Birmingham Northern Relief Road, what stage that inquiry reached, and what happened to the Inspector's report.

The 1988 public inquiry costs have not been isolated from other costs incurred on the public sector scheme. The costs could only be identified by reference to individual accounts and as this would incur a disproportionate amount of staff time and cost to research, I regret I am unable to supply you with the information you request. The public inquiry into the publicly funded scheme closed in September 1988 after the Inspector had heard all the evidence. The Inspector's report of the inquiry was submitted to the Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Transport at the end of March 1989. As you know, it has not been released and the Orders to which it related have been withdrawn.


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Mr. Mike O'Brien : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has to publish the report of the public inquiry into the Birmingham north relief road in 1988.

Mr. Key : None. The draft orders which were the subject of the inquiry have been withdrawn and the report would not be relevant to the scheme now proposed.

Environmental Impact Assessments

Mr. Cohen : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, pursuant to his answer of 29 June, Official Report, columns 632-34, if he will list each scheme for which an environmental impact assessment has been started.

Mr. Key : This question relates to the operational matters of the Highway Agency. I have asked the chief executive, Mr. Lawrie Haynes, to write to the hon. Member.

Letter from Lawrie Haynes to Mr. Harry Cohen, dated 29 June 1994 :

The Minister for Roads and Traffic, Mr. Robert Key, has asked me to write to you in reply to your recent Parliamentary question about environmental assessments.

An environmental assessment is carried out for each scheme in the national roads programme and an Environmental Statement is published for those schemes which are likely to have a significant effect on the environment.

The environmental assessment commences at a very early stage in the development of a scheme. The Trunk Road in England 1994 Review identifies the schemes in the national road programme together with their priority.

London Underground (Fires)

Mrs. Roche : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, pursuant to his answer of 28 June, Official Report, column 478-80, what changes have been made in the method used to calculate confirmed fire incidents on London Underground in any of the years since 1990 ; and when these changes were applied.

Mr. Norris : The method of calculation has not been changed since 1990.

Mrs. Roche : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, pursuant to his answer of 28 June, Official Report, columns 478-80, why no figures are available for confirmed fire incidents on London Underground before 1990.

Mr. Norris : Only figures from 1990 onwards are readily accessible from London Underground's database. Since 1988, Her Majesty's railway inspectorate has published some data on fires in its annual reports on railway safety, which are held in the House Libraries, but this is not in a format directly comparable with that already provided, and does not separately identify escalator fires.

Mrs. Roche : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what recent discussions he has had with London Underground concerning fire safety precautions on London Underground rolling stock, how often checks are made on the fire safety of London Underground rolling stock ; and if he will publish the content of those discussions.

Mr. Norris : I have regular meetings with London Underground to discuss a variety of issues, including


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safety. It is not our practice to disclose the content of such discussions, which are confidential to the participants. All London Underground trains are subject to routine maintenance procedures of which safety checks and inspections form an integral part. These include visual inspections of all fire extinguishers, emergency lighting, emergency exits and tests of train safety systems, such as passenger alarms, after every 24 hours of service. Further, more comprehensive, checks are made over longer periods.

Mrs. Roche : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, pursuant to his answer of 28 June, Official Report, columns 478-80, regarding fires on the London Underground ; if he will provide equivalent figures for British Rail, Network SouthEast to 30 March 1994.


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