Previous Section Home Page

Sickness Absenteeism

Mr. Chidgey: To ask the Attorney-General what measures he is taking to combat sickness absenteeism in (a) the Treasury Solicitor's Department, (b) the Serious Fraud Office, (c) Government Property Lawyers and (d) the Crown Prosecution Service.

The Attorney-General: The departments for which I am responsible are concerned about the well-being of their staff and monitor closely and investigate both individual cases and overall trends. They make every effort to control the level of sickness absences through preventive measures which include the provision of:

(a) health screening programmes;

(b) free eye tests and where necessary allowances to purchase spectacles for users of visual display units;

(c) stress awareness and management seminars;

(d) health and safety advice; and

(e) the services of a welfare officer.


Column 282

OVERSEAS DEVELOPMENT ADMINISTRATION

Overseas Aid Policy

Ms Corston: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if the Minister for Overseas Development will be publishing a statement about the United Kingdom proposals for improvements in its overseas aid policy at the time of the world summit for social development.

Mr. Baldry: Our objectives, policies and achievements are reviewed annually with a view to maintaining and improving the quality and effectiveness of the aid programme.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, including the Overseas Development Administration, published its 1995 departmental report on 8 March and copies have been placed in the Library of the House.

Sickness Absenteeism

Mr. Chidgey: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what measures he is taking to combat sickness absenteeism in the Overseas Development Administration.

Mr. Baldry: Established guidelines are in place for the management of sick absence, including welfare, medical, disciplinary and inefficiency procedures which accord with best practice as recommended by the National Audit Office.

HOUSE OF COMMONS

Domestic Committees

Mr. Miller: To ask the right hon. Member for Berwick upon Tweed, representing the House of Commons Commission what recent changes have been made to the responsibilities of domestic committees.

Mr. Beith: Following discussions between Committees, the House of Commons Commission has now approved the following modifications to the responsibilities of domestic Committees which take account of the Information Committee's primary responsibility for the parliamentary data and video network and the latter's endorsement by the House: the distribution of the clean feed within the House--from the Broadcasting Committee to the Information Committee;

annunciator services and the provision of television, video and radio channels--from the Administration Committee to the Information Committee.

Internet

Mr. Allen: To ask the Chairman of the Information Committee what factors are contributing to the delay in connecting hon. Members to the Internet.

Mr. Waller: The Information Committee considered the proposed experimental connection to Internet on 16 and 30 January. Before the system is operational, it is necessary to finalise and award the contract, arrange certain security measures and install a dedicated link.

Mr. Allen: To ask the Chairman of the Information Committee what assessment the Committee has made of whether it would be technically feasible to identify


Column 283

electronic mail sent by hon. Members from the parliamentary data and video network via the Internet to domestic addresses and those sent to the international addresses.

Mr. Waller: While it would be technically feasible to monitor Members' Internet e-mails, there are no plans to do so. It is a long- standing tradition of the House that hon. Members' parliamentary communications are not monitored by the House authorities. Since there are no charges for Internet e-mail, there would be no bar to Members receiving and sending either domestic or international e-mail messages.

Word Processors (Training)

Mr. Allen: To ask the Chairman of the Information Committee what facilities exist for training hon. Members on the use of word processors.

Mr. Waller: Training for hon. Members in all aspects of IT including word processors was considered by the Committee in its report "The Provision of Members' Information Technology Equipment, Software and Services"--first report, Session 1992 93, HC737--which was approved by the House on 30 June 1994. The report recommended, inter alia, the provision of a modest amount of basic on-site training which would be paid for by Members from their office costs allowance. Training in the use of the parliamentary data and video network is provided without charge to Members' office cost allowances.

Parliamentary Channel

Mr. Allen: To ask the Chairman of the Broadcasting Committee what are the current arrangements for parliamentary charging for the Parliamentary Channel; when these arrangements are subject to review; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Newton: The licences from the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Clerk of the Parliaments which underpin the arrangements for parliamentary broadcasting run for five years until the summer of 1996, when they will fall due for renewal. PARBUL--Parliamentary Broadcasting Unit Ltd.--which is the company charged with producing the signals on behalf of Parliament, is funded by shareholdings from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, BSkyB and the Parliamentary Channel. Funding is on a per-channel basis and the Parliamentary Channel therefore provides one sixth of the costs of the equipment and staff involved in the creation of the signals. The original agreement between Parliament and the broadcasters, which was approved by the House, provides for the broadcasters to make a contribution, via PARBUL, of roughly 50 per cent. towards the costs of the televising operation, in return for the right to make use of the signals for broadcasting purposes. No question arises therefore of any charge being payable to Parliament by the Parliamentary Channel.

Mr. Allen: To ask the Chairman of the Broadcasting Committee what steps the Committee is taken to ensure that the Parliamentary Channel is made available free to all electors who are connected to satellite; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Newton: The Parliamentary Channel is a cable channel and is available at no extra charge as part of the basic package of channels to all subscribers to broadband


Column 284

cable systems. The Select Committee on Broadcasting, in its first report of Session 1990 91 on "The Arrangements for the Permanent Televising of the Proceedings of the House", recommended that the United Artists proposals for the Parliamentary Channel offered the most promising prospect for the provision of a dedicated channel. It also noted that the proposal should not be regarded as the last word, nor as excluding or pre-empting any other proposals for a dedicated channel which might come forward in the future. I am not aware of any plans for the establishment of a dedicated Parliamentary Channel receivable by owners of satellite dishes. In any case, because of the high start-up and operating costs of such a channel, it could be provided free of charge only either at a commercial loss or on the basis of a large and continuing public subsidy.

Audio-visual Resources

Mr. Allen: To ask the Lord President of the Council if he will promote or fund a CD-ROM on how Parliament and British democracy works for use by schools and electors; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Waller: I have been asked to reply.

The question of a multi-media presentation is at present under discussion between the officers of the two Houses, and other interested parties. Various audio-visual resources on Parliament are already available from the education officer.

LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL

Career Breaks

Mr. McNamara: To ask the Lord President of the Council how many (a) men and (b) women applied for career breaks in his Department; and how many have had their employment terminated in the last five years.

Mr. Newton: No member of the Privy Council Office's staff has applied for a career break in the last five years.

TRADE AND INDUSTRY

Gas Licences

Sir Michael Grylls: To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will publish further information about the licences which would be granted pursuant to the Gas Bill, once enacted.

Mr. Eggar: I am today publishing further information about proposed gas licences, in advance of the Second Reading of the Gas Bill next Monday. These outlines will give a clearer idea of the measures and safeguards that would be established for the operation of a fully competitive market in domestic gas supply.

The principal standard conditions are likely to include:

for supply licences , an obligation to supply all prospective domestic customers within their area, subject to certain technical exceptions; to publish charges; to offer a reasonable range of methods of payment to customers; to supply gas where directed to do so by the Director General of Gas Supply, to ensure the continuity of supply to customers; to make financial arrangements, such as a bond, to cover the costs which would be involved if another company had to take over supplying their


Column 285

customers; to offer consumers reasonable rights to terminate contracts; to provide special services for disabled customers or pensioners free of charge; to adopt suitable methods for dealing with customers who have genuine difficulty paying their bills; to advise customers on energy efficiency; to check the background of officers authorised to enter customers' premises and provide them with official identification.

for transportation licences , requirements to keep separate accounts for transportation and storage business; to furnish the director with details of charges, and both the director and the Gas Consumers Council with other information; to establish standards of performance and provide compensation if they are not met; to establish a "network code" under which others may use the pipeline system; to make effective arrangements for the provision of emergency services to the public; to raise a levy, if necessary, to compensate any suppliers with disproportionate social obligations; and to obtain the director's approval before disposing of key assets.

for shipper licences , obligations as regards the use of pipeline systems; to assist the transporter during an emergency; to supply the director with appropriate information.

Gas Market (Competition)

Sir John Hannam: To ask the President of the Board of Trade, pursuant to his answer of 24 January, Official Report , columns 125 27 , if he has reached any conclusions in relation to the consultation on the initial areas for domestic gas competition; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Eggar: The area for the first phase of the transition to a competitive gas market will cover some 500,000 gas consumers in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset.

The south-west has received by far the most support--nearly a third of all responses to our consultation document suggested the south-west as the most suitable area.

The response demonstrated widespread enthusiasm for competition in gas supply from all over the country. Local authorities and other organisations from all parts of the country--from Clydesbank to Carrick, from Devon to Dover, from Rotherham to Rugby--requested that they should be the first to benefit from competition in the domestic gas market.

The south-west fulfils the criteria set out by the Trade and Industry Select Committee and the consultation document:

it will be one of the areas that might be relatively disadvantaged by the higher transportation charges applicable;

it has a mix of rural and urban areas and a representative cross-section of types of consumers;

it is suitable for testing and necessary technical systems; it is a clearly defined area with clear natural boundaries. Because of the need for further consideration of technical factors, no decision regarding the second phase of the transition to competition has yet been made.

The Gas Bill published last week would provide the legislative and regulatory framework for the extension of competition in supply to 18 million domestic gas consumers in Great Britain. We have proposed that, subject to parliamentary approval of the Bill, the introduction of competition should be phased from 1996 to 1998, with the first phase in April 1996 covering some 500,000 homes, which would be extended to 2 million homes in 1997, before nationwide competition in 1998.


Column 286

European Regional Development Fund

Mr. Alton: To ask the President of the Board of Trade which EC member states permit European regional development fund grant to be accessed using wholly private sector match funding; and what are the reasons for Her Majesty's Government not permitting the same procedure.

Mr. Eggar: The Government do permit European regional development fund grant to be "accessed using wholly private sector match funding"-- projects to be financed by the fund and the private sector alone. I refer the hon. Member to my reply to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mrs. Kennedy) on 20 February 1995, Official Report, columns 31 32.

Mr. Alton: To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on the details of the models which the Government have developed and submitted to the Commission for facilitating objective 1 funding.

Mr. Eggar: I take it that the hon. Member is referring to the Government's proposals, mentioned in the reply I gave him on 20 February 1995, Official Report, column 31 , for facilitating private sector contributions to projects to which the European regional development fund makes grants.

I do not intend to make these proposals public in advance of the Commission's response.

They relate not only to objective 1 grants but to ERDF grants generally.

Departmental Filing Arrangements

Mr. Campbell-Savours: To ask the President of the Board of Trade whether filing arrangements in his Department include indexing under the names of individual hon. Members.

Mr. Heseltine: Correspondence between hon. Members and Ministers in the Department is recorded in their respective private offices in the name of the hon. Member.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: To ask the President of the Board of Trade whether filing arrangements in his Department include indexing under named lobbying companies.

Mr. Heseltine: There is no such index in the Department.

Correspondence

Mr. Campbell-Savours: To ask the President of the Board of Trade how many items of correspondence were received from the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) by Ministers in his Department on issues relating to the interests of the Al Fayeds; on what dates they were received; and how many were replied to.

Mr. Heseltine [holding answer 7 March 1995]: It is not the normal practice to disclose information about communications between hon. Members and Ministers.

Network Marketing

Mr. Campbell-Savours: To ask the President of the Board of Trade what inquiries are going on into the activities of companies involved in network marketing.

Mr. Ian Taylor [holding answer 7 March 1995]: Since June 1994, the Department has successfully applied to the


Column 287

High Court to wind up 12 companies engaged in the promotion of money-making schemes with a pyramid recruitment structure similar to that used in network marketing. However, as a matter of policy, I cannot disclose whether any current inquiries are taking place.

Pneumoconiosis Compensation Scheme

Mr. Clapham: To ask the President of the Board of Trade how many payments were made under the coal industry pneumoconiosis compensation scheme in (a) 1980, (b) 1986 and (c) 1993.

Mr. Page: The numbers of lump sum payments awarded by British Coal under the pneumoconiosis compensation scheme in the nearest financial years were as follows:


               |Number of lump               

Year           |sum awards                   

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

1980-81        |521                          

1986-87        |295                          

1993-94        |263                          

Mr. Clapham: To ask the President of the Board of Trade what was the average level of payment made under the coal industry pneumoconiosis compensation scheme in (a) 1980, (b) 1986 and (c) 1993.

Mr. Page: Average levels of lump sum payments awarded and loss of earnings allowances paid by British Coal under the pneumoconiosis compensation scheme in the nearest financial years were:


                    |Average lump sum   |Average loss of                        

                    |payments           |earnings allowances                    

                    |£                  |£                                      

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

1980-81             |781                |1,183                                  

1986-87             |914                |2,330                                  

1993-94             |1,640              |5,850                                  

Progression payments--supplement payments to lump sums--were introduced in 1988 and averaged £378 in 1993 94.

The estimate for average loss of earnings allowances in 1993 94 is provisional.

Mr. Clapham: To ask the President of the Board of Trade how many payments have been made under the coal industry pneumoconiosis compensation scheme since 1974.

Mr. Page: The numbers of lump sum payments awarded by British Coal under the pneumoconiosis compensation scheme since 1974 are as follows:


                                  |Number of lump               

Period                            |sum awards                   

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

1 October 1974 to 2 December 1976 |62,617                       

25 March 1979 to 31 December 1994 |13,465                       

Figures for the period 3 December 1976 to 24 March 1979 are not readily available.

Civil Servants

Mrs. Clwyd: To ask the President of the Board of Trade how many civil servants since 4 May 1979 have


Column 288

left the Export Credits Guarantee Department and have within two years joined companies engaged in contracts with the Ministry of Defence.

Mr. Needham: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave her to the same question on 8 February 1995, Official Report , column 314 .

Mr. Milburn: To ask the President of the Board of Trade which permanent secretaries have left his Department's employment in the last five years; and which public positions they have been appointed to subsequently.

Mr. Heseltine [holding answer 8 March 1995]: Mr. J. R. S. Guinness left the employment of the Department of Energy as permanent secretary during the five years from 1 March 1990. Mr. Guinness was appointed as part-time chairman of British Nuclear Fuels plc. No permanent secretary left the Department of Trade and Industry in the same period.

Regional Selective Assistance Grants

Mr. Hutton: To ask the President of the Board of Trade what were the total values of all regional selective assistance grants paid to businesses in the Barrow and Furness parliamentary constituency in 1993 94 and 1994 95; and what was the average grant paid in each year.

Mr. Jonathan Evans: The regional selective assistance grants which were made and accepted in the Barrow and Furness parliamentary constituency totalled £2,222,800 in 1993 94 and £135,500 in 1994 95. These projects are at a variety of stages of payment, although the average value of each offer made was £202,000 in 1993 94--this figure is influenced by one particularly large grant--and £22,600 in 1994 95.

Career Breaks

Mr. McNamara: To ask the President of the Board of Trade how many (a) men and (b) women applied for career breaks in his Department or its agencies; and how many have had their employment terminated in the last five years.

Mr. Heseltine: My Department does not hold details on the number of staff who applied for career breaks over the past five years. However, between 1990 and 1994 the Department granted career breaks to 13 men and 263 women. None of these staff has had his or her employment terminated.

American Deregulation Initiative

Mr. Steen: To ask the President of the Board of Trade what reports have been sent by the embassy in Washington concerning the US Administration's deregulation initiative and the Bill introduced by the Republican party; and when these reports were despatched.

Mr. Jonathan Evans: The British embassy in Washington has sent two reports, dispatched on 9 and 18 January 1995, concerning the "Congressional Republicans' Contract with America". The embassy brought to our attention two of the 10 proposed pieces of legislation, which collectively make up the contract, that may have deregulatory or competitiveness implications. These are the Job Creation and Enhancement Act and the Common Sense Legal Reforms Act.


Column 289

Deregulation (Reporting)

Mr. Steen: To ask the President of the Board of Trade what instructions have been sent to overseas posts on the reporting of developments relevant to the Government's deregulation policies.

Mr. Jonathan Evans: As part of the Government's strong commitment to raising the profile of deregulation at the Community level, overseas posts were updated in February on deregulatory developments. Posts were requested to report on member states' current deregulation initiatives.

Libyan Sanctions

Mr. Stewart: To ask the President of the Board of Trade what representations he has had from Babcocks of Renfrew on the issue of Libyan sanctions and the export of boilers; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Ian Taylor [holding answer 6 March 1995]: None.

LORD CHANCELLOR'S DEPARTMENT

Sickness Absenteeism

Mr. Chidgey: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what measures he is taking to combat sickness absenteeism in (a) the Public Trust Office, (b) the Public Record Office, (c) HM Land Registry and (d) his Department.

Mr. John M. Taylor: The question partly concerns a specific operational matter on which the chief executives of the three agencies concerned are best placed to provide an answer. I have accordingly asked each of them to reply direct.

Absenteeism in my Department is taken seriously by managers at all levels in the organisation. All staff are issued with a handbook which explains the Department's policy on sick absence and details what will happen if poor attendance prevents an individual from giving regular and reliable service. Managers are required to tackle sick absence constructively and promptly and this includes conducting a "return to work" interview with staff after any period of sick absence. Levels of sick absence are monitored both locally and centrally and initiatives designed to tackle areas where sick absence is highest have been introduced. In particular, my Department is currently conducting research into the incidence and causes of stress in the Department and the linked problem of stress-related sick absence.

Letter from Julia C. Lomas to Mr. David Chidgey, dated 9 March 1995:

The Parliamentary Secretary of the Lord Chancellor's Department has asked me to reply to you as part of the Lord Chancellor's Department's response to your parliamentary question, listed on 28 February 1995, regarding measures being taken to combat sickness absenteeism.

The Department's central guidance is available to all Public Trust Office staff. On return from sick leave, all staff are interviewed by their managers. Managers are responsible for monitoring sick absence levels, and for taking action if these are unacceptable.

I am in the process of issuing new written guidance to managers, and a comprehensive refresher training programme is to be run shortly to support this.


Column 290

Letter from John Manthorpe to Mr. David Chidgey, dated 9 March 1995:

I have been asked by the Parliamentary Secretary for the Lord Chancellor's Department to reply to your recent question concerning the measures being taken by HM Registry to combat sickness absenteeism. I can provide the following information.

1. Periodic health screening is carried out to assist in identifying potential health problems and providing information on healthy living.

2. Appropriately trained line managers at all levels are involved in managing attendance. Local Personal Managers oversee the operation and effectiveness of procedures.

3. There is close liaison with the Occupational Health Service over cases of concern and the Registry's own Welfare Service play an active supportive part in the well being of staff.

4. The Registry has developed a customised Personnel Information System which provides detailed information on sickness absence and its causes. This information is used to inform line managers and to further develop the Agency's sickness absence policy.

5. All staff in the Land Registry have a personal copy of the Agency's policy on staff attendance and this is publicised on a regular basis.

I do hope that this answers the point raised with the Parliamentary Secretary but please contact me if I can be any further assistance.

Letter from Sarah Tyacke to Mr. David Chidgey, dated 8 March 1995:

I have been asked by the Lord Chancellor's Parliamentary Secretary to reply to your question about measures being taken to combat sickness absenteeism in the Public Record Office.

In October 1993 the Public Record Office put in place a plan of action to combat sickness absenteeism. This included:

drafting a revised sick absence policy which has now been circulated to all staff;

Personnel Management Department providing managers with monthly reports about staff whose sick absence is a cause for concern, agreeing what action should be taken and ensuring that subsequent attendance is monitored regularly and;

Statistical data on sick absence is now compiled and analysed by Personnel Management Department and this information is circulated to managers on a regular basis. This enables managers to identify and deal with problems at an early stage.

Specific action which has been taken since February 1994 is as follows:

64 staff have been asked to discuss sick absence with their manager and agree a plan of action to improve it. Their attendance is then monitored at least quarterly and further action taken if appropriate. Personnel Management Department work closely with managers throughout this process;

17 referrals have been made to the Occupational Health Service (OHS);

8 medical retirements have been requested (6 already actioned); 4 verbal warnings have been given;

1 written warning has been given; and

3 staff have been dismissed.


Next Section

  Home Page