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International Information Super-highway

Mr. Boateng: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (1) what plans he has to ask the Law Commission to investigate the impact on British law of the international information super-highway;

(2) what efforts his Department is making to liaise with (a) the Governments of the other member states of the European Union, (b) the institutions of the European Union and (c) the American Government with regard to possible law reform as a result of the impact of the international information super-highway;


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(3) what plans he has to increase the number of his officials working on the impact on British law of the international information super-highway;

(4) how many of his officials, at which grades and in what departmental groups, are engaged in research into the impact on British law of the international information super-highway; (5) what research his Department is doing into the impact on British law that the international information super-highway is currently having and is likely to have in the future; and what plans he has to publish this research;

(6) what plans he has to introduce legislation to make changes to British law in the light of the impact on it of the international information super -highway.

Mr. John M. Taylor: I currently have no plans to ask the Law Commission to investigate the impact on British law of the international information super-highway. However, the Law Commission's business law team is taking part in examination, being conducted by the Department of Trade and Industry, as to whether formal requirements in English law would inhibit the use and effectiveness of electronic data interchange in its commercial application.

At present, my Department is not engaged in any liaison with the Governments of the other member states of the European Union, the institutions of the European Union or the American Government on the possibility of law reform as a result of the impact of the international information super-highway. No officials in my Department are currently involved in research into this issue. I have no immediate plans to change this situation, nor to introduce legislation to make changes to British law. However, any issues raised by the existence of the international information super-highway are being assessed, and discussed with other interested Departments, as the need arises.

Defamation

Mr. Boateng: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what plans he has to reverse the burden of proof in cases of innocent dissemination in defamation cases and when he plans to publish a Bill on this subject.

Mr. John M. Taylor: A Bill putting the defence of innocent dissemination of a statutory footing, and making the defence available to a wider category of defendants, is in an advanced state of preparation and a draft will be published very shortly. It is not proposed that the burden of proof should be reversed.

Judiciary (Performance Appraisal)

Mr. Boateng: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, pursuant to his answer to the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) of 1 March, Official Report, column 572, if he intends to introduce performance appraisal for the judiciary.

Mr. John M. Taylor: The Royal Commission on criminal justice recommended the creation of a formal system of performance appraisal for the judiciary. That recommendation remains under active consideration by the Lord Chancellor, who will respond in due course.


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Gerry Adams

Mr. Marlow: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if he will make a statement on the case of Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein and the European Court of Justice; what United Kingdom public expenditure this has entailed to date; what estimate he has made of the potential future expenditure from public funds; and in what circumstances and under whose authority public funds are allocated in respect of this case.

Mr. John M. Taylor: Legal aid has been granted to Mr. Adams in support of his application for a judicial review of the Home Secretary's decision excluding him from entering Great Britain under the prevention of terrorism Act. The matter has now been referred by the High Court to the European Court of Justice for an interpretation of the relevant European Union law. Where a reference is made by the High Court to the European Court of Justice, legal aid automatically covers work done for the European Court of Justice element of the case.

To date, a total of £9,234 has been paid on account from the legal aid fund. No estimate has been made of the final cost to legal aid, nor do I consider it appropriate to speculate as to what the final cost might be.

In dealing with his application for legal aid, Mr. Adams was assessed on the same means and merits criteria as any other applicant for legal aid, in accordance with the appropriate regulations.

Immigration

Mrs. Wise: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what is the current waiting time for appeals to be hear against refusal of settlement visa applications from spouses and fiancees in India and Pakistan.

Mr. John M. Taylor: Statistics are not kept by the country of origin, but where parties have indicated readiness for the appeal to be heard, cases are now being listed for hearing by the immigration appellate authorities at the hearing centres as follows:


Centre               |1995             

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

Glasgow              |March            

Birmingham           |April            

Leeds                |April            

Manchester           |April            

Hatton Cross, London |June             

Thanet House, London |November         

In view of the current lengthy waiting times in the south-east, the chief adjudicator has indicated that when notices of hearing are sent from London, the immigration appelate authorities will offer the parties the opportunity of an earlier date at one of the regional centres, if the parties are willing to travel to that centre.

Wills

Mr. Bill Michie: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what safeguards are available to protect a bereaved person who does not wish the deceased person's will published for security or other reasons; and what is the status of the Data Protection Act 1984 in this respect.

Mr. John M. Taylor: Under section 124 of the Supreme Court Act 1981, a will is a public document.


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However, anyone may apply to a district probate registrar to prevent inspection of a will. The registrar may grant the application if, in his opinion, inspection would be undesirable or otherwise inappropriate. A record of every will administered by the probate registry is kept on a computer system; the general public do not have access to this computer system and the system is fully registered under the Data Protection Act 1984.

Mr. Bryce Taylor

Mr. John Marshall: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, pursuant to his answer of 1 March, Official Report, column 573, who is now paying Mr. Bryce Taylor's costs.

Mr. John M. Taylor: Since there are no cost implications for the legal aid fund, the question of costs is entirely a matter for the parties concerned.

Assault Compensation

Mr. Spearing: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what representations he has received urging, and what plans he has to ensure, that when magistrates courts award sums in compensation to be paid to victims of assault by their assailants that those amounts are paid by the court and received from the assailant by them.

Mr. John M. Taylor: Representations to this effect are received from time to time. However, if compensation were paid to compensatees directly from court funds, this would create a free loan for offenders at taxpayers' expense. If offenders defaulted, it would result in a new burden on the public purse. The proposal would also remove the element of restitution from the court's sentence. We believe that it is important for offenders to be required to repay their victims.

Magistrates

Mr. Straw: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, pursuant to his answer to the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond) on 24 February, Official Report, column 346, if he will list the current political balance of magistrates for each (a) metropolitan borough, (b) London borough and (c) non-metropolitan district in England.

Mr. John M. Taylor: This information can be supplied only at disproportionate cost.

SOCIAL SECURITY

Invalidity Benefit

Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what arrangements exist to ensure the Benefits Agency treats in a confidential manner the financial information required of claimants appealing against reduced invalidity benefit on grounds of hardship; and what arrangements exist for protecting confidentiality in respect of the agency's use of a private firm to open claimants' letters containing such information.


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Mr. Roger Evans: The administration of the Benefits Agency is a matter for Mr. Michael Bichard, the chief executive. He will write to the hon. Member with such information as is available.

Letter from Michael Bichard to Mr. Gordon Prentice, dated 8 March 1995:

The Secretary of State has asked me to reply to your recent Parliamentary Question regarding the confidentiality aspect of claims to Invalidity Benefit and the opening of Benefits Agency post by private sector companies.

All information received within Benefits Agency offices concerning the financial and other circumstances of customers is held in strict confidence. All Agency staff have an overall duty to protect any information that is held and to ensure it is not disclosed to anyone without the customer's consent. Any post received in connection with appeals on Invalidity Benefit entitlement will be treated in this manner.

As you may know, the Government's Competing for Quality initiative subjects public functions to competition from the private sector. As part of this initiative the Benefits Agency has market tested its accommodation and office services, which includes post opening operations. In some areas this has resulted in the Agency's post being opened by private sector contractors.

The contract specifications drawn up contain all the necessary safeguards to ensure confidentiality of information is maintained to the high standards required by the Civil Service. All staff directly involved in post opening are bound by the same stringent security and confidentiality rules. This includes each member of staff involved in post-opening being required to sign a declaration acknowledging the provisions of section 123 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992, which makes it a criminal offence to disclose personal information provided for Social Security purposes.

I am sure you will appreciate that these arrangements present many opportunities for enhanced customer service, in terms of the Agency's business as a whole.

I hope you find this reply helpful.

Mr. Llwyd: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security, pursuant to his answer of 13 February, Official Report, column 536, how many of the invalidity benefit recipients are (a) males and (b) females; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Hague: The information is in the table.


Number of invalidity benefit recipients in Great Britain    

and Wales,                                                  

at a particular time, by sex                                

           Great Britain       Wales                        

Year      |Males    |Females  |Males    |Females            

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

1979      |504,000  |106,000  |58,000   |11,000             

1983      |593,000  |144,000  |70,000   |17,000             

1987      |754,000  |213,000  |93,000   |29,000             

1993      |1,156,000|424,000  |125,000  |47,000             

Notes:                                                      

1. The number of recipients figure is at June for 1979, and 

April for 1983, 1987 and 1993.                              

2. The Welsh 1979 figure may contain a small number of      

claimants not in receipt of benefit.                        

3. Figures based on a 1 per cent. sample of claimants,      

rounded to the nearest thousand.                            

Mortgage Interest

Mr. McAllion: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what was (a) the total cost of paying income support for mortgage interest in Scotland in each year since 1982 93 and (b) the total number of households in Scotland receiving income support for mortgage interest in each of these years.


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Mr. Roger Evans: The available information is set out in the table.


                                  |Estimated annual                 

                 |Number of       |cost<2>                          

Year             |households<1>   |£ million                        

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

1989             |15,000          |19.3                             

1990             |14,000          |24.6                             

1991             |18,000          |33.1                             

1992             |19,000          |32.4                             

1993             |22,000          |32.6                             

Notes:                                                              

<1> Figures have been rounded to the nearest thousand.              

<2> Estimated annual expenditure on mortgage interest is calculated 

as total numbers multiplied by average weekly amount multiplied by  

52.                                                                 

Source:                                                             

Income support statistics annual inquiries 1989 to 1993.            

Asylum Seekers

Mr. John Marshall: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security, pursuant to his answer of 1 March, Official Report, column 623, what estimate has been made of the housing benefit payable to the 41,960 asylum seekers receiving income support in February 1994.

Mr. Roger Evans: Asylum seekers who are liable for housing costs can claim housing benefit in the normal way. They are not, however, separately identified in the statistical information gathered by local authorities. Accordingly, it is not possible to estimate the housing benefit payable to asylum seekers.

War Pensions

Mr. David Atkinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many of those service personnel who served in Northern Ireland are currently in receipt of a war pension.

Mr. Arbuthnot: The information is not available and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

Sir Michael Neubert: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what proportion of war widows currently in receipt of pensions qualified for payment after 14 August 1945; and how many have so qualified within the last 12 months.

Mr. Arbuthnot: The information is not available in the form requested and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost. Some 1,608 war widows pensions were awarded in the year ending 31 December 1994.

Child Support Agency

Mrs. Mahon: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) if he will set out details of the compensation scheme available in the case of the Child Support Agency failing to take appropriate action;

(2) how many time compensation has been awarded by the Child Support Agency when they failed to take appropriate action.

Mr. Burt: The Child Support Agency may consider paying compensation under the terms of the Department of Social Security special payments arrangements. Since the CSA is a relatively new business, we are considering how those arrangements might better cover CSA cases. When these are agreed, we shall be making public the


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criteria under which payments for redress may be considered as we do for other agencies of the Department. In the meantime, officials will carefully consider the merits of any requests for compensation and what redress, if any, should be made.

To the end of January 1995, we have made special payments for financial redress on 34 occasions.

Sickness Absenteeism

Mr. Chidgey: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what measures he is taking to combat sickness absenteeism in (a) the Resettlement Agency, (b) the Benefits Agency, (c) the Contributions Agency, (d) the Child Support Agency, (e) the Information Technology Services Agency and (f) his Department.

Mr. Hague: A number of steps are being taken across the Department to manage sickness absence. Specific initiatives include: the internal publication of absence details, awareness presentations for line managers and staff, guidance on the responsibilities of line managers, tightening up the procedures for first reporting absence, return to work interviews, involving personnel branches in appropriate cases and seeking examples of best practice from other organisations. There are also various health promotion initiatives.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Sir Peter Tapsell: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 9 March.

Mr. Harry Greenway: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 9 March.

The Prime Minister: This morning, I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Economic Policy

Mr. Mackinlay: To ask the Prime Minister (1) what is the Government's policy in respect of promoting political, social and economic expansion;

(2) what assessment he has made of the extent to which his goals relating to the promotion of social and economic expansion have been achieved.

The Prime Minister: The objective of the Government's economic policy is to promote sustained economic growth in order to raise living standards and create jobs. The Government are pursuing prudent fiscal and monetary policies together with supply-side measures which will continue to improve the working of the economy. This is the only way to ensure that economic recovery is sustained with low inflation.

Toxic Waste

Mr. Dalyell: To ask the Prime Minister who will represent Her Majesty's Government at the special meeting of the members of the Basel convention in Dakar called to clear up the confusion on how to define toxic waste; and what will be their remit.


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The Prime Minister [holding answer 3 March 1995]: Her Majesty's Government will send an observer.

TRANSPORT

Planning and Compensation Act 1991

Sir John Stanley: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will place in the Library the full text of his Department's criteria and guidelines for implementing section 62 of the Planning and Compensation Act 1991 (a) pertaining to when section 62 first came into effect and (b) pertaining currently.

Mr. Watts: I have placed in the Library the guidelines and application form, which were introduced on 17 January 1992, and also the current versions of these documents, which are under review.

Sickness Absenteeism

Mr. Chidgey: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what measures he is taking to combat sickness absenteeism in (a) Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and (b) the Driving Standards Agency.

Mr. Norris: For a number of years DVLA has been pursuing a strategy of improving attendance through the introduction of more effective line management controls and initiatives to improve staff health and motivation. Since 1985, the average number of days per employee lost through sickness in DVLA has reduced from 16 days to the civil service average of eight days.

Sick absence in the Driving Standards Agency is currently well above the civil service average. The agency is setting up a working group to identify the reasons for this and to make proposals. In the meantime, the agency has introduced a pay scheme designed to reward staff who, through good attendance, help the agency to provide a better service to its customers.

British Rail Property (Crime)

Ms Jowell: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how many people were victims of crime on British Rail property in each year since 1991.

Mr. Watts: The table shows by calendar year, the total number of offences recorded on British Rail property, including ScotRail, by the British Transport police, which is the force responsible for keeping law and order on the railway.


          |Number of          

Date      |offences           

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

1991      |22,186             

1992      |20,904             

1993      |20,359             

1994      |17,313             

Road Building Projects

Mr. Tyler: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will list all priority 1, priority 2, agreed start and reserve start road building projects currently planned or under way, giving their cost and completion dates.


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Mr. Watts: The bulk of this information is contained in "Trunk Roads in England 1994 Review", a copy of which is in the Library. The new starts programme for the remainder of 1994 95 and for 1995 96 was subsequently amended by my right hon. Friend's announcement of 19 December 1994. A copy of the press release issued at the time is also in the Library.

Completion dates for schemes which are not yet under construction depend on the successful conclusion of statutory procedures and the availability of funds.

Orange Badge Holders

Ms Lynne: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what arrangements he will make to enable orange badge holders to park on double yellow lines for an indefinite amount of time when the yellow lines occupy space outside an orange badge holder's home.

Mr. Norris: I have no plans to extend the time limit for parking on yellow lines. Local authorities have powers under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 to designate by order a parking place reserved for a disabled badge holder.

Trunk Roads Review

Mr. Tyler: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when the next trunk roads in England review will be produced.

Mr. Watts: There are no plans for a further review of the trunk road programme at present. The results of the last review of the programme are set out in "Trunk Roads in England 1994 Review".

Overloaded Lorries

Mr. Tyler: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how many convictions were secured in respect of the operation of overloaded lorries in each of the last 10 years.

Mr. Norris: This is an operational matter for the Vehicle Inspectorate.

I have asked the chief executive to write to the hon. Member. Letter from Ron Oliver to Mr. Paul Tyler, dated 9 March 1995: The Secretary of State has asked me to reply to your question about the number of convictions in respect of the operation of overloaded lorries in the last 10 years.

I do not have information for the past 10 years and it can only be provided at disproportionate cost. However, the details below show the number of successful prosecutions carried out by the Vehicle Inspectorate and the Local Authority Trading Standards Officers for the last 5 years.


             |Number of                

Year         |prosecutions             

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

1990-91      |13,396                   

1991-92      |13,295                   

1992-93      |10,831                   

1993-94      |9,151                    

1994-95<1>   |8,555                    

<1>year to date.                       

If there is any further information you require, please let me know.

Marchioness

Mr. Spearing: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will provide references for public and published statements made by him or his predecessors providing reasons for not establishing a formal investigation in to the loss of the Marchioness and lives as provided for in section 56 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1970.

Mr. Norris [holding answer 1 February 1995]: Reference to statements made by Transport Ministers are as follows:


Minister              |Date                |Volume/Column                            

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

1. Patrick McLoughlin |WPQ 19 January      |Vol. 165 Col. 443                        

                      |  1990                                                        

2. Patrick McLoughlin |WPQ 12 February     |Vol. 167 Col. 103-04                     

                      |  1990                                                        

3. Patrick McLoughlin |OPQ 12 March 1990   |Vol. 169 Cols. 5-6                       

4. Patrick McLoughlin |WPQ 29 March 1990   |Vol. 170 Col. 240                        

5. Steven Norris      |Debate 9 July 1992  |Vol. 211 Cols.                           

                                           |  669-700                                

6. Robert Key         |Debate 14 December  |Vol. 234 Cols.                           

                      |  1993              |  984-986 and 988                        

7. Steven Norris      |WPQ 15 December     |Vol. 234 Col. 706                        

                      |  1993                                                        

8. Steven Norris      |WPQ 11 January      |Vol. 235 Col. 132                        

                      |  1994                                                        

9. Steven Norris      |WPQ 16 December     |Vol. 251 Col. 876                        

                      |  1994                                                        

Birmingham Northern Relief Road

Ms Walley: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport (1) if he will make a statement on his Department preparation and supervision costs in "Trunk Roads in England 1994 Review" as regards the proposed Birmingham northern relief road;

(2) how much his Department expects to spend on the compulsory purchase of land and property to make way for the proposed Birmingham northern relief road;

(3) how much his Department has spent so far on the administration of the public inquiry into the proposed Birmingham northern relief road; and how much he expects to spend by the time the inquiry is finished.

Mr. Watts: I refer the hon. Member to my reply of 1 March 1995, Official Report , columns 597 98 .

Auxiliary Coastguards

Ms Walley: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport (1) what official vehicles are available to Cemaes Bay auxiliary coastguard; (2) on how many occasions in the past 12 months the auxiliary coastguards have been forced to use their own vehicles in response to emergency calls.

Mr. Norris: These are operational matters for the Coastguard agency. I have asked the chief executive to write to the hon. Member.

Letter from C. J. Harris to Ms Joan Walley, dated 9 March 1994: The Secretary of State for Transport has asked me to reply to your recent parliamentary questions as these questions deal with operational matters, for which I have responsibility as Chief Executive.


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PQ 1082/94/95. The Coastal Response Team at Cemaes Bay have occasional use of coastal response vehicles.

PQ 1072/94/95. None. All Auxiliary Coastguards on enrolment agree that their private vehicles may be required for emergency purposes, should it be necessary.

M25 Link Roads

Ms Walley: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he intends to make a further announcement on the progress of his plans for link roads between junctions 12 and 15 of the M25; and when he intends to hold a public inquiry into the scheme.

Mr. Watts: Draft orders for the further improvement of the M25 between junctions 12 and 15 were published in April 1994. The public inquiry into the scheme was delayed to allow objectors more time to prepare their cases. An announcement will be made in due course.

Road Surfacing Costs

Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what is the cost per kilometre of (a) porous asphalt; and (b) conventional asphalt; and what is the lifespan in each case.

Mr. Watts: This is an operational matter for the Highways Agency. I have asked the chief executive to write to the hon. Member. Letter from Lawrie Haynes to Mr. Gordon Prentice, dated 8 March 1995:

The Minister for Railways and Roads, Mr. John Watts MP, has asked me to write to you in reply to your recent Parliamentary Question concerning the cost per kilometre of (a) porous asphalt and (b) conventional asphalt; and what is the life span in each case. Costs of constructing roads with porous and conventional asphalt surfacings can very significantly between contracts and are influenced by geographical location, local construction details, complexity of traffic management and associated works such as drainage. There are also differences which reflect market conditions. The costs given in the following table are of surfacing materials only and are broadly indicative bearing in mind the limited use of porous asphalt. There are additional costs for porous asphalt which are not applicable to conventional asphalt. Additional drainage is needed and more frequent salting in cold weather. Further, laying the material is more difficult and requires more extensive traffic management. These additional costs are not included in the figures given and can vary widely depending on site conditions.


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