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Water Pollution (Thruxted)

Mr. Hinchliffe: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (1) what information he has received concerning the possible contamination of drinking water by waste discharged from Canterbury Mills, Thruxted, Kent; and if he will make a statement; [15260]

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Mr. Baldry: Drinking water quality is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for the Environment and of the drinking water inspectorate. The local water company, Mid Kent Water, confirms that its tests show that water supplies taken from the area are of the highest chemical and microbiological standard. The tests are subject to stringent analytical quality control and independent scrutiny by the drinking water inspectorate.

This Department has received a copy of the draft report of the risk assessment carried out into waste water disposal options at Canterbury Mills and the possible effect on the quality of drinking water. The Environment Agency has commissioned studies into the possible effects of waste water disposal arrangements at Canterbury Mills and has made these available to the planning inspector for use during the public inquiry now underway to determine a planning application by Canterbury Mills.

Mr. Hinchliffe: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (1) what evidence he plans to submit to the forthcoming public inquiry relating to planning proposals for a new underground water drainage system adjacent to Canterbury Mills, Thruxted, Kent; and if he will make a statement. [15262]

Mr. Baldry: This Department prepared a statement regarding the operation of Canterbury Mills rendering plant in the context of animal health legislation, to the planning inspector on 10 January 1997 for use at the public inquiry. A copy is being placed in the Library of the House.

Salmonella Gold Coast Contamination

Mr. Martlew: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when his Department first received evidence of the possibility that cows from Wyke Farms of Somerset were source of Salmonella gold coast infection; and if he will make a statement. [11793]

Mrs. Browning [holding answer 22 January 1997]: Epidemiological evidence first linked an outbreak of Salmonella gold coast to the consumption of cheese produced at Wyke Farms on 14 December 1996.


Parliamentary Questions

Mr. Thurnham: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make a statement about the methods used to monitor the efficiency of each Government Department in answering parliamentary questions, with particular reference to the expected lengths of time to answer questions and the action taken in the case of excessive delays. [14902]

Mr. Freeman: Each departmental Minister is responsible for answering the parliamentary questions put to them in a timely manner.

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For questions for written answer on a named day, Standing Order 18(4) requires that an answer should be given on the day named by the Member. Wherever possible, this will be a substantive reply but, where this is not possible, Ministers will give a holding reply and provide a substantive reply as soon as possible thereafter.

Within my Department, instructions have been given that Ministers will wish, wherever possible, to be in a position to provide a substantive reply on the day named; and, in the case of ordinary written questions, within five working days of the question being tabled.

Information Systems (Millennium Compliance)

Mr. Nigel Jones: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what measures his Department has taken to ensure that each Government Department's information systems will be millennium compliant; and if he will make a statement. [15132]

Mr. Freeman: I refer the hon. Member to the reply given to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) on 9 December 1996, Official Report, column 4 and to the reply given to Lord Stallard on 27 January by the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, column 963.

The integrity and continuity of government information systems are essentially the responsibility of individual departments. However, the Deputy Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster have personally ensured that all ministerial heads of Department and permanent secretaries are aware of the problem and are implementing plans of action in relation to their computer systems and that all Departments plan to complete the work in time--Official Report, 27 January 1997, column 963.

"Government Direct"

Mr. Nigel Jones: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what assessment he has made of the costs of the proposals set out in the Green Paper, "Government Direct"; and if he will make a statement. [15072]

Mr. Freeman: The scale of investment required has not yet been fully determined. However, the proposals will not involve capital investment of public funds. The Government's private finance initiative will allow the private sector to provide services of the type outlined in the Green Paper. Money to pay the contractors would come from part of the savings in the cost of government administration.


Prison Officers (Bravery Medal)

Mr. Batiste: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress has been made with the initiative to introduce a medal for prison officers recognising exceptional bravery in the course of their work. [14670]

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Miss Widdecombe: Responsibility for this matter has been delegated to the Director General of the Prison Service, who has been asked to arrange for a reply to be given.

Letter from Richard Tilt to Mr. Spencer Batiste, dated 12 February 1997:

Armed Police Officers

Mr. Cohen: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) if he will make a statement on the presence of an officer with a sub-machine gun in Mansell street, Whitechapel, at midnight on 3 February; [14834]

Mr. Maclean: I understand that an officer armed with a carbine was carrying out counter-terrorist duties in the Mansell street area. The officer was part of a patrol exercising powers under section 13A of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 to stop and search vehicles and their occupants for articles which could be used for terrorist purposes. The weapon was not a sub-machine gun, but a carbine specially adapted to fire only one shot at a time. Such carbines are one of a number of weapons available for general issue to members of the City of London police tactical firearms group.

The City of London police have no automatic carbines. The Metropolitan police have a small number of automatic carbines. These are to be issued only under the most stringent conditions and in the most exceptional circumstances. It would not be in the interests of security for me to discuss any further details about the circumstances or conditions under which these weapons might be deployed.

Asylum Seekers

Mr. Henderson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) how many asylum applications are currently awaiting an initial decision by his Department's asylum directorate; and how many of these applications were made in (a) 1991 or earlier, (b) 1992, (c) 1993, (d) 1994, (e) 1995 and (f) 1996; [13264]

Miss Widdecombe: The number of asylum applications awaiting an initial decision as at 31 December 1996 was 55,695, a reduction on the equivalent figure for the end of 1995--69,650. Of those applications currently awaiting an initial decision, the number which had been made following the implementation of the Asylum and Immigration Appeals

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Act 1993 has now been revised to 43,025. This follows an extensive count of cases which has shown that the method of estimation previously used underestimated the number of pre-1993 Act cases that have been decided. An

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estimated breakdown of the years in which those asylum applications awaiting an initial decision were made, in total and for the nationalities requested, is given in the table.

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Asylum applications from requested nationalities awaiting an initial decision as at 31 December 1996, by year of application

NationalityApplications outstanding(8) Year of application(9)
Number Per cent.1996 Per cent.1995 Per cent.1994 Per cent.1993 Per cent.1992 Per cent.Pre-1992 Per cent.
former Yugoslavia4,04510010251015350
All nationalities55,695100203520101010

(8) Provisional figures rounded to the nearest 5.

(9) Estimates rounded to the nearest 5 per cent.

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