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Data Protection

Mr. Cohen: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans he has to introduce a code of practice with respect to the use of data-matching techniques which require access to medical or other administrative records held by health bodies in relation to anti-fraud initiatives in the NHS. [47370]

Mr. Milburn: General guidance on the use of person-specific information held by National Health Service bodies was issued in 1996 and the general principles were reinforced in the report of the Caldicott Committee in 1997. These principles apply equally to the use of NHS records in connection with anti-fraud work in the NHS. We will shortly be reviewing this guidance in the light of the Data Protection Bill and will clarify the circumstances in which information held by NHS bodies may be shared with non-NHS agencies.

Mr. Cohen: To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he expects the Audit Commission to commence data-matching exercises using their powers under the Audit Commission Bill 1998; and if such matching will involve records held by local authorities. [47371]

Mr. Boateng: The Audit Commission Act 1998 consolidates existing legislation and does not introduce new powers. Auditors appointed by the Audit Commission have used data-matching techniques in local authorities for four to five years. They have recently extended this to a number of National Health Service pilot sites. The Audit Commission has no current plans to extend this to cross matching local authority and NHS records.

NHS Drugs

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what proportion of NHS money is spent on parallel trading in drugs. [47809]

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Mr. Milburn: Full information on expenditure on parallel traded medicines by the National Health Service is not available. However, within the Family Health Services sector in England and Wales, the Pharmacists' Discount Inquiry estimates that, in 1997-98, 4.63 per cent. of the net ingredient cost of prescriptions dispensed by community pharmacies was in relation to parallel imported products. Over each of the six years 1992-1997, the corresponding figures were between 4.09 per cent. and 4.80 per cent. For 1997-98, this equates with a figure of some £197 million expenditure on such products, providing an estimated saving to the NHS of around £19 million.

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what percentage of drugs for use in the NHS are imported from overseas. [47810]

Mr. Milburn: Records are not kept of the origin of drugs in the National Health Service. However, in 1997, pharmaceutical products worth £3,192 million were imported into the United Kingdom, with exports of £5,484 million. This includes pharmaceuticals used outside the NHS. The latest available figures (financial year 1996-97) indicate an expenditure of £4,735 million on the drugs bill in England. This figure includes community prescribed and hospital medicines.

Microbiological Research Authority

Mr. Key: To ask the Secretary of State for Health, pursuant to his answers of 21 July 1997, Official Report, columns 409-10, and 25 March 1998, Official Report, column 180, if he will now send to the hon. Member for Salisbury a copy of the final submission made to him under the quinquennial review from the Microbiological Research Authority Board; and if he will make a statement about that quinquennial review. [47843]

Ms Jowell: I understand that a copy of the final submission from the Microbiological Research Authority to the team undertaking the quinquennial review of the Microbiological Research Authority was sent to the hon. Member on 5 November 1997 and that he acknowledged receipt on 11 November.

The findings of the first stage of the review are still the subject of discussions by Ministers. We will make a statement when these are completed.

Tattoo Removal

Mr. Oaten: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what was the cost to the National Health Service of tattoo removal for each of the last four years. [47592]

Mr. Boateng: The information relating to this specific procedure is not collected centrally on a routine basis. Within the current standard coding classifications used by the National Health Service there is no unique code or combination of codes for treatments specifically related to tattoo removal. This procedure is classified along with other procedures to remove skin lesions e.g. iron pigmentation.

Maternity Services (North Essex)

Mr. Whittingdale: To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he expects to reach a decision on the future of maternity services in North Essex. [47890]

29 Jun 1998 : Column: 46

Mr. Milburn: A decision will be made on the future of maternity services in North Essex when we have considered carefully all the evidence following the objection by the local community health councils to North Essex Health Authority's consultation document 'Taking the Initiative'.


Millennium Compliance

Mr. David Atkinson: To ask the President of the Board of Trade if she will provide hon. Members with an information pack on the millennium compliance of computer systems similar to that supplied to hon. Members on the euro on 15 July by the Minister for Trade and Competitiveness in Europe. [47011]

Mrs. Roche: I will send a suitable information pack to each hon. Member in a few weeks' time.

Mr. White: To ask the President of the Board of Trade for what reasons the original year 2000 Millennium conformance standard set by BSI was deficient in respect of real time requirements. [46500]

Mrs. Roche: The so-called Millennium Conformance Standard is not a standard in the strict sense, but a Published Document prepared by the British Standards Institution setting out Year 2000 conformity requirements. I understand that, following representations from the telecommunications industry about its interpretation, this document is being reviewed within BSI.

Small Businesses

Mr. Baldry: To ask the President of the Board of Trade if she will make a statement on the Government's policy objectives for small businesses. [47428]

Mr. Jenkins: To ask the President of the Board of Trade if she will list the current (a) objectives and (b) targets of the Government's small firm policies. [47144]

Mrs. Roche: The overall aim which underpins the Government's small firms policy is to enhance the competitiveness of small businesses by maintaining a supportive economic and business environment, and delivering high quality business support services.

More detailed policy objectives are currently being refined through a process of consultation, which includes listening to the views of representatives of small business. Our work is also being informed by the recent report of the Trade and Industry Select Committee on Small and Medium Sized Enterprises, and the small firms debate which was held in the House of Commons on 19 June 1998, Official Report, columns 606-76.

The Government's policies for small businesses will be set out in the Competitiveness White Paper to be published in the Autumn.

Newspaper Pricing

Mr. Chidgey: To ask the President of the Board of Trade what legal advice she has taken concerning the

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relevance of the special circumstances found to have held in the European Court Case C-333/94 P Tetra Pak v. Commission to pricing strategies in the UK's daily broadsheet market. [42612]

Mrs. Beckett [holding answer 19 May 1998]: The Competition Bill sets the framework which prohibits anti-competitive behaviour and the abuse of dominance. Decisions in specific cases are matters for the independent regulator. It is not, therefore, for me to comment on how the principles of EC jurisprudence would apply in individual circumstances.

Insolvency Proceedings

Mr. Cranston: To ask the President of the Board of Trade what steps she intends to take to revive the European Union convention on insolvency proceedings; and if she will make a statement. [47113]

Mr. Nigel Griffiths: The European Convention on Insolvency Proceedings was opened for signature between 23 November 1995 and 23 May 1996. The United Kingdom did not sign the Convention during that time. There are no proposals currently for the Convention to be revived.

Eastern Natural Gas

Mr. Pickthall: To ask the President of the Board of Trade what representations she has received about the methods used by Eastern Natural Gas in acquiring new customers. [46587]

Mr. Battle [holding answer 22 June 1998]: My Department has received a number of representations regarding marketing methods used by gas suppliers, including some relating to Eastern Natural Gas. The Government believe that consumers who are sold gas contracts on the doorstep should have proper protection. I raised my concerns with the Director General of Gas Supply last year, and this led to Ofgas introducing, on 26 January, a new suppliers' licence condition to bring such activities under tighter control.

Among other things, the new condition includes rules on the proper selection and training of sales staff who are in direct contact with domestic customers, auditing of sales activities, schemes for paying compensation, and a ban on gas suppliers using agents who ask for payment in advance of arranging a supply of gas.

This initiative should help to further enhance consumer protection with regard to doorstep selling. I am, however, keeping the situation, including the need for further action, under review.

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