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Written Answers to Questions

Wednesday 8 December 1999


War Pensions Agency

Mr. Healey: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement about the outcome of the recent quinquennial Prior Options Review of the War Pensions Agency. [102323]

Mr. Bayley: A Prior Options Review of the administration of the war pensions scheme was recently undertaken to examine whether further improvements in customer service and value for money could be made.

Part of that review involved an evaluation of the performance of the War Pensions Agency since its creation in April 1994. The Evaluation Report has been published today and copies have been placed in the Library. The Report recognises that, after a difficult start because of very high workloads, the management focus provided by agency status helped bring about steadily improving standards of performance over the last five years.

We have now considered the Review Team's recommendations. These take account of a number of detailed submissions from national and local user representative organisations. I am grateful to all those who participated in the review.

The review has recognised that over the past five years the War Pensions Agency has dedicated itself to serving a very special group of people, those who have suffered injury or bereavement in defence of their country. The main conclusions of the review, which I support, are that the War Pensions Agency should remain a Next Steps Agency within the Civil Service responsible, as now, for administering the existing war pensions scheme.

The review recognises the significant improvements in customer service and efficiency which the Agency has achieved since its inception in 1994. These reflect great efforts by the Chief Executive and his staff. The review's recommendations are designed to build on this work and will be supported by the Agency's programme of change which is aimed at improving its decision-making and appeals processes. This will be done through extended use of information technology and closer working with other government departments and voluntary sector bodies.

We will shortly publish a reviewed Framework Document confirming the Agency's responsibilities for the next five years.

Carers (Financial Support)

Mr. Edwards: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans he has to raise the level of earnings disregard for the calculation of invalid care allowance. [101352]

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Mr. Bayley [holding answer 6 December 1999]: The National Carers strategy committed the Government to keeping financial support for carers under review, which we are doing.

Income Support

Mr. Flynn: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what levels of take-up of Income Support for pensioners are assumed in current forecasts of expenditure. [99942]

Mr. Rooker [holding answer 2 December 1999]: Estimates of take-up levels are difficult to forecast. Our current estimates are derived from the Family Resource Survey and show that for 1997-98 between 71 per cent. and 85 per cent. of pensioners by expenditure claimed the Income Support to which they are entitled. Current caseload forecasts assume that an additional 43,000 pensioners will take up their entitlement during the forecasting period. This estimate will need to be reviewed in the light of our plans for a national programme to increase pensioner take-up.


EU Charter of Human Rights

Mr. Borrow: To ask the President of the Council who will be Parliament's representative on the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights drafting body. [102231]

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) and Lord Bowness will be the Westminster delegates on the Charter drafting body. The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) and Baroness Howells of St. Davids will be the alternates.


Gamma Hydroxy Butyrate

Mr. Hilary Benn: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to ban gamma hydroxy butyrate; and if he will make a statement. [101518]

Mr. Charles Clarke: Gamma hydroxy butyrate (GHB) is not controlled under the international drug Conventions nor under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 but its importation, manufacture, sale and supply fall within the scope of the medicines legislation. The Medicines Control Agency (MCA) investigates reports of the unlawful manufacture, advertising and sale of GHB in the United Kingdom.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which advises the Government on drug misuse issues, has considered the misuse of GHB on three occasions--in 1994, 1996 and in May 1998. It found that GHB could cause acute health problems particularly if taken with alcohol or other drugs. The Council concluded that GHB misuse was not widespread and did not present a sufficient social problem--the criterion for controlling substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971--to be brought under the 1971 Act's control.

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However, as the drug could lead to acute health problems for some misusers--particularly if taken with alcohol--the Council recommended that a number of other measures should be taken. These were that the MCA should be asked to increase enforcement action against illicit manufacturers and suppliers of GHB; publishers should be asked not to carry advertisements for the drug and attempts should be made to reduce such advertising by the MCA and the Advertising Standards Authority; more targeted health education material should be made available about the adverse effects of GHB; and GHB misuse should continue to be monitored. The MCA and the Department of Health have taken action on the above recommendations; and the Home Office is continuing to monitor the position.

We understand that the World Health Organisation (WHO) is currently reviewing GHB; and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) is considering its misuse within the European Union. If the WHO or the EMCDDA recommend controls on the drug, ACMD would be asked to look at GHB again.

Child Pornography Prosecutions

Mr. Dawson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many successful prosecutions there were for the possession of child pornography in the last three years for which figures are available. [101653]

Mr. Charles Clarke: Available information, taken from the Home Office Court Proceedings Database, is given in the table.

Take, make, distribute, show, possess with intent to distribute or show, or publish any advertisement conveying the distribution of indecent photographs or pseudo-photographs of children (1)

Total Total found guilty
Yearproceeded against (2)NumberPercentage

(1) Protection of Children Act 1978 sections 1 and 6 as amended by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, section 84.

(2) = 100 per cent

Possession of an indecent photograph or pseudo-photograph of a child (3)

Total Total found guilty
Yearproceeded against (4)NumberPercentage

(3) Criminal Justice Act 1988 section 160 as amended by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 sections 84(4) and 86(1).

(4) = 100 per cent

Police (Discipline Hearings)

Mr. Peter Bottomley: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department at whose discretion it is for an

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officer facing a discipline hearing to be represented by both a Police Federation lawyer or representative and by a person from the Black Police Association. [101599]

Mr. Charles Clarke: An officer may be represented by another officer chosen by him, or he may opt to be legally represented in cases where it is judged that the punishments of reduction in rank, requirement to resign or dismissal should be available. The Police (Discipline) Regulations 1985, which cover incidents occurring before 1 April 1999, provide that in such cases the legal representative may be assisted at the hearing by a member of a police force. The Police (Conduct) Regulations 1999, for incidents after 1 April 1999, provide that in addition to having his case conducted by a legal representative the officer may be accompanied at the hearing by a member of the police force.

Anti-social Behaviour Orders

Mr. Cummings: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many anti-social behaviour orders have been applied for and granted within the Easington District Council area. [101423]

Mr. Charles Clarke: I am informed that Easington District Council has made no applications for anti-social behaviour orders to date, but I am pleased to hear that they have recently established a committee to consider their use.

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