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Echelon Surveillance System

Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the Echelon surveillance system. [153269]

Mr. Robin Cook: The hon. Member will be aware that it is long-standing Government policy not to comment on alleged surveillance systems.

NORTHERN IRELAND

Fuel Smuggling

Mr. Donaldson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on which date he last met representatives of the retail petrol industry in Northern Ireland to discuss the smuggling of motor fuel products into Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. [153427]

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Dr. Reid: My right hon. Friend the Minister of State met with representatives of the petroleum industry on Monday 5 March 2001. The purpose of the meeting was to hear the industry's concerns in relation to fuel smuggling into Northern Ireland. This criminal activity is being pursued with the utmost vigour. During the period April to September 2000, fuel to the value of £1.3 million was seized. Also, during the course of last year, 13 laundering plants with an estimated annual production in excess of 40 million litres of fuel were dismantled.

Mr. Donaldson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will list the dates in 2001 on which he or his officials have held discussions with his counterparts in the Irish Republic on the smuggling of motor fuel products into Northern Ireland. [153424]

Dr. Reid: My officials were due to meet with their Republic of Ireland counterparts on Friday 2 March 2001 to discuss fuel smuggling. The foot and mouth crisis prohibited that meeting from taking place and a new date has been set for the end of March.

Mr. Vincent McKenna

Mr. McNamara: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on what date the RUC was first informed of allegations against Mr. Vincent McKenna; what steps were taken to protect children coming into contact with him; and what advice was made available to senior police officers and officials coming into contact with the campaign with which Mr. McKenna was identified. [150837]

Mr. Ingram: On 2 July 1998, under joint protocol arrangements, the Department of Health and Social Services informed the Royal Ulster Constabulary that Monaghan social services had made them aware of allegations against Mr. McKenna. As a result, RUC officers from the child abuse and rape enquiry (CARE) unit in Mr. Mckenna's area and local social services convened a number of case conferences and liaison was established with An Garda Siochana. It would be inappropriate to provide specific details of the action taken.

There was no disclosure of the allegations against Mr. McKenna until such time as details were in the public arena.

Mr. McNamara: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on what dates information was received from the Garda Siochana concerning the allegations and prosecution of Mr. Vincent McKenna. [150581]

Mr. Ingram: On 2 July 1998, under joint protocol arrangements, the Department of Health and Social Services informed the Royal Ulster Constabulary that Monaghan social services had made them aware of allegations against Mr. McKenna. Liaison was established with An Garda Siochana on or shortly after this date and was maintained until the criminal proceedings against Mr. McKenna concluded.

Mr. McNamara: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps have been taken to share information with the Garda Siochana concerning Mr. Vincent McKenna; how many persons have

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been interviewed since the conviction of Mr. Vincent McKenna; and what steps have been taken to investigate further allegations. [150582]

Mr. Ingram: Liaison with An Garda Siochana was established by the Royal Ulster Constabulary once they were made aware of allegations against Mr. McKenna and this was maintained until the criminal proceedings concluded.

No complaints have been made alleging any offences in Northern Ireland; consequently no investigation has been conducted by the RUC.

PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL

People's Peerages

Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the President of the Council how many persons are to be recommended to the Prime Minister for a people's peerage. [151863]

Mrs. Beckett: The Prime Minister has asked the Appointments Commission to submit 15 names of people to be recommended for non-political peerages. In the past, each honours list was accompanied by the publication of four or five names of new peers. The last such honours list was at the new year 2000.

CABINET OFFICE

Consultative Group on Better Regulation

Mr. Andy King: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office what progress has been made by the high-level consultative group on better regulation set up by the Strasbourg meeting of European Ministers of Public Administration last November. [153703]

Mr. Stringer: Following the decision by the Ministers of Public Administration, the first meeting of the Group took place on 21 December in Paris. Chaired by Dieudonne Mandelkern, the French representative, the Group agreed its work plan for the first four months in accordance with its mandate from the Ministers. It decided to look at five themes--codification of existing legislation, simplification, improving consultation, impact assessment (including alternatives to regulation) and the administrative structures needed to support this. I have placed a copy of this work plan and a copy of the Ministers' resolution establishing the Group in the Library of the House.

The second and third meetings of the Group looked at each of the five themes identified, resulting in agreement on the Group's initial report at its meeting in Paris on 26-27 February. On the suggestion of the Swedish representative, the Group also decided it should be known as the 'Mandelkern Group' in future, after its chairman. I have placed a copy of the initial report in the Library of the House.

The Group's initial report is an excellent document covering the main issues of better regulation. Alongside espousing some general principles of better regulation, it makes specific and practical recommendations on each of the five key themes. It is being discussed by the Internal Market Council today and will then be one of the

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contributions to the Stockholm European Council on 23-24 March. This document is a very positive development, representing as it does the first time that representatives of all 15 European member states have endorsed such a specific text on better regulation.

Rural Policy

Mr. Lansley: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office when she last met other Ministers to discuss co-ordination of the Government's rural policy; and if she will make a statement. [153403]

Mr. Ian McCartney: It is established practice under exemption two of Part II of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information not to disclose information relating to the proceedings of Cabinet Committees.

Policy and Strategy Units

Mr. Tyrie: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office when the post of director of policy studies was established; which of the director's reports are in the public domain; how many departmental or non-departmental special advisers participate in its work; how many regular (a) non-departmental and (b) departmental staff participate in its work; and how many of these work for him on a full-time basis. [150365]

Marjorie Mowlam: The Policy Studies Directorate (PSD) is part of the Centre for Management and Policy Studies and the Director of Policy Studies was appointed in March 2000. PSD supports policy makers by evaluating new approaches to policy making and promoting best practice, by encouraging and enabling an evidence-based approach and by working to ensure high standards in Government research and evaluation. It is the intention that research reports on new approaches to policy making will be published as they are completed. Special Advisers to Ministers may contribute to the work of the unit in the same way as they would to the other work of a Department, in line with their role and duties as set out in the "Model Contract for Special Advisers". The Director currently has a staff of 22; six are Cabinet Office permanent staff; 11 are on loan from other Departments;

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one is on secondment from a university; and two are temporary clerical staff. All work full-time for her. Two research fellows--one permanent Cabinet Office staff and one secondee--work part-time for her.

Early Retirement

Mr. Gill: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office what terms and conditions apply in the case of public sector employees seeking early retirement when those same workers are part of the disabled quota. [152841]

Mr. Stringer: Early retirement terms are the same for all civil servants, including those with a disability. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 removed the system of quotas and allowed individuals to declare themselves disabled without the need for formal verification from medical records or a doctor.

Mr. Gill: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office what conditions must be satisfied before a civil service worker can take early retirement. [152842]

Mr. Stringer: The minimum age at which most civil servants can retire with full superannuation benefits is 60. The Civil Service Management Code enables staff to retire or be retired early by Departments and agencies on several grounds. A copy of the code is available in the Library.


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