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Regional Assemblies

Mr. Luff: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will make it his policy that, in any referendum to establish a regional assembly in England, each unitary authority and county council area within that region will be required to approve the establishment of an assembly in addition to that referendum producing a positive result across the whole region. [56255]

Dr. Whitehead: I have been asked to reply.

No. We do not believe that individual local authorities should be able to veto the establishment of an elected regional assembly where people in a region have voted for one at a referendum.

Ministerial Training

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how much has been spent by his Department on training by the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts for Ministers and officials in each of the last five years. [52745]

Mr. Leslie: The Cabinet Office has not incurred any expenditure on training by the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts for Ministers and officials in each of the last five years.

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how much has been spent by his Department on voice coaching for Ministers and officials in each of the last five years. [52705]

Mr. Leslie: To the best of my knowledge the Cabinet Office has not incurred any expenditure on voice coaching for Ministers and officials in each of the last five years.

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Government and Crown Interests

Ms Walley: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister, pursuant to his answer of 19 April 2002, Official Report, column 1251W, on refurbishment and the answer to the hon. Member for Gordon of 24 April 2002, Official Report, column 272W, if he will make a further statement in respect of progress on the chain of supply, procurement policy and the contract relating to the Cabinet Office and other continuing refurbishment and construction projects on the Government estate. [55913]

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: I have received an initial report into the issues of timber procurement for the 22 Whitehall project. I have asked for further investigation to be done on some aspects of these issues and I will report to the House when the report is finalised.


Public Access and Information

Mrs. Roe: To ask the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, if he will make a statement on progress in improving public access to the House and information about its work. [56901]

Mr. Kirkwood: Providing information and access to the public is one of the four core tasks in the House of Commons Commission's strategic plan. Some improvements have already been made, some are under way, and others are at the planning stage.

The Office of the Clerk operates as a central point of contact for media inquiries, and, where necessary, all Departments now use the services available from the specialist communications and media advisers.

Education and schools

The Parliamentary Education Unit, which operates on behalf of both Houses, continues to develop its services for schools and teachers including a new programme of visits, Citizenship in the 21st Century, aimed at pupils aged 8–14, begun last year.

A new 60 minute video, "Parliament Uncovered", explains the work of Parliament to students aged 14–18. Until December 2002 the video is being made available to UK schools at cost price. "Parliament Uncovered" won silver in the education category of the March 2002 International Visual Communication Association Awards. Work on a new video aimed at students aged 8–13 began in April 2002.

In May 2002 the Unit's series of six education sheets was re-issued as "Parliament Explained" booklets with an improved format and rewritten contents.

The Unit's website, explore Parliament, has been further developed with new material and features added.

Visitor access

Following two years of successful pilot schemes, both Houses decided earlier this year that the Summer Opening should become a permanent feature. This year, the Summer Opening of Parliament will run six days a week from 3 August to 26 September. The Commission attaches

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great importance to high quality public tours the year round, emphasising the role of Parliament as a working legislature. We are working towards a single official tours operation supporting both the Summer Opening and tours at other times.

The new Jubilee Visitor Cafeteria off Westminster Hall was officially opened by Mr. Speaker this morning, Tuesday 14 May. It seats 100, serves modestly priced light refreshments, and is fully wheelchair accessible.

A feasibility study for an information and visitor centre for Parliament has started and is due to be completed in July. This will review current ways in which visitors are received and will look at the options for both location and functions of a centre, together with likely usage levels. Architectural and security considerations will be taken into account.

Select committees

From the start of this year, select committee reports have had a redesigned cover, larger print and standard numbering of pages. A redesign project is under way, intended to produce reports which are more attractive and accessible to a general reader.

The Modernisation Committee recommended that notes for visitors should be available to describe how a committee works, and who the witnesses are. This arrangement has now been initiated by over a dozen committees. The House authorities are also shortly to install electronic screens at St. Stephen's entrance: these will list the day's public meetings, and I hope that this will encourage more people to attend Select committee evidence sessions.

Parliament online

A one year pilot webcasting scheme began in January 2002, with providing fully comprehensive live coverage of both Chambers and debates in Westminster Hall and a range of Select and Standing Committees. The pilot will be evaluated towards the end of the year.

A redesign of the website is in progress, with the aim of improving navigation, and making it more attractive and usable for the casual inquirer as well as the specialist. The new design will go live later this year, and further improvements will be made in the future.

Public information materials

A new design for public information materials has been developed, to provide a more modern 'look and feel' without any increase in annual production budgets. This will be available in autumn 2002, following the upgrade of computer software. An editorial group has been established to ensure that the House's range of public information materials is up-to-date, comprehensive, and meets the needs of a range of external audiences.


Finally, customer research completed in March 2002 has illustrated the need to continue improving the services provided to the public. Areas singled out for particular emphasis include: further improvements to the website; consolidation of the currently fragmented approach to visitors and tours; and exploring the scope for partnership with other organisations working in related fields.

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Abu Hamza

Mr. Dismore: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer further to his answer of 8 May 2002, ref 54509, what steps he is taking to freeze the assets of Abu Hamza; and if he will make a statement. [55830]

Ruth Kelly [holding answer 13 May 2002]: The Government instructed the Bank of England on 19 April to issue a Notice to all UK banks and financial institutions requiring them to freeze any accounts found belonging to Abu Hamza, together with those of nine other individuals and organisations. Banks have taken appropriate action.

In each case the Government had reasonable grounds to suspect involvement in committing or facilitating acts of terrorism with links to al-Qaeda and Taliban. The names were subsequently announced at the meeting of G7 Finance Ministers and listed under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1390 which imposes sanctions against the Taliban, Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda and their associates. The Government remain fully committed to disrupting and closing down the sources of terrorist finances wherever they are found.

Pension Schemes

James Purnell: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what savings public sector pension schemes are predicted to make from the projected growth in single pension households on a like for like basis; and what the estimated costs are of introducing unmarried partner pensions across the public services. [55474]

Mr. Andrew Smith: The Government set out their policy regarding the provision of unmarried partner pensions in their Green Paper "A new contract for welfare: Partnership in Pensions" (Cmnd 4179, December 1998): if the membership of a public service scheme wanted to extend eligibility for survivors' pensions to unmarried partners and were prepared to meet the additional costs, the Government would be prepared to consider how practicable arrangements could be devised for providing this within a statutory scheme.

An important factor underlying this policy is cost. Estimates by the Government Actuary's department show that the additional cash cost for introducing unmarried partner pensions across the public services could range from £350 to £1,000 million a year for the future service of current members, depending on the definition of dependent partner adopted and any restrictions imposed on the availability of benefit. There would be significant additional capitalised costs associated with any wider extension of unmarried partner benefits, for example, to cover past service.

Estimates of any potential savings public service schemes might gain from the projected growth in single pension households could be derived separately only at disproportionate cost. The expected change in family structures, however, is just one of a number of factors which influence the long-term costs of the public service schemes. Many of these factors are expected to result in an increase in long-term costs, with increased life expectancy of pensioners being highly significant.

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