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Written Answers to Questions

Monday 1 December 2003


European Constitution (Referendum)

Mr. Evans: To ask the Prime Minister how many written representations he has received (a) in favour and (b) against a referendum on the European Constitution. [141402]

The Prime Minister: Since the beginning of the year, I have received over 1,000 letters about the subject of a referendum on the European Constitution.

Given the volume of correspondence I receive, over one million letters and cards in the last year covering a broad spectrum of issues, my office records letters by subject rather than by the view expressed. My office works hard to ensure that all the letters receive appropriate responses.


Lembit Öpik: To ask the Prime Minister what assessment he has made of changes in the level of risk of a terrorist attack in the UK since the initiation of military action in Iraq in March; and if he will make a statement. [140775]

The Prime Minister: The worldwide threat from terrorism remains real and serious, as we have all seen demonstrated by the recent attacks in Turkey. The relevant agencies are at a state of heightened readiness as they have been for some time.

The assessment of the level of threat to the UK is under constant review, and the Government takes the appropriate action.

The assessment received before the Iraq conflict was that the greatest threat to Western interests came from al-Qaeda and associated groups. This assessment has not changed and the Government and related agencies continue to combat terrorist activities both here and abroad.

Lembit Öpik: To ask the Prime Minister whether a reduction in international terrorism was a stated aim of the military action in Iraq in March; and if he will make a statement. [140776]

The Prime Minister: Our policy objectives for action in Iraq were set by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary (Mr. Straw) in a written statement on 7 January 2003, Official Report, columns 4–6WS and set out in "Iraq: Military Campaign Objectives" on 20 March 2003. A copy is available in the Library of the House.

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Harry Cohen: To ask the Prime Minister whether President Bush discussed with him an intention to choose Iraq's leader; and if he will make a statement. [141099]

The Prime Minister: I discussed with President Bush, as I regularly do, a wide range of Iraq-related issues, including the timetable leading to the formation of a Transitional Iraqi Government.

Harry Cohen: To ask the Prime Minister what peace approaches made for the attention of the UK Government were deemed to be from the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein prior to the war; whether such an approach for the attention of the US Administration was made (a) before the war and (b) subsequently; and if he will make a statement. [141100]

The Prime Minister: In the months before the conflict in Iraq, contact was made by various individuals claiming to be intermediaries for Saddam Hussein and senior members of the Iraqi regime. On each occasion our response was to underline the need for Iraq to comply fully and immediately with its obligations under the relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions. Approaches made to the US are a matter for the US Administration.

Oil and Gas Industry

Mr. Spring: To ask the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library the open letter from the Oil and Gas Industry Liaison Team of 22 October on the implications for the United Kingdom oil and gas industry of the Energy Chapter of the draft European Constitution. [140700]

The Prime Minister: This is a matter for the Oil and Gas Industry Leadership Team.


Car Boot Sales

Mr. Pickthall: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what plans he has to (a) bring car-boot sales under normal planning permission rules and (b) abolish the 14 day rule. [140684]

Keith Hill: Part 4 of the "Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995" (GPDO) grants a general planning permission for the temporary use of land for up to 28 days in any calendar year, subject to a number of restrictions and conditions, and car boot sales to not more than 14 days in total—in recognition that, in some locations, they may cause problems such as parking, litter and noise. The use of land for car boot sales for greater than 14 days would generally require an application for planning permission.

In January 2002, a consultation paper was issued on whether any changes were desirable to the current temporary use provisions, which include activities such as clay pigeon shooting and motor-sports as well as car boot sales and farmers markets.

The overwhelming consensus in response to the consultation paper was to retain the existing provisions.

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Therefore, in the light of responses received, we have no plans to change the temporary use planning provisions in respect of car boot sales or to abolish the 14 day rule as it pertains to them.


City Academies

Mr. Hoban: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills if he will make a statement on the funding for the proposed city academies announced recently. [140975]

Mr. Miliband: The Secretary of State recently announced a new package of measures to raise standards of education in the five most challenging London boroughs, as part of the London Challenge initiative. These London boroughs—Haringey, Islington, Hackney, Lambeth and Southwark—will have at least 10 new schools, seven of which will be academies. These academies form part of the Government's overall strategy for the expansion of the Academies programme and the funding for them will be drawn from the Department's significant existing capital resources earmarked for the regeneration of the schools estate.


Dietary Supplements

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when she will answer the letter from the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South of 9 September 2003 on the importation of dietary supplements. [140916]

Alun Michael: The letter referred to by the hon. Member was transferred to the Department of Health on 16 September 2003 as that Department has responsibility for dietary supplements. The hon. Member was advised of this transfer by letter on the same day.


Sitting Hours (Refreshment Department)

Mr. Ben Chapman: To ask the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, what assessment he has made of the impact of the change in sitting hours on the Refreshment Department. [139976]

Sir Archy Kirkwood: At its meeting on 12 May, the Commission considered a paper from the Board of Management on the principal impact of the revised sitting hours on staff and facilities. That paper reflected the early assessments made by the various Departments of the House. The Refreshment Department reported an increase in daytime trade, particularly in the cafeterias, but a significant loss of evening trade, particularly in the dining rooms. The Director of Catering Services continues to monitor service requirements in the light of

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changes in sitting patterns. The Board of Management will make a further report to the Commission in December.


Disabled Drivers

Mr. Goodman: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has to reform the system of blue parking badges available for drivers with disabilities; and if he will make a statement. [140831]

Mr. McNulty: Following a comprehensive review of the Blue Badge Parking Scheme the Government have accepted a number of the recommendations made by our statutory advisers, the Disabled Persons' Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC). These address many key issues of concern and are intended to make significant improvements to the Scheme. An announcement was made by David Jamieson on 18 December 2002 at which time a summary of the Government's responses to each of those recommendations was placed in the House Libraries.

We are taking forward the majority of the recommendations through changes to primary and secondary legislation, research and in new guidance to local authorities on the Scheme. As we progress our work we will be consulting and involving major disability organisations, many of which act as umbrella organisations representing people with a range of disabilities.

We are pursuing a suitable legislative slot for those changes requiring primary legislation. In the meantime we have begun work on those recommendations which require changes to secondary legislation and will also be embarking on a number of research projects over the next few months. The new guidance, which will cover all aspects of the Scheme will be issued when changes have been introduced.

Timing for introduction of the changes will be subject to the outcome of the research, consultations and the Parliamentary process as appropriate. I am not able at this stage to give a firm timetable, but we are wholly committed to introducing the changes at the earliest possible opportunity.

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