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Written Answers to Questions

Tuesday 2 December 2003

LEADER OF THE HOUSE

Pre-legislative Scrutiny

34. Mr. Allen: To ask the Leader of the House if he will make it his policy to encourage Select Committees to subject all proposals for Bills to pre-legislative scrutiny on-line. [140764]

Mr. Woolas: It is for individual committees to decide, when conducting pre-legislative scrutiny, whether to make arrangements for on-line scrutiny or e-consultation. I hope that committees will, as a matter of course, consider the opportunities provided by information technology, including on-line fora of the kind used successfully by the Joint Committee on the draft Communications Bill in 2002.

Visitors' Facilities

35. Peter Bradley: To ask the Leader of the House what representations he has received on new facilities for visitors in the House. [140765]

Mr. Hain: I am strongly in favour of making the Commons more welcoming for voters. I can report that the House of Commons Commission has asked the Administration and Accommodation and Works Committees to examine what improvements can be made and to report by Easter.

Sitting Hours

36. Chris Bryant: To ask the Leader of the House what assessment he has made of the impact of the new sitting hours of the House. [140766]

Mr. Woolas: In October last year, a majority of Members voted to alter the sitting hours so that the House now sits from 11.30 am on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Standing Orders were changed for the rest of this Parliament, which will allow us a sufficient period to make a considered judgment on the effect of the changes.

My right hon. Friend is aware that some Members have difficulty with the new hours, but that there is strong opinion on both sides.

CHURCH COMMISSIONERS

Clergy Terms of Service Review

Mr. Ben Chapman: To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners if he will press the Commissioners to take steps to accelerate the timetable for the McClean review of clergy terms of service to deliver its final report. [140553]

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Mr. Bell: The Church Commissioners support the view of the McClean review group that this important and complex work cannot, and should not, be rushed.

Good progress has been made. The review has completed the first phase of its work (considering clergy without security of tenure) according to the timetable in its terms of reference. It will report to the Archbishops' Council on 9 December and it is hoped that there will be a debate by the General Synod in February, followed by a period of consultation with dioceses and clergy.

It is hoped that the second phase of the group's work (addressing the position of clergy with the freehold and any follow-up from the first phase) will be completed by the end of 2004.

NORTHERN IRELAND

Cory Report

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he will publish the Cory report. [140906]

Mr. Paul Murphy: The Government are committed to publishing Justice Cory's reports as soon as possible, in line with the judge's terms of reference. These made it clear that any issues involving national security, the criminal process or the safety of individuals, would need to be considered carefully first.

NHS Budget

Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what proportion of the NHS budget for Northern Ireland in each year since 1997 was spent on private treatment; what plans he has to facilitate retrospective payment for treatment carried out privately; and if he will make a statement. [140810]

Angela Smith: Information about the proportion of the health budget in Northern Ireland relating to private treatment is not available.

As regards retrospective payment for treatment carried out privately, an agreement with the relevant area Health and Social Services Board for the cost to be met must be made prior to treatment commencing. To be eligible, the patient must meet certain criteria, namely that the treatment required is not available in Northern Ireland and that the patient's consultant recommends treatment elsewhere.

SOLICITOR-GENERAL

Mr. Demetrious Panton

Mr. Grieve: To ask the Solicitor-General what costs were incurred by the Government Legal Service in advising the Minister for Children in respect of the allegations of libel brought against her by Mr. Demetrious Panton; and who will pay the costs. [140961]

The Solicitor-General: No such costs were incurred.

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INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Voluntary Service Overseas

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development how many people from the United Kingdom have taken part in Voluntary Service Overseas in each of the last 10 years. [140874]

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Mr. Gareth Thomas: During the past decade, Voluntary Service Overseas has filled 7,915 volunteer placements; 6,637 of these were recruited in the UK. The following table gives a breakdown for each year and the place of recruitment of the other 1,278 volunteers. The figures for 2003–04 are estimates because there are still placements to be filled.

CanadaNetherlandsPortugalKenya and PhilippinesUKTotal departures
1993–94711711
1994–95746746
1995–9631511697780
1996–9756642717839
1997–9867562587712
1998–9968772714861
1999–200058743745880
2000–019485032715926
2001–028278067629856
2002–036981078376604
Total525566101776,6377,915
2003–04 Est.77950130473775

Zimbabwe

Ms Keeble: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what assessment he has made of the outbreak of cholera in Binga, Zimbabwe. [140467]

Hilary Benn: A cholera outbreak has been reported in the two northern districts of Kariba (in Mashonaland West province) and Binga (in Matabeleland North province). A total of 173 cases and 26 deaths have so far been reported. WHO have commented that this fatality rate of approximately 15 per cent. is alarmingly high, probably due to the declining capacity of the Zimbabwean Ministry of Health to respond, and the growing food shortages. Latest reports indicate that the situation is under control in Binga, where no new infections are being recorded, but appears to be spreading in Kariba district.

Save the Children (UK) are using emergency response resources provided by DFID to address the situation in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, UNICEF, WHO, Médicine Sans Frontières (Spain) and several other NGOs. The aim is to ensure that the disease does not spread further and that those communities at risk are assisted with soap and other hygiene items, as well as water purification tablets and ORS supplies to treat diarrhoea.

Cholera outbreaks are becoming more frequent in the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe. Save the Children (UK) are planning to use the lessons learnt during their response to this outbreak in order to conduct rapid response training for other relevant organisations involved in humanitarian operations in Zimbabwe.

SCOTLAND

Electoral Systems

7. Miss Begg: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the different electoral systems in Scotland. [140749]

Mr. Darling: There are currently three voting systems used in Scotland. Elections to the UK Parliament and local councils use the first past the post system. Elections to the European Parliament use the list system of Proportional Representation while the elections to the Scottish Parliament use the additional member system of Proportional Representation.

Highlands and Islands

8. Mr. Alan Reid: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what discussions he has held with (a) ministerial colleagues and (b) the European Commission on figures published by the Office of National Statistics for the gross domestic product of the Highlands and Islands. [140750]

Mrs. McGuire: No such discussions have taken place. But it is worth clarifying once and for all the situation regarding the Office for National Statistics figures and European Structural Funds. There has been no error made by the Office for National Statistics. Eligibility was based on the best information available at the time and the European Commission confirmed in November 2002 that retrospective eligibility for Objective 1 support was not possible.

Glasgow Financial District

9. Ann McKechin: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent discussions his Department has had on the launch of the Glasgow Financial District. [140751]

Mr. Darling: I am aware that the Glasgow International Financial Services District had its UK launch at the London Stock Exchange recently.

The Scotland Office will continue to work with the Scottish Executive to support this far-sighted initiative.


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