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Written Answers to Questions

Monday 6 November 2006

Public Accounts Commission

National Audit Office

28. Hugh Bayley: To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission how much the National Audit Office spent on auditing government expenditure in Africa in the last year for which figures are available. [99173]

Mr. Alan Williams: The information requested by my hon. Friend is not available. A number of Departments and other bodies spend government money in Africa. The National Audit Office record the cost of auditing the accounts of those bodies, and of the value for money studies they undertake, but no information is held on the cost of auditing the bodies’ activities in specific regions of the world. However, during the year to July 2006, as part of their audit of the main Departments involved in Africa, NAO staff visited Ghana, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Tunisia and Uganda to audit various UK government activities in those countries.

30. Simon Hughes: To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission what assessment the Commission has made of the effectiveness of the National Audit Office compared with similar bodies in the EU. [99175]

Mr. Alan Williams: The Commission examines National Audit Office corporate plans, resource estimates and results on a regular basis. The Commission’s scrutiny programme includes examination of independent value for money reviews of the National Audit Office carried out by the office’s external auditors.

The external auditors have carried out some international comparisons as part of this work. The most recent comparisons were included in their report in 2004 on the effectiveness of the National Audit Office’s work in the context of achievements against the office’s target of securing for the taxpayer £8 savings for every £1 spent. The auditors concluded that the National Audit Office was more rigorous than any other similar organisation worldwide in the way in which it measured, recorded and reported the financial impact of its work.

The Commission continues to monitor the effectiveness of the office’s work on behalf of the House. Last week it carried out a further examination of the financial impacts achieved by the office and of its plans to increase the target to £9:1. I believe that the Comptroller and Auditor General and the National Audit Office provide an excellent service and excellent value for money for the House.


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Leader of the House

Business of the House

Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Leader of the House which matters are required by convention or Government commitment to be debated each year; and what form of debate is required in each case. [98705]

Mr. Straw: The Standing Orders of the House require three days to be set aside for debates on estimates selected by the Liaison Committee and 20 days to be set aside for debates on matters selected by Opposition parties.

In addition to these commitments, there are a number of debates for which it is the practice to find time on the Floor of the House. These currently include two days ahead of European Council meetings, five days on different aspects of Defence, one day on Public Accounts Committee reports, one day on Welsh Affairs and one day on the annual report of the Intelligence and Security Committee.

The wider issue of the use of non-legislative Government time may be considered by the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons in due course.

House of Lords Reform

Mr. Spellar: To ask the Leader of the House whether the timetable for Lords reform set out in his speech of 24 October represents Government policy. [99202]

Mr. Straw: As I made clear in my speech, having been asked by the Prime Minister to take responsibility for this important policy, the timings I mentioned were those I hoped to see achieved. But whether these hopes are met depends on many factors.

State Opening

Mr. Amess: To ask the Leader of the House if he will place in the Library copies of the press briefing pack produced by his Office on the state opening of Parliament on forthcoming legislation; and if he will make a statement. [97918]

Mr. Straw: The Office of the Leader of the House of Commons does not produce a press briefing pack on the state opening of Parliament. The Downing street Press Office and individual Government Departments do issue press notices on the Queen's Speech. Copies will be placed in the Library. Further informationon the Bills contained within it is available on theOffice of the Leader of the House website at www.commonsleader.co.uk, following the state opening of Parliament.

House of Commons Commission

Green Cards

Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the hon. Member for North Devon, representing the House of Commons Commission how many green cards were completed on 1 November. [99912]


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Nick Harvey: Doorkeepers’ records show 252 green cards were completed on 1 November.

Pedestrian Access

Mr. Amess: To ask the hon. Member for North Devon, representing the House of Commons Commission if the Commission will take steps to ensure that pedestrian access to the Palace of Westminster is not periodically impeded by inadequate rainwater drainage on St. Margaret's Street; what recent discussions he has had with Westminster City Council on this issue; what response was received; what representations he has received since July from (a) hon. Members, (b) Members of the House of Lords and (c) members of the public; and if he will make a statement. [99276]

Nick Harvey: Westminster city council has been contacted about drainage issues on St. Margaret's Street. The matter was referred via their highways defect reporting system and directly by letter. We await a response from Westminster City Council.

The Parliamentary Authorities are aware of the following representations on this issue:

Culture, Media and Sport

Tourism

8. Mr. Bone: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport if she will ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government that she rule out a bed tax as an option for local government finance. [99153]

Mr. Caborn: The Government will not take any decisions on changes to local government finance until it has had the chance to consider the independent Lyons report which will be delivered to ministers in December 2006. DCMS Ministers will continue to represent tourism industry interests in this as in other cross-Government policy areas.

14. Mrs. Dorries: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what assessment she has made of the implications for tourism of a bed tax; and if she will make a statement. [99159]

Mr. Woodward: The Lyons Inquiry is an independent review, and it has not yet made any recommendations. DCMS Ministers will fully assess the potential impact of Sir Michael’s recommendations once he has made them, and will respond accordingly.

Mr. Roger Williams: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what estimate she has made of the number of rural tourism offices which have closed in the last 12 months. [99164]

Mr. Woodward: There are around 500 Tourist Information Centres in England. Most of them are
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managed by local authorities as part of their discretionary support for tourism. We know of four in rural areas that have been closed and not replaced by any other provision in the last 12 months, and two new ones that have opened.

VisitBritain

9. Mr. Fraser: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what representations her Department has had on VisitBritain’s budget; and if she will make a statement. [99154]

Mr. Woodward: Since 1997 funding for VisitBritain has risen from £44.7 million to £50.5 million for the current financial year. Detailed discussions are taking place to determine future budgets in the context of the CSR.

Royal Parks

10. Mr. Leigh: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what steps she is taking to ensure that encouraging greater use of the Royal Parks and holding more commercial events does not damage the fabric and character of the Parks. [99155]

Mr. Lammy: The number and type of events is limited according to criteria set out in the agency’s Events Strategy, agreed with Ministers and their potential impact on the environment, on visitors and on local residents is carefully assessed before permission is granted.

Event organisers are required to take out a bond to fund any reinstatement necessary after an event.

Digital Switchover

11. Chris McCafferty: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what provisions have been made prior to digital switchover to ensure digital television coverage in (a) the Calder Valley and (b) other topographically challenging areas. [99156]

Mr. Woodward: Ofcom estimated approximately 50 per cent. of households in the Calder Valley are currently able to receive DT services. Following switchover in the region DT capacity is intended to match current provision from analogue services.

Mr. David Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what powers are available to her to regulate the production of regional news programmes by ITV after the switchover to digital television. [99157]

Mr. Woodward: Regulation of regional news resides with OFCOM. This framework will remain in place after switchover.

Television Licensing

15. Jo Swinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport when concessionary schemes for television licences are next expected to be reviewed. [99160]


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Mr. Woodward: The Government reviewed the concessionary arrangements as part of BBC Charter Review. The White Paper published in March this year proposed no changes to the existing range of concessions, because despite calls for concessions for many groups there was little consensus as to the criteria according to which they should be allocated. We have no plans for any further reviews of the concessions.

Decibel Penguin Prize

16. Philip Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport if she will make a statement on the future of the Decibel Penguin Prize. [99161]

Mr. Lammy: The decibel Penguin Anthology aims to showcase the work of emerging writers from black and minority ethnic communities and it received £8,000 from Arts Council England. Penguin is printing 3,000 copies, which will be distributed to book shops across the country. I understand that Penguin and Arts Council England are considering plans for two further volumes.

Olympic Games

17. Mr. Jack: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport by what means budgetary control is being maintained on the 2012 Olympic project. [99162]

Tessa Jowell: I regret that it has not been possible to respond to the hon. Member in the time available before Dissolution.

18. Angela Watkinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what arrangement will be made for the funding of potential cost over-runs related to the 2012 Olympics. [99163]

Tessa Jowell: Each annual budget will contain a contingency allowance from which cost over-runs will be met. As I said in the House on 6 November, in the event of further funds being needed to support the Olympic games, there is a formula in the M.O.U. to enable sharing between London and the lottery.

Tote

20. Stephen Hammond: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport if she will make a statement on her plans for the future of the Tote. [99165]

Mr. Caborn: My Department has been discussing over the summer a sale to a racing consortium at full market value, but has unfortunately been unable to reach an agreement. We will announce shortly how we intend to meet the intentions of the manifesto, which were to achieve value for money for the taxpayer and to recognise racing's interest in the Tote.

Abolition of Slavery Bicentenary

Anne Moffat: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what recent progress has been made in planning events for 2007 to
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commemorate the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire; and how much the Government has allocated to supporting such events. [98869]

Mr. Lammy: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Ms Butler) on 14 June 2006, Official Report, column 1222W. Since then English Heritage has announced its programme for 2007, which will include: researching for the first time connections between the transatlantic slave trade and properties in its care; and reviewing formal description of listed buildings to acknowledge historic links to transatlantic slavery and the abolitionist movement. In Scotland, the Scottish Executive are leading on plans for the bicentenary and they plan to devote a section of the One Scotland website to publicising bicentenary events.

To date, the Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded funding of over £20 million to 48 slavery-related projects. It’s new web-feature—http://www.hlf.org.uk/hlf/themes/index.html—provides advice on funding for community groups. Organisations which have recently received funding from HLF for 2007-related projects are:


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