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Defamation Law

Lord Coleraine asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern): I have today published a draft Defamation Bill which has been prepared to show in detail how the Government would implement proposals for a number of important reforms to bring defamation law up to date and to improve and simplify the procedures.

The proposals include a new summary procedure to allow judges to dispose quickly of straightforward and less serious defamation claims; a new defence of offer of amends; and a reduction, from three years to one year, of the time within which defamation proceedings can begin.

As drafted, most of these clauses would apply to England and Wales only. The Government will consider how far it may be appropriate for some or all of the reforms to be adopted in Northern Ireland and Scotland, taking into account the similarities as well as the

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differences which exist in the defamation laws and procedures applicable in those jurisdictions.

Judges' Lodgings: Review

Lord Coleraine asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the Lord Chancellor expects to receive the report by the chief executive of the Court Service on his Review of Judges' Lodgings.

The Lord Chancellor: My policy objective on judges' lodgings is to provide accommodation affording satisfactory working conditions and appropriate levels of security, privacy and comfort to High Court judges when they are on circuit; and to do so in an economic, efficient and accountable manner.

Last July I instructed the chief executive of the Court Service to carry out a review of the current lodgings and to submit a report making recommendations concerning the optimum means of managing and staffing lodgings. Copies of the report have today been placed in the Library of the House.

I will be considering the report in consultation with the Lord Chief Justice.

Privatised Utility Regulators: Parliamentary Scrutiny

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In the light of recent events, whether they consider there should be an increase in the parliamentary scrutiny of the operations of the privatised utilities' regulators.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Fraser of Carmyllie): Since they were established, the regulators of the privatised utilities (gas, electricity, water and telecoms) have made many appearances before Select Committees, 11 in the last 18 months alone. The Government believe that the regulators should continue to use parliamentary and other channels to do all they can to explain the basis for their decisions. It is, of course, for Parliament itself to decide whether, in the light of the existing scrutiny of the activities of the regulators by various bodies, increased parliamentary scrutiny is required.

Potatoes: Units of Weight

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In what way the public interest is advanced by the creation of a criminal offence of selling potatoes by the pound weight.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: Since the 1970s weights and measures legislation has by stages required products, including potatoes, sold by reference to quantity to adopt metric units. Potatoes may continue to be sold by the pound until the year 2000 where they are sold loose and are not pre-packed.

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Road Pricing

Lord Harris of Greenwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Pursuant to the Written Answer by Viscount Goschen on road pricing (H.L. Deb, 12/7/95 col. WA11), on which dates the contractors listed submitted their reports to the Department of Transport.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): The dates of final reports are shown on the attached list.

Principal Findings and Final Report (The MVA Consultancy) July 1995
Choice of Travel Time (TSU University of Oxford) Oct 1993
Review Specification of Model Elasticities (HFA) May 1993
Exploratory Social Research (Accent Research) Oct 1992
Review of Technology (Newcastle University) Sept 1992
Urban Economy Impacts (PA Cambridge Econ. Cons) Dec 1993
Review of Available Evidence on Public Reactions (TSU Poly. of Central London) July 1992
Commercial Vehicle Reactions (John Fearon Consultancy) Feb 1993
Employer Assisted Car Travel TRL) Aug 1993
Demand Effects of Travel Time Reliability (Cranfield Inst. of Technology) Feb 1993
MEPLAN CC Scenario Test Reports (Marcial Echenique & Partners) April 1994
Oct 1994
Disaggregation of LTS Data (Steer Davies Gleave) June & Dec 1993
Bus Operation Supply Effects (TAS Partnership) Aug 1994
Highway Reliability Supply Effects (Steer Davies Gleave) Nov 1993
Local Area Case Studies (HFA) Feb 1995
Operational Procedures for Assessment (Marcial Echenique & Partners) April 1994
Administration Systems (Touche Ross) Dec 1994
Structure of APRIL model (Marcial Echenique & Partners) Jan 1995
ARIL Implementation Report (Marcial Echenique & Partners) April 1995

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Social Fund 1994–95 Costs

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What were the administrative costs of the Social Fund between 31 March 1994 and 1 April 1995.

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): Information on the administration costs of the Social Fund for 1994–95 is not yet available.

Social Fund: 1989–94 Costs

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What has been the annual increase in administrative costs of the Social Fund between its introduction in 1988 and now.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Available information is in the table.

1989–90 1990–91 1991–92 1992–93 1993–94
Increase on previous year (£m) 16 55 31 45 62

Social Security Fraud

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why, in their investigation of social security fraud, Benefit Review: Report on Methodology and Findings, their category of "total fraud" includes "suggested fraud": and how strong the grounds of suspicion had to be in order to qualify for inclusion.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: To confirm fraud, corroborative evidence from a third party, such as an employer, or an admission from the customer is required. Cases in which this occurred are categorised as "confirmed fraud". To omit all instances where the evidence strongly points to the claim being fraudulent, but not enough evidence is available to confirm fraud, would have given an incomplete picture of incorrectness in the payment.

Within the report the suspicions of fraud were categorised into four levels:
level 1: could be genuine. Customers might have reported the change but not necessarily timeously
level 2: mild suspicion that fraud exists but no proof
level 3: strong suspicion that fraud exists but no proof
level 4: certain that a fraudulent situation has been discovered but insufficient information/evidence to establish the fraud.

Levels 3 and 4 only were included in the "strongly suspected" fraud referred to in the report.

Chapter 12 of the report gives examples of these frauds.

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Information Technology Services Agency

Lord Brougham and Vaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to evaluate the introduction of the Information Technology Agency Services Agency and revise the framework document, in line with the Next Steps principles.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am pleased to announce that both an evaluation report and revised framework document on the Information Technology Services Agency have been published today.

The evaluation report shows clearly that the introduction of the agency has proved successful and is a sound basis on which to build. It also sets out the many improvements that have resulted from agency status, both in the agency's specific areas of responsibility, and their positive impact on the work of this department as a whole.

Copies of both the evaluation report and revised framework document have been placed in the Library.

Inquiries about the evaluation report should be addressed to: Ms C. Thompson, Department of Social Security, Room 926, The Adelphi Building, 1–11 John Adam Street, London WC2N 6HT.

Inquiries about the revised framework document should be addressed to: Ms D. McKnight, Department of Social Security, Room 310C, North Fylde Central Offices, Norcross, Blackpool, Lancashire, FY5 3TA.

Listed Buildings and VAT

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether it was in the first place an error that alterations to listed buildings were exempted from value added tax rating, while repairs and maintenance of listed buildings were not exempted; and if so, when will this error be corrected.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The repair and maintenance of all buildings has been standard rated since the inception of VAT, although alterations were initially zero-rated. The Budget of 1984 introduced standard rating for works of alteration to all existing buildings but it was conceded during the debate that approved alterations to listed buildings would be allowed to retain the existing zero rate.

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