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Earl Ferrers: It was announced on 23rd November 1995 that the Health and Safety Executive was to undertake a prior options review of the Health and Safety Laboratory. The review concluded that the functions performed by the Health and Safety Laboratory are needed and that it should remain in the public sector as an agency of the Health and Safety Executive. Since 1st April, the Health and Safety Laboratory has been subject to a net running cost regime, a move which is radically transforming the way in which it performs as a contractor for scientific services. The Government are content with this progress and have asked, in addition, that a framework be established for procurement by the Health and Safety Executive against challenging targets for competition in both research and reactive work.
The Government have agreed with the recommendation of the steering committee for the review that the development of a rigorous competitive framework is important in ensuring that the size of the core functions carried out by the Health and Safety Laboratory for the Health and Safety Executive is kept to an effective minimum.
The Health and Safety Executive is committed to procuring its research and reactive work in a competitive regime involving the Health and Safety Laboratory and other suppliers. In addition, the executive will aim to increase the proportion of its research that is carried out in collaboration with industry. The Health and Safety Executive's performance as a customer will be monitored through statistics which will be published in the annual Forward Look of Government-funded Science, Engineering and Technology.
These steps will enable the Health and Safety Laboratory to build upon the success of its first year as an agency, while continuing to ensure that the Health and Safety Executive has access to the best advice available when dealing with issues relating to health and safety.
The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): The Department of Social Security's national insurance recording system (NIRS) holds approximately 64 million national insurance number records. All of these numbers remain valid, including those which relate to deceased persons' national insurance contribution records. The only circumstance in which a national insurance number is cancelled on the death of the account holder is where a person dies before reaching age 16, the minimum age for payment of national insurance contributions.
Deceased persons' national insurance accounts have to be retained on the national insurance recording system in order to allow dependants access to contributory benefits based on the deceased's national insurance contributions. In the case of retirement pension this can be many years after the death has occurred.
All deaths registered with the General Registration Service are notified automatically. On receipt of a notification of death, this information is relayed to the relevant NIRS account. Any subsequent activity on the NIRS account is investigated and benefit payment systems automatically prevent inappropriate use of that record for benefit processing.
A total of 54,138,915 national health insurance numbers were registered as being in use in England and Wales on 4th July 1996. These include all persons originally registered for healthcare in Scotland or Northern Ireland who are currently resident and registered for healthcare in England or Wales.
All deaths registered in the United Kingdom and deaths of British citizens overseas are notified via the General Registration Service to the National Health Service Central Register for England and Wales. A "death posting stop mark" is then placed on the person's record on the National Health Service Central Register. The health authority where the person is registered is notified and applies a "death posting stop mark" to its own records as well as notifying the general practitioner, operators of health screening systems, child health systems and the United Kingdom Organ Donor Service (TSSA). The "death posting stop mark" prevents any future use of the National Health Service number. The patient's records are retrieved from the general practitioner's surgery. The patient's details and National Health Service number are retained on historic files for the statutory period, now up to 25 years.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The Motability scheme was founded in 1977 by the late Lord Goodman and Lord Sterling with all-party support. It is a unique example of collaboration between the public, voluntary and private sectors. This independent charity enables severely disabled people receiving mobility allowance (replaced by the higher rate mobility component of disability living allowance from April 1992) or war pensioners mobility supplement to gain access to personal transport. Currently over ¼ million disabled people enjoy the benefits of the scheme.
The National Audit Office (NAO) published a report about the Motability scheme on 18th July. The NAO report examines whether the scheme offers value-for-money to disabled people and how Motability monitors the quality of service the scheme provides. The report also looks at how the department monitors Motability's activities against the conditions of the grant-in-aid provided. The NAO report concludes that the scheme provides good value for money to disabled people. It also notes that the department has improved its oversight of Motability by setting out in a financial memorandum the accountability arrangements for the grant-in-aid towards Motability's administration costs and holding six-monthly meetings to monitor progress.
The NAO makes sensible recommendations for improvements in Motability's customer service and oversight of service providers. Motability has already begun to implement these recommendations and many are now in place.
The code of practice, which has now been approved by Parliament, will come into force on 2nd December, the same day as the employment provisions will be commenced. The code gives practical guidance through a wide range of examples to illustrate how employers and others can comply with the employment provisions, although the action required in any given situation will depend on the particular circumstances. By publishing the code now we are giving employers and others affected by the employment provisions time to familiarise themselves with its guidance and take whatever action they wish in order to prepare for implementation of the new duties and rights.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege): We have received a report of an independent review of the 1960 Act, copies of which have been placed in the Library. We welcome the report and support its conclusion that new legislation is needed to streamline existing arrangements. We intend to prepare and consult widely on draft legislation based on the broad principles it establishes.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): None. The application now before Parliament includes cost estimates and a funding statement. If Parliament approves the proposals, it will be for Central Railways plc to raise the necessary capital to take the application forward.
I understand from Central Railways plc that the directors of the company are Andrew Gritten (chairman), Alan Stevens (finance director), Robert Rafferty and Jacqueline Elton (both executive directors), Michael Butcher, Bryce Cottrell, Ian Hunter QC and John Kramer (all non-executive directors).
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