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War Pension Changes

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

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The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): The recent reports in the Guardian were misinformed and misleading. The changes to war pensions consist of two entirely separate elements.

As part of the departments' Change Programme we are reviewing policies to make them simpler to administer and to reduce the cost of delivery. A package of proposals which are intended to simplify the administration of war pensions has been drawn up. The proposals are subject to consultation with members of the Central Advisory Committee on War Pensions. A consultation letter was issued to the members of that Committee on 26th November explaining the proposals and giving the members until 17th January 1997 to comment. A copy of that letter has been placed in the Library. No decisions will be made until after very careful consideration has been given to the responses to the consultation letter.

The second change relates to a change in medical opinion. It was previously thought that a service related noise induced hearing loss could intensify the effect of a subsequent hearing loss due to other causes such as ageing. Authoritative medical opinion is now that such an interaction does not occur and that the maximum effect of service-related hearing loss is at release from service.

Where a medical matter needs to be determined under the War Pension Scheme, the law requires that part of the claim to be determined by a medical officer appointed by the Secretary of State. Medical officers certify whether or not a disablement is due to or aggravated by service in the armed forces and also the degree of disablement due to service. In doing so medical officers must apply current medical opinion.

No war pensioner in receipt of a war disablement pension or a war widow's pension will have their

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pension reduced or taken away as a result of either the simplification proposals or the change of medical opinion on noise induced hearing loss. If all the policy simplification proposals were to be implemented, the savings in 1997-98 would be £5 million. It is estimated that, as a result of the change in medical opinion, expenditure on war pensions will be about £10 million less in 1997-98 than it would otherwise have been. The latest estimates for expenditure on war pensions forecast an increase in overall expenditure from £1,335 million in 1996-97 to £1,342 million in 1997-98.

Crown Court Defendants Found Guilty: Corrected Statistics

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Chancellor on 2nd December (WA 34), to what they attribute the decline in the proportion of defendants tried in Crown Courts who have been found guilty each year since 1989.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern): The figures provided by the Chief Executive of the Court Service in the Written Answer on 2nd December have needed some revision and I have asked the Chief Executive to write again with details. The amended figures show that the percentage of defendants convicted following a jury trial was relatively stable for the years 1989 to 1992, fell in 1993 and 1994 but increased again in 1995 and the first part of 1996. There is therefore no consistent pattern from which to draw any firm conclusions. In any event, the conviction rate depends on the verdict of the jury based on the evidence put before them.

Letter to Lord Lester of Herne Hill from the Chief Executive of The Court Service, Mr. M. D. Huebner, dated 17th December 1996.

The Lord Chancellor has asked me to write to you again about the figures which I supplied in reply to your Question about the Crown Court conviction rate since 1989.

The figures which were included in the table as representing the total number of defendants dealt with by a jury included some where the judge had ordered a discharge before the jury was sworn. The revised figures are as follows:

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Defendants dealt with by jury27,80925,72927,00826,24723,94823,78724,38818,991
Percentage convicted57.657.256.956.151.849.350.351.1

(1) January to October only.

(2) Including jury verdicts where the defendant changed his plea to guilty during the trial.

I am sorry that the earlier figures did not make this distinction clear.

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Child Labour: UNICEF Allegations

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they accept the findings of the United Nations Children's Fund report, summarised in The Times of 12th December 1996, alleging that there are instances of child labour in Great Britain, including children working for only 10p per hour, in some cases in dangerous locations such as saw mills and building sites, and seven out of 10 British children working for money outside the family by the age of 16; if so, whether they will take steps to combat these practices; and, if not, whether they will state what they consider to be the accurate position.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege): The extreme examples of child labour quoted in The Times do not reflect the accurate position, which is that the vast majority of children who choose to work do so within the parameters of the comprehensive and long standing legal regime which exists to protect them. Local authorities and the Health and Safety Executive have powers to take action against anyone found employing a child in unlawful circumstances.

Family Health Services: White Papers

Lord HolmPatrick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have for the future of family health services.

Baroness Cumberlege: The Government today publish a White Paper, Primary Care: Delivering the Future, which responds to many of the issues raised in the primary care debate launched by the Government last year. It sets out practical proposals to improve further the quality and accessibility of primary care services and to offer improved development and career opportunities for the professionals who work in them. Primary Care: Delivering the Future complements the proposals set out in the recent White Paper, Primary Care: Choice and Opportunity. Copies of both White Papers are available in the Library.

Bus Drivers: Use of Mobile Phones

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether London bus drivers are permitted to use a mobile phone or radio while on the move.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): Drivers of London Transport bus services are expected to comply with the Highway Code with regard to the use of mobile phones. I understand that some bus companies give their drivers mobile phones for use in emergencies or for service control.

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The majority of the London bus fleet is equipped with two-way radios which have hands-free operation. The radio system is used in cases of emergency and for service control. All new London Transport bus route contracts require buses to be equipped with radios.

London Buses: Safety Enforcement

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Which organisations are responsible for the safe operation of buses in London and what are their particular terms of reference in respect of each element of safety.

Viscount Goschen: The South East and Metropolitan Traffic Commissioner is appointed by the Secretary of State for Transport and his safety responsibilities include enforcing the conduct regulations which apply to bus drivers, including those which regulate drivers' hours. He is also responsible, through the operator licensing system, for ensuring that every bus operator is of good repute and has sufficient resources to maintain vehicles and operate services safely.

The Vehicle Inspectorate Executive Agency works closely with the Traffic Commissioner. Their examiners conduct regular spot checks on vehicles and have the power to issue either a prohibition notice for significant safety related faults or a defect notice for minor defects. They also test all buses annually for roadworthiness. These checks are monitored by the agency and can trigger disciplinary action by the Traffic Commissioner if results are persistently unsatisfactory.

The Driving Standards Agency is responsible for the testing of all drivers and driving instructors for the whole of the United Kingdom.

In addition to their law enforcement role relating to traffic offences, uniformed police officers also have powers to conduct spot checks of buses and issue immediate prohibitions if serious faults are found.

The Health and Safety Executive has the power to inspect any workplace, including bus garages. In extreme cases breaches of health and safety regulations can result in the prosecution of the company and also of named individuals.

Bus operators are responsible for the safety of their services. London Transport Buses have a statutory responsibility to ensure the proper care of passengers and third parties. LT Buses regularly assess the safety performance of operators as part of their contract management responsibilities, with the aim of identifying poor performance at the earliest opportunity so that action can be taken to maintain a safe service. In extreme cases they can terminate an operator's contracts and remove the operator from the list of operators invited to tender for future contracts.

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