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9 Jul 1997 : Column WA77

Written Answers

Wednesday, 9th July 1997.

Titan 3 Pyramid Selling Scheme

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they propose to take to protect consumers from the activities of the pyramid selling scheme known as Titan 3.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Clinton-Davis): It is my department's policy not to comment on the affairs of individual companies.

However, the department has taken action against a number of money circulation schemes. The Court of Appeal, in a case which attracted considerable press coverage, stated that such schemes "involve those who set up, promote, purvey and administer the scheme in criminal offences". My department has powers to regulate trading schemes operating within the UK, including money circulation schemes, under the Trading Schemes Act 1996.

If the noble Lord has any information concerning the company referred to in his Question no doubt he will arrange for it to be forwarded to the department.


Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in the light of medical evidence that tobacco is at once addictive, seriously damaging to health and absorbs scarce medical resources, they will now seek to ensure that international trade in tobacco and tobacco products is considered part of the drug trade, and that restrictions on those trades cannot be cited at the World Trade Organisation as unlawful restraint.

Lord Clinton-Davis: Tobacco is not subject to the UN Conventions on narcotic and psychotropic substances and the Government have no plans to control it under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

Nevertheless, smoking results in serious health problems. The Government are committed to banning tobacco advertising, and the Minister of State for Public Health is holding an international summit on smoking on 14 July. The summit will consider next steps in order to reduce smoking and its conclusions will inform the development of a White Paper, to be published later in the year. The White Paper will include proposals for legislation to ban tobacco advertising and other measures.

The World Trade Organisation does not prevent restrictions being put in place if they are necessary to protect human life or health. Any such restrictions must be based on sound scientific evidence and must not be applied in a discriminatory manner. Any restrictions on

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imports would therefore need to be matched by restrictions on similar domestic products.

Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill

Lord Chesham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they support the countryside rally on 10 July; whether they consider that the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill would create "work to welfare" in the countryside; and whether they will hold a referendum amongst country people on the effects of the Bill.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): The Government manifesto commitment is to allow a free vote on whether there should be a ban on hunting with hounds. The Private Member's Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill is now before Parliament.

The effect of any hunting ban on employment in the countryside will need to be addressed. There are no plans to hold a referendum on the effects of the Bill.

Immigration and Nationality Directorate: New Caseworking System

The Earl of Haddington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will publish full details of the information technology programmes currently being planned and implemented to update the Immigration and Nationality Directorate and Immigration Service; what the programmes are expected to achieve; what stages of implementation are planned; and when they are expected to be fully implemented; and

    What companies are responsible for project management and the supply of computer hardware and software in relation to the information technology programmes currently being planned and implemented to update the Immigration and Nationality Directorate and Immigration Service; and what penalties are included in their contracts for failure to deliver to cost, on time and to quality; and

    Whether they will place in the Library of the House copies of all documentation relating to the computerisation of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, the document reception centre, the public enquiry office and the casework programme.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Casework Programme, to which the noble Earl's questions refer, is a service-provision contract awarded to Siemens Business Services (SBS) under the Private Finance Initiative. Under the terms of that contract SBS are to design, build, finance and operate a new computerised caseworking system for the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND). Payments will be made to SBS on the basis of the efficiency improvements achieved by IND in consequence of the services provided under the contract. The detailed arrangements are commercially confidential.

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I have arranged for a copy of a report describing the IND Casework Programme to be placed in the Library, and I shall make similar arrangements for copies of the contract with SBS, minus the commercially sensitive schedule detailing the charging arrangements.

Vaccine Damage Payment Scheme

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action, if any, they propose to take to improve the Vaccine Damage Compensation Scheme, with particular reference to the 80 per cent. disability and six year rules.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): The Vaccine Damage Payment Scheme is currently being considered.

Pensioners and National Prosperity

Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:

    With reference to the statement in the Labour Party manifesto that "we believe that all pensioners should share fairly in the increasing prosperity of the nation", whether they intend to uprate the state pension in line with GDP; or, if not, what else they mean by "share fairly".

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: There are many ways in which pensioners can share in rising national prosperity--through contributory pension entitlements, through other benefits, or through the income derived from savings.

We will retain the basic state pension as the foundation of pension provision and increase its value at least in line with prices.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State will shortly be announcing details of a review of the central areas of insecurity for elderly people. All aspects of the basic pension and its value will be included in our review. We believe that it should provide the foundation of security in retirement. Our priority is to get help to Britain's poorest pensioners and we are commissioning research into why around a million pensioners fail to claim the income support to which they are entitled.

Single Mothers and Benefit

Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:

    With reference to the statement in the Labour Party manifesto that "one million single mothers are trapped on benefit", how they distinguish between those who are trapped on benefit and those who are not trapped; and how many single mothers on benefit are (a) trapped and (b) not trapped according to the latest available figures.

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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: This Government's approach is to help lone mothers improve their family income by helping them into work. This is a high priority for the Government and we will give lone mothers opportunities to move into work as part of our welfare to work programme.

In May 1996, there were 1.1 million lone mothers in receipt of income support, and 300,000 in receipt of family credit. Roughly three-quarters of all lone parents on income support at the beginning of a year are still there 12 months later--a proportion which has stayed roughly constant for several years. Research also suggests that a high proportion--over 70 per cent.--of lone mothers on income support feel trapped (DSS Research Report Moving off Income Support: Barriers and Bridges).

Lone mothers on income support are also restricted in their income mobility and their economic mobility. Research shows that lone-mother families are less likely to make a transition out of low income than the population as a whole. Of those in the bottom 30 per cent. of the income distribution in 1991, eight out of 10 of those in lone-mother families were still there in 1994, compared with two-thirds of the population as a whole (British Household Panel Survey).

Young Unemployed People and Housing Benefit

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they accept the findings of the National Association of Citizen's Advice Bureaux publication, Housing Benefit--The Unkindest Cut, that housing benefit restrictions introduced by the previous government are making people under 25 "an increasingly transient unsettled group", and that this transience may hamper the Government's welfare to work programme.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The best thing a government can do for young unemployed people is to help them back into work. This is precisely the reason we are introducing the New Deal, which will give work, education and other opportunities to young unemployed people aged 18 to 24 who have been unemployed for over six months. They will be offered a choice of:

    a job, with employers offered a £60-a-week rebate for six months;

    work in the voluntary sector;

    work for the new Environmental Task Force;

    for young people without qualifications an opportunity to study on a full-time approved course. This will give the young employed real choices to improve their employability and their chances of getting back into the labour market.

We are committed to a review of the social security system as a whole, including housing benefit. We want a modernised system which will tackle poverty and welfare dependency and promote work incentives. The

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housing benefit restrictions we inherited from the previous government are included in this review. We have already announced our intention to revoke the extension of the single room rent to people aged 25 to 59, and we are gathering evidence on the impact of the single room rent for the under 25s. Information is being collected from a sample of local authorities on an ongoing basis and officials are meeting local authorities, advice agencies and rent officers to obtain early, direct information on the impact of the changes. A survey has also been commissioned to obtain information on housing benefit and the private rented sector: the results are expected next summer. Reports such as the one produced by the National Association of Citizen's Advice Bureaux will also form part of this information.

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