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Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, 22 September

Baroness Lestor of Eccles asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Richard: The September 1997 Part-Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe will be opened in Strasbourg on 22 September. The delegation from the United Kingdom for the session will consist of 23 members of the Labour Party, nine of the Conservative Party and four members from the minority parties. The delegation will serve in place of the current delegation from the opening of the September 1997 Part-Session.

The appointments of representatives and substitutes have been made on the basis of nominations by the parties concerned, in accordance with the resolution of the House of Commons on 22 May 1992, Official Report, column 682, and of this House on 18 June 1992, cols. 290 to 292.

The same delegation will be representing the United Kingdom Parliament at the Assembly of the Western European Union. Representatives from the Government benches will be:

The Hon. Member for Birmingham Hodge Hill (Mr. Davies), who will act as leader; the Hon. Members for Tooting (Mr. Cox), for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe), for Sunderland North (Mr. Etherington), for Newport West (Mr. Fynn), for Glasgow Maryhill (Maria Fyfe), for Hull North (Mr. McNamara), for Leicester South (Mr. Marshall), for Knowsley South (Mr. O'Hara), for Glasgow Baillieston (Mr. Wray), Lord Kirkhill and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede. Representatives from the Conservative Party will be:

The Hon. Members for Bournemouth East (Mr. Atkinson, for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman), for Yorkshire East (Mr. Townend) and the Lord Newall. Representatives from the minority parties will be:

The Rt. Hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) and Lord Russell-Johnston. The following substitutes have been appointed to act as necessary on behalf of the delegates.

From the Government Benches--the Hon. Members for Keighley (Ann Cryer), for Wolverhampton South West (Jenny Jones), for Bristol North West (Mr. Naysmith), for Dover (Mr. Prosser), for Stourbridge (Debra Shipley), for Basildon (Angela Smith), for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith), for Leicestershire North West (Mr. Taylor), for

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Finchley and Golders Green (Mr. Vis) Lord Grenfell and Lord Judd.

From the Conservative Party--the Hon. Members for Romsey (Mr. Colvin), for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles), for Solihull (Mr. Taylor), for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) and the Earl of Dundee.

From the minority parties--the Hon. Member for Portsmouth South (Mr. Hancock) and the Lord Steel of Aikwood.

Minister for Trade and Competitiveness in Europe

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How often, since his appointment as Minister for Trade and Competitiveness in Europe, Lord Simon of Highbury has made himself available for questioning by Parliament and how often he has given interviews to representatives of the media.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Simon of Highbury): Since 14 May I have answered two starred questions and participated in three debates.

I have been, and will continue to be, available to speak to the media when appropriate opportunities arise.

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Minister for Trade and Competitiveness in Europe, Lord Simon of Highbury, has attended any meetings concerned with energy policy or the oil and gas industries since his appointment.

Lord Simon of Highbury: The Minister attends meetings where they are relevant to his responsibilities and do not give rise to conflicts of interest. The Minister for Science, Energy and Industry is responsible for energy policy and the oil and gas industries.

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    From how many meetings of Ministers or with officials in the European Commission the Minister for Trade and Competitiveness in Europe, Lord Simon of Highbury, has absented himself since his appointment in order to avoid conflict of interest.

Lord Simon of Highbury: None.

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    From how many meetings within government the Minister for Trade and Competitiveness in Europe, Lord Simon of Highbury, has been excluded or absented himself in order to avoid a conflict of interest since his appointment.

Lord Simon of Highbury: The arrangements in place ensure that the question does not arise.

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International Development: DTI Collaboration

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the White Paper on International Development will necessitate policy changes at the Department of Trade and Industry, and if so, whether such changes will be described in the White Paper.

Lord Simon of Highbury: My department is currently working with the Department for International Development and others to consider the ways in which UK trade and commercial policies can promote sustainable development. The Government's forthcoming White Paper on International Development will set out the detail of policies designed to achieve that objective.

Gas Liberalisation

Baroness Miller of Hendon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Minister for Competitiveness in Europe will play any part in negotiations or European Council meetings to secure a gas liberalisation directive.

Lord Simon of Highbury: The Minister for Science, Energy and Industry will lead these negotiations in the Energy Council, which I would not expect to attend.

Parental Leave: Costs to Schools and the NHS

Baroness Denton of Wakefield asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the estimated cost to the NHS and to schools of introducing via the EU Social Chapter a right to parental leave, expressed in terms of (a) money and (b) time.

Lord Simon of Highbury: The precise costs and benefits of the Parental Leave Directive will depend on how it is implemented in the United Kingdom. The timetable for implementation has not yet been finalised, but the Government intend to consult on the best way to implement the directive.

Late Payment

Baroness Denton of Wakefield asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What percentage of monies overdue to businesses defined as small businesses by their criteria is from other small businesses.

Lord Simon of Highbury: Recent work undertaken on small and medium sized businesses by Grant Thornton showed that 34 per cent. of those surveyed

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identified large enterprises as having the longest payment periods in the UK compared to small enterprises at 28 per cent. This is supported by a Lloyds Bank survey which found that 52 per cent. of those surveyed stated that large enterprises were the worst late payers compared to 38 per cent. for small businesses.

The Government are determined to promote a more ethical payment culture in the UK and that is why we have responded to the calls from small businesses and announced a new package of measures to tackle late payment, including the introduction of The Fair Payment of Commercial Debts Bill.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they intend to ensure that the European Commission pays British companies promptly; and what is the current record of such payment.

Lord Simon of Highbury: The Government are committed to changing the payment culture that exists in the UK. We will work closely with the European Commission and other member states to ensure that small businesses are paid promptly both in domestic and European markets.

The European Commission has since 1991 a target of paying all bills within 60 days. For 1996 the average payment time by the Commission was 43.1 days.

I understand that, in order to improve its payment performance, the European Commission decided on 10 June 1997 to pay interest on all payments which are made after more than 60 days. This is in line with the recommendation on payment periods in commercial transactions issued by the European Commission to member states of 12 May 1995.

Expanding Ammunition for Humane Killing

Lord HolmPatrick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether it is still lawful to possess soft-nosed ammunition for the purpose of the humane killing of animals and, if not, whether legislation will be prepared to allow such possession.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): Yes. Section 10 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 allows expanding ammunition to be held on a specially conditioned firearm certificate or visitor's firearm permit for use in connection with shooting of deer or vermin; other wildlife in connection with estate management; the humane killing of animals; or the shooting of animals for the protection of other animals or humans. It also provides an exemption for registered firearms dealers who possess expanding ammunition in the ordinary course of their business.

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Prison Service: Parliamentary Questions

Lord Merlyn-Rees asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What arrangements have been set in place to deal with Questions and correspondence on prison matters in England and Wales.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I announced on 15 May that in future all parliamentary Questions about the Prison Service in England and Wales will be answered by a Home Office Minister and not by the Director General or another senior Prison Service official. I made clear that this will enable Ministers to answer personally to Parliament for what is done in our prisons rather than leave it to their civil servants.

The Government have made clear that we have no plans to end the Prison Service's status as an executive agency. It has been the practice, since the service became an agency in April 1993, for the Director General to deal with correspondence from Peers and honourable Members on matters which fall within his delegated responsibilities. Peers and honourable Members have been encouraged to write directly to the Director General on such matters, or where they see fit, to governors of individual establishments. In this way day-to-day management matters, often concerning the case of an individual constituent, can be dealt with more efficiently and expeditiously.

Where it is appropriate, Peers should continue to write directly to the Prison Service in this manner.

Correspondence to the Director General should be sent to:

    Mr. Richard Tilt

    Director General

    HM Prison Service

    Cleland House

    Page Street


    Fax: 0171 217 6403

The Prison Service Secretariat can deal with queries about correspondence sent to the Director General (the Correspondence Unit can be contacted by telephone on 0171 217 6740).

If Peers write to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, and my honourable friend the Minister of State (Ms Quin), or myself about day-to-day prison management issues, we will normally ask the Director General to reply in the first instance. However, if Peers are not content with the reply received from the Director General, they should take the matter up with Ministers in writing or by way of a parliamentary Question.

Correspondence about the way in which Ministers exercise their responsibility for the Prison Service, including the strategic direction of the service and overall issues of policy and resources, should continue to be addressed to Ministers, as should correspondence about decisions relating to the release of prisoners on parole or life licence.

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These arrangements are intended to clarify lines of accountability and to ensure that Peers receive replies as quickly as possible. We are most happy to deal with any concerns that Peers may have about these arrangements.

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