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Pay Television: Channel Bundling

Viscount Astor asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Following consideration of a number of competition issues relating to the practice of channel bundling in the retail pay television market, the ITC concluded that a number of anti-competitive practices exist in the retail pay television market which restrict viewer choice. The ITC is currently considering responses received to a consultation exercise on its proposed remedies and will reach its determination in due course.

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Palace of Westminster: Stone Cleaning and Restoration

Lord Steel of Aikwood asked the Chairman of Committees:

    What has been the expenditure each year on cleaning and repairing the stonework of the Palace of Westminster since the programme began in the 1970s; and what are the estimates of future annual expenditure.[HL2021]

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): I do not have the annual figures for expenditure by the Department of the Environment before the establishment in 1992 of the Parliamentary Works Directorate, although I understand that a total of £21 million was spent on cleaning and restoring the external elevations of the Palace of Westminster between 1981 and 1993.

Between 1992 and 1997, expenditure on cleaning and repairs to Victoria Tower and Speaker's Court was as follows:

YearVictoria TowerSpeaker's CourtTotal

In this year, committees of both Houses have authorised the expenditure of £180,000 for stone cleaning and restoration within the Palace and its internal courtyards.

NHS Trust Appointments: Vacancies

Earl Howe asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many NHS trust chairmen and non-executive posts, which fell due for reappointment in October or November, remain vacant.[HL2051]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington): Sixty-three posts relating to the 1997 National Health Service trust appointments round remain vacant, including eight for chairmen and 55 for non-executives. This represents approximately 2.7 per cent. of all trust board appointments.

NHS Fundholding: Savings from Abolition

Earl Howe asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many managers currently engaged in NHS primary care they expect to be made redundant as a result of the abolition of fundholding; how much they expect such redundancies to cost; and what annual saving in management costs they expect will be achieved as a result of the reorganisation of NHS primary care.[HL2052]

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Baroness Jay of Paddington: We hope that those staff skilled in primary care commissioning will be retained wherever possible at the practice, primary care group, or health authority level. Recent guidance (HSC 1998/065) asked health authorities, in partnership with shadow primary care groups, to start work on strategies to manage the human resource issues flowing from the transition to primary care groups, including arrangements for displaced staff. The scope for clearing house arrangements is under consideration. It is therefore too early to estimate the potential costs of redundancies.

Our estimates are that in total the Government's changes to the National Health Service will yield savings in bureaucracy and management costs, freeing up £1 billion for patient care over five years. Within this, general practitioner fundholding (which covered a minority of hospital and community health services for half the population) will be replaced by primary care groups covering all services across the whole of the population, while containing expenditure to a level below that planned by the previous government for fundholding administration in 1997-98.

Cosmetic Contact Lenses

Earl Howe asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will examine the case for regulating the sale of cosmetic contact lenses.[HL2053]

Baroness Jay of Paddington: The sale of cosmetic (plano) contact lenses is subject to the General Product Safety Regulations 1994. We keep this arrangement under review.

Wales Industrial and Maritime Museum

Lord Hooson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether a suitable and proper site has been obtained for the Welsh Industrial and Maritime Museum in Cardiff Bay to take the place of the vacated site made available for a shopping development.[HL2048]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): Decisions on a replacement for the Wales Industrial and Maritime Museum are the responsibility of the Council of the National Museums and Galleries of Wales (NMGW). The Government understand that negotiations are in progress between NMGW and the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation on a possible site in the Cardiff Bay area.

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Sex Offenders: Child Protection Measures

Baroness Young of Old Scone asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking to prevent sex offenders from being employed in occupations with access to children and to prevent children being abused by people who are in a position of trust over them.[HL2136]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: There are a number of statutory safeguards already in place. Criminal record checks are available on people working in the statutory sector where they have substantial unsupervised access to children. They are also available on teachers in the private and voluntary sectors. The Police Act 1997 contains provisions which will widen access to criminal record checks when they are implemented. The Sex Offenders Act 1997 imposes a requirement on those convicted or cautioned for sex offences against children and other serious sex offences to notify the police of their name and address and any changes to these. This allows the police to monitor sex offenders in the community and to take action where appropriate to warn potential employers of any risk they might present. The Government have made it clear that such information must not just sit on a computer or gather dust on a file, and the Police and Probation Services have responded positively and responsibly in using this information for the protection of children and vulnerable adults, as intended.

The Government are also introducing sex offender orders in the Crime and Disorder Bill [H.L.] which will apply to sex offenders if their behaviour indicates a possible threat to the public. The courts will be able to make an order to impose prohibitions necessary to protect the community.

There are also a number of other measures in place to prevent those considered unsuitable to work with children from gaining employment with them. The Department for Education and Employment maintains "List 99", which contains information about people the Secretary of State has barred from working in schools; the Department of Health operates a Consultancy Service Index which enables local authorities and private and voluntary childcare organisations in England and Wales to check on suitability of those they propose to employ; and many professional bodies have codes of conduct which set out members' responsibilities in this area and provide for disciplinary action to be taken when these codes are breached.

We are concerned that these safeguards are not fully integrated and that there is a need for a more streamlined approach to ensure that there are no loopholes. For this reason, the Government are setting up an interdepartmental working group of officials to consider additional safeguards to prevent those who are unsuitable from working with children, including the possibility of a central register backed up by a new criminal offence to prevent those on the register

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applying for work with children. In looking at this subject, the group will draw upon the consultation exercise Sex Offenders: A Ban on Working with Children; and on recommendations made in the report of Sir William Utting's review of safeguards for children living away from home (particularly those recommendations dealing with choosing the right staff) and the Government's response to this review, which is expected to be published by the Ministerial Task Force on the Children's Safeguards Review in the summer. The group will also consider whether further measures are necessary to protect 16 and 17 year-olds who may be vulnerable to abuse by those in a position of trust, such as carers, teachers and leaders of organised residential activities. It is expected that the group will make its final recommendations to Ministers by the end of the year.

Cuba: Debt Conversion

Viscount Astor asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress the Export Credit Guarantee Department (ECGD) has made on debt conversion with regard to Cuba; and whether the ECGD will be able to offer cash benefit for Cuban debts rescheduled through the Paris Club arrangements.[HL2045]

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Clinton-Davis): ECGD's debt conversion scheme enables local currency funds to be released to the purchaser of debt rescheduled through the Paris Club for investment in approved projects in the countries concerned. To date, ECGD has not sold any Cuban Paris Club debt for conversion. Any proposal to buy such debt would be subject to the agreement of both the Cuban authorities and ECGD.

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