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NHS Waiting Lists

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Jay of Paddington: They have not. We inherited a record number of patients on National Health Service waiting lists and a rising trend in the size of the list. In our first year in office we made sure that the NHS averted a winter crisis. NHS waiting lists have increased despite delivering record amounts of hospital care in 1997-98. In March, we announced an extra £500 million to tackle waiting lists this year--which means a total of £2 billion extra for the NHS since coming into office. In the coming year we will use these extra resources to reverse the upward trend in waiting lists and deliver a record reduction so that by next April they are below the level we inherited. This will be the first step in delivering our pledge to bring waiting lists down by 100,000 over the life of the Parliament.

Disabled Living Allowance and BIP

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): We welcome the important contribution made by the Social Security Select Committee's report to the debate about Disability Living Allowance (DLA). We will be making a full response to the report in due course and in doing so we will adhere to the usual conventions set out by the Procedure Committee. We are keen to ensure that we consult fully with organisations of and for disabled people on the kind of issues raised in this report. I will be taking this forward in the Disability Benefits Forum we are setting up. The letter from the Permanent Secretary to the chairman of the Social Security Select Committee, which is reproduced at annex 12 to their report, sets out the position on ministerial knowledge of the Benefit Integrity Project (BIP).

Reasonable Doubt: Interpretation

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Sir Kenneth Calman, the Chief Medical Officer and chairman of the team reviewing the scientific basis of the assessment of noise

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induced hearing loss in war pensions, wrote to the expert members of the review team on 12 November 1997 and 22 December 1997 enclosing information on the legal context of the review, including guidance on how to interpret reasonable doubt. I have arranged for copies of the letters and attachments to be placed in the Library.

The information note attached to the letter of 12 November refers, in the fourth paragraph, to the case of Miller. This mention was erroneous; the case of Miller did not deal with the question of reliable evidence to raise a reasonable doubt. The reference should have been to the case of Edwards, which is cited again, and quoted, later in the note. A copy of the decision in Miller will, however, be included with the papers placed in the Library.

Droit de Suite

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether their support for artists includes support for droit de suite; and, if not, why not.[HL2103]

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Clinton-Davis): The Government are opposed to the introduction of droit de suite into the United Kingdom. It would damage the international competitiveness of the London art market and lead to the displacement of sales from London to places where the right does not exist.

Studies made by my department estimate that British auctioneers and dealers could lose earnings of up to £68 million per year, involving up to 5,000 job losses, whereas at best (assuming no displacement of sales and no drop in prices) artists from across the EU could expect royalties of around £9.8 million. Of this, British artists' would probably get no more than £2 million. The majority probably would get little if anything: in France 75 per cent. of the royalties go to just five families--mainly the heirs of Picasso.

The Government cannot support a proposal where the potential costs far outweigh the potential benefits.

Agricultural Gangmasters

Lord Hughes of Woodside asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action is being taken to combat exploitative activities by agricultural gangmasters.[HL2176]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): The Government have been very concerned about the activities of certain agricultural gangmasters who exploit workers, defraud the government and undermine the businesses of those gangmasters who work fairly within the law providing an essential service to the agriculture industry and ultimately the consumer. We therefore set up an interdepartmental working party to investigate the issue. Its report has now been placed in the Library of the House.

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In light of the findings and recommendations of the interdepartmental working party and discussions with the industry, we are putting in place a set of measures to tackle the abuses by a significant minority of gangmasters of workers' rights and of non-compliance and fraud against taxation, National Insurance, benefit and immigration systems.

The Government are launching "Operation Gangmaster". This cross-departmental initiative will bring together the work of up to eight different enforcement agencies. The core of this pilot operation will be joint visits concentrating initially on illegal practices in Lincolnshire and East Anglia. Such visits have already occurred this season and one is in train today. This will be supported by general co-operation between enforcement officers alerting other departments to possible illegal activities. Departments will also co-operate in in-depth investigations into illegal gangmaster activities.

In addition enforcement officers in all relevant government departments throughout the country are being briefed on the legislative framework applicable to gangmasters; this will greatly assist strong enforcement and further cement co-operation between departments.

Additional support to Operation Gangmaster will be provided through the Government's Business Anti-Fraud Hot Line. Here the drive to identify fraudulent employers will be helpful in identifying those gangmasters who knowingly employ benefit claimants. Other measures being taken by the Government, including implementing the Working Time Directive and the National Minimum Wage, will contribute to improving the position of casual workers.

Importantly, for the first time, gangmasters, farmers and workers will all be informed of their rights and obligations through leaflets which are being issued widely today. These provide a comprehensive picture of all the relevant aspects of law relevant to gangmasters and the people they employ, covering responsibilities of several different government departments. No one should be in doubt as to their rights or obligations under the law, or be able to claim ignorance of the law, if caught abusing their workers.

I am delighted also that the agricultural and horticultural industries are taking their responsibilities seriously too. The code of practice being launched by the National Farmers' Union and the Fresh Produce Consortium today is an important step. It will be of great assistance to all farmers, growers and pack house operators in understanding the relevant law and best practice to be adopted. I very much welcome that the retail sector have given their support to this code as an initial stage towards controlling gangmasters.

For the longer term, the Government are continuing to examine the scope for registration of agricultural gangmasters and ways to assist the unemployed to take up seasonal agricultural employment more easily, reducing the temptation to work while on benefit and laying individuals open to exploitation by gangmasters.

This comprehensive approach, combining the strength of the several enforcement agencies and providing full information on rights and obligations to workers and

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employers, and the role the industry itself is playing to tackle the problem of abuse by gangmasters, is breaking new ground.

Food Standards Agency: White Paper

Baroness Turner of Camden asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What responses there have been to the public consultation on the White Paper, The Food Standards Agency: A Force for Change.[HL2057]

Lord Donoughue: The Government have received over a thousand responses to public consultation on the Food Standards Agency White Paper, reflecting the considerable importance that the British public attaches to issues of food safety and standards. The responses show widespread support for the general thrust of our proposals.

The many useful comments we have received will inform the preparation of draft legislation, which will be published later in the summer for a final round of public consultation. We will also issue a detailed paper for separate consultation on the proposal to charge the food industry for a greater proportion of food safety costs. The Government are considering, alongside the White Paper responses, the comments made by the Agriculture Select Committee in its recent report on food safety, and will publish its response in due course.

I have placed in the Library of the House copies of those responses to the White Paper for which confidentiality was not requested by the respondent. These are accompanied by an alphabetical index and a summary of comments on individual parts of the Government's proposals. All will be available in the Library for the next six months.

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