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Zimbabwe: Compulsory Acquisition of Farms

Lord Acton asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): We cannot be certain at the moment precisely how many of the 1,471 farms gazetted in November last year are still on the list. Six hundred and twenty-three farms were de-listed, but we understand that around 200 have been or will be re-listed.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Staff Numbers

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: On 1 April 1997 the FCO employed 3,240 permanent full-time staff equivalent and 56 casual full-time staff equivalent in London and Hanslope Park.

The corresponding figures for 1 April 1998 are 3,168 permanent full-time staff equivalent and 82 casual full-time staff equivalent.

Over the past year funding constraints have meant that the number of FCO staff in the UK and serving overseas has been significantly below the level of numbers permitted under its Authorised Establishment and required for the job in hand. This has caused strains in the system, and officers at all levels have worked hard to cover gaps in order to carry out tasks assigned. The outcome of the CSR exercise should ensure that the Office can now recruit up to the overall number required to carry out priority tasks.

Nuclear Weapons

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: As I made clear to the noble Lord on 17 June (H.L. Deb., col. 1564) developments over the past few years have shown us that real progress is more likely to result from detailed negotiations for specific agreements than from work on an all-encompassing plan. We believe this will be more productive than a single-step approach in dealing with nuclear weapons, which have played a much more prominent part in the military thinking and planning of their possessors than chemical and biological weapons have done.

Airborne Lasers

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the United States Administration has asked them whether it may operate airborne lasers from bases in Britain or in British dependent territories; and, if so, what has been their response.[HL2649]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: No such request has been received.

Minimum Wage: Impact on Benefits

Lord Barnett asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer of the Baroness Hollis of Heigham on 6 July, when the minimum wage will come into force; whether cut-off levels for benefits, including council tax and council house rent levels, will be increased correspondingly; and whether they have given consideration to the impact of the minimum wage on welfare to work.[HL2690]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): There are no plans to make changes to the cut-off levels for benefits as a direct consequence of the introduction of the national minimum wage.

The impact of the national minimum wage on council tax levels is expected to be negligible. The Government maintain a strong influence on the level of council rents through the ring-fencing of the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) and the rent guidelines assumed for the payment of HRA subsidy. Effects on costs are more likely to influence the levels of services offered rather than rents, and the impact of the national minimum wage will be only one of a range of influences on the costs of providing services to tenants.

However, following the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review of housing, local authority rents will be increased by 1 per cent. in real terms next year and by 2 per cent. in real terms in each of the following two years. Part of the increases in rents will be available for increased revenue expenditure on maintaining the stock. In addition, tenants will be given more say in how their homes are

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managed and maintained. This is part of reforms to be introduced requiring councils to plan their maintenance better and hold them accountable for investment decisions.

The National Minimum Wage is a key element in a range of policies introduced by the Government to help make work pay. Those on the New Deal will be treated in the same way as other workers of a similar age undergoing training. The Working Families Tax Credit, which is central to this Government's welfare to work strategy, will make work pay for a further 400,000 families, by guaranteeing a minimum income, above and beyond the level of the minimum wage.

The structure which we are proposing for the minimum wage is therefore consistent with our aim of getting people from welfare to work.


Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the examination of the side-effects of the drug Viagra will include the possiblity of increased sexual crime and abuse as a result of taking the drug.[HL2830]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington): An application for a marketing authorisation for Viagra is under consideration through the centralised procedure of the European Union medicines regulatory system. Once authorised for marketing in the EU, all side effects collected worldwide will continue to be closely monitored.

Medical Workforce Standing Advisory Committee: Report

Lord Thomas of Macclesfield asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will announce the Government's response to the Third Report of the Medical Workforce Standing Advisory Committee.[HL3005]

Baroness Jay of Paddington: We are very pleased to tell the House that the Government accept the main recommendation of the Third Report of the Medical Workforce Standing Advisory Committee (MWSAC), that the annual intake of medical students in the United Kingdom should be increased by about 1,000.

The Government intend to phase the increase, so that approximately 5,450 students will be admitted by the year 2001 and approximately 6,000 will be admitted by 2005. This will allow the expansion in facilities dedicated to medical education to take place in a planned and orderly manner, and will allow the increase to be reviewed over time in the light of other work on medical productivity, the recruitment and retention of doctors, and more generally, the future role of doctors and other professionals.

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In parallel with the phased increase, the Government will seek to engage the medical profession and others in discussions about the future shape of the healthcare workforce, including such issues as productivity and skill substitution, and the implications for education and training.

The full response to the MWSAC recommendations has been placed in the Library.

Department for Education and Employment: Reviews

Baroness Hamwee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many of the reviews currently being undertaken by the Department for Education and Employment will be published during the parliamentary summer Recess.[HL2781]

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): During the parliamentary summer Recess we are intending to announce the results of the following reviews:

    1. The employment provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and small employers (probably August).

    2. First report of the Skills Task Force (September).

Recruitment to EU Academic Posts

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What representations they have made to other European Union member governments about barriers to the recruitment of nationals of European Union states, including the United Kingdom, to academic posts.[HL2861]

Baroness Blackstone: Her Majesty's Government have made no such representations.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether access for British citizens to posts in higher education institutions in other European Union member states is as open as access for citizens of other European Union member states to posts in British higher education institutions.[HL2860]

Baroness Blackstone: Article 48 of the Treaty establishing the European Community requires the abolition of any discrimination based on nationality between workers from EU member states as regards employment. Her Majesty's Government have no reason to believe that the commitment of other member state governments to meeting this obligation is any less strong than their own.

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Strangers' Galleries: Visitor Numbers

Lord Kilbracken asked the Chairman of Committees:

    How many people were admitted to the Strangers' Gallery in (a) the House of Lords and (b) the House of Commons in the 12 months before and after the last general election; and what is his estimate, in each case, of the average time they were waiting between joining the queue and reaching the Gallery.[HL2750]

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): In the House of Lords, 58,350 people were admitted to the Strangers' Gallery between May 1996 and April 1997, and 56,937 people were admitted between May 1997 and April 1998. I understand that it is unusual for visitors to wait for more than five minutes before being admitted to the Gallery.

In the Commons, the figures I have been given are for calendar years. In 1996, 146,408 people were admitted to their Strangers' Gallery, and in 1997 121,838 were admitted. In this year to 17 July, 133,356 people have been admitted. I have no information on the average waiting times in the House of Commons.

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