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Referendums: Nolan Committee Recommendations

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Government have welcomed the main findings in the report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life on The Funding of Political Parties in the United Kingdom, and we intend to publish a draft Bill before this year's Summer Recess with a view to having controls in place by the time of the next general election.

Children and the NHS

Lord Walton of Detchant asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Hayman): We accept entirely that children's healthcare needs differ from those of adults and that provision should be made to address those needs. The needs and interests of children are receiving specific attention by topic working groups set up to advise on National Health Service priorities for research and development in primary care, mental health, cancer and heart disease.

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Ethnic Minority Pupils

Baroness Uddin asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In light of the Ofsted report into the critical underachievement of Bangladeshi children, which of the recommendations with reference to education in the House of Commons Home Affairs Sub-Committee Report (HC96 (Session 1986-87)) have been implemented; and[HL1699]

    With reference to Bangladeshi children, what measures they are taking in light of the Ofsted report into underachievement of ethnic minorities.[HL1700]

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): Following the Home Affairs Sub-Committee Report, Bangladeshis in Britain, a number of government initiatives have been introduced which addressed its educational recommendations. These include: collection of data on school pupils' ethnicity; commissioning of research into ethnic minority pupil achievement; and continued specific grant support and annual monitoring (under the Home Office Section 11 programme) of provision for the needs of ethnic minority pupils and in particular those for whom English is an additional (EAL).

This Government have made clear their commitment to equality of opportunity and to raising educational standards for all pupils. They have introduced a raft of measures aimed at raising standards, many of which will be of particular benefit to ethnic minority pupils, such as the national literacy and numeracy strategies and the development of education action zones, which will often include high numbers of pupils from ethnic minority groups. The Government have also taken specific action to break the cycle of disadvantage for minority ethnic pupils and create equal opportunities for all. In particular they have consulted on how best to monitor ethnic minority pupils' performance at national, local and school level and have developed plans to introduce new arrangements for the collection of statistical data from schools in the form of individual pupil records. In future, ethnic data will be collected on an individual pupil basis alongside other information such as key stage assessment results and performance in public examinations, thus enabling achievement to be monitored by main ethnic group. Secondly, they have reviewed the level and delivery of specialist support in schools for raising the participation and achievements of ethnic minority pupils. A new DfEE standards fund grant of over £430 million over three years to raise standards of achievement for ethnic minority pupils was announced on 12 November 1998. It will be targeted specifically at raising achievement of ethnic minority pupils, including pupils for whom English is not their first language. LEAs must submit detailed action plans for approval, monitor achievement by ethnic group and set targets for improvement. Thirdly, the Government have published research, commissioned by the department from the Open University, into successful multi-ethnic schools. This included a particular focus on those schools with significant numbers of Bangladeshi pupils.

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The Government are taking action to disseminate the good practice highlighted in both the Ofsted report, Raising the attainment of minority ethnic pupils, and the Open University Report, Making the Difference, Teaching and Learning Strategies in Successful Multi-ethnic Schools. The Government also intend to take action to ensure that: the skills and quality of the teaching profession can best be developed to meet the needs of ethnic minority pupils; a targeted approach is taken to programmes in schools to address issues related to the exclusion of ethnic minority children; the review of the national curriculum ensures that all pupils gain an understanding of citizenship and democracy and that the curriculum properly reflects the needs of a diverse society; priority is given to community mentoring in order to develop the relationship between schools and the local community; and the substantial DfEE's ethnic minority achievement grant is used to maximum effect.

Watercourse Pollution

Lord Onslow of Woking asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What studies have been made of the time that can be expected to elapse between the pollution of a watercourse and the recovery of invertebrate life in the case of (a) synthetic pyrethroid sheepdip; and (b) other comparable pollutants.[HL1634]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): There is limited information about recovery times for invertebrate life in watercourses polluted either by synthetic pyrethroids or by comparable pollutants.

It is possible to predict the impact of such pollution in laboratory studies, but effects observed in a laboratory are often not replicated in the aquatic environment. Recovery times tend to be site specific and to relate to factors such as the nature, magnitude and duration of the exposure and the diversity of the invertebrate population.

Lord Onslow of Woking asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What arrangements they have made to monitor the pollution threat from synthetic pyrethroid sheepdip; and when these were last reviewed.[HL1633]

Lord Whitty: The Environment Agency undertakes regular surveillance of watercourses. This includes sampling downstream of potential sources of synthetic pyrethroids and monitoring, targeted on the basis of predictive modelling, to assess pollution dispersal in catchment areas. The agency is currently undertaking a comprehensive review of monitoring, which will include a focus on substances of concern such as synthetic pyrethroids.

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Photocard Driving Licences

Lord Mason of Barnsley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress is being made in the introduction of a drivers' photo identity card.[HL1707]

Lord Whitty: Plastic photocard driving licences--which are not identity cards--have been issued by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency since July 1998. So far around 400,000 cards have been distributed.

Severn Rail Tunnel

The Earl of Haddington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In each of the last 10 years in which responsibility lay with the British Railways Board, what contracts of projects in connection with the maintenance of the Severn rail tunnel were outsourced.[HL1488]

Lord Whitty: This is a matter for Railtrack. All of the British Railways Board's records of this sort transferred, with responsibility for the maintenance of the Severn tunnel itself, to Railtrack on privatisation.

Vacant Council Housing

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the number of council homes empty on 1 March 1999; and what was the comparable number of 1 March 1998.[HL1522]

Lord Whitty: The latest available information relates to 1 April 1998 and this shows that 81,700 local authority-owned dwellings were vacant. The majority of these were management vacants (49,500)-- i.e. dwellings available for letting immediately, or after completion of minor repairs.

The corresponding figures for 1 April 1997 were 81,200 and 49,900.


The Earl of Caithness asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How much taxpayers' money was given to shipping in each of the last five years, both in cash and in real terms.[HL1553]

Lord Whitty: The Crew Relief Costs Scheme provides assistance towards the cost of flying British seafarers to and from ports outside the limited European trading area by contributing 20 per cent. of the scheduled economy airfare. Spend for the last five years on the scheme has been:

Current pricesConstant (1995) prices

(3) Up to and including January 1999.

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The Government also provide support for the training of seafarers. The Government Assistance for Training (GAFT) Scheme (introduced in 1988) and the Development of Certified Seafarers (DOCS) Scheme (introduced in 1994) provided grants for British officer cadet and junior officer training for the first and second certificates of competency. These two schemes have now been superseded by the integrated Support for Maritime Training (SMarT) Scheme (introduced in 1998). The Government are committed to maintaining the real value of SMarT grants which will be increased next year by 2.75 per cent. based on the Treasury GDP deflator for the current financial year. The spend for the last five years on training support is as follows:

Current pricesConstant (1995) prices
1998-99(4) £4.97m£4.55m

(4) Projected spend.

In addition, there are other support measures which have a cost to the Exchequer. A reduction of 0.5 per cent. is made in employers' national insurance contributions in respect of seafarers on ships sailing outside Europe in recognition of the healthcare provided on board these ships. Foreign earnings deduction provides tax relief on earnings to seafarers working mainly overseas. The estimated cost to the Exchequer is £40 million per year. Roll-over tax relief helps shipowners to replace ageing tonnage by riding the cycle of market prices. The cost to the Exchequer varies considerably; £25 million per annum is an indicative average.

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