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27 Oct 1999 : Column WA29

Written Answers

Wednesday, 27th October 1999.

Mentally Incapacitated Adults: Decisions

Viscount Hanworth asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will publish their proposals for making decisions on behalf of mentally incapacitated adults.[HL4420]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): I have today issued a policy statement, Making Decisions, which sets out the Government's proposals. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Basic Skills Agency

Lord Eatwell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they propose to undertake a review of the Basic Skills Agency.[HL4419]

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): The Government has a policy of conducting five-yearly reviews of all non-departmental public bodies. As the Government is the major contributor to the funding of the Basic Skills Agency, we believe that the Agency should be subject to comparable review procedures. Since the last review of the Agency was in 1994, the Department has commissioned a new review of the Agency.

I am placing in the Library a copy of a letter to Sir Claus Moser, Chairman of the Basic Skills Agency, setting out further details of the review, including its terms of reference.

Government IT Projects

Lord Montague of Oxford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking to improve their handling of major information technology projects.[HL4384]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): We have recently begun a major study into the handling of government IT projects. It will consider best practice from within government, the private sector and overseas to produce recommendations to improve performance in this area in the future. The work of the study team will be closely integrated with that on delivering the Corporate IT Strategy announced in the Modernising Government White Paper.

The study will be undertaken by officials in the Cabinet Office's Central IT Unit. It will be completed by next May. The Minister of State for the Cabinet Office, Mr McCartney, will chair a steering committee

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that will oversee the study, bringing together senior figures from across government and the private sector.

British Council: Chairman's Remuneration

Lord Moynihan asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Baroness Scotland of Asthal on 11 October (WA 9-10), when they anticipate discussions between the British Council trustees and the Charity Commission will be concluded regarding remuneration for the incumbent Chairman; and whether they will publish the final terms of appointment and remuneration package or place them in the Library of the House.[HL4256]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): The remuneration of the Chair of the British Council is a matter for the Charity Commission and the Board of the British Council as charity trustees. I understand that the current round of discussions is due to be concluded shortly. The British Council have assured me that the details of the agreement regarding the remuneration of the Chair will be made public.

Special Operations Executive: Release of Wartime Records

Lord Shepherd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they plan to release more records of the wartime Special Operations Executive.[HL4417]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The records of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) have been released on a rolling basis since 1993. The seventh batch, comprising SOE Section Histories and its Headquarters War Diaries, will be opened at the Public Record Office on Tuesday 26 October. Further records, including Headquarters policy files, will be released in due course.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland: Visits to RUC Headquarters

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland last visited the headquarters of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.[HL4245]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs): As Secretary of State, Dr Mowlem made no "official" visits to RUC Headquarters. However, she met with the Chief Constable at his office on numerous occasions, the last being 8 September 1999.

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The current Secretary of State, Mr Mandelson, has not yet visited RUC Headquarters. However, he has met with the Chief Constable at Stormont on 12 October 1999.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME: CMO's Review

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the protocol and what are the criteria for selecting studies for consideration in the systematic review as reported in paragraph 2 of Briefing No. 4 of the Chief Medical Officer's Working Group on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis; who is compiling the information; who advised the reviewers on studies to be considered; and what are the interests of those individuals involved in the review.[HL 4344]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): The aim of the review is to determine which treatments and interventions are clinically effective and for which patients. It will examine the whole range of proposed interventions where good evidence exists, including multi-disciplinary models and complementary therapies. The NHS Centre for Reviews and Dissemination at the University of York is finalising its plans for carrying out the work, and an advisory group will be appointed to reflect the full range of interests in this issue.

Gulf War Personnel: Adverse Reactions to Vaccines

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many reports of adverse reactions to vaccines and other medication administered to members of HM Armed Forces deployed in the Gulf in 1990-91 were reported to the Medicines Control Agency by (a) hospitals and (b) general medical practitioners.[HL 4346]

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: This information is not available.

The Medicines Control Agency receives reports of suspected adverse reactions to licensed medicinal products via the Yellow Card Scheme. The scheme is voluntary for doctors, dentists, coroners and hospital pharmacists. There is a mandatory requirement for reporting by pharmaceutical companies in relation to their products. However, information on where a patient may work is not routinely collected and the information requested cannot be obtained from data available.

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Gurkha Pensions and Gratuities

Lord Shepherd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether progress has been made in the examination of Gurkha pensions and gratuities.[HL 4416]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced in the House this afternoon, gratuities payable in respect of death attributable to service for Gurkhas will be brought into line with those of their British counterparts. The new payments take effect from 26 May this year and so will apply to the widow of Staff Sergeant Balaram Rai killed in Kosovo in June.

That announcement is the result of the first stage in our examination of Gurkha pensions and gratuities. The increase remains firmly within the conditions set out in the 1947 Tri-Partite Agreement between India, Nepal and the UK and follows increases that have been implemented recently by the Indian Government. To take account of the fact that the UK is the home base for British Gurkhas we have introduced a UK element to substitute for the Indian State Government payments which are variable throughout India. This will bring payments for all deaths attributable to service up to British Army rates.

We are also looking at Gurkha pensions, still within the context of the Tri-Partite Agreement, and I hope to report on this by the end of the year.

Young Homeless People in Rural Areas

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their response to the report by Centrepoint and the Countryside Agency Home or Away, tackling youth homelessness in the countryside: the impact of Centrepoint's work in Rural Devon.[HL4235]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): The Government welcome this report, and congratulate Centrepoint on the excellent work it continues to do across the country to tackle homelessness. Rural and urban homelessness share very many essential characteristics, but we recognise that there are some features more distinctive to rural than urban homelessness, such as increased difficulty in accessing advice services, and greater social isolation, due to factors such as geographical remoteness and transport difficulties. We are aware of the needs of socially excluded young people in rural areas. The forthcoming Rural White Paper will address the need to tackle homelessness amongst a wide range of issues and policies affecting rural communities and people.

Homelessness is often a symptom of wider social exclusion, which this Government are committed to tackling. My department is contributing to follow-up

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work on the Social Exclusion Unit's reports on Rough Sleeping, and Bridging The Gap. These measures include the extension of the Education Maintenance Allowance to reach young people who are homeless; and the introduction of a new Youth Support Service, which will provide personal advisors whose role will be to support young people and their families.

My department has set up an official level sounding board with the local authority associations, Shelter, the Chartered Institute of Housing, and others, to develop local homelessness strategies and preventive initiatives, in the context of allocation of social housing. We will also be considering further measures to ensure that housing solutions are sustainable in order to reduce the risk of homelessness reoccurring. We are considering the future of the Single Room Rent as part of the Government's review of Housing Benefit. We will be taking account of all the available research, as well as the implications for public expenditure and work incentives.

The department has also established a Youth Homelessness Action Partnership, again with both the voluntary and statutory sectors, to look at the particular problems faced by young people and to develop proposals for tackling them. Our revised Code of Guidance on the Allocation of Accommodation and Homelessness, due to be published around the end of the year, will recommend local authorities to treat young care leavers, especially, as being vulnerable under the homelessness legislation.

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