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28 Mar 2000 : Column WA61

Written Answers

Tuesday, 28th March 2000.

Westminster Underground Station: Faulty Lift

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    On what date the lift to the Jubilee Line platforms at Westminster Underground station became unserviceable; and on what date they expect it to be back in service.[HL1603]

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston): This is an operational matter for London Underground. However I understand from LU that the lift from the Jubilee Line to the District and Circle Line at Westminster station has not yet been approved by the LU Chief Engineer for handover to the extended Jubilee Line and is awaiting some remedial work which will facilitate this.

London Underground hope to have the lift in service by the end of March.

Aircraft Noise: Local Authority Powers

Baroness Hamwee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the powers for local authorities to promote and improve the well-being of their area contained in the Local Government Bill will, when enacted, enable local authorities to take steps to enforce controls on aircraft noise connected with airports in their area; and, if not, why not.[HL1600]

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: The powers proposed in the Local Government Bill to enable local authorities to promote and improve the well-being of their area do not include new powers to regulate aviation activities.

The Government's White Paper, A New Deal for Transport, announced proposals to improve the mitigation of aircraft noise. This includes a proposal that the Secretary of State would have powers to compel an aerodrome (where it appears that voluntary measures are not working) to prepare a noise amelioration scheme, and to agree it with the appropriate local authority. That authority would then have the power to require enforcement of a scheme if for some reason the aerodrome was not doing so satisfactorily.

We shall be issuing a consultation paper on our proposals shortly.

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Local Authority Deliberations: Public Access

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In the light of their policies for freedom of information, what their response is to the recent survey by the Society of Editors that reveals that an increasing number of new "cabinet" governments at local authority level are not allowing the public or press to witness their deliberations.[HL1594]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): Ministers have not seen the survey by the Society of Editors. The arrangements we are proposing under Part II of the Local Government Bill would enhance efficiency and ensure more transparent and inclusive decision-making. Experiments which local authorities are carrying out are within the existing statutory framework that was not designed for executive arrangements. In some cases, these experiments do not yet match up to what the Bill, if enacted, will require.

Civil Servants: Death in Service

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many civil servants' deaths over the last five years were attributable to their service.[HL1469]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): In the period 1 April 1994 to 1 April 1999, 2,420 civil servants died. Information on the cause of death is not held centrally.

UK Bicentenary: Union Flag Commemoration

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Falconer of Thoroton of 3 March (WA 117), what proposals they have to mark the bicentenary of the creation of the Union flag as the flag of the United Kingdom through the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland of 1801.[HL1461]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: None.

Media Interviews of Government Ministers

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they believe that the public have a right to open and frank probing of both government Ministers and government policy by media interviewers; and[HL1573]

    Whether, in the context of freedom of the press and freedom of information, Ministers and their advisers should be permitted to define the scope and

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    range of questions put to them by media interviewers; and[HL1571]

    Whether, in the context of freedom of the press and freedom of information, the quality of political debate is improved by the practice of Ministers and their advisers being permitted to predetermine the scope and range of questions put to them by media interviewers.[HL1572]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The Government welcome the opportunity to explain their policies and programmes to the public through the media. The media decide what questions to put to Ministers.

Ministers' Letters to Members

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Falconer of Thoroton on 9 March (WA 157), whether they will issue guidelines specifying the period within which Ministers, who in debate have offered to write to Members of the House, should do so.[HL1574]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I see no need to do so.

Ethnic Minorities: Senior Adviser Post

Lord Dholakia asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect the post of Senior Adviser Ethnic Minorities to be filled; and what has been the cause of delay since the post was advertised in September 1999; and[HL1535]

    What procedure has been used in the recruitment process for the post of Senior Adviser Ethnic Minorities; and how many referees candidates are required to provide; and[HL1536]

    Whether their Equal Opportunities Policy allows the Cabinet Office to seek references from referees not provided by the applicants; and whether such references are discussed with candidates.[HL1537]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: As part of its response to the Modernising Government White Paper, the Cabinet Office instituted an open competition in September 1999 to recruit a Senior Adviser who will work across government departments on taking forward diversity issues in the context of the Civil Service reform agenda. My right honourable friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office is today announcing an appointment to this very important post.

As with all appointments to posts in the Civil Service, the recruitment process used in this case has been selection on merit on the basis of fair and open competition, in accordance with the Civil Service Commissioners' Recruitment Code, the related guidance on senior recruitment, and the provisions of the Civil Service Management Code as they relate to recruitment.

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The Cabinet Office, as the employing department for this appointment, is responsible for completing satisfactory pre-appointment checks, including references, before any formal offer of employment is made. There is no prescribed number of references that candidates are required to provide and references are obtained on the basis that any information provided is treated as strictly confidential.

BSE: Forecast Incidence

Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they still expect BSE to "dwindle to insignificant proportions by the year 2001" (; or, if not, what are their current projections for the likely number of cases in United Kingdom cattle for each of the next 10 years.[HL1698]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): Projections of the number of BSE cases, derived from the Veterinary Laboratories Agency's (VLA) computer model, indicate that the epidemic will continue to decline. The latest VLA forecast as at 4 January 2000 is given in the table:

95% confidence intervals
YearCentral estimate of confirmed casesLowerUpper

The expectation is that the outcome, as in recent years, will tend to be closer to the upper 95 per cent confidence interval. Because of their increasing unreliability, neither the VLA nor the Wellcome Trust Centre for Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases makes predictions beyond 2001.

Debt Relief to Poorest Countries

Lord McColl of Dulwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How far they have fulfilled their pledge to match the United States' commitment to write off 100 per cent of the bilateral debt of the poorest countries.[HL1576]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The UK Government announced in December last year that the UK will be providing 100 per cent relief on the debts of countries qualifying under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative.

In making this announcement, the UK has gone beyond the commitment made by the US by stating that the relief applies to all debt (the so-called "pre cut-off date" debt and "post cut-off date" debt), that the relief will commence from the time the country reaches its decision point under the HIPC initiative, and that

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it also applies to the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries likely to have sustainable levels of debt after traditional relief mechanisms.

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