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Press Coverage of Government Policy

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The Prime Minister is not accountable to Parliament for the performance of the press.

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The Prime Minister's Chief Press Secretary has repeated the publicly expressed views of the Prime Minister, calling for greater balance in the media debate on the National Health Service.

10 Downing Street Website

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Yes.

Green Ministers' Meeting

Lord Clinton-Davis asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): Green Ministers held their first meeting of this year on 16 March. The Committee agreed the publication of a series of guides to help

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promote sustainable development and the greening of government across Whitehall and beyond. Work of Green Ministers lists all the Government's targets and commitments in this area. It is also a good summary for those who would like to understand more about the role of Green Ministers and their work. Sustainable development--what it is and what you can do helps to explain sustainable development for the ordinary civil servant. The other leaflets will help public sector bodies prepare sustainable development awareness-raising strategies and address biodiversity issues.

At the meeting, Green Ministers discussed progress on environmental management systems, travel plans and integrating the environment into policy. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office, their Green Minister, outlined progress on greening the police and prison service as well as the main department.

Green Ministers agreed:

    there should be an annual meeting of departments' senior officials responsible for sustainable development;

    to continue their work to make the Government's funding regimes, such as the Spending Review and the Private Finance Initiative, as sustainable as possible, including taking account of the environment;

    target a number of associate bodies (including non-departmental public bodies and executive agencies) and help them become models for best practice on sustainable development, encouraging others to follow suit.

Since Green Ministers' last meeting in November, the Government have agreed proposals for new energy targets. From 1 April, Government will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1 per cent a year. In addition, Green Ministers will continue to make the benchmarking of Government buildings a priority and will investigate the feasibility of reporting on emissions from transport as well as buildings.

The departments represented by Ministers were: Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions; Cabinet Office; Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Department of Health; Department of Social Security; the Chancellor's Departments; Law Officers Departments; Home Office; the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; and the Welsh Office. Those represented by officials were: Department for International Development and Department of Trade and Industry.

Gypsy Sites

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What information they have received from the Traveller Law Research Unit of Cardiff University regarding the pitch losses since the repeal of the Caravan Sites Act 1968 by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994; and what action they will take to ensure that there is sufficient accommodation for Gypsies and other Travellers.[HL1627]

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Lord Whitty: My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions received a copy of a survey of local authority sites prepared by the Traveller Law Research Unit under cover of the noble Lord's letter on 17 March. We are currently considering this document and will compare its findings with those of DETR's annual list of Gypsy sites which is due to be published around Easter this year.

DETR is to commission a research project later this year to look at the management and maintenance of existing Gypsy caravan sites which will also inform our views on future site provision and the issues raised in this survey. We would welcome views from the Travelling community on the project and officials will make contact with the Traveller Law Research Unit and others when work begins.

Portland Young Offenders' Institution

Lord Dholakia asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect to implement the recommendations of HM Chief Inspector of Prisons following his report on the Portland Young Offenders' Institution.[HL1723]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): Under the protocol for responding to inspection reports, the Prison Service has 30 working days from the date of publication to draw up an action plan addressing the recommendations. I will write to the noble Lord when the action plan has been approved.

Absent Votes for Disabled People

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether in all local and national elections throughout Great Britain absent voting facilities are now available to disabled people in receipt of war pension mobility supplement.[HL1682]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Under Section 6(2) of the Representation of the People Act 1985, anyone who cannot reasonably be expected to go in person to a polling station by reason of physical incapacity is entitled to an absent vote.

Royal Commission on Criminal Justice, Recommendations 222 and 223

Lord Windlesham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action has been taken to implement Recommendations 222 and 223 of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice (Cm. 2263, 1993).[HL1629]

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: I expect to be in a position to send you a substantive reply by 20 April 2000.

Casino Opening Hours

Lord Bruce of Donington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What responses they have received to their consultation letter regarding proposals to extend the opening hours of casinos in England and Wales.[HL1854]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, Mr O'Brien, published this consultation paper on 11 November 1999 and the consultation period ended on 31 January 2000. The Home Office received 2,820 responses, mostly from casino staff. Two-thousand, eight hundred and nine of the responses opposed the proposals. Six were neutral and five expressed support.

Many casino staff were concerned about the impact which the proposal would have on them and their families, about the difficulties in travelling home especially for female staff in the early hours, and about more exposure to passive smoking. Some also said that management had not consulted them about the proposed change. They wanted us to regulate these employment issues by using the law rather than through employee/employer negotiations.

The unions opposed the change. They drew attention to the lack of recognition for collective bargaining purposes in casinos and to the timing of the implementation of the union recognition provisions of the Employment Relations Act 1999.

Some residents' associations were also worried about increased noise early in the morning and additional traffic.

Having considered the responses very carefully, my honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, Mr O'Brien, has nevertheless concluded that we should proceed with the proposal. The issue is not the number of responses, but the strength of the argument for restricting commercial freedom. Casinos will not be obliged to adopt longer opening hours, but they will have more flexibility to meet consumer demand and increase their competitiveness. The changes will not so significantly affect the running of casinos as to require deferment pending the outcome of the independent gambling review, which is to start after Easter. The Gaming Board for Great Britain has no objections.

The Government understand the concerns about the impact of additional operating hours on casino staff and their families or on local residents. But the Gaming Act 1968 provides a regulatory framework for gambling in the public interest and is not designed to regulate normal employer/employee relations, which are subject to the Employment Relations Act 1999. We agree with the view expressed by the unions that any changes to casino hours should not be made before the union recognition provision of the Act is in force. The

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longer hours will not, therefore, be available until the end of July this year. In addition, it will continue to give to licensing authorities power to impose restrictions on casino hours where necessary to prevent disturbance or annoyance to the occupiers of other premises in the vicinity so that the concerns of residents can be considered.

The Scottish Executive has consulted on a similar exercise in respect of casinos in Scotland and will report the outcome separately.

We will place a revised Regulatory Impact Assessment in the Library when the order is laid.

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