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Lord Sainsbury of Turville: The establishment of Ofcom is intended to bring together the regulatory responsibilities of five existing authorities operating in the communications area. The Office of Communications Bill currently before the House does no more than provide the authority to begin to take practical steps to bring the five bodies together. Ofcom will have no regulatory responsibilities until a communications Bill giving it such responsibilities is passed by Parliament. We hope to publish a draft of the communications Bill for consultation in the spring of 2002. The Communications White Paper published in December 2000 set out the range of responsibilities that are anticipated for Ofcom in due course.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: The Office of Communications Bill establishes the Office of Communications (Ofcom), enabling the Government to take practical steps to get the regulator up and running to receive the functions a communications Bill would confer upon it. This is purely a paving measure and will not involve any regulation whatsoever.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: Ofcom's full remit for regulation will be set out in a communications Bill, a draft of which we hope to publish in the spring of 2002 for consultation. The Communications White Paper published in December 2000 set out the Government's initial thinking on what that remit should be.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: In keeping with the normal standards of commercial confidentiality that the department would expect to maintain with its contractors, the department will not be agreeing to the disclosure of the contracts with Aon-IRISC or Healthcall in respect of the respiratory disease compensation scheme.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: the Radiocommunications Agency is reviewing the present use of and future plans for the 10GHz band in order to clarify how much radio spectrum could be made available to the industry and on what basis. At present it seems most likely that a competition will be held in the second quarter of 2002. No decisions have been taken yet as to the form that this competition will take.
(There is as yet no real consensus within the industry as to how the 40GHz band might best be used). Before making decisions about what type of competition to hold on 40GHz and when, the Radiocommunications Agency is planning to hold a further round of consultations with manufacturers and potential operators. The agency is willing however to make available test and development licences immediately to companies wishing to prove concepts or develop technologies for this band.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: The handling agreement was formally signed with the solicitors acting for the claimants on 24 September 1999. Claims could not have been dealt with before this date. It has taken further time to agree outstanding issues with the claimants' solicitors. These have now largely been resolved, enabling us now to start making offers in larger numbers.
With over 170,000 claims registered, this is the largest personal injury compensation scheme in British history and it will take time to settle all claims. It would be inappropriate for the department to make predictions about the overall length of the scheme while over 900 new claims continue to be registered each week.
The outstanding issues in relation to claims have now largely been resolved. This means that where previously only interim payments could be made, offers can now be made in full. Although it will take some time for the process to ramp up fully in all respects, the department's aim is that IRISC, the department's claims handlers, will have made 50,000 offers by the end of next year.
Claims continue to be processed in accordance with the handling agreement whereby the most elderly and ill claimants are being prioritised. Widows are also being dealt with first wherever possible. The department aims to have processed claims from the most vulnerable by spring 2002.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: For the scheme as a whole, the department envisages that it will take some years to finish. A prioritisation process is in place to seek to ensure that the oldest, most vulnerable claimants have their claims dealt with as soon as possible. While claims continue to be registered at a rate of over 900 a week for respiratory disease and over 300 a week for vibration white finger, it is inappropriate to put a timescale on completion.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: The department has engaged Mark Pyman on secondment from Shell to advise us on ways of improving the management of the delivery of the respiratory disease and vibration white finger schemes. He joined the Coal Health Claims Unit at the end of August and has had extensive discussions with all parties involved in the schemes. He has worked with a team from PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) which had been asked to advise the department on the best structure for the Coal Health Claims Unit following the initial phase of the schemes.
Mr Pyman has made recommendations to the department which we have agreed and are putting into operation. The department does not intend formally to make public those recommendations, which relate to internal management of the department and its relations both with contractors and solicitors representing claimants. The broad conclusions have however been discussed with interested parties who have generally welcomed the changes the department is now putting into effect.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): EC Regulation No 2037/2000 on ozone depleting substances (ODS), which came into effect in October 2000, requires "controlled substances" (including CFCs and HCFCs) in coolants and in insulating foam to be removed before recycling or reclamation of refrigeration units. This requirement will apply to all refrigerators and freezers from 1 January 2002.
Once we do receive it, we expect to present it to
the next meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Bushmeat Working Group, which is due to take place in February or March next year. This will provide an opportunity to engage African range states, obtain their input on subsequent actions and enlist their involvement in taking these forward.
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