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Emergency Services Radiocommunications Systems

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

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: No representations from the European Union have been received in the past two years about the tendering process for the

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new police radiocommunications system. The case arising from earlier representations made by the European Commission was closed after the Office of Government Commerce issued guidance to UK contracting authorities in June 2001 as suggested by the Commission.

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

    What advice the Home Office took and from whom about the health and safety aspects of the

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    TETRA communications system; and what systems are used by the other countries in the European Union for emergency services communications.[HL2622]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The Home Office asked the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) to assess the health and safety aspects of the TETRA technology. A report was published by the NRPB's independent Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation in July 2001. The report concluded that, "Although areas of uncertainty remain about the biological effects of low level RF radiation in general, including modulated signals, current evidence suggests that it is unlikely that the special features of the signals from TETRA mobile terminals and repeaters pose a hazard to health".

Other countries in the European Union use a variety of systems for emergency communications. Like in the United Kingdom, older systems tend to be based on analogue technology, while more recent systems are digital. TETRA is the agreed European standard for emergency services radio communications. TETRA systems for emergency services are currently being implemented in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

National Firearms Licensing Management System

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Falconer of Thoroton on 4 April (WA 157), why the undertaking to place in the Library of the House the proposed actions on the implementation of Section 39 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 for the establishment of a central register of those who have applied for or been granted a shotgun or firearms licence and details of the high level award criteria, has still not been met; and when they expect to do so.[HL2679]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: This information was placed in the Library of the House on 1 May. I regret the delay in doing this.

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will indicate in respect of each of the police forces in the United Kingdom, the method currently used to record details of individuals holding a shotgun or firearms certificate; and what, if any, action has been taken by the police forces concerned to implement the requirement of Section 39 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 for the establishment of a central register of individuals who have applied for, or been granted, a shotgun or firearms certificate.[HL2680]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Police forces in the United Kingdom (excluding Northern Ireland) currently record details of individuals holding a shotgun or firearms certificate by means of their own

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"local" firearms licensing management systems. These are mainly commercial off-the-shelf systems which most forces have procured on an individual basis for the purposes of managing firearms licensing locally. These systems also manage information on guns, ammunition, security and not just on certificate holders.

We have now agreed to work to produce a national firearms licensing management system which will not only incorporate a register of certificate holders but will also provide additional business benefits for the police and Home Office, principally through a more uniform national approach to firearms licensing and the ability to produce national statistics from a single source.

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will list the companies which have been invited to tender for the national firearms management system required by Section 39 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997; the date on which the tender was issued; and the date by which the response is required.[HL2681]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I understand from the Police Information Technology Organisation that six suppliers were invited to respond to the invitation to tender (ITT) for the supply of a national firearms licensing management system. The invitation was issued on 8 March 2003 and the date for responses was 16 April, later extended to 25 April 2003. The ITT and the responses received are currently being treated as commercial-in-confidence and it would not therefore be appropriate to release the names of the potential suppliers at present.

Driving on a Prohibited Road: Prosecutions

Lord Bradshaw asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many offences were prosecuted in the past year for which figures are available for driving on a prohibited road.[HL2683]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: In England and Wales there were 4,831 prosecutions for offences of driving on a prohibited road during 2001 (latest available).

Information relating to Northern Ireland is a matter for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr Murphy).

Matters related to Scotland are for the Scottish Executive.

NHS: Quality of Clinical Service

Lord Clement-Jones asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they intend to ensure continuing quality of clinical service by the relevant professionals. [HL2514]

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Baroness Andrews: Quality is at the heart of the Government's agenda for the National Health Service. NHS organisations have a statutory duty to improve the quality of health care they provide. Quality improvement is supported by: clear national standards for services and treatments; local delivery of high quality health care, through clinical governance underpinned by modernised professional self-regulation and extended lifelong learning; and effective monitoring and inspection.

Clinical governance provides NHS organisations and healthcare professionals with a framework through which they are accountable for continuous quality improvement. The NHS Clinical Governance Support Team (part of the NHS Modernisation Agency) provides programmes to support the implementation throughout that service. The Commission for Health Improvement reviews clinical governance arrangements in NHS organisations, including the education, training and continuing personal and professional development of staff.

The Government are committed to ensuring that standards of professional clinical competence are maintained and developed, and are working in collaboration with the professional and regulatory bodies to develop a shared framework for post-qualification learning. It is intended that the framework should be available in July 2004. Over the next three years, an extra £96 million will be made available locally to support local strategic learning and development plans and ensure that trusts deliver continuing professional development effectively.

The Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill currently before Parliament, retains the duty of quality for NHS bodies, and additionally provides for the Secretary of State for Health to publish standards for the provision of NHS healthcare. The Bill also enables the proposed Commission for Healthcare Audit and Inspection (CHAI) to advise the Secretary of State on changes which it thinks should be made to the standards for the purpose of securing improvement in the quality of healthcare. The Bill proposes that CHAI will review each year the provision of healthcare by NHS bodies, and in so doing will take into account the standards set by the Secretary of State.

Ionising Radiation

Lord Jenkin of Roding asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking following the article in Nature (Vol 421 pp 691-2) which argues that the dose response to most toxins, including ionising radiation, is hormetic, which means that the body's response to low doses is almost always beneficial rather than harmful.[HL2571]

Baroness Andrews: The hormesis theory described in the article in Nature is highly controversial. There is little evidence to support claims that exposure to low doses of toxic chemicals such as cadmium, dioxin, or

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polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, nor ionising radiation, has a beneficial health effect.

The approach adopted by government departments/agencies when assessing the health risks arising from toxic chemicals is based on the assumption that for most chemicals there is a dose below which no harmful effects would be expected; that is, that there is a threshold dose. This is used in estimating safe levels of exposure. However, in the specific case of chemicals that affect the genetic material of the cell (DNA), and which may then go on to cause cancer, the prudent assumption is made that there is no threshold, and any exposure may increase cancer risk, albeit this increase may be very small at low dose levels. This is in line with the advice from the relevant, independent expert advisory committee, the Committee on the Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COC).

A similar approach is taken with regard to ionising radiation, since this may produce cancer by affecting DNA. Again this is in line with advice from the National Radiological Protection Board, and from the Committee on the Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE).

The COC is currently in the process of updating its guidance on the risk assessment of chemical carcinogens and the Nature article has been referred to it for consideration in its deliberations.

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