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15 Oct 2009 : Column WA29

Written Answers

Thursday 15 October 2009

Equality and Human Rights Commission


Asked by Lord Ouseley

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a modern regulator charged with upholding fair treatment and addressing inequality. Its mandate derives from an approach to equality and opportunity which builds on a history of progress by the legacy commissions and many others.

By focusing strategically, the commission has already achieved significant successes which have directly benefited millions of people and helped to protect and promote equality and human rights in Britain. The commission's activities include undertaking more than 330 enforcement/compliance actions, funding a number of important legal cases undertaken by individuals, grant funding, the provision of guidance and stakeholder engagement.

The recently released Equality and Human Rights Commission 2009-12 strategic plan sets out how the modern regulatory approach will be further strengthened, ensuring the commission will be even more effective in carrying out its vital mandate over coming years.

Health: Contaminated Blood Products


Asked by Lord Morris of Manchester

Baroness Thornton: We have no letter from the Macfarlane Trust dated 9 September. We have a letter dated 2 September, which we are currently considering and will reply in due course. Additionally, representatives from the Macfarlane Trust met with officials from the Department of Health on 9 September to further discuss the implementation of the Government's response to Lord Archer's report.

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Health: Drugs


Asked by The Earl of Sandwich

Baroness Thornton: Addiction to prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medicines can be a serious problem and the department is undertaking a review looking at:

what information is already available;identifying key gaps in data, such as the number of people who are dependent on, or suffering from withdrawal from, benzodiazepines and other prescribed drugs;services, with a view to highlight and disseminate good practice; and what additional work needs to be put in hand, including services to support people who are dependent on these medicines.

Additionally, the department is currently planning to commission research on the prevalence of, and the long-term effects of, dependence to benzodiazepines and is considering the role of preventive measures and raising awareness among patients and GPs of the risk of dependence that some prescription or OTC medicines have. We expect that this review will be completed next year.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency continuously monitors the safety of all medicines in the United Kingdom including concerns about misuse and dependence, and where necessary, takes suitable action to safeguard public health, this includes revised licences for use and patient information sheets.

NHS: Staff


Asked by Lord Patten

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Baroness Thornton: The personal beliefs of healthcare staff should not adversely affect the care or be allowed to influence any advice, given to patients. Healthcare professionals have to follow their independent regulators' standards on competence, ethics and conduct. It is up to the independent regulators to decide what information their registrants must disclose to patients. Breach of these standards may expose a healthcare professional to a charge of serious professional misconduct and disciplinary action.

Palace of Westminster: Media


Asked by Lord Moonie

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): The House of Lords does not have a ring-fenced budget for external media facilities; works are undertaken as required and paid for out of the works budget. Arrangements in the House of Commons are a matter for the Commons authorities.

Railways: Rolling Stock


Asked by Lord Greaves

The Secretary of State for Transport (Lord Adonis): Pacer units operate on rail services on the Northern, Wales and Great Western franchises. The expected life span of these units is dependent on the engineering and refurbishment carried out on these vehicles, as well as requirements under the Disability Discrimination Act. The longest current lease for these vehicles is to 2018.

The Government have committed to electrify the Great Western Main Line and the Liverpool-Manchester route via Chat Moss. This means that it will be possible to run electric units on these routes instead of pacers. The electrification programme radically affects the requirements for rolling stock over the next decade.

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There will be far less need for diesel trains and a greater requirement for electric trains. A new rolling stock plan will be published in the autumn, taking account of the changed circumstances.

Shipping: Navigation Aids


Asked by Lord Berkeley

The Secretary of State for Transport (Lord Adonis): The overall aim of the evaluation is to ensure the General Lighthouse Authorities can continue to be European and world leaders in delivering reliable, efficient and cost-effective aids to navigation service for the benefit and safety of all mariners in the medium to longer term with the economic and international prestige that this provides.

The assessment will focus on five key issues:

aids to navigation management;GLA synergies and efficiencies;light dues charging regime;management of the General Lighthouse Fund (GLF); andUK-Ireland co-operation.

The consultant Atkins will decide which organisations to consult, but the department expects it to consult a wide array of interested stakeholders to enable the formulation of balanced recommendations.

Sri Lanka


Asked by Lord Hylton

Lord Brett: The Government of Sri Lanka have a public commitment to return the bulk of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their homes within 180 days. We are urging the Government of Sri Lanka to do everything they can to facilitate the return of the IDPs from the camps to their homes as soon as possible, including the interim option of staying with host families.

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