Speeches and parliamentary questions in the House of Commons in the 2006-07 sessionWhile speaking in the chamber of the House is a high profile activity for an MP, much other work is done elsewhere, in committee, as well as a large casework load for constituents.
30/10/07 Burma: Overseas Trade
30/10/07 Burma: Human Rights
30/10/07 Burma: Forced Labour
30/10/07 Tobacco: Civil Proceedings
30/10/07 Police: Devolved Matters
29/10/07 Maternity Services: Manpower
29/10/07 Burma: Politics and Government
29/10/07 Industrial Diseases: Compensation
29/10/07 Digital Switchover: Local News
25/10/07 Duty Free Allowances
18/10/07 Income Tax: Tax Rates and Bands
16/10/07 International Development: Debts
15/10/07 Palestinians: Politics and Government
10/10/07 HMRC Offices (Sunderland)
10/10/07 Birds: Malta
09/10/07 Care Homes: Fees and Charges
26/07/07 Link Up Service
26/07/07 IraqChild appeal
25/07/07 Housing: Repairs and Maintenance
24/07/07 Social Security Benefits
24/07/07 Derwent Valley
24/07/07 NHS Review
23/07/07 Internet: Privacy
23/07/07 Visual Arts: Elderly
18/07/07 Probation Services
10/07/07 Taxation and Allowances
05/07/07 Prisons: Psychology
03/07/07 NHS Procurement and Purchasing
02/07/07 National Pensioners Convention
25/06/07 Health: Muscular Dystrophy
21/06/07 Nurses: Pay
15/06/07 International Assistance
15/06/07 NHS: Procurement
15/06/07 Muscular Dystrophy: Health Services
13/06/07 Health Services
12/06/07 Developing Countries: Poverty
11/06/07 Iraq Inquiry
07/06/07 Royal Mail
07/06/07 Local Government Pensions
24/05/07 Private military security companies
23/05/07 Coal Health Claims
22/05/07 NHS Finances
21/05/07 Prisons: Overcrowding
17/05/07 Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill
10/05/07 Northern Ireland, Restorative Justice
09/05/07 Northern Ireland Government
08/05/07 Mental Health Services
03/05/07 Industrial Diseases: Compensation
01/05/07 Iraqi Trades Unions
30/04/07 Energy Supply: Complaints
23/04/07 Income Tax: Tax Rates and Bands
23/04/07 Land Drainage: Churches
16/04/07 Telecommunications: Fees and Charges
16/04/07 Widowed People: Taxation
27/03/07 Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation
27/03/07 Trade unionists and public service workers in Northern Ireland
22/03/07 Nurses' Pay Rise
22/03/07 NHS Pay
15/03/07 Nurses' Pay
14/03/07 Widowed Parents Allowance
14/03/07 Bain Review
08/03/07 Tax Allowances: Widowed People
01/03/07 US Raids on Iraqi Unions
22/02/07 Smoking: Public Places
19/02/07 Water: Standards
08/02/07 Water in the House
08/02/07 Liberal Democrats and Crime
07/02/07 Policing: Sinn Fein Support
01/02/07 Stop the Fascists
26/01/07 Commercial Whaling
25/01/07 Planning and Heritage at Gibside
23/01/07 Commercial Whaling
18/01/07 Vehicle and Road Taxes
11/01/07 Roads Expenditure
09/01/07 Coal Industry
19/12/06 Skons Park and Open Cast Mining
18/12/16 Corporation Tax: Northern Ireland
18/12/06 Northumbria Water
14/12/06 Debate on NHS
13/12/06 Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill
13/12/06 Digital Television
11/12/06 Renewable Energy: Planning
11/12/06 Medical Staff: Gateshead and Blaydon
07/12/06 Industrial Diseases: Compensation
07/12/06 Support for Iraqi Trades Unions
06/12/06 Health Service Facilities
06/12/06 Energy Bills
05/12/06 Lord's Resistance Army
04/12/06 Marie-Therese Nlandu Mpolo-Nene
28/11/06 Local Government Pension Scheme
28/11/06 NHS Ill Health Retirement
27/11/06 Heating Allowance
22/11/06 Human Trafficking
21/11/06 Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Bill
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what UK business interests his Department has ascertained are held in Burma. 
Meg Munn, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office: We do follow reports of companies activities produced by the UN, non-governmental organisations and other organisations. We monitor the level of UK corporate activities through statistics from the Office of National Statistics and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, which show that trade and investment in Burma has fallen in recent years.
Contrary to some reports, the UK is not the second largest investor in Burma. UK investment in Burma is negligible. The Office for National Statistics figures for current active UK investment are very low; indeed they have no returns suggesting any UK direct investment in Burma as of the end of 2005.
In terms of total imports of goods from Burma, the UK currently ranks second in the EU after Germany. However, the value of imports from Burma to the UK halved between 2004 and 2005. In the eight months to August 2007, UK imports of goods from Burma were £19 million and exports totalled £2 million.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps he is taking to help to improve the human rights of the people of Burma. 
Meg Munn, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office: I refer my hon. Friend to the replies I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham) on 29 October 2007, Official Report, columns 818-9W.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether it is open to the UK to refer Burma to (a) the International Court of Justice and (b) any other international body for persistent use of forced labour; and if he will make a statement. 
Meg Munn, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office: It has not proved possible to respond to my hon. Friend in the time available before Prorogation.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will consider the merits of using litigation against tobacco companies in relation to damage caused by their products to the health of British citizens. 
Dawn Primarolo, Minister of State, Department of Health: Smoking is the biggest cause of premature death and one of the most significant causes of health inequality in the United Kingdom. The Department's approach to tobacco control is based on a six-strand strategy to reduce smoking prevalence through the following action:
While the Department has no intention at this point in time to use litigation against tobacco companies in relation to the damage their products cause to health, individuals may take such action.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress he is making towards the devolution of policing and criminal justice to the Northern Ireland Assembly. 
Mr. Woodward, Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office: The Government have made a firm commitment to be ready to devolve policing and justice in May 2008 as envisaged in the St. Andrews Agreement, should the Assembly so request. An extensive programme of work is in place to ensure that this can be delivered.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps are being taken to ensure that primary care trusts implement recommended nursing levels in neo-natal units. 
Mr. Bradshaw, Minister of State, Department of Health: The Government set out their policy for neonatal services in the report of the Neonatal Intensive Care Services Expert Review Group, which was published in 2003. The report highlights the British Association of Perinatal Medicine standards, which recommend a qualified nursing staff to baby ratio of 1:1 for neonatal intensive care, 1:2 for high dependency care and 1:4 for special care.
It is the responsibility of local national health service organisations to ensure that services have sufficient staff to deliver high quality and safe treatment.
The Department has commissioned a 12-month study to improve information about local NHS staffing and service provision within paediatric and maternity services, including neonatal services.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for International Development if he will take steps to increase aid for non-governmental organisations working to promote change in Burma. 
Mr. Malik, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development: DFID is providing financial support to a number of Burmese community-based organisations which are working to build the foundations for a more democratic and accountable society in Burma. We are now setting up a new fund of £3 million to help Burmese organisations to promote people's participation in local level decision making, for example in forest management, agriculture, education and health services.
In addition, DFID is prepared to consider applications for funding by groups inside and outside Burma which are working on sustainable development and democratisation in Burma. Funding decisions would be based on the availability of resources, the likely impact of proposed projects, their having a clear purpose of poverty reduction, and normal criteria regarding transparency and accountability.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform what average level of damages has been recovered by the 10 firms of solicitors with the highest number of cases registered under (a) the British Coal Vibration White Finger scheme and (b) the British Coal Respiratory Disease scheme in relation to those schemes. 
Malcolm Wicks,Minister of State, Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform: The average amount of damages recovered by the 10 firms of claimants' representatives with the highest volume of claims for Vibration White Finger (VWF) and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) as at 14 October 2007 is shown on the following table:
|Claimants’ representatives||Claims registered||Average damages paid on claims settled by payment (£)|
|Vibration White Finger|
|Browell Smith and Co||16,463||10,025|
|Union of Democratic Mineworkers||11,527||10,302|
|Watson Burton LLP||5,934||15,896|
|Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease|
|Browell Smith and Co||32,973||6,724|
|Mark Gilbert Morse||25,724||7,437|
|Union Of Democratic Mineworkers||16,596||3,179|
|Barber and Co||14,091||2,705|
|Watson Burton LLP||14,073||4,353|
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): What steps he is taking to ensure that older people will receive appropriate support in the digital switchover programme. 
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (James Purnell): The BBC has helped establish and funds a £600 million help scheme, which will assist the over-75s and those with significant disabilities, including the blind or visually impaired, to convert to digital TV services. Help is free of charge to the poorest households - those on income support or pension credit. Others will pay a £40 charge.
Mr. Anderson: I thank the Secretary of State for his reply, which explains how people will access digital services after the switchover. However, people are worried about not only how they will get them, but what will be on them. In my area, one of the things that people are worried about is the loss of real, local news, and regional television programmes being superseded by cross-region programmes. What does the Secretary of State intend to do to ensure that genuine local news will be saved after the switchover for older people and others?
James Purnell: I reassure my hon. Friend that no decision has been taken on ITV's proposals on regional news. That will be a decision for Ofcom, which has said that it will take it next year as part of its public service funding review. I think that the whole House would say that when we passed the Communications Act 2003 we put regional news right at the heart of ITV's responsibilities, and it should continue to be so.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) what guidance he has issued on the levels of personal import allowances for (a) tobacco and (b) alcohol in relation to EU member states acceding (i) since and (ii) prior to 1999; and if he will make a statement; 
(2) what steps have been taken to publicise the import allowances for tobacco and alcohol applicable to travellers to EU member states joining the EU (a) before and (b) since 1999. 
Jane Kennedy, Financial Secretary, HM Treasury: Since completion of the single market in 1993, persons travelling between EU member states have been able to bring with them unlimited quantities of alcohol and tobacco, provided that the product is bought duty paid in the member state of purchase, is for their personal use, and is transported by them. HM Revenue and Customs (formerly HM Customs and Excise) publishes guidance on this in Public Notice 1 "A Customs Guide for Travellers Entering the UK", copies of which are available at all UK ports and airports, on the HMRC website, or by calling the HMRC National Advice Service. It is also contained in the Customs Allowances posters displayed at all UK ports and airports.
Exceptions to these arrangements were agreed at EU level in 2004 and 2007 as part of transitional arrangements for countries joining the EU at those times. Existing member states were given the option to apply certain quantitative restrictions on personal importations of tobacco from accession countries for as long as those countries' excise duty rates were below minimum EU levels. The UK applies these restrictions, which are identical to those applicable to travellers from non-EU countries, and has publicised this fact widely by amendments to the aforementioned guidance and publicity materials. Additionally, posters were placed in major airports of the accession countries concerned, and adverts were placed in a number of in-flight magazines.
Once the duty rates of the accession countries rise to minimum EU levels, the UK has committed to disapply these restrictions, and has already done so in the case of certain categories of tobacco products from two accession countries.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he expects to answer question 136787, on taxation and allowances, tabled on 8 May 2007 by the hon. Member for Blaydon. 
Jane Kennedy, Financial Secretary, HM Treasury: I have answered the hon. Member's question and very much regret not being in a position to do so earlier.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what estimate he has made of the effect on incomes in each year up to 2011 of (a) changes to personal allowances, (b) the removal of the 10p tax rate and (c) the reduction of the basic rate of income tax to 20 pence on people born (i) before and (ii) after 1935 with incomes of (A) £8,000, (B) £9,000, (C) £10,000, (D) £11,000, (E) £12,000, (F) 13,000, (G) £14,000, (H) £15,000, (I) £16,000, (J) £17,000 and (K) £18,000. 
Jane Kennedy, Financial Secretary, HM Treasury: Budget 2007 announced a number of reforms to simplify the personal tax system. The exact effect of the reforms will depend both on individual incomes, but also the circumstances of the household in which people live, for example whether they have children and their age.
Projected changes in net income in 2009-10 as a result of this package are shown in the following tables. Net incomes are based on a single earner with gross earned income as specified, net of income tax and employee national insurance contributions, and including child benefit and tax credits (non-pensioner families) or pension credit (pensioner families). The projections assume full take-up of entitlements to tax credits where applicable, without child care costs or disability premia.
|Change in net income by April 2009 (2009-10 prices £ a year)|
|Annual earning||Single person/single earner couple (aged under 25)||Single person (aged 25+)||Single earner couple (aged 25+)|
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what steps he is taking to identify and cancel outstanding international illegitimate debts. 
Mr. Malik, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development: The poorest countries are eligible for 100 per cent. debt cancellation on their bilateral debts under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, as well as 100 per cent. debt cancellation on their debts to the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and African Development Bank under the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI). The UK is at the forefront of debt cancellation for poor countries and international poverty reduction. We exceed our commitments under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) and Multilateral Debt Relief Initiatives (MDRI), providing the poorest countries with 100 per cent. cancellation on their bilateral and multilateral debts. The HIPS and MDRI systems have cancelled billions of pounds worth of debt and we continue to believe that they are the most appropriate way to tackle sovereign debt problems. Unpayable debts should not hinder the poorest countries from making progress towards the millennium development goals.
All of our loans are made to internationally recognised governments, are bound by legal contracts and are recognised in international law, we do not therefore consider them to be "illegitimate". We believe that debt relief should be provided on the basis of a country's economic situation rather than their history of poor or corrupt governance. Many countries that have a history of poor governance are now middle-income countries. If we cancelled so-called "illegitimate" debts for such countries, the full cost would have to be met from DFID's aid budget, diverting vital resources away from poorer countries. It is also likely that creditors and investors would take a negative view of the credit worthiness of developing countries in case the loans were later repudiated. This would be damaging for developing countries trying to strengthen their economies and reduce poverty through access to international investment and financing.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will seek assurances from the Hamas leadership in Gaza that there will be no restrictions on the activity of Christian groups. 
Dr. Howells, Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office: We remain concerned about the safety of Gaza's Christian community. We call upon Hamas to uphold their commitment to preserve the status of that community. But we have no contact with Hamas at present, due to their failure to respect the Quartet's three principles: non-violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap.
We condemn the recent killing of Rami Ayyad, the manager of a Christian bookshop in Gaza. Our thoughts are with Mr Ayyad's family.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): Will the Minister give way?
Jane Kennedy, Financial Secretary, HM Treasury: I shall give way to my hon. Friend in a moment, but first I want to make this point. I readily accept that we are examining the way in which we do much of the processing and routine work, in order to maximise the efficiencies that we know can be gained if people are pooled into larger groups of staff. Unfortunately, all the evidence demonstrates that that is the best way forward.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South said that that happens to be the policy of the moment, but that it will go out of fashion and we will go back in 10 years' time. I have to tell him that, from what I have seen in other Departments that have asked a public sector service to examine how it has been doing such work, the move has been toward larger concentrations of staff performing what are, generally, similar types of activities. There are sound reasons why we need flexibility in how we deploy staff. I shall touch on those after I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon.
Mr. Anderson: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr. McCrae.
The Minister referred to decentralisation, but that decentralisation is from a town that suffered badly during the 1980s and has now turned round. A small number of key people will be decentralised to a site that is bursting at the seams and, from the transport point of view, that is not needed. The problem is not just the traffic on the A19; it is the traffic that will be diverted on to the A1, which is a nightmare. If anyone can travel from Sunderland to Longbenton in 32 minutes, they are driving faster than Lewis Hamilton.
Jane Kennedy: I know the A1 because my parents still live in the North-East, and I have not-so-fond memories of difficult journeys on it. I know the point that my hon. Friend makes.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what discussions he has had with his Maltese counterpart on reducing the shooting of turtle doves and quails during spring 2008 in that country. 
Joan Ruddock, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: No such discussions have taken place.
Council Directive 79/409/EEC on the Conservation of Wild Birds (the "Birds Directive") lays down rules for the protection, management and control of all wild birds. Member states are required to introduce legislation in line with the birds directive's requirements and ensure it is applied effectively.
The hunting of turtle dove and quail in Malta is permitted under the birds directive. However, during periods of reproduction or during their return to rearing grounds, hunting may only be permitted under derogation and if the strict conditions under Article 9 of the birds directive are met. This is a matter for the Maltese authorities to determine.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many older people he expects to have to sell their homes to cover the cost of residential care in (a) 2010, (b) 2020, (c) 2030 and (d) 2040. 
Mr. Ivan Lewis, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health: Information about the sale of property to pay for residential care is not collected centrally. Nor is this information automatically collected locally where a person arranges their care privately. It is not, therefore, possible to estimate the number of homes that are, or may be, sold for this purpose.
It is the Government's policy to support people in their own homes for as long as possible, where it is safe to do so and when it accords with their wishes and assessed needs, which is where most people want to be.
For those people entering residential care, the Government have taken steps to help people avoid selling their homes to pay for residential care. Since October 2001, councils have been able to enter into deferred payments agreements with residents. Under this, the council place a legal charge on the resident's former home which is not collected until the end of the contract. This gives people more options for meeting care home fees.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Health what discussions he has had with colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions on the health benefits of the Link Up service. 
Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Mr. Ivan Lewis: The cross-Government strategy, "Opportunity Age - meeting the challenge of a changing society", was published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as a consultation document on 23 March 2005. The strategy outlines what can be done to meet the challenge of the changing demographics in the 21(st) century and looks specifically at the issues facing society as people live longer, healthier lives. It includes supporting active ageing and giving people more choice and independence in how they use the services at their disposal.
The Department was a major partner with DWP in Opportunity Age. A specific theme of Opportunity Age was the development of LinkAge Plus pilots, which aim to build more effective links between central Government, local authorities and other organisations and deliver a fully integrated service to meet the needs of older people.
Eight LinkAge Plus pilots were established. LinkAge Plus is a two-year pilot programme, with funding available until March 2008. It was launched in September 2006 and aims to test models of partnership working and build up evidence of good practice to ensure joined up working. The Link Up service in Gateshead is one of these pilots.
Link Up offers advice and help to people in Gateshead aged 50 or over on a variety of topics, including health, benefits, how to stay healthy and active and help with domestic tasks, such as gardening and shopping.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-motion 2009?
That this House fully supports the IraqChild appeal launched by the UK-based Iraqi Association to raise £250,000 for emergency protection for children through the Andalus Medical Clinic in Baghdad; notes that children in Baghdad will suffer disproportionately this summer through sweltering heat, electricity shortages and lack of air conditioning in addition to the violence and sectarian strife which has led to the displacement of thousands of children and many orphans having to fend for themselves; further notes that terrorists are using children as decoys for sadistic killings, that one in eight Iraqi children died of disease or violence before reaching their fifth birthday in 2005, and that there are worryingly high levels of malnourishment; believes that this non-sectarian project, which was developed through a lengthy consultation process with concerned medical personnel in Baghdad and local non-governmental organizations, is credible; points out that, for example, £22 can buy a child's clothing pack, £48 can treat a child for diarrhoea and ear infection, £60 can pay for a qualified nurse to care for 10 children every week, £650 can pay for a medical doctor for a month to visit 10 families with children every week, and £1,580 can maintain running a children's clinic for a month for eight children everyday; and urges widespread moral and material assistance for this vital humanitarian initiative.
It refers to the appeal for the children of Baghdad, wherein the Iraqi Association in this country is launching an appeal for £250,000 to raise money to develop a clinic in Baghdad to help with the one in eight children who will die this summer. I would ask that this be debated at the next sitting of the House, but there will not be a sitting over the summer and thousands of children will die. Can the Minister ensure that this motion gets to the relevant Departments, to see whether they can help to pay?
Lord Privy Seal, Leader of the House of Commons, Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for bringing the appeal to my attention. I know that he has worked alongside the trade union movement in Iraq and he raises another very good cause, which I will bring to the attention of my ministerial colleagues.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what support her Department provides to assist the work of home improvement agencies. 
Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Mr. Iain Wright: Communities and Local Government's 'Supporting People' grant programme provided around £12.8 million to home improvement agencies in 2005-06. This contributes to their core costs, with additional revenue funding met from local authority housing funding and fee income from public grants, including the Department's Disabled Facilities Grant. Over half of the estimated £99.5 million annual capital funding for works for home improvement agency clients comes from the Disabled Facilities Grant.
The Department also sponsors a national co-ordinating body for home improvement agencies (foundations) to support the work of home improvement agencies in a number of ways, including capacity building within the sector.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): I have had the privilege of working with my hon. Friend for a number of years and have always felt that he acted in an honourable manner, but I have received correspondence from Greenbelt which questions his balance. It says clearly that the early-day motion tabled by my hon. Friend contains a number of gross inaccuracies - for example, he said that Greenbelt served 50,000 homes when it serves just over 18,000; he said that it holds 750 developments when it has only 241; he said that the cost for each property was about £180 when it is only £100. Will my hon. Friend comment on the fact that Greenbelt says that he is giving inaccurate information not only to his constituents but to the Members of this House who supported his early-day motion?
Mr. Devine: Coincidentally, I just happen to have Greenbelt's annual report. On the back are the statistics:
"Currently managing open space on behalf of 20,000 homeowners...A further 30,000 are contracted".
At the school that I went to, 20,000 and 30,000 made 50,000. Greenbelt goes on to say that it is
"responsible for approximately 750 development sites throughout the UK".
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what support his Department provides for people signed off incapacity benefit and awaiting Jobseeker's allowance. 
Mr. Plaskitt, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions: The administration of Jobcentre Plus is a matter for the chief executive of Jobcentre Plus, Lesley Strathie. I have asked her to provide my hon. Friend with the information requested.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): For the past three years, people in the North-East of England have faced yet another attempt by open-cast coal developers to exploit and rape the beautiful Derwent valley. Despite the opposition of the local authority and in defiance of the views of thousands of local people and a multitude of public and private bodies, the developers have gone to appeal. In that process, they have continually failed to disclose the appropriate information to all concerned, and persisted with a plan that has given the residents of the area grave cause for concern.
This petition, signed by more than 4,500 people, is a public declaration of their opposition to those plans, and I urge the Secretary of State to use all her powers to protect one of the last remaining green spaces in the Tyneside conurbation.
To lie upon the Table.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): What discussions will be held with trade unions in the course of the NHS Review conducted by Sir Ara Darzi. 
The Secretary of State for Health (Alan Johnson): Lord Darzi and I are already discussing a range of issues with staff, patients, the public and key stakeholders including the trade unions both locally and nationally to ensure their full involvement in the NHS next stage review.
Mr. Anderson: I thank the Secretary of State for his response. I advise him that the work of the trade unions in the past 10 years in helping to put in place the NHS plan and "Agenda for Change" is a model that should be adapted in the review, so that the unions continue to play a comprehensive and supportive role in making the NHS even better than it is today.
Alan Johnson: I agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, Lord Darzi was in his constituency yesterday, while visiting Gateshead PCT, which might be just outside his constituency. He has also met the leaders of all the major trade unions, and I very much agree with my hon. Friend that the trade union input has been positive throughout the NHS plan and all the events over the past 10 years. This is a huge opportunity for us to re-engage with the work force, which includes, of course, their trade unions.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform what discussions he has had with counterparts in other countries on the promotion of internet privacy practice.
Stephen Timms (Minister of State (Competitiveness), Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform):I have had no such discussions since my recent appointment. These issues are an important aspect of the discussions within Europe and globally about policy issues arising from the internet.
The rapidly increasing use of the internet gives rise to a range of issues relating to privacy. These include the problem of spam, issues around identity and on-line authentication, how to make the internet a safe place for children, and the problem of identity theft when such mechanisms fail. Privacy concerns also emerge in relation to the adoption of new technologies such as radio frequency identification and law enforcement initiatives such as the retention of and access to communications data. We also expect the European Commission to come forward with proposals to enhance privacy of data in their review of the telecommunications framework.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what steps he is taking to promote art as a way of improving the well-being of elderly people. 
Margaret Hodge, Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media & Sport: The arts can play an important role in supporting the health and well-being of older people. There are many examples of excellent work which promotes art for elderly people across the country. The Arts Council and the Department of Health have jointly published 'A prospectus for arts and health' and a 'Dance and health' folder, which highlights a range of examples. Copies of these will be placed in the Library of the House.
The Arts Council is also planning to have a specific focus on older people in their next corporate plan.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): I wonder whether my right hon. Friend agrees with Lord Falconer, who said about commissioning in his speech at the centenary conference of the probation service
"Sometimes it will be done regionally or nationally... but I see this as the exception rather than the rule"?
Local commissioning would be the norm, he said.
Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Mr. Hanson: That goes to the heart of the amendments, which is why I have focused on it from the outset. I entirely agree with what the then Lord Chancellor said at the conference. There will be a mixture of commissioning. Some will be at national level, because in certain cases and with certain contracts that will be the best way of securing a strong and efficient service. There will also be a strong role for those commissioning work at regional level. As my hon. Friend surely accepts, economies of scale will sometimes be necessary, and some services will be best purchased and commissioned at that level. However, there will also be a need for local probation trusts to act not just as service deliverers but as commissioners of services from the voluntary sector, or from others, providing a proper service to help prevent reoffending at local level.
Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): ...... Perhaps it is a hangover from the previous Prime Minister, Tony Blair -
Mr. David Anderson: Who?
Mr. Browne: It is an opportunity to say his name on the Floor of the House.
Mr. David Anderson: My hon. Friend mentioned resources as well as the power to commission. We must have the financial resources. It is clear from a recent report from the chief inspector of probation that resources are not keeping pace with demand. Does my hon. Friend believe that that needs to be sorted out before we move forward?
Patrick Hall: That would be helpful. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) said, we would like more of an incremental approach to the way in which those matters evolve. The comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) would fit in with that.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he expects to answer question 136787, on taxation and allowances, tabled on 8 May 2007 by the hon. Member for Blaydon. 
Financial Secretary, HM Treasury, Jane Kennedy: The Treasury regrets that my hon. Friend's question has not yet been answered. We will endeavour to reply to it as soon as possible.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what the cost of living increase in 2007 will be for forensic psychologists (in training) in the prison service. 
Rt Hon David Hanson, Minister of State, Ministry of Justice: The Prison Service has received a number of inquiries about the lack of a cost-of-living increase for psychology and other specialist grades in 2006. However, those staff who did not receive a cost-of-living increase could still have benefited from a progression-related pay increase of up to 3 per cent. Negotiations with the trade unions for the 2007 pay award are continuing.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): My hon. Friend has spoken about the impact on companies and on the health service, but will there not also be an impact on ordinary people? A gentleman in my constituency is desperate for the drug Alimta, which can hold back the ravages of asbestos-related diseases. If what is being said today is true, there might be yet another block to people's access to such drugs. Surely that is not what our Prime Minister means when he says that we should listen to the voices of the people using the NHS.
Mr. Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab): My hon. Friend makes a point that we all understand. We all have people coming to us saying, "I want the best treatment. There is one available to me, but I have a difficulty in acquiring it."
That is the whole point. That is exactly why we established NICE. That is why we decided to have a process to evaluate treatments. NICE was slow in the products area, and I have had previous debates about that. It was faster in the drugs area than in the technology area, but patients often require both. They do not come in boxes or live their lives in compartments. The NHS may work in its little silos and compartments, but the world does not. The difficulty is how to make a value assessment that gives the true and total value of something, rather than the separate price or cost of an individual item?
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): I, too, welcome my right hon. Friend. Although he did not get the job I wanted him to have, I am glad that he has a job that is so important for this country.
Whether in North-West Leicestershire or any other part of the country, it is clear that we must listen to people who represent pensioners in taking forward important cases, so I urge my right hon. Friend to sit down as soon as possible with representatives of the National Pensioners Convention, to get them on side in the work we are trying to do to make things better for all our people.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Peter Hain): I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The National Pensioners Convention plays an absolutely vital role in championing the interests of senior citizens. I was concerned to hear that apparently there was no Labour party representative at the last conference, which I think was in Blackpool. We shall have to put that right in future, because we want to work with the convention and other representatives from pensioners organisations to make sure that the policies deliver what is intended - justice for pensioners.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Health what facilities and treatment are available for sufferers of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.
Ivan Lewis, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health: Treatment for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is currently aimed at controlling symptoms to maximise the quality of life. This primarily involves physiotherapy and other supportive treatments, including pharmacological interventions, physical activity, surgery and the provision of orthopaedic appliances. Appropriate respiratory support is available as the disease progresses.
The new translational research centre for neuromuscular diseases at University College London is one of six new Medical Research Council funded research centres that will translate scientific discoveries into new drugs, therapies, diagnostic tools, and methods of prevention. This will be the first such centre in the United Kingdom for the study of disabling diseases like DMD and will facilitate the rapid transfer of research knowledge to the clinical environment.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many nurses will receive pay increases of 4.9 per cent. or more in 2007-08. 
Ms Rosie Winterton, Minister of State, Department of Health: Figures for individual nurses are not held centrally.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for International Development if he will make a statement on progress on the 2005 G8 commitments on poverty relief. 
Hilary Benn, Secretary of State, Department for International Development: DFID submits a regular report to Parliament detailing progress against agreed commitment milestones arising from the 2005 G8 commitments on poverty relief.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Health what discussions she has had with patient representatives on changes to the portfolio of the National Specialist Commissioning Advisory Group in the last 12 months; and if she will make a statement. 
Andy Burnham, Minister of State, Department of Health: The Secretary of State has had no discussions with patient representatives about changes to the portfolio of the National Specialist Commissioning Advisory Group (now known as the National Commissioning Group (NCG)) in the last 12 months.
Due to the very specialised nature of the services in the NCG's portfolio, clinical advisers to the NCG ensure that discussions take place with the patient representative groups specific to individual services. (Examples of the relationships between individual patient representative groups and the NCG are set out in its annual report.)
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Health what discussions she has had with the National Specialist Commissioning Advisory Group about commissioning services for muscular dystrophy and neuromuscular conditions. 
Mr. Ivan Lewis, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has received no advice in the last 12 months from the National Specialist Commissioning Advisory Group about muscular dystrophy and neuromuscular conditions.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) when the Specialised Services National Definitions are planned to be updated; 
(2) whether changes to the Specialised Services National Definitions set are to be subject to public consultation; and if she will take steps to ensure that patient representative groups are consulted on the changes. 
Minister of State, Department of Health, Andy Burnham: A project has started to review the Specialised Services National Definitions Set, under the auspices of the newly constituted national specialised commissioning group hosted by NHS London. The initial phase of the project will cover those eight service areas which, under Payment by Results, attract a national tariff specialist top-up. As part of consultation, draft versions of the updated definitions will be circulated for comment to the wider stakeholder community, including patients' groups.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what progress has been made on meeting the 2005 G8 commitments on poverty relief; and if he will make a statement. 
Secretary of State, Department for International Development, Hilary Benn: There has been some good progress in delivering the commitments made at Gleneagles and elsewhere in July 2005. DFID submits a regular report to Parliament detailing the UK's progress against agreed milestones. Globally there has been a significant rise in global aid. It has increased by 25 per cent. to just over $100 billion since 2004.
At this year's summit there was important progress especially on education and HIV/AIDS. Yet there is still much more to do, particularly on trade, and we are working closely with donors and African governments to make sure that the commitments are fully implemented.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons his inquiry is facing problems is that the voice of ordinary people from Iraq - trade union leaders, for example - cannot be heard in this country because they are not allowed to speak? When they are out and about from their country, they face the risk of being assassinated, which has happened at least twice over the last six months.
Mr. Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab): My hon. Friend makes a valid point. He has made a huge contribution to the inquiry that is taking place. It is people like him who actually want a positive way forward, rather than navel gazing and continuous scratching of wounds in order to inflict damage. He realises that we need to move towards a decent future for the people of Iraq. That is the most important thing in any inquiry. What we should do in this place is to look into that very seriously and try to determine how it can happen.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): What assessment he has made of the impact of the pricing and access regime on Royal Mail. 
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Jim Fitzpatrick): Price controls and their associated impact assessments are a matter for the postal regulator, Postcomm. The current price controls run until 2010.
Mr. Anderson: Is my hon. Friend aware that the Communication Workers Union is concerned about the way in which the regime is progressing, to the extent that it believes that it is clear that if private companies are allowed to cherry-pick what they do, it will ultimately lead to the end of Royal Mail as we know it? Some 40,000 jobs have already been lost in Royal Mail; will he agree to meet the CWU as a matter of urgency to try to clarify exactly what is going on?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I do not think that we accept that argument. The price control regime is designed to allow Royal Mail to align its prices more closely with its costs. That is why Postcomm permitted pricing in proportion last year, following a specific request from Royal Mail. In March 2007, Postcomm initiated a review and public consultation on the price control of Royal Mail's access charges. It has not yet taken a decision on whether any amendment is appropriate, but a public consultation is planned for July, and a decision will be made some time in the autumn.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): Is my right hon. Friend aware that for the past three years local government workers have been trying to negotiate their future pensions with no success? Can we have a statement about exactly where the Government stand on this?
Mr. Straw: I am aware of the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend and a number of trade unions, particularly Unison. As he knows, discussions are continuing, involving my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government, local government associations and trade unions on what we hope is a more positive way forward.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if she will make a statement on the regulation of private military security companies. 
Dr. Howells, Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) on 12 March 2007, Official Report, column 93W.
Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans she has for the regulation of private military and security companies based in the United Kingdom. 
Dr. Howells: In late 2004, my right hon. Friend the then Foreign Secretary (Mr Jack Straw), requested a review by officials of the options for the regulation of the overseas operations of private military and security companies (PMSCs) registered in or operating from the United Kingdom. This was to follow up on the Green Paper of 2002, 'Private Military Companies: Options for Regulation' and to respond to the increase in the activities of PMSCs in areas of conflict overseas. The review highlighted complex issues which need full consideration before a decision is taken on the way forward. The Government will keep the House fully informed of its proposals in this area.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports she has received on recent disturbances in Karachi; and if she will make a statement. 
Dr. Howells, Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office: Our high commission in Islamabad has reported that two large rallies took place in Karachi on 12 May. There were violent clashes between protesters resulting in an estimated 41 fatalities. There were renewed clashes in Karachi on 13 May. This led to further casualties, although numbers are unconfirmed. We condemn this violence and urge restraint on all parties. We will continue to watch the situation closely.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 690 on the regulation of private military security companies?
[That this House welcomes the recent War on Want report entitled Corporate Mercenaries which examines the role of mercenaries and private military security companies (PMSCs) in conflict zones around the world; shares its concerns over the exponential growth of PMSCs since the invasion of Iraq; notes that PMSCs work alongside regular soldiers providing combat support in conflict situations, yet remain unregulated and unaccountable leaving open the potential for human rights violations; further notes that problems posed by proliferation of PMSCs were highlighted in a Green Paper in February 2002 that originated in a request from the Foreign Affairs Committee but that almost five years later there is still no United Kingdom legislation regulating PMSCs; believes that self-regulation by the industry is not appropriate in this instance; and urges the Government to move towards binding legislation to control the PMSC sector as an urgent priority.]
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in Iraq, for every British soldier there are six private soldiers? Is it not now time for there to be a Foreign Office statement - an update of the Green Paper of 2002 - on whether we will ever regulate these people?
The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): I agree with my hon. Friend and I will try to arrange an update.
Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): My hon. Friend pre-empts what I was going to say next. By way of contrast, I was about to compliment the Northumberland area NUM. It has been very good at ensuring that miners and their families get access to justice, but without taking a fixed fee. Instead, it asks for a voluntary donation, which is very defendable. Comparisons between those systems lead us to ask why Durham NUM has continued to deduct 7.5 per cent.
Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): Is it not true that during the period that we are discussing, Northumberland NUM had a number of working miners paying subscriptions into the union, whereas that was not the case with the Durham miners?
Mr. Jones: That is an interesting point, but I ask my hon. Friend to wait while I expand on what Durham NUM is doing with the money.
Mr. David Anderson: Perhaps one reason why Thompsons has better results is that they work closely with the NUM and people such as David Guy and David Hopper who have a hands-on relationship in the villages that they come from. They put the work in and get witnesses to come forward, so better cases are put to the Department of Trade and Industry and the courts. That is why they win more money.
Mr. Jones: I wish that were the case, but why is it that firms in north Durham, such as Mark Gilbert Morse, and the claims handlers have so many cases if they do such a good job? They were not doing a good job in those areas. My parliamentary neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon suggests that, somehow, they were out there actively doing such work, but they were not. In north Durham, for example, claims handling companies, Mark Gilbert Morse and others have a large number of claims from people who have gone not through the union but to claims handling companies. The worst thing about that - it gives me no pleasure to say this - is that there is clear collusion between former NUM officials and unscrupulous claims handlers, such as Industrial Disease Compensation Ltd.
Mr. Anderson: The Minister said that my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) made some informative points. If the debate had been longer, some of us might have challenged those points in much more detail than we could in interventions.
The Minister for Science and Innovation (Malcolm Wicks): Yes, I got the impression that a debate had started rather than concluded. As a London MP, I shall leave it there.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): Is the Minister aware that the Royal College of Nursing has estimated that it would cost £60 million to pay the full award proposed for nurses by the pay review body? Does he accept that that is a price worth paying, and if not, does he have a strategy for dealing with the industrial dispute that may occur?
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Andy Burnham): I know that my hon. Friend works hard on these issues and I hope that he agrees with me that the position of nursing staff under this Government is considerably better than what we inherited in 1997. I also hope that he accepts that the decision taken in respect of public sector pay was a decision taken across the public sector, with the exception of the armed forces, with regard to maintaining the strong economy that this Government have also produced. While those are difficult decisions, I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that they are taken for the best of reasons.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice what the cost has been of Operation Safeguard. 
Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice: NOMS has made payments totalling £1,432,722.87 in respect of the use Operation Safeguard in 2006-07. In addition to this there are some further invoices to be submitted by police forces and some invoices that have been submitted which are being processed.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): In Tory-free Gateshead, the Tories held on to what they had: they had nothing and they got nothing.
Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South) (LD): They got no more than they deserved.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): I support the comments made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins). The whole agenda is about the modernisation of public services, and it concentrates on structures. The truth, however, is that people, not structures, make changes. Whatever we decide in the next few days, we will be reliant on ordinary working people to implement the changes and make them work for the people who send us here. We hear regularly from the Government the mantra, "What matters is what works." It will not work if the work force is not consulted and does not have ownership of what is going on. If we ignore the work force, it will not support what we try to do.
We are looking for clarity in the Bill. It should say explicitly that recognised trade unions should be consulted - not, as it currently says,
"such other persons as appear...to be appropriate".
Who will decide who appears to be appropriate? Will it be the local council or the local trust? If it is written into the Bill, there will be no ambiguity, and the people who deliver the service will be involved at all stages.
A consulted work force is a happy work force, even when faced with change. I represented social services in Newcastle long after John Lewis was no longer paying rates there. For 15 years, from 1990, I saw massive changes. Social workers moved from local government into the health service and home care workers competed with private firms that went into people's houses at different times of day, with different people working there. Residential and day care services changed drastically. Yes, we tried to oppose the changes, but ultimately we had to work with them. Regular consultation and discussion, involving the work force and those who were being cared for, were key to that.
I make a plea to the Minister to insert into clause 82 words that would mean that recognised trade unions will be consulted at every level.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): I welcome the amendment, particularly as a member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. Last year we conducted an investigation of community-based restorative justice schemes, looking at those in Andersonstown and Bangor. It was clear that while the schemes required some form of regulation, which the amendment will clearly provide, they were effective on the ground. That was because many of those involved had spent 30 or 40 years performing deeds that they now regretted - everything up to and including murder - and were now able to intervene early in the lives of young people, telling them "Do not follow the path that I took". We saw for ourselves the success of that programme. Reoffending rates were at least 10 times higher among people who went to prison than among those who had benefited from community-based restorative justice schemes.
I hope that whatever we agree today - and I am sure that we will agree to the Government's amendment - the aim is to make the schemes work rather than to limit their ability to work. And as well as being enabled to work within the letter of the law, they should be funded properly. That has not happened in the past.
Paul Goggins, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office: I am grateful for all the comments that have been made. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) was absolutely right, and I pay tribute to the work he has done as a member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. As he said, community-based restorative justice schemes have great potential as a diversion from prosecution, dealing with a pattern of offending behaviour at an early stage in a way that diverts people from the criminal justice system altogether. I am sure we all support that, but there have been concerns about various schemes. What we have now is a system of accreditation and inspection that is rigorous, and can determine whether individuals working in schemes are suitable for the task. We have a robust system, including the protocol.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): Will the Prime Minister join me in sending the best wishes of the House to the people of Northern Ireland on this week's momentous occasion? Will he also send a clear message to the politicians in Northern Ireland that, this time, we expect them to make it work and not let things break down, no matter how hard it gets?
The Prime Minister: One of the most remarkable things about yesterday was not just the fact of the institutions being up and running but what I might call the atmospherics in Northern Ireland. They were an extremely good augury for the future. I accept my hon. Friend's point, but I believe that there is now the will to make things work in Northern Ireland. One of the most interesting things about the recent election is that it was back to the normal bread-and-butter issues of politics. That is a huge advance.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): On cuts, does the hon. Gentleman agree that local authorities are key providers of mental health services, yet authorities such as Newcastle city council, which is controlled by the Liberal Democrats, have deliberately taken the party political decision not to increase council tax above inflation, and have therefore cut social services budgets, including the budget for mental health funding?
Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD): I said earlier that I hoped we would all take the view that the issue was too important for cheap political point-scoring. My concern is about the funding of mental health services within the NHS; that is what the debate is all about.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what average damages have been recovered by the 20 law firms with the greatest volume of claims for (a) vibration white finger and (b) chronic bronchitis and emphysema. 
Malcolm Wicks, Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry: The averages damages recovered by the 20 claimants' representatives with the greatest volume of claims for vibration white finger (VWF), and for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are shown on the following tables:
|Claimants’ representatives||Claims registered||Average damages paid on claims settled by payment (£)|
|Claimants’ representatives||Claims registered||Average damages paid on claims settled by paymen t (£)|
In each of the tables, figures of Claims Registered may be lower than in the previous answers due to claimants having changed representatives.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): It is two years since the Iraqi Government seized the assets of the Iraqi trade unions, three months since three raids were carried out on the offices of the trade unions by US troops and a month since the leader of the mechanics union in Iraq was assassinated after being tortured. Will the Minister agree to meet me and representatives of the trade unions in Iraq to try to find a way forward, because at the moment our policy towards the trade unions in Iraq is not working?
The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): I disagree with my hon. Friend. Our policy towards trade unions has been very supportive because they are a key part of civil society and are building the new society in Iraq. We must ensure that the sectarians who are killing trade unionists and those who for their own reasons are opposing democratic trade unionism in Iraq, are opposed. They are opposed regularly by the British Government and by our diplomats in Iraq.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) if he will hold discussions with Ofgem on British Gas Services' setting up of a complaints handling service that is available to the public; 
(2) if he will take steps to ensure that energy suppliers have effective and transparent complaints procedures. 
Malcolm Wicks, Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry: The Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Bill, which is currently before Parliament, would place a duty on the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) to make regulations to prescribe standards for the handling of complaints by regulated suppliers in the energy sector. Regulated energy suppliers will thus be obliged, at the very least, to have in place the prescribed standards of complaints handling. The Bill will also introduce new redress schemes for electricity, gas and postal services, which will be able to resolve the full range of consumer complaints in these sectors and make provision for customer redress, including, where appropriate, the payment of compensation.
Customers currently have access to a complaint-handling service operated by Energywatch if they are unable to resolve a dispute directly with their gas and electricity supplier. Customers may also contact the Energy Supply Ombudsman, which can resolve complaints in respect of problems encountered with billing or changing supplier.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment he has made of the impact of the removal of the 10 pence tax rate on the incomes of people aged (a) between 60 and 65 years and (b) 65 years and older. 
Dawn Primarolo, Paymaster General, HM Treasury: The removal of the 10 pence tax rate was part of a package of reform announced in Budget 2007, which also included reducing the basic rate of income tax from 22p to 20p, increasing aged personal allowances, aligning the Upper Earnings Limit with (an increased) higher rate threshold and increases to the working tax credit and child tax credit.
As a result of this package, we estimate that on average households including someone aged 60 to 64 will be over £27 a year better off in 2009-10, while households with someone aged 65 or more will be on average £72 a year better off (in 2007-08 prices).
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) whether he is able to intervene to assist churches facing increased charges for surface water drainage; 
(2) if he will discuss with Ofwat the impact of Northumbria Water's decision to install water meters in some churches. 
Ian Pearson, Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: In 2003, Ofwat carried out a review of Surface Water Drainage charges for non-household customers. This recommended a move from charging based on rateable values towards a site-area method. Ofwat considers that charging by site-area is the fairest method: it ensures that individual customers pay for the load which they impose on the drainage system.
Every year each water company proposes a charging scheme which Ofwat must approve. Non-household customers should pay for their water on the basis of the company's charges scheme, or on the basis of a specific agreement between the customer and the company.
My right hon. friend the Secretary of State issued guidance in 2000 on matters that Ofwat must have regard to when exercising its power to approve charges schemes. This explains that it is inappropriate to charge all non-household customers as if they were businesses. If premises such as churches are charged on the same basis as the other non-household users, they can face disproportionately high costs. Such premises should be able to benefit from tariffs which reflect their relatively small demand on the water system.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will take steps to prevent (a) BT and (b) other telecommunication companies levying additional charges on customers who pay other than by monthly plan or direct debit. 
Margaret Hodge, Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry: While this is a commercial matter, my understanding is that for a number of years, BT has applied a price differential between customers who pay their accounts by direct debit and those who pay by other means. This reflects the increased processing and debt management costs associated with payments not made by direct debit. Such differentials are common practice among communications providers and utility service providers.
From 1 May 2007, BT is changing how it presents this differential from a discount for those customers paying by direct debit, to a charge for those paying by other means. BT has combined this change with an increase of £1.50 a quarter in the charge (from £3 to £4.50).
The Light User Scheme, In Contact and BT Basic will not be affected by the increased charge. These are the special tariff schemes offered to vulnerable customers by BT as a result of the Universal Service Obligation placed on the company.
I have raised the matter with the chief executive officer of the independent regulator, the Office of Communications (Ofcom). Ofcom is considering whether any of the changes BT has recently made raise any regulatory issues and is coming back to me on this in April.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will take steps to ensure that widowed lone parents receive for tax credit purposes the same disregard for their widows' pension as is received by divorcees for their maintenance payments. 
Dawn Primarolo, Paymaster General, HM Treasury: The child and working tax credits are part of the tax system and tax credit entitlement is therefore generally based on all income of a tax year which is taken into account for income tax purposes. This includes taxable social security benefits such as widowed parent's allowance. Income which is exempt from income tax is disregarded for tax credits. In particular, maintenance received from a former spouse is disregarded to help lone parents in these circumstances to find and keep work and to encourage the payment of maintenance by the former spouse.
However, the widowed parent's allowance, together with some other income, already benefits from a £300 annual disregard which reduces the amount of such income which is taken into account for tax credit purposes.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): Does the Secretary of State agree that while it is right and proper to praise both John Major and the present Prime Minister, we should praise the ordinary people - in fact, the extraordinary people - on the ground, who did not stop working across sectarian barriers? Trade unionists and public service workers stood through 40 years of the troubles, and never ever gave up on their belief in peace.
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Hain: I could not agree more strongly with my hon. Friend about the role played by the trade union movement, and the role that it continues to play in bridging the divide between the communities, pressing ahead with a policy of social justice across the divide and making sure that the interests of the people of Northern Ireland, especially the employees of Northern Ireland, are always to the fore. He is absolutely right, and his own trade union - Unison - has done a tremendous job, and continues to do so.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): A lot of people present in the Chamber have come a long way to get where we are today. I was just thinking about some of the things that I have gone through since I first got involved in Northern Ireland politics. In 1988, a group of 11 parents came across to North-East England to tell us about the children whom they had lost due to plastic bullets. We went with them to Brock's fireworks factory in Sanquhar in south-west Scotland, where the plastic bullets were made. They were pilloried by local people for going there and for asking, "Will you please stop making these weapons, because they are killing our children?" It was a salutary lesson for me about man's inhumanity to man, and particularly about inhumanity towards young people.
Later that same year, I attended a demonstration in Glasgow to speak against the restrictions on freedom of speech that had been imposed on Sinn Fein. It was not that I necessarily approved of what Sinn Fein was doing, but I disapproved of silencing people, as that is the wrong thing to do. Again, we were met with howls of protest, and the demonstrators faced real and present danger in the streets of Glasgow. Thankfully, we have come a long way since then, but even so, there have been milestones and setbacks.
In the early 1990s, I was involved with a group called the Agreed Ireland Forum. Its members, who were from virtually every part of Irish society, first came across to this country for a meeting, and then went back to hold meetings in Ireland to try to take things forward. I was pleased to be able to organise a conference in Newcastle, County Down, just a few days after the bombing of Canary Wharf. People from every political party in Northern Ireland bar one - unfortunately, it was the Democratic Unionist party - came to that meeting, as well as people from the ethnic minorities, a growing group whose needs must be taken care of in the new Northern Ireland. The meeting was opened by the President of the Republic of Ireland; that was a very strong statement, all those years ago. It said, "Yes, we can work together."
In an intervention on the Secretary of State, I mentioned the work of the trade unions. I am proud of the fact that I worked with trade unions in Northern Ireland that tried to ensure normalcy when their members were working in chaos. Their members were threatened every day by people trying to jump queues and abuse public servants and public services. I was convinced and guided by people on both sides, including a branch secretary at a hospital in Belfast, who had served time as a young man for robbing banks to fund the loyalist cause, and civil rights marchers on the Republican side who have carried the flame from the 1960s to the 1990s and beyond, to try to develop peace in Northern Ireland. I was attacked by so-called London Irish representatives of my own union, who said that we should not even be organising in Northern Ireland, despite the fact that we were by far the largest trade union in Northern Ireland, and despite the fact that 30,000 people wanted to be members of my union. I am very glad that we ignored those voices.
We developed structures that crossed sectarian barriers and we said, "If it's wrong, it's wrong. It doesn't matter where you went to school. It doesn't matter where you go to church. It doesn't matter what your name is. If you're being treated badly, the union will stand up and oppose that." I probably had more problems in the trade union movement with people arguing among themselves than we had in arguments about the country's politics.
I supported the work of my Government and of my party before it got into government. My union was responsible for funding much of the work that Mo Mowlam did before she went in as Secretary of State. That meant that as a Minister she was able to confront civil servants and wipe them out of the way, so that she could sit down and talk directly with the politicians on the ground who were developing a way forward that was not blocked by the stagnant, cold hand of the civil service in Northern Ireland.
In the short time before April 1998, that helped to move forward the Good Friday agreement. When it was up and running, yes, the first Assembly sat for only 72 days, but in that short time the work of people like the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) showed that despite the opposition from outside the Assembly, there was a chance to make progress. People did get together and work positively. After suspension, the Assembly returned. All the arguments and problems were described earlier by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson). We went from crisis to crisis to collapse.
There has been much talk today about deadlines. I wish I had a pound for every deadline that has been set and broken. The real worry in the past was that when a deadline failed, a vacuum followed. The history of Northern Ireland is that if a political vacuum occurred, the terrorists filled it. I wish the deadline had not passed yesterday, but there is no vacuum. Instead, people are working their socks off to try and pull things together and make the agreement work. That is a massive change.
Since I entered the House two years ago, there have been enormous frustrations. We have sat down and worked together for hours, and it has been pointless, going forwards, then backwards. We sat for 27 hours on one Bill. The Secretary of State had to come to the House and acknowledge that it was not working. He had egg on his face that day, as well as yesterday. That was frustrating for those who wanted to see the process move forward.
While people in the political world in the House and in Northern Ireland have to some extent been talking to each other, in Northern Ireland the people's world has moved forward massively. It is unrecognisable, compared with what it was 10, 20 or 30 years ago. In every sense it is a much better place, and we should all be proud of that. The Northern Ireland Assembly is to be led by probably the two most polarised parties anywhere in Europe, if not the world, and there will be ideological problems, but in a democracy that must be accepted.
Since I entered the House, I have worked closely with the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. Twenty years ago I was ideologically opposed to his Government, and I still am. As a miner, I was ideologically opposed to what his party was trying to do to my community. That has not stopped us, along with other Members with similar experiences, working together for the betterment of the people whom we represent and for the people of Northern Ireland. That demonstrates the possibilities for the people who will take up responsibility.
We now have a date for restoration. The positive things that were said yesterday not only by the DUP, but by Sinn Fein, about being serious and making the agreement work, have set an agenda. Collapse is no longer an option. Yes, there will be crises. That is part and parcel of the democratic process, but walking out, deliberately undermining the process because one group cannot get their own way, is not on. That would be a betrayal of the people whom they represent, of the House and of the trust that the House has placed in them. It would also betray the people of Great Britain, who for 40 years have supported the people of Northern Ireland in every sense and want to continue to do so. I take on board what was said earlier - that nobody in Northern Ireland wants to be the recipient of handouts. I accept that totally, because I know what proud people they are. The fact is, however, that what has happened over the past 40 years has caused economic disadvantage to Great Britain, and that when we get rid of that disadvantage it will be to all our benefits.
We will betray the futures of our children and our children's children if we do not make the system work this time. I am not naïve. I know that it will not be easy, and I know that this is very much a beginning and not an end. Democracy is not easy; it is much easier to move in the other direction. But I plead with all who will run the Assembly in Northern Ireland not to abuse the chance that they have been given.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many nurses she expects to receive a pay increase of 1.9 per cent. in the next 12 months. 
Minister of State, Department of Health, Ms Rosie Winterton: All nurses employed by the national health service will receive a staged pay award for 2007-08. This will consist of an uplift of 1.5 per cent. from 1 April 2007 and a further 1 per cent. from 1 November 2007. In addition, many nurses will also receive an increase typically between 3 and 4 per cent. during the year as they progress up their pay scales, and others will receive a pay increase on promotion. The 2005 NHS workforce census, published in April 2006, shows that at September 2005 there were 404,161 nursing, midwifery and healthcare visiting staff employed by the NHS in England. The results of the 2006 NHS workforce census will be published shortly.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): Does my hon. Friend agree that, regardless of where hospitals or services are located, nurses are finally getting paid the money that they should be paid, and also that there is no longer the sin of ancillary workers - such as those whom my hon. Friend and I used to represent - being paid slave wages under compulsory competitive tendering? They are now paid at least the minimum wage. That is in part what has led to the doubling of the budget, and it has led to a better service for people in hospital.
Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): My hon. Friend and constituency neighbour makes the point well that we have got rid of the poverty wages that were paid in the health service in the 1990s. I am sure that we are now all getting letters about nurses' pay, but we should be proud of what the Government have done on nurses' pay in real terms since 1997.
On compulsory competitive tendering and dirty hospitals, my hon. Friend and I both know from our experience of local government that there were pressures to ensure that the priority in terms of local hospitals was not quality but price. Price was the priority not because there was a concern to bring about a more efficient service; the concern about price led to a lower quality of service and to the major element of every single contract being the price of labour, which was pushed down.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): May we have a debate before the Easter recess on nurses' pay? In Scotland nurses are being paid 2.5 per cent., according to the pay review. In England they are being paid 1.9 per cent. and being told that they are being paid 2.5 per cent. They are incensed by that. May we have a debate as a matter of urgency?
Mr. Straw: This is a devolved matter for the Scottish Parliament. With devolution, it is inevitable that different Administrations will come to different decisions within a financial envelope provided by the United Kingdom Parliament. I note what my hon. Friend says about the concern of nurses in England, and I will pass on his remarks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many people are in receipt of widowed parent's allowance. 
Mr. Plaskitt: As at August 2006, the most recent available figure, there were 37,060 people in receipt of widowed parents allowance in Great Britain.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the Bain Review of education. 
Maria Eagle: The Bain Review represents an important step in improving education in Northern Ireland. The report includes recommendations for making better use of resources, improved planning of schools, and improved sharing and collaboration across schools, and highlights the educational, economic and social benefits which changes will bring. The Government have accepted all the report's recommendations.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): Can the hon. Gentleman explain exactly which 50 per cent. he would cut?
Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): Fifty per cent. of the current missiles would be cut. Such a significant reduction to Britain's nuclear arsenal would send a strong signal that Britain continues to meet its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty and is serious about cutting nuclear weapons. If Britain used all its influence to spearhead a renewed drive towards disarmament and expressed a sincere willingness to give up our remaining nuclear weapons if sufficient progress were made towards total world-wide nuclear disarmament - in partnership, I hope, with a more sympathetic American Administration after George Bush has gone - the next NPT review conference in 2010 could make progress again after the failure in 2005.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how much tax revenue was collected from persons to whom the widowed persons tax allowance was applicable in the latest period for which figures are available. 
Dawn Primarolo: Widow's bereavement allowance was the only income tax allowance available for widows and was available for deaths occurring before 6 April 2000. It was available in the year of the husband's death and the following year.
Around 150,000 widows were eligible for widow's bereavement allowance in 1999-2000 of which 100,000 benefited from a reduction in their income tax liability, the remainder paid no income tax. This represented a reduction of around £20 million of income tax, resulting in total income tax liability of £175 million for widows in receipt of widow's bereavement allowance.
These estimates are based on the Survey of Personal Incomes for 1999-2000 which was the final year widow's bereavement allowance was available in full.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): Can my right hon. Friend, or the appropriate Minister, investigate the recent actions of American troops in Iraq, who, on three occasions in the past two weeks, have raided trade union offices, destroyed equipment, confiscated computers and fax machines and arrested some of the employees?
Mr. Straw: I will certainly pass on to the Foreign Secretary the concerns raised by my hon. Friend for the trade union movement in Iraq. Although I know nothing about that particular incident, I know a lot about the bravery and commitment of the trade union officials and movement in Iraq.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Health whether she has made an assessment of the effect on cigarette sales of the introduction of the ban on smoking in public places in Scotland. 
Caroline Flint: The introduction of smoke free legislation in Scotland is a devolved matter.
Health Scotland has been funded by the Scottish Executive to undertake an extensive piece of research into the impact of smokefree legislation in Scotland. This will include an assessment of the impact on prevalence and consumption.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if she will make a statement on the situation in Kashmir. 
Dr. Howells: We welcome the shared commitment by India and Pakistan to continue their dialogue process to seek a resolution of all outstanding issues, including Kashmir. The fourth round of the Composite Dialogue is scheduled to begin in March.
We remain concerned about acts of terrorism in Kashmir. We continue to encourage Pakistan to stand by its commitment to prevent infiltration across the Line of Control.
We also continue to press for an improvement in the human rights situation in Kashmir, where there are continued reports of human rights violations.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment he has made of the quality standards of tap water. 
Ian Pearson: Audits and inspections of water companies in England and Wales, and enforcement action to ensure compliance with the Water Quality Regulations - including investigation of customer complaints and incidents which affect drinking water supplies - is dealt with by the Drinking Water Inspectorate. The inspectorate was formed in 1990 to provide independent reassurance that public water supplies in England and Wales are safe and drinking water quality is acceptable to consumers.
Water companies have a duty to collect and test samples for each of the substances and organisms in the regulations, and must make the results of this testing available to their customers. The inspectorate's role is to carry out independent checks to ensure that this testing is being performed to a high standard of quality control.
The original EU drinking water standards were implemented in England and Wales in 1989. Compliance is measured by results of tests on samples from consumers' taps. Compliance figures for each year from 1992 to 2003 are in the following table.
New EU drinking water standards came into force from the end of 2003. Compliance with the new standards in England and Wales was 99.94 per cent. in 2004 and 99.96 per cent. in 2005.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the hon. Member for North Devon, representing the House of Commons Commission if the House authorities will ensure that tap water is provided in (a) committee and (b) meeting rooms as an alternative to bottled water. 
Nick Harvey: The Administration Committee considered a suggestion that tap water be provided in place of bottled water in committee and meeting rooms at its meeting on 17 January 2006 and decided to take no action. Further consideration is being given to the provision of water in committee and meeting rooms.
The hon. Gentleman may wish to make his views known to the Committee.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): May we have a full debate in Government time about the Government's record on crime, so that we can again expose, in the public interest, the ludicrous position of the Liberal Democrats, which was so clearly exposed last night?
Mr. Straw: I would be delighted to have a rerun of last night's debate.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps he plans to take to ensure that Sinn Fein's acceptance of policing in Northern Ireland is implemented on the ground. 
Paul Goggins: I welcome the decision of the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis to support policing and the courts. I also welcome the comments of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams) and hope that we will all be able to see the evidence of this policy being borne out on the ground.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): Is my right hon. Friend aware that on 24 February, the British National party will effectively be recognised as a trade union by the certification officer? May we have an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that that organisation will not be allowed to exploit employment laws to spread its obnoxious policies?
Mr. Straw: I shall certainly look at the point made by my hon. Friend, and ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State writes to him.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps he is taking to curtail commercial whaling. 
Mr. Bradshaw: Since the 1985-86 whaling seasons, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has maintained a moratorium on the hunting and killing of all great whales. Norway and Iceland, who objected to the introduction of the moratorium, are thus not bound by it and therefore conduct whaling operations legally.
The UK will continue to protest at the highest diplomatic level against Norway and Iceland's activities which, though legal, are not in keeping with the spirit of the IWC. We will continue our efforts, along with other countries, to urge these countries to reconsider their position and reverse this unjustified and unnecessary practice. Indeed, in November, the UK led a diplomatic demarche of 25 countries together with the European Commission in condemning the Icelandic Government's decision to resume commercial whaling.
DEFRA officials also ensure that Foreign and Commonwealth Office posts in the relevant capitals are briefed, and engage in discussion with their counterparts on whaling at every appropriate opportunity. This ensures that these countries are in no doubt of the importance that the UK places on whale conservation.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps she is taking to curtail commercial whaling. 
Mr. McCartney: An international moratorium on commercial whaling has been in force since 1986.
One country, Norway, has never been a party to the moratorium and has never ceased its commercial whaling operations.
Two other countries, Japan and Iceland, have continued to kill whales but claim that this is in aid of scientific research. In October 2006 Iceland broke with the moratorium and resumed commercial whaling.
The UK's opposition to Norway's commercial whaling programme has been consistent and strong. In April 2006, the UK led a démarche against Norway's announcement of a record increase in the number of North Atlantic minke whales they planned to catch last year. As it transpired, Norway only caught 546 of its planned catch of 1,052.
UK officials at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in June 2006 were in the forefront of the opposition to Japan's unsuccessful attempts to overturn the moratorium. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs engage in international lobbying to encourage other countries to join the IWC and oppose commercial whaling and lethal scientific whaling. In December 2006 the UK joined a démarche of 27 countries requesting Japan to reconsider its planned whaling programme for the next year.
The UK led the international condemnation of Iceland's decision to resume commercial whaling. On 1 November 2006, our ambassador in Reykjavik led a multinational démarche of 25 countries plus the European Commission, making clear the extreme disappointment felt by those parties at Iceland's decision, and urging Iceland to abandon its current operations. My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare, (Mr. Bradshaw), summoned the Icelandic ambassador on 17 October 2006 to protest in the strongest possible terms against Iceland's activities.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what revenue his Department raised from vehicle and road taxes paid by motorists in the area covered by the Government Office of the North East in the most recent year for which figures are available. 
John Healey: The Treasury does not hold the information requested. To disaggregate revenues raised from vehicle and road taxes paid by motorists within the North East of England would incur disproportionate cost.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how much was spent on the trunk road networks in the area covered by the Government Office of the North East in the last year for which figures are available. 
Dr. Ladyman: The trunk road networks of the North East are part of the strategic road network managed by the Highways Agency whose reporting systems do not provide information on a county or regional basis.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): I would like to say happy new year to everyone in the room.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is nonsensical that pits such as Harworth and the linked-up pit at Rossington in South Yorkshire are mothballed with millions of tonnes of reserves, while in my constituency contractors are falling over themselves to dig up the land? They propose to spend three years destroying natural and historic environment for half a million tonnes of coal, while tens of millions of tonnes of coal lie there and may well be sterilised.
Paddy Tipping: I share my hon. Friend's scepticism on open-cast coal and I hope that the Government will not change planning regulations to make it easier for open-casters to develop.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) if she will take steps to ensure that the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence's decision about Alimta is communicated to mesothelioma sufferers as soon as it is known; 
(2) when the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence is expected to reach its decision on whether Alimta should be approved for use in the NHS. 
Andy Burnham: The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) announced on 19 December 2006 that the appeals lodged against NICE'S appraisal of pemetrexed disodium (Alimta) for the treatment of mesothelioma had been upheld. The appraisal will be returned to NICE'S Appraisal Committee for further work. Final guidance is now expected later in 2007 and NICE will ensure that this is widely publicised.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment he has made of the potential impact on UK finances of proposals to reduce the rate of corporation tax in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. 
Dawn Primarolo: The corporation tax regime is a UK-wide system and to introduce different rates in one part of the UK could distort competition.
Many companies trade in different regions of the UK. It would not be easy to determine the proportion of their profits liable at a 'devolved' rate. In addition, such a measure could also create opportunities for some companies to manipulate the rules in order to benefit from the lower rate. This may well result in a system that would place a significant administrative burden on both businesses and the Government.
Following a ruling by the European Court of Justice (the 'Azores ruling') in September 2006, it is also clear that introducing lower regional rates of CT in the UK would violate EU law.
Mr. David Anderson: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what representations he has received from (a) trade union and (b) business interests in Northern Ireland on proposals to reduce the rate of corporation tax in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. 
Dawn Primarolo: The Government have received the Economic Research Institute of Northern Ireland's report 'Assessing the case for a Differential Rate of Corporation Tax in Northern Ireland'.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if he will investigate the impact on churches in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle of Northumbria Water's proposals to change the charging method for surface water draining. 
Ian Pearson: Ofwat, the economic regulator of the water and sewerage industry in England and Wales, is responsible for approving companies' charges schemes.
Sewerage service charges are increasing for some Northumbrian Water non-household customers, and reducing for others, due to the transfer from a rateable value based charging method to a site-area based charging method for the surface water drainage (SWD) element of the sewerage charge.
In 2003 Ofwat carried out a review of SWD charges and published its conclusions in a letter to all companies (RD35/03). Ofwat advocated a move towards site-area based charging for non-household customers. It considers that charging by site area is the fairest method of charging as it results in more cost-reflective charges for non-household customers.
Northumbrian Water are phasing in site-area based charging for SWD for existing non-household customers over three years. By 2008-09 charging will be based wholly on site area. This is designed to phase the impact on customers.
Ofwat encourages companies to offer partial rebates to customers where it can be shown that water does not drain to a public sewer.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): May I echo the call made by the shadow Leader of the House for an early debate on the NHS, as 21,000 posts may be at risk and 900 jobs subject to compulsory redundancy? At the same time, we could have a discussion about the 160,000 workers who were made redundant during 18 years of Tory misrule.
Mr. Straw: We are always happy to debate the health service. There is not a single constituency in the United Kingdom that has not benefited hugely from the additional investment that we have made in the health service over the past 10 years, nor a constituency where the number of health workers of all grades has failed to increase.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what steps she is taking to ensure that digital television coverage extends to (a) the whole of Blaydon constituency and (b) Crawcrook village. 
Mr. Lammy: The vast majority of households in those areas should be able to receive digital TV services via either digital satellite or digital terrestrial now.
At switchover, coverage of digital terrestrial television will be increased to substantially match that currently achieved by analogue services.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what steps she is taking to ensure that the national planning regime encourages the development of (a) micro-power energy generation and (b) domestic wind turbines. 
Yvette Cooper: The Government believe it should be made easier within the planning system to install small scale microgeneration. We are currently reviewing the regulations on what equipment a householder can install without having to apply for planning permission. Our aim is to produce a system that is both clearer and permits more microgeneration. We will be consulting on our proposals in the new year.
More generally, the Government have made it clear to all planning authorities that they are expected to make full use of the positive approach to renewables set out in Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 22 on Renewable Energy. In particular, the Government expects all planning authorities to include policies in their development plans that require a percentage of the energy in new developments to come from on-site renewables, where it is viable. We have said we will publish for consultation by the end of the year a new PPS on climate change. This will set out how the Government expect participants in the planning process to work towards the reduction of carbon emissions in the location, siting and design of new development.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many extra (a) doctors, (b) nurses and (c) other health service staff have been employed in (i) Gateshead Primary Care Trust and (ii) Blaydon constituency since 1997. 
Mr. Ivan Lewis: The information is not available in the format requested. However, the following table shows the numbers of NHS staff in the Gateshead Primary Care Trust by main staff group as at 30 September each specified year.
|All Medical and Dental staff(1)||12||13||15||15|
|Non-Medical staff total||574||631||681||793|
|Professionally qualified clinical staff||334||353||381||450|
|Qualified nursing, midwifery and health visiting staff||230||237||253||306|
|Qualified scientific, therapeutic and technical staff||104||116||128||144|
|Qualified Allied Health Professions||74||87||91||102|
|Other Qualified Scientific, therapeutic and technical staff||30||29||37||42|
|Support to clinical staff||165||199||211||238|
|Support to doctors and nursing staff||156||176||187||217|
|Support to ST&T staff||9||23||24||21|
|NHS infrastructure support||73||79||89||105|
|Hotel, property and estates||1||1||2||3|
|Managers and senior managers||29||43||53||55|
|Other staff or those with unknown classification||2||0||0||0|
|(1) Excludes medical Hospital Practitioners and medical Clinical Assistants, most of whom are GPs working part time in hospitals.|
(2) All Practitioners includes Contracted GPs, GMS Others, PMS Others, GP Registrars and GP Retainers.
(3) Practice Staff includes Practice Nurses, Direct Patient Care, Admin and Clerical and Other. Data covers: NHS Staff directly employed by the PCT; and GP practices who are commissioned by the PCT.
The Information Centre for health and social care Medical and Dental Workforce Census.The Information Centre for health and social care General and Personal Medical Services Statistics
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many Group 3 turnovers have been achieved by the 20 law firms with the greatest volume of claims in the Vibration White Finger scheme; and what this figure represents as a percentage of each firm's caseload. 
Malcolm Wicks: The number of Group 3 turnovers that have been achieved by the 20 claimants' representatives with the greatest volume of claims for Vibration White Finger (VWF), and the percentages of VWF caseload are shown on the following table:
|Claimants’ representatives||Total claims registered||Group 3 denials overturned||Group 3 denials overturned as a percentage of total claims per cent|
|Browell Smith and Co||16,467||377||2.3|
|Union of Democratic Mineworkers||11,534||41||0.4|
|Watson Burton LLP||5,934||199||3.4|
|Ashton Morton Slack LLP||5,382||126||2.3|
|Kidd and Spoor Harper Solicitors||3,668||76||2.1|
|O H Parsons and Partners Solicitors||2,701||56||2.1|
|Irwin Mitchell Solicitors||2,363||64||2.7|
|Shaw and Co Solicitors||2,256||61||2.7|
|Latham and Co Solicitors||1,838||36||2.0|
Mr. David Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what the average damages recovered were by the 10 law firms with the greatest volume of claims for (a) vibration white finger and (b) chronic bronchitis and emphysema compensation. 
Malcolm Wicks: The average damages recovered by the 10 claimants' representatives with the greatest volume of claims for Vibration White Finger (VWF), and for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) are shown on the following tables:
|Claimants’ representatives||Claims registered||Average damages paid (on claims settled by payment as at 30 November 2006) (£)|
|Browell Smith and Co||16,467||9,411|
|Union of Democratic Mineworkers||11,536||9,661|
|Watson Burton LLP||5,934||12,244|
|Ashton Morton Slack LLP||5,382||8,650|
|Claimants’ representatives||Claims registered||Average damages paid (on claims settled by payment as at 30 November 2006)|
|Browell Smith and Co||32,872||7,441|
|Mark Gilbert Morse||25,751||7,646|
|Union of Democratic Mineworkers||16,688||3,356|
|Barber and Co||14,093||2,541|
|Watson Burton LLP||14,071||4,437|
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): I, too, want to raise the issue of Iraq, but to take another line. I hope that my right hon. Friend agrees with me that one of the few positives in Iraq has been the development of an independent trade union movement - but is he aware that the Iraqi Government's decrees are stifling that development? Will he ask the Foreign Secretary to make a statement explaining exactly how we will support the Iraqi trade union movement? I am particularly concerned that they need the strength to stand alone, whatever happens in the future.
The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): I have seen my hon. Friend's early-day motion 405 in that respect and I will certainly tell my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary of his concerns. Iraq started well post-war in defending labour rights, but I know that there has been some backward movement since then.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Health what new health service facilities have been established in (a) Gateshead primary care trust and (b) Blaydon constituency since 1997. 
Ms Rosie Winterton: New facilities and services in the Gateshead primary care trust area since 1992 include the walk in centre (opened July 2004) on the site of the Bensham hospital as well as the Teams medical practice which moved into new purpose built premises in December 2005.
New pharmacies have opened at Boots in Retail World Gateshead, and in Sainsburys in Gateshead.
Other achievements include:
New facilities and services in Blaydon area include the new Whickham cottage medical centre (2002), new general practitioner (GP) services in Ryton (2003-04) following the recruitment of two additional GPs, along with improvements to the surgery accommodation. The GP services in Ryton is now a main practice as opposed to the former branch practice arrangement. New facilities in Chopwell (The Pioneer centre) became available in 2004. These include podiatry, speech and language therapy as well as family planning services.
New optometry practices have opened in Crawcrook and Birtley. Gateshead PCT has also provided funding for a number of GP practices to make improvements to their premises to meet the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act such as electrically operated doors, new seating, signage, ramps, call bells and induction loops.
The PCT is looking at ways to help provide new health facilities for GPs and PCT staff in Ryton, Crawcrook and Wrekenton. It is also supporting the provision of new replacement medical facilities for several practices, including Glenpark medical practice in Dunston, Central Gateshead medical group, Oxford Terrace, Bewick Road in central Gateshead and St. Albans medical group in Felling.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): Will the Prime Minister discuss with his Cabinet colleagues how we can help elderly people to pay their heating bills this year, given the unprecedented rise in energy bills? Will he consider having a windfall tax on the companies that have made these profits?
The Prime Minister: Of course my hon. Friend will know of the £200 winter fuel allowance - £300 for those over 80. We will continue to do everything that we can to support the poorest pensioners. I very much hope that the companies that are supplying those pensioners take account of the fact that the elderly, particularly those who are living in poverty, have special and particular needs.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what support the UK is providing to people in Uganda affected by the activities of the Lord's Resistance Army. 
Hilary Benn: The UK is one of the largest providers of humanitarian aid to people in the areas of Uganda affected by the Lord's Resistance Army. In 2005-06 we provided £20 million for humanitarian assistance. In 2006-07 we have already spent just over £9 million on humanitarian assistance and plan to disburse at least a further £9 million before the end of March. Funding has been channelled through the UN agencies, the Red Cross and Save the Children and has been used to provide emergency food aid, health care, water and sanitation, education and programmes to protect vulnerable children.
In addition to our humanitarian aid we have also supported efforts to bring the conflict to an end through the funding of activities to promote peace and reconciliation. In 2005-06 we provided just under £1 million of conflict prevention funding and this financial year we plan to spend approximately £1.3 million, including support we are providing to the current peace talks in Juba.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports her Department has received on the treatment of Marie-Therese Nlandu Mpolo-Nene by the Congolese authorities. 
Mr. McCartney: We are concerned by the continued detention of Marie Therese Nlandu since her arrest on charges of illegal possession of weapons on 21 November and are actively seeking more information on her detention and treatment. Our ambassador in Kinshasa has spoken to the Interior Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo and advisers to President Kabila regarding her detention. We have already outlined our concerns over allegations that Mme Nlandu's human rights, particularly her access to legal representation, have not been respected. We understand that European partners have also raised their concerns.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): My hon. Friend said in his statement that there would be no surprises for local authorities. Does he agree that his intervention last week in the negotiations on the local government pension scheme was a big surprise for local authority workers? He must have surprised not only the workers, probably scuppering the genuine negotiations, but the Prime Minister, who had said at the Dispatch Box 24 hours earlier that he would do all that he could to help to reach a successful outcome.
Mr. Woolas: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to put it on record that the statement issued last Thursday on the future of the local government pension scheme was influenced by discussions involving trade unions and employers, and that it refers to a consultation on the best way forward. On behalf of members of the scheme, and with regard to the viability of the scheme, I have an obligation to move forward in accordance with the timetable outlined to participants in the tripartite committee for some months and, indeed, years.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): What assessment she has made of the potential impact of retirement through ill health of NHS staff on funding available for service provision; and if she will make a statement. 
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Andy Burnham): There has been a major decrease in the number of awards of ill health retirement in the NHS - from 9,520 per year in 1993-94 to 2,673 per year in 2005-06. It was estimated in November 2001 that each ill health retirement involving a pension cost the pension fund up to an extra £60,000, and cost the trust the same again in indirect costs.
Mr. Anderson: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Will he reassure the House that staff are not being coerced or forced into applying for early retirement in order to mask the numbers facing compulsory redundancy?
Andy Burnham: I certainly can give my hon. Friend that assurance, and I also wish to pay tribute to him and other colleagues in the trade union movement who have played a part in bringing down the number of ill health retirements in the NHS. The NHS as an employer has been in the spotlight this year, and today in the House, but sometimes the good things that it does - including the way in which it looks after its staff - do not get the appropriate praise. We should give the NHS that praise. My hon. Friend will know that the NHS, in consultation with the unions, has looked at managing ill health retirement and, by making earlier use of occupational health services and redeploying staff from onerous duties, it has managed to bring down the figures. More work remains to be done, but I would never countenance the manipulation of the figures that my hon. Friend suggests.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): If he will make an additional payment to those entitled to heating allowance to reflect the recent increase in energy prices. 
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mrs. Anne McGuire): The winter fuel payment rose from £20 in winter 1997-98 to £200 in winter 2000-01, and to £300 for those aged 80 or over in winter 2003-04. There are no plans to make an additional payment to those entitled to winter fuel payments to reflect the recent increase in energy prices.
Mr. Anderson: May I ask my hon. Friend whether she is aware that National Energy Action, which is one of the partners that is being used to deliver the warm homes agenda, has said that the Government's figures for fuel poverty levels are based on 2004 levels? NEA's latest estimates, which are based on this year's figures and incomes rises, show that the figure for those facing fuel poverty is near to 2.8 million. May I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to work with NEA to try to get to the truth of where we are now and report back to the House as soon as possible?
Mrs. McGuire: We will obviously consider the views of the energy agency that my hon. Friend has highlighted, but I should also like to ensure that the House is fully aware that between 1997 and 2005 pensioner income increased by 25 per cent. We spent £2 billion on winter fuel payments in winter 2005-06, which is only part of the agenda to tackle fuel poverty. The Warm Front scheme and similar schemes in the devolved Administrations, to which my hon. Friend alluded, are also part of our campaign to ensure that fuel poverty is eradicated in this country.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what progress has been made in ensuring that all workers receive four weeks holiday and rights to all statutory holidays. 
Jim Fitzpatrick: In line with its manifesto commitment to make paid time off for bank holidays additional to the annual holiday entitlement, the Government recently held an initial consultation on proposals to increase the statutory holiday entitlement. We are currently considering the large number of responses received before bringing forward draft regulations for further consultation early in the new year.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will sign the European Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings. 
Mr. Coaker: The UK is currently considering whether to sign the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. The Government are examining how the Convention's approach could best be harmonised with effective immigration controls.
Mr. David Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps are being taken to prevent human trafficking in the UK. 
Mr. Coaker: Work currently being undertaken to prevent human trafficking includes a number of different elements. These include the recent opening of the UK Human Trafficking Centre in Sheffield, research and intelligence gathering to improve our knowledge and understanding of the scale and nature of human trafficking in the UK; awareness raising and capacity building in source and transit countries; and measures designed to address demand for trafficked persons.
We are working hard with source countries to tackle the problem of trafficking at its root. We have provided funds for various anti-trafficking projects and awareness raising campaigns in the Western Balkans region, West Africa (including Benin, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ghana, Niger and Togo) and in the Greater Mekong region (parts of Cambodia, China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam).
The UK Action Plan on Tackling Human Trafficking, currently being developed and due to be published early in 2007, will provide further details of the work being undertaken in this area.
Reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO