Speeches and parliamentary questions in the House of Commons in the 2007-08 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.
26/11/08 Public Places: Photography
26/11/08 Energy: Conservation
26/11/08 Coal: Imports
26/11/08 Carbon Monoxide: Alarms
26/11/08 Pleural Plaques (Compensation)
26/11/08 Statement made by the shadow Health Secretary
25/11/08 Special Educational Needs (Information) Act 2008
24/11/08 Pre-Budget Report
20/11/08 Energy Technologies Institute
17/11/08 Aviation: Oxygen
13/11/08 Clean Coal
12/11/08 Employers' Liability: Databases
04/11/08 Aircraft: Oxygen
30/10/08 Smuggling: Wildlife
29/10/08 Coal: Prices
27/10/08 Industrial Diseases: Compensation
23/10/08 Energy: Business
22/10/08 Employment Tribunals
21/10/08 Agriculture: Subsidies
21/10/08 Bluetongue Disease: Vaccination
21/10/08 Shipping: Pay
16/10/08 Seafarers’ earnings
16/10/08 Cost of Coal
16/10/08 Energy and Climate Change
15/10/08 Babies: Medical Examinations
14/10/08 Civil Servants: Relocation
14/10/08 Rare Medical Conditions
08/10/08 Vetting Local Authority Employees
15/09/08 Public Houses
16/07/08 Young People with Disabilities
14/07/08 Employment Bill
07/07/08 Social Security Benefits
07/07/08 Iraq: Entry Clearances
07/07/08 Vehicle and Operator Services Agency
02/07/08 Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy
26/06/08 Equality Bill
18/06/08 Probation Board
18/06/08 Civil Servants (Social Networks)
17/06/08 Probation Service: Pay
16/06/08 Iraqi security forces
13/06/08 Lung Diseases
11/06/08 Non-Governmental Organisations (Iraq)
09/06/08 Lung Diseases
04/06/08 Pleural Plaques Debate
03/06/08 Tobacco: Young People
03/06/08 Low Pay (Migrant Workers)
02/06/08 Industrial Diseases: Compensation
14/05/08 Fine Payment Defaults (Northern Ireland)
07/05/08 Weather: Forecasts
07/05/08 Community Assets Programme
06/05/08 Industrial Diseases: Compensation
30/04/08 Minimum Wage
30/04/08 Employment: Immigration
28/04/08 Transport: Finance
23/04/08 Whickham Sports College Fire
22/04/08 A1 Western Bypass
22/04/08 Local Transport Plans
21/04/08 Health: NHS Direct
21/04/08 Animal Experiments
01/04/08 Empty Properties
31/03/08 Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation
27/03/08 AWE Aldermaston: Protest
26/03/08 Waste Management
20/03/08 Hunting: Dogs
19/03/08 Planning: EU Law
19/03/08 Infrastructure Planning Commission: Sustainable Development
19/03/08 Use of Forests
18/03/08 Budget 2008
18/03/08 Social Care Users
17/03/08 Departmental Manpower
17/03/08 NHS: Geographical Information Systems
13/03/08 Helping People into Work Strategy
13/03/08 Work and Pensions Departmental Internet
12/03/08 Transport: Finance
11/03/08 Offshore Drilling: Nature Conservation
11/03/08 Electricity: Prices
07/03/08 Cetaceans: Conservation
07/03/08 Theft: Computers
06/03/08 State Retirement Pensions: Females
05/03/08 Infrastructure Planning Commission
25/02/08 Ama Sumani
18/02/08 Iran: Females and Human Rights
18/02/08 Iraq: Interpreters
07/02/08 Excise Duties: Diesel Fuel
07/02/08 Pensioners: Fuel Poverty
01/02/08 Whales: Japan
29/01/08 Northumbria Probation Service
24/01/08 Members' Salaries, Pensions and Allowances
23/01/08 Pleural Plaques Victims
22/01/08 Bovine Tuberculosis
16/01/08 Housing: Carbon Emissions
10/01/08 Colombia: Armed Forces
09/01/08 Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill
09/01/08 Devolved Government, Northern Ireland
07/01/08 Commission for Social Care Inspection: Surveys
07/01/08 Prison Officers
13/12/07 Care Homes: Inspections
13/12/07 Financial Services (Low-income Families)
12/12/07 Northern Rock
12/12/07 Alsadiq Abdullah
10/12/07 Terrorism (Northern Ireland)
06/12/07 Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation
06/12/07 Prepayment meters
27/11/07 Transport: Heavy Goods Vehicles
26/11/07 Toys and Games: Safety
21/11/07 Arrhythmic Death Syndrome
20/11/07 Health Services
20/11/07 Hazelwood School: Repairs and Maintenance
19/11/07 Northern Rock
15/11/07 Birds of Prey
13/11/07 Burma: Human Rights
08/11/07 Cleaning of hospitals
06/11/07 Petition: Coal Mining
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps her Department is taking to balance the provision of public security and the right to take photographs of public places and street scenes. 
Mr. Coaker, Minister of State, Home Office: I will write to my hon. Friend.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change if he will take steps to promote as an energy-saving measure the (a) development and (b) use of washing powder that utilises cold water. 
Jane Kennedy, Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: I have been asked to reply.
The Government are firmly committed to improving energy efficiency in the UK and DEFRA’s Market Transformation Programme (MTP) works to bring forward products that use less energy, water and other resources.
The Government are aware that detergents have been developed in recent years that are effective at lower temperatures and MTP has conducted initial investigations into the energy saving potential from using 30° C washes. While there will be further energy savings to be made from washes at even lower temperatures, further research is required to compare these to the embedded CO2 from the manufacture and disposal of detergents.
Further research would also be required to assess the capacity of washing machines to wash at cold temperatures and to ascertain whether there could be any other unintended consequences.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change what the average cost per tonne of imported coal was in 2007. 
Mr. Mike O’Brien, Minister of State, Department for Energy and Climate Change: In 2007, the value of coal (and other solid fuels) imports was provisionally £2,072.3 million, while the volume of coal (and other solid fuels) imports was 43.9 million tonnes. This gives an average cost of £47.20 per tonne of imported coal (and other solid fuels).
Mr. David Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change what the effect on the balance of payments of coal imports and exports was in 2007. 
Mr. Mike O’Brien: In 2007, the value of coal (and other solid fuel) imports was provisionally £2,072.3 million. The value of exports was provisionally £65.3 million. This gives a net effect of-£2,007 million on the balance of payments.
Value of imports figures are only available for coal and other solid fuels combined.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will exempt domestic carbon monoxide alarms from value added taxation. 
Stephen Timms, Financial Secretary, HM Treasury: The scope of exemptions from VAT is limited by European agreements under which it is not possible to exempt domestic carbon monoxide alarms from VAT. Similarly, under VAT agreements with our European partners signed by successive Governments, we can retain our existing VAT zero rates (which do not include carbon monoxide alarms) but may not extend them or introduce new ones.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Is it not obvious what the insurers are up to? Last week, with the result of the so-called trigger litigation on mesothelioma cases, the leader of the Forum of Insurance Lawyers said:
"We welcome this clarification of the law. We hope this will now unlock the flow of damages to mesothelioma victims."
If that is so, why does he think that the insurers have gone ahead with appealing the Law Lords’ decision? He could have said, "We now accept it. We have been caught bang to rights. Let’s pay these people with pleural plaques what they are due."
Jim Sheridan: I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution. He is right. For the insurance lawyers to take such an altruistic approach to life, as if they were offering good will and looking after the workers, is ridiculous and should be condemned at every level.
Mr. Dave Anderson: It is no surprise that the insurance companies responded because when the ruling was given 13 months ago, Deloitte Touche said that the insurance companies stood to make £1.4 billion if the ruling was not changed. That is one reason why we are having this debate. The issue is not about money; it is a moral case about people who are dying. In the 13 months since the matter was put on hold, lots of people will have died without receiving compensation, and that should not have happened.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): I appreciate what my hon. Friend has said and I absolutely understand where he is coming from. May I close by saying that I want to apologise -
Several hon. Members rose -
Bridget Prentice: I have one minute, or less, left.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should welcome the statement made by the shadow Health Secretary, because he has exposed the real position of the Tories? They do not understand recessions and they do not accept what happens, and we should refuse to listen to them because they are the do nothing party.
The Prime Minister: I think that the House should know that the shadow Health Secretary, who, I repeat, is the only person being guaranteed a place by the Leader of the Opposition, said:
"Interestingly, on many counts, recession can be good for us."
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families what steps he plans to take to implement the Special Educational Needs (Information) Act 2008. 
Sarah McCarthy-Fry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Children, Schools and Families: The Department has commissioned a project, using independent advisers, on the most effective way to implement the Act. The project will: analyse users’ data requirements, including the requirements of parents and voluntary organisations; determine data and information currently available at national and local level; and evaluate options for the data publication. The Department will consider the findings of the project, which will be completed before the end of this year. The Act’s provisions commence on 1 January 2009 and the first publication will be later that year.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): It is obvious from the speech by the shadow Chancellor that his attitude is the same as that which his party took when in government in the past and when millions of people like myself were made redundant. This is not just a discussion about economics; it is about the social fabric of this country. Can I ask the Chancellor that, whatever he does over the next period, he does not use the terms, "Unemployment is a price worth paying", or, "If it is not hurting, it is not working"?
Mr. Darling: My hon. Friend makes an extremely powerful point, because many people in this country remember what happened in communities up and down the country in the early 1980s and the early 1990s, when people lost their jobs, went on to unemployment benefit, then on to incapacity benefit and never went back to work again. I know that he represents just such an area, and the indifference and the uncaring attitude struck by the Conservative party has left scars there and in many parts of the country that it has taken years to get over.
I agree with my hon. Friend - [Interruption.] And I profoundly disagree with the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley), who shouts from a sedentary position. I cannot believe that the Conservatives want to get themselves into that situation - to ignore the problems faced by many of our citizens, who expect their Government to act for them. I find that very hard to believe.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills what assessment he has made of progress in the work of the Energy Technologies Institute. 
David Lammy, Minister of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills: Good progress is being made to fully establish the Energy Technologies Institute. Some £60 million of ETI funded projects are currently being prepared under its first technical programmes in "Offshore Wind" and "Wave and Tidal Stream" Energy. The ETI announced a further call in "Distributed Energy" and is holding workshops to help to develop further programmes, which will be formally announced in due course. ETI will hold a stakeholder workshop in December to develop, with others, a large-scale trial of Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles focused on understanding the requirements of the charging infrastructure.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport pursuant to the Answer of 4 November 2008, Official Report, column 240W, on aircraft: oxygen, what consideration his Department gave to including in the Code of Practice on Access to Air Travel for Disabled Persons and Persons with Reduced Mobility a provision that air carriers should carry portable oxygen cylinders free of charge as medical equipment. 
Jim Fitzpatrick, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport: This matter was discussed by the working group which drafted the code of practice. As there is no specific obligation in the European regulation about the provision of oxygen, it was not considered appropriate to make a specific recommendation in the code about carriage of oxygen cylinders. Instead, the code reflects current guidance and practice in this area, in particular with regard to security considerations.
The code of practice makes clear that it cannot be an authoritative statement of the law since any question over the interpretation of the European law is ultimately a matter for the courts. The Department for Transport has, however, raised this matter with the European Commission in the context of other issues where interpretation of the Regulation is unclear and has led to practical difficulties or differences in practice among airlines.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change what steps he is taking to promote the development of clean coal technology. 
Mr. Mike O’Brien, Minister of State, Department for Energy and Climate Change: The Government are promoting clean coal technology by:
Support for technology advancement - including for one of the world’s first commercial scale demonstrations of the full chain of carbon, capture and storage, demonstration of a 40 MW Oxyfuel combustion system, and increasing research and development activity across a range of clean coal technologies.
We are also setting the legislative framework by for example legislating for the storage of CO2 and developing policies to back the widespread deployment of CCS.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Minister of State, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform if he will make it his policy to create a database to which all employers are required to submit the details of their liability insurance. 
Jonathan Shaw, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions: I have been asked to reply on behalf of the Minister of State at the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, matters to do with employers’ liability compulsory insurance (ELCI) sits with the DWP. I understand that your inquiry is about ELCI and not public liability insurance. At present, where a potential claimant who has been injured or made ill through their work and is unable to identify the employer’s insurer to claim against, they may use the employers’ liability code of practice tracing service. The code of practice, which was launched on 1 November 1999, is a voluntary code operated by the insurance industry, which requires signatories to retain historical records of insurance policies for 60 years.
Tracing employers’ liability insurance policies is complex and we know that the historical records of some insurers are incomplete. However, the Government are committed to improving this situation and we are working with stakeholders to improve the effectiveness of the tracing service, ensuring that we are in a position where we can be confident that every effort has been made to trace this information. For this reason, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has asked the Association of British Insurers (ABI) to consider positive measures within the industry to address this issue. I understand that the ABI are looking into the feasibility of a database.
In the meantime, DWP will continue to monitor the success rate of employers’ liability insurance policy tracing through the Employers’ Liability Code of Practice Review Body, and support improvements to the code, in order to build further upon the successes in tracing employers’ liability insurance policies.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what his policy is on airline companies’ obligations with regard to allowing people with a lung condition to (a) access oxygen provided, (b) take their own (i) portable oxygen cylinders and (ii) portable oxygen concentrator on board flights; and what guidance he has issued on this matter. 
Jim Fitzpatrick, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport: European Regulation 1107/2006 on the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when travelling by air, came fully into force in July 2008. It imposes a number of obligations on airlines with respect to the services they provide, including an obligation to carry passengers’ medical equipment free of charge. However, there are no specific obligations to carry or provide oxygen in the cabin.
To help the air transport industry to comply with its obligations under the regulation, the Department for Transport has published an updated version of its code of practice ‘Access to Air Travel for Disabled Persons and Persons with Reduced Mobility’. The code includes a section on oxygen which advises that air carriers may approve the carriage of gaseous (not liquid) oxygen or air cylinders required for medical use, but notes that carriers will wish to ensure that these do not pose a risk to security. The code also recommends that portable oxygen concentrator devices should normally be allowed if battery powered. Where air carriers wish to supply medical oxygen to passengers on request, the code acknowledges that it would be possible to make a charge for this service to cover the provision of the oxygen.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps he is taking to combat the illegal trade in wildlife over the internet. 
Huw Irranca-Davies, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: In the UK, the Government are working with the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), HM Revenue and Customs and the police to establish the extent of trade taking place over the internet that is illegal, and to find effective ways to tackle this. The issue is one of five priority areas for consideration by the NWCU as part of its delivery of obligations to assist the Government to apply the requirements of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Additionally, DEFRA has been working with the trade, website owners, enforcement experts and other stakeholders to establish a Code of Practice for internet providers and users.
The issue, however, transcends borders and we believe a global approach is required. The UK was instrumental in proposing that CITES convenes a special workshop to consider the issue, and provided funds for this to occur. I am pleased to report that this meeting will take place next February in Canada. The workshop will review what is known about the scale and nature of illegal internet trade in wildlife globally and then consider ways to tackle illegal activity there. In addition to providing financial support to the workshop we have also contributed evidence of our current knowledge of illegal wildlife trade over the internet.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change if he will provide assistance to (a) consumers and (b) local distributors of coal for domestic use to manage recent cost increases. 
Mr. Mike O’Brien, Minister of State, Department for Energy and Climate Change: I have no plans to provide specific assistance to these groups. In terms of consumers, however, the Government already have a range of measures in place to help the most vulnerable with their energy costs, and we recently launched further initiatives. The new Home Energy Saving Programme announced on 11 September includes a £74 million increase to the budget for Warm Front over the next two years (the Government scheme in England, offering insulation, heating and energy efficiency measures to low income and pensioner households on eligible benefits); an increase in cold weather payments this winter from £8.50 to £25 a week; more help with energy efficiency measures and a one-off payment for this winter of £50 to over-60s and £100 to over-80s as part of Government’s winter fuel payment.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change what the average settlement has been for (a) chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and (b) vibration white finger claims submitted by the 10 solicitors’ firms which have submitted the greatest number of claims under the Coal Miners’ Compensation Scheme. 
Mr. Mike O’Brien, Minister of State, Department for Energy and Climate Change: The average settlement for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and vibration white finger (VWF) by the 10 claimants’ representatives who have submitted the greatest number of claims is shown in the following tables as at 5 October 2008:
|Claimants’ representative||Total claims||Total claims settled by payment||Average damages paid on claims settled by payment (£)|
|Browell Smith and Co.||32,986||24,193||6,431|
|Mark Gilbert Morse||25,725||20,109||7,412|
|Union of Democratic Mineworkers||16,588||13,712||3,105|
|Barber and Co.||14,089||11,224||2,759|
|Watson Burton LLP||14,072||12,350||4,358|
|Claimants representative||Total claims||Total claims settled by payment||Average damages paid on claims settled by payment (£)|
|Browell Smith and Co.||16,463||11,875||10,780|
|Union of Democratic Mineworkers||11,521||9,931||10,593|
|Watson Burton LLP||5,935||5,020||17,047|
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Minister of State, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform what assistance his Department makes available to help rural businesses meet energy bills. 
Joan Ruddock, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Energy and Climate Change: I have been asked to reply.
We have a range of support to assist rural SMEs as part of the Government’s support to the SME sector as a whole. We have developed information for our Businesslink.gov portal to consolidate and provide one-stop shop advice to SMEs on energy efficiency. We intend to have measures in place by the end of this year to enable SMEs to access energy efficiency advice and support though information and services provided by all energy suppliers. The Carbon Trust offers a range of interest-free energy efficiency loans and advice.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what steps he is taking to ensure that employers act upon the decisions of employment tribunals regarding monetary awards to claimants. 
Bridget Prentice, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice: There are provisions in the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 to simplify the current system for enforcing unpaid employment tribunal awards in the county court. Once implemented these provisions will allow the applicant to go straight to enforcement rather than through registration at a county court. Additionally, for the first time, the award will be registered on the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines. Inclusion on this register, which is often consulted by banks, building societies and credit companies when considering applications for credit, may make it more difficult for defaulters to obtain credit and therefore provides an incentive to pay the sum due. This provision will ease the burden on the recipients of tribunal awards and it is intended to implement this provision in April 2009.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if he will make it his policy to pay single farm payments to all farmers at the same time; and if he will make a statement. 
Jane Kennedy, Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: The EU payment window for the single payment scheme (SPS) runs from 1 December to 30 June and the Rural Payment Agency (RPA) aims to ensure that payments are made as early as possible within that payment window. However in line with detailed EU regulations, before making each payment, RPA is required to perform detailed validity checks including carrying out cross-checks against all other SPS applicants to ensure that there are no dual claims. The timing of each payment will therefore vary according to the complexity of the claim with simple claims processed and paid quickly and more complex claims taking longer.
In order to pay all claimants on the same day, RPA would have to delay making any payments until the last claim had completed validation.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many and what proportion of animals have been vaccinated as a protection against bluetongue. 
Jane Kennedy, Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Vaccination against bluetongue in England and Wales is voluntary, an approach agreed with the livestock industry. Vaccine was first made available on 30 April 2008, and the protection zone was extended step by step as further vaccine consignments were delivered.
The livestock population eligible for vaccination against BTV-8 in England is 26,419,472. Initial vaccine uptake was high - reaching between 80 per cent. and 90 per cent. in the south-east and east of England, but uptake in the counties of northern England and in Wales has been lower.
To date the overall uptake of vaccine across the whole of England is about 60 per cent., based on purchasing data. Because the approach to vaccination is voluntary, no exact figures can be provided about the numbers of livestock actually vaccinated.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) what estimate he has made of the average financial effect on seafarers if the seafarers’ earnings deduction is removed; 
(2) if he will review the decision of HM Revenue and Customs to remove the seafarers’ earnings deduction. 
Mr. Stephen Timms, Financial Secretary, HM Treasury: HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is not removing seafarers’ earnings deduction (SED). Rather HMRC will revise its guidance on SED to reflect a decision made by the Special Commissioners, an independent appellate body, in the case of Torr and Others v. CIR (SpC679) The great majority of seafarers who claim SED will not be affected by this decision.
I am aware of the concerns raised by the Special Commissioners decision in this case, which centred on whether the vessel on which the appellants performed their duties was a ship or an ‘offshore installation’ within the meaning of the legislation. The Special Commissioners decided it had been operating as an offshore installation, and refused the appellants’ claims to SED.
Broadly speaking, an offshore installation is a vessel that is engaged in exploiting mineral resources and is not mobile while doing so.
HMRC has written to tax practitioners about this decision and will discuss implementation with interested stakeholders before the revised guidance is issued.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): There have been welcome noises from the Government this week about helping people at work to maintain their jobs. May we have a statement from the Treasury about the decision by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to attack seafarers and mariners under the seafarers’ earnings deduction, which will leave my constituent, Mr. Penny, facing a future in which, he says, the ruling has
"devastated my family life to the verge of collapse, bankruptcy is looming and the only alternative for many UK based mariners will be to leave the Industry or live outside of the UK"?
The decision can be reversed so that people can remain in the industry and not be 25 per cent. worse off in their salaries.
The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): I will raise the matter with Treasury Ministers and ask them to write to my hon. Friend and deal with the point he raises.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): May I raise with the Minister the reality of the increase of up to 80 per cent. in the cost of domestic coal? A constituent of mine is now paying £9 a fortnight more than he was this time last year. In the debate about the cost of oil, electricity and gas, we should not forget that a lot of people in this country still rely on domestic coal.
Mr. Mike O’Brien, Minister of State, Department for Energy and Climate Change: Domestic coal will certainly play a role in a diverse energy supply, and we want to ensure that it does.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): May I respectfully suggest to the Secretary of State that he does not take too much advice from the Conservatives who, after all, destroyed the cleanest coal technology in the world and put in place the companies who are fleecing our constituents? In discussions about clean coal technology, everyone talks about carbon capture and storage, but we should also consider the underground gasification of coal. Will he meet me and people from Newcastle university who lead the world in that?
Edward Miliband, Secretary of State, Department for Energy and Climate Change: I would be happy for our team to do that. CCS and IGCC - as I think it is called, although I shall not try to remember what that stands for. It may be intergasification combined cycle, or integrated - no, I should not have tried. In any case, all those technologies have an important role to play in the future.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Health what procedures are in place for ensuring that children have (a) a hip examination at birth and (b) another examination at between six and eight weeks old. 
Ann Keen, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health: Screening for developmental dysplasia of the hips (DDH) is part of the routine physical examinations that every baby has, first within 72 hours of birth and then at 6-8 weeks old, as part of the Child Health Promotion Programme (CHPP), which covers pregnancy and the first five years of life. The examinations are usually performed by doctors, but can also be carried out by midwives and specialist nurses.
All the screening programmes in the CHPP have met the criteria set out by the National Screening Committee. Screening programmes require local implementation of an agreed pathway, including clear guidelines on referral to assessment and differential diagnostic services.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what progress has been made in increasing diversity through recruitment of firefighters. 
Mr. Sadiq Khan, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government: The number of women and minority ethnic applicants succeeding in the firefighter selection process has shown steady improvement in recent years. Communities and Local Government is working closely with its service partners to further improve performance through the national Equality and Diversity Strategy, which includes recruitment targets.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many Civil Service jobs have been relocated to the North East of England under the Lyons Review. 
Yvette Cooper, Chief Secretary, HM Treasury: By December 2007, 750 posts had been relocated to the North East as part of the relocation programme. Overall, 3,580 civil service posts have been created in the North East since 2003.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether employees of local authorities will be responsible for paying the fee for Independent Safeguarding Authority clearance. 
Meg Hillier, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office: The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 makes a fee payable on application for registration with the new Vetting and Barring Scheme. The fee will normally be payable by the applicant but it will be open to employers to pay the fee on behalf of their employees, should they choose to do so. Checks for unpaid volunteers will be free of charge.
Mr. David Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether local authority workers who have been cleared by the Criminal Records Bureau must apply for clearance under the Independent Safeguarding Authority. 
Meg Hillier: The Criminal Records Bureau provides a check on criminal records information for eligible employees and volunteers. The new Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) will consider whether individuals are suitable for work with children or vulnerable adults, and will have the power to bar those considered unsuitable. Where local authority or other workers are providing regulated or controlled activities as defined under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, they will need to apply to be registered with the ISA, in addition to any CRB check. It will normally be possible to obtain a CRB check at the same time as the initial application to the ISA.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): Does my hon. Friend agree that the real difference between then and now - it is right to look back - is that what happened in his constituency [unemployment in the 1980s], as in mine, was the direct result of Government policy, whereas what is happening today is outside the Government’s control?
Mr. Devine: I was about to come to that point.
We should remember this financial experiment and its consequences. We were told that mass unemployment was an accident of central policy. But mass unemployment was the central part of the strategy of that policy. We know that because we can remember Tory Ministers saying at the time, "High unemployment is a price worth paying," and, "If it isn’t hurting, it isn’t working." In my constituency, it certainly hurt. I find the Conservative party’s crocodile tears about the unemployed hard to take. I believe in what my psychiatrist told me: "Never listen to what somebody tells you. Watch behaviour." When the Conservatives were in power, their behaviour destroyed my community and many others like it.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform how many (a) forfeitures, (b) involuntary surrenders and (c) voluntary surrenders of tied public houses there were in each year since 2004. 
Mr. Gareth Thomas, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform: The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform does not collate information on this matter.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what consultation took place prior to taking the decision to limit payment of benefits to three years under the recently laid Ill Health Amendment Regulations. 
Mr Parmjit Dhanda, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government: As required by section 7 of the Superannuation Act 1972, a statutory consultation took place from 21 November 2007 to 12 January 2008 with interested parties in England and Wales on draft proposals to amend the Local Government Pension Scheme. There were also extensive discussions with stakeholders concerning the development of the new ill health provisions prior to and beyond the consultation period. The Local Government (Amendment) Regulations 2008, including the terms for new ill health benefits, took effect from 1 April 2008.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will consider introducing visa issuing facilities at the UK consulate in Erbil in the Kurdistan region of Iraq; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Liam Byrne, Minister of State, Home Office: I have been asked to reply.
Our embassies in Amman and Beirut have been designated as the visa-issuing posts for Iraqi nationals (although visit visa applications may be lodged at any UK visa-issuing post around the world). Given the current security situation, there is no prospect of expanding the limited visa service currently available in Iraq in the foreseeable future. We will, however, continue to keep the matter under review as the security situation develops.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if she will place in the Library a copy of the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency full Outline Business Case for outsourcing. 
Jim Fitzpatrick, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport: The outline business case is an internal document which remains subject to change. I made a written statement to the House on 3 July, Official Report, columns 61-4WS, which sets out the substantive decision of Ministers on this matter.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): The Minister said in her statement that the public sector would lead by example on pay. Does she agree that although the public sector has tried to lead by example over the past 10 years, it has not been able to do so because it has not had the funds, the flexibility or the systems to do so? Does she accept that there will be a cost, and that it should be borne by the Government, in ensuring that funds are available to close the equal pay gap in the public sector?
Ms Harriet Harman, Minister of State, Government Equalities Office: Different parts of the public sector have made varying degrees of progress. When there is proper transparency in relation to the gender pay gap, the disability employment level and the employment rate of ethnic-minority staff, public authority by public authority, we shall be able to see who has been making progress.
My hon. Friend is right to say that we need to make further progress on settling the backlog of equal pay cases. As he will know, the Department for Communities and Local Government has made available £500 million of capitalisation to enable local employers to do that. Half of them have already done it, but more progress is needed.
It is always difficult to sort out entrenched patterns of discrimination, but the best option is to sort them out and then move forward on an equal basis.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): I bring this petition to the House on behalf of the petitioners who call on the Government to do all that they can to get the world community to pressure countries such as Japan, Norway and Iceland to stop killing whales across the globe. The International Whaling Commission meets this week in Chile, and the petition calls on that body to make it clear that, when the world says no, it means no - to all-out whaling, to targeted culls and to the "scientific" cull con. It means no to whaling full stop.
Following is the full text of the petition:
[The Petition of those concerned about whaling,
Declares that the situation for whales is bleak. More than 30,000 whales have been killed for commercial purposes since the International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium on commercial whaling came into effect in 1986, in blatant disregard of global conservation efforts. In the next 12 months Japan and Norway intend to kill around 2,000 whales, including endangered species such as fin whales.
Japan claims that the whaling it conducts is for scientific research. However, Japan's "scientific research" is simply a means to carry on commercial whaling despite the moratorium. Whaling is also extremely cruel. There is simply no way to kill a whale humanely at sea.
Japan has also been continuing its attempts to recruit more developing countries to the IWC in order to regain a simple majority at this year's IWC meeting in June and promote commercial whaling. If Japan were to succeed, it would be a disaster for whales. Many whale species have still not recovered from the intensive commercial whaling of the past and face many other threats such as climate change, ship strikes and pollution. It is therefore extremely important that the current pro-conservation majority at the IWC is both maintained and strengthened.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to demand that the Japanese Government end its cruel and unnecessary "scientific" whaling programmes; to continue and enhance his efforts, at the highest ministerial and diplomatic levels to recruit more pro-conservation countries to the IWC and to persuade those countries which currently vote with Japan to vote instead for whale conservation; and to work with other anti-whaling countries to turn the IWC into a body exclusively focused on protecting and conserving whales for future generations.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.]
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice if he will request the Probation Board to engage in negotiations on pay, terms and conditions with its staff representatives. 
Maria Eagle, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice: The Probation Association representing the 42 employing probation boards and trusts are in negotiation with NAPO and Unison through the established forum of the National Probation Service National Negotiating Council the latest meeting of which is being held on 12 June. Negotiators are trying to agree an award that is acceptable to both the employers and the trade unions. This year's pay round follows on a three year pay modernisation programme that saw substantial increases in the pay of probation staff .
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): What progress has been made on providing guidance to civil servants on social networking and blogging in the course of their official duties. 
The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Tom Watson): No sector of society is immune from the explosion in the use of social media communication tools. In our response to the report "The Power of Information", the Cabinet Office has today issued a simple set of principles that will help to guide civil servants to speak with an authoritative voice with on-line communities. I will ensure that the guidelines are placed in the Library. Our next challenge for the power of information taskforce is to develop more detailed guidelines to encourage civil servants to take the first steps to engage with on-line social networks.
Mr. Anderson: The Minister will surely agree that the youth culture of today has moved on somewhat from the days when he and I thought that we were going to be Britain's answer to "The Blues Brothers" - [ Laughter. ] It is true. Will he give an assurance that this is not just about giving people guidelines but ensuring that he has among his staff civil servants who are not just technically but culturally aware of the needs of young people, who use this medium more and more?
Mr. Watson: My hon. Friend has given away our guilty secret about "The Blues Brothers". I am not going to go there.
There are an incredibly large number of digital pioneers across the civil service - young people who may be junior in status - and one of my jobs is to try to join them all up so that they can enlighten their older counterparts in more senior positions.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice for what reason Probation Service staff have not received their contractual pay increments in 2008. 
Maria Eagle, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice: Probation staff have a contractual right to pay progression from 1 April 2008 but the amount of that progression has to be negotiated as part of the annual pay settlement. Discussions relating to this settlement are currently taking place between the probation employers and the trade unions. It is hoped that a settlement will be reached as soon as possible.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps he is taking to assist people with diabetes who are unable to take out insurance against critical illness. 
Ann Keen, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health: The decision whether to take out private medical insurance and/or critical illness cover is a personal one.
We continue to support the national health service in implementing the standards set out in the Diabetes National Service Framework (NSF) to improve services for people with diabetes.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what progress is being made on the mentoring, monitoring and training of Iraqi security forces in southern Iraq. 
Des Browne, Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence: UK forces in southern Iraq continue to make very good progress in mentoring and training the Iraqi Security Forces. Our main focus is on developing the 14th Division of the Iraqi Army until it is fully operational. We have embedded a significant number of our people with that division in order to help achieve this, and our forces continue to provide a range of other support as well. The performance of 14th Division during recent operations in and around Basra demonstrates the continuing success of our approach.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what guidance her Department has issued to local authorities on the provision of allotments. 
Mr. Iain Wright, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government: In liaison with the Department, the Local Government Association revised a good practice guide, "Growing in the Community", in March 2008. This includes a section on allotment provision. A free copy was sent to all local authorities.
The provision of allotments is the responsibility of local authorities. Section 23 of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908 places a duty on local authorities (except for inner London boroughs) to provide allotments where they perceive a demand for them in their area. Furthermore, "Planning Policy Guidance Note 17: Planning for Open Space, Sport and Recreation, 2002" requires local authorities to make provision for all types of open space and requires them to undertake robust assessments of local needs and audits of existing open space, to establish standards for new provision. By implementing the guidance in PPG 17, local authorities should make adequate provision for allotments.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Health what estimate his Department has made of the number of (a) emergency hospital admissions and (b) inpatient bed days that could be saved by improving the rate of early diagnosis for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Ann Keen (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Health Services), Department of Health: There were 179,611 hospital admissions and 917,644(1) bed days for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) diagnosis in 2006-07.
It is expected that improving the early diagnosis of COPD will reduce the number of hospital admissions and bed days. However, information is not available centrally to quantify that reduction.
(1) Source: Hospital Episode Statistics, ICD10 codes J40-J44 inclusive, ungrossed data
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): What support his Department is providing to non-governmental organisations in Iraq. 
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Shahid Malik): Since 2004, the Department for International Development has provided £20.5 million to strengthen Iraqi civil society. Recipient organisations have included those working on minority and women's rights, as well as wider human rights. Current support includes a programme run by the BBC World Service Trust to foster an independent media in Iraq. DFID is also providing £17 million this year for humanitarian assistance, much of which is allocated, either directly or through the UN, to non-governmental organisations in Iraq.
Mr. Anderson: I thank the Minister for that response. Is he aware that last year his Department withdrew funding from support for trade union development in Iraq because of the
"sectarian violence engulfing the country at the moment"?
Clearly, the security situation is better now. Will he agree to meet trade unions from Iraq and Britain to try to move the issue forward again?
Mr. Malik: Trade unions are a vital part of any democracy. That is why my hon. Friend is right to say that, between 2004 and 2007, DFID provided through Unison training for trade union leaders and helped to establish a trade union resource centre in Iraq. This programme came to a natural end in 2007, which coincided with a spike in violence preventing us from renewing the programme. Since then we have successfully focused on supporting the Iraqi Government to provide essential services to their own people and stimulating private sector investment. In April, I met Governor al-Waili, the governor of Basra, who expressed his optimism about the future of Iraq. I assure my hon. Friend that as security improves, we will continue to assess how we can best support increased prosperity and stability in Iraq, including opportunities to work with trade unions.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Health
(1) what recent representations his Department has received on the incidence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; 
(2) what steps the Government has taken to raise awareness of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; 
(3) what assessment his Department has made of the potential for pulmonary rehabilitation and follow-on exercise classes to reduce the number of emergency hospital admissions for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. 
Ann Keen, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health: The Department is currently considering advice from the Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) External Reference Group on proposed markers of good practice from prevention through to end of life care. This advice will be considered by Ministers and options developed for implementation. These will include options for early diagnosis of people with COPD and raising awareness of the disease. There is good evidence that pulmonary rehabilitation and regular exercise can drive significant improvements in the health status of people with COPD, with subsequent reduction in the number of emergency hospital admissions.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps he is taking to assist people with diabetes who are unable to insure against critical illness. 
Ann Keen, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health: The decision whether to take out private medical insurance and/or critical illness cover is a personal one.
We continue to support the NHS in implementing the standards set out in the "National Service Framework for Diabetes" to improve services for people with diabetes. Copies of the framework are available in the Library.
The Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF) has identified an extra 200,000 people with diabetes in the last two years, who are now able to accept the support and treatment to manage their condition. QOF data also shows that the number of people meeting targets for blood pressure, HbA1c (blood glucose) and cholesterol is rising year on year.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what steps he is taking to discourage adults from purchasing tobacco on behalf of children as part of the Government's commitment to reduce smoking amongst young people; 
(2) if he will consider the merits of introducing a criminal offence of proxy purchasing of tobacco by adults on behalf of minors. 
Dawn Primarolo, Minister of State, Department of Health: This issue was considered by Parliament with respect to the tobacco provisions of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. During the passage of the legislation through Parliament an amendment was tabled in the House of Lords that was subsequently withdrawn after the Government indicated that they were not satisfied that there was sufficient evidence that proxy purchasing of tobacco problem was a widespread problem or that any criminal offence created could be effectively enforced. However, the Government have undertaken to review the position in a year.
The Department has raised the issue in its consultation paper "Consultation on the future of tobacco control", copies of this publication have been placed in the Library.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform what steps he has taken to appoint a new member to the Dust Reference Panel. 
Malcolm Wicks, Minister of State, Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform: The Coordinating Group of claimants' solicitors nominated a candidate which the Department accepted. The Department currently awaits the candidate's acceptance of the terms and conditions of the post before confirming the appointment.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice whether he has received a copy of the Centre for Crime and Justice's report on probation resources, staffing and workloads from 2001 to 2008; and if he will make a statement. 
David Hanson, Minister of State, Ministry of Justice: I have received a copy of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies' Report (Probation Resources Staffing and Workloads 2001-2008) from Judy McKnight (General Secretary of NAPO).
Earlier in the year, I announced an extra £40 million funding for the NFS. This was in addition to an extra average of 2.7 per cent. budget for each probation area and an average increase of 5.4 per cent. in respect of approved premises. Officials are working closely with NAPO and the other NFS trade unions on the broad issue of capacity and workloads.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): How many people were in custody in Northern Ireland for defaulting on fine payments at the latest date for which figures are available. 
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): Today 30 people are in prison in Northern Ireland for fine default. Although the numbers can fluctuate and at any time be quite low, fine defaulters represent about 2,000 prison receptions per year. Next month, I shall begin consultation on a range of proposals for dealing more effectively with fine defaulters.
Mr. Anderson: Before putting my question to the Minister, may I ask the whole House to condemn unanimously the attack on a PSNI officer earlier this week? We send our support to all parties that have condemned the attack and we send our best wishes to the police officer and his family.
Will anything be done to disincentivise the sending of fine defaulters to prison? At the moment, that seems an easy option. Nine in 10 people in prison for defaulting on fines are there for fines of less than £600. Other methods must be found to make sure that people do not use it as an easy option.
Paul Goggins: First, the whole House will join my hon. Friend in condemning the cowardly people who perpetrated the dreadful attack on Police Officer Ryan Crozier on Monday. The heartfelt, warm wishes of the House go out to Police Officer Crozier and his family. He was seriously hurt, but is beginning to recover in hospital. The Chief Constable aptly described the attack as having been carried out by those who are "lashing out" because they "are in their endgame". He is right, and we all condemn their actions.
I turn to my hon. Friend's question. Of course we need a substantial, sustainable alternative to imprisonment for fine defaulters. We have begun that by bringing in the supervised activity order through the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2008. However, people should pay the fines given to them in court, and next month I shall bring forward proposals to make sure that if people will not pay, the fines will be deducted from their earnings or benefits and that there will be much stricter enforcement by the courts.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the accuracy of weather forecasts provided by the Meteorological Office in respect of each region of the UK; and what plans he has to improve the accuracy of such forecasts. 
Derek Twigg, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence: The accuracy of weather forecasts provided by the Met Office is assessed through its performance in achieving its forecast accuracy key performance target (KPT). The KPT includes elements that measure the accuracy of forecasts for precipitation and maximum and minimum temperatures for 11 locations throughout the UK. The annual targets for these elements, which are agreed by me and laid before Parliament, have been met in each year since they were introduced in 2005.
Performance against the KPT is reflective of the continuous improvement in forecast accuracy made by the Met Office over the last twenty years. Today's forecast for three days ahead are more accurate than forecast for one day ahead 20 years ago.
The government provides the Met Office with significant funding to support its activities. MOD, for example, is planning to invest £30 million in new, state-of-the-art super-computers. While investment in supercomputing is not the only factor in improving the accuracy of weather forecasts, it is significant as it underpins, amongst other things, the production of more accurate local-scale forecasts.
Through increased supercomputing capability, the Met Office expects to make further substantial improvements in forecast accuracy over the coming years.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what progress has been made on the community assets programme; and if he will make a statement. 
Phil Hope, Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office: The £30 million Community Assets programme is making excellent progress. Last month it announced 37 in-principle awards to refurbish assets that will be transferred to third sector ownership. The projects are imaginative and varied: from inner-city spaces offering alternative education for young people; to cutting edge theatre and art; and health and keep fit services,
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform how much and what proportion of the total administrative cost of the coal health compensation schemes had been spent on (a) contractors and (b) external legal advice as at 31 March 2008. 
Malcolm Wicks, Minister of State, Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform: With respect to Coal Health Compensation schemes, the Department's administrative costs are broken down as follows as at 31 March 2008:
|Contractors||Costs (£ million)||Proportion (%)|
|Departments Claims Handlers||450||74.7|
|Other (Technical and special projects)||3||0.5|
|Department’s legal costs||44||7.3|
Other costs with respect to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and Vibration White Finger (VWF) that are not part of the Department's administrative costs are shown in the following table as at 31 March 2008. These are cost that would normally be borne by the plaintiffs but which, for these schemes, the Department has agreed to meet.
Mr. David Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform what the average settlement has been for (a) chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and (b) vibration white finger claims for the 20 solicitors firms who have submitted the greatest number of claims under the Coalminers' Compensation Scheme. 
Malcolm Wicks: The average settlement for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and Vibration White Finger (VWF) by the 20 claimants' representatives who have submitted the greatest number of claims is shown in the tables as at 20 April 2008:
|Average Claims for COPD|
|Claimants’ representatives||Total claims||Total claims settled by payment||Average damages paid on claims settled by payment (£)|
|Browell Smith and Co.||32,983||23,304||6,436|
|Mark Gilbert Morse||25,727||19,635||7,388|
|Union of Democratic Mineworkers||16,587||13,617||3,116|
|Barber and Co.||14,092||11,084||2,720|
|Watson Burton LLP||14,073||12,227||4,345|
|Ashton Morton Slack LLP||10,201||6,847||3,054|
|Randell Lloyd Jenkins and Martin||9,849||7,436||5,680|
|Irwin Mitchell Solicitors||6,786||4,599||9,928|
|Average Claims for VWF|
|Claimants’ representatives||Total claims||Total claims settled by payment||Average damages paid on claims settled by payment (£)|
|Browell Smith and Co.||16,463||11,689||10,644|
|Union of Democratic Mineworkers||11,523||9,896||10,555|
|Watson Burton LLP||5,935||4,941||16,978|
|Ashton Morton Slack LLP||5,276||3,321||9,306|
|Kidd & Spoor Harper Solicitors||3,667||3,000||14,135|
|O. H. Parsons and Partners Solicitors||2,702||2,203||10,985|
|Irwin Mitchell Solicitors||2,364||1,978||14,078|
|Shaw and Co. Solicitors||2,267||1,992||17,973|
|Latham and Co. Solicitors||1,844||1,521||15,132|
Mr. David Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform which (a) contractors and (b) external law firms his Department has used in connection with the administration of the coal health compensation schemes. 
Malcolm Wicks: With respect to the coal health compensation schemes, the Department's contractors and laws firms are shown in the following table.
|Name of contractor||Role|
|Healthcall (up to 2002)||Medical assessment for COPD and VWF for General Damages|
|Atos Origin (previously known as SEMA)||Medical assessment contractor for COPD and VWF for General Damages|
|Capita Healthcare Solutions||Medical assessment for VWF services|
|Capita Insurance Services (previously known as AON)||Claims handling contractor|
|RPS Business Healthcare||Medical records|
|Iron Mountain (previously known as Hays)||Records management contractor|
|Consultant from PWC||Audit and compliance consultancy|
|Consultant from Deloitte||Operational advice|
|Web Technology Group (previously Cable and Wireless)||Hosting, development and delivery of coalclaims.com website|
|Nabarro||Legal advice England and Wales|
|McLure Naismith||Legal advice Scotland|
Mr. David Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform how many (a) law firms and (b) claims companies have submitted claims under the Coalminers' Compensation Scheme. 
Malcolm Wicks: With respect to coal health compensation schemes, the Department has received claims from 787 law firms and two claims companies for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and vibration white finger.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how much his Department plans to spend on research into bee diseases in the next three years. 
Jonathan Shaw, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Detailed allocations for all of DEFRA's programmes have still to be finalised, including those for research. The expectation is that funding for commissioned research into bee health will be around the same level as in previous years. Research priorities are addressed in the draft Bee Health strategy which has been published for public consultation.
Mr. Heath: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if he will make a statement on the incidence of disease in the honeybee population. 
Jonathan Shaw: The National Bee Unit operates a statutory inspection programme for American foul brood, European foul brood and exotic pests which have yet to be found in the UK. It is too early to assess disease incidence this season although there are indications of some significant colony losses across the country which are under investigation.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform what recent steps his Department has taken to increase the rate of compliance by employers with national minimum wage legislation. 
Mr. Pat McFadden, Minister of State, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform: Ensuring workers and employers are aware of their rights and responsibilities is key to ensuring workers get the minimum wage due to them. In his pre-Budget report 2006, the Chancellor announced an additional £2.9 million for monitoring and enforcing the minimum wage each year for the next four years. We carried out an extensive awareness campaign this year, including radio, posters and on-line activity as well as an outreach bus. The focus of our campaigns to raise awareness of national minimum wage and the current rates and ensure workers and employers know where to go for advice or to make a complaint.
We are also taking steps to strengthen the national minimum wage enforcement regime in a Bill which is currently in the House of Lords. Subject to parliamentary approval, the changes proposed in this Bill will provide a clear deterrent to non-compliance: there is a new automatic penalty for employers who fail to pay their workers the national minimum wage and in addition, where workers have been underpaid, employers will have to reimburse them at current, rather than historic rates. The Bill also gives HMRC compliance officers new inspection powers and strengthens the criminal regime that applies where an employer has committed an offence.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (1) what assessment he has made of the effect of immigration on the wages of low-skilled workers; and what steps he is taking to mitigate any negative effects; 
(2) what research he has conducted on the effect of levels of immigration on trends in wage levels; and what steps he is taking to alleviate any negative effects. 
Mr. Pat McFadden, Minister of State, Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform: Research conducted by the Department for Work and Pensions in 2006 (DWP Working paper No. 29) found no discernible statistical evidence to suggest that A8 migration has been a contributor to the rise in claimant unemployment in the UK.
With respect to wages, research commissioned by the Low Pay Commission in 2007 (Dustmann et al. 2007) found that immigration had a positive effect on wage growth across the earnings distribution. On average, the research found a slightly positive effect on overall wage growth, but with very modest negative effects on wage growth at the lower end of the distribution. The research also noted that the national minimum wage has played an important role in insulating the wages of low-paid workers from a larger impact.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what funding his Department plans to provide for bee inspectors in (a) 2008-09, (b) 2009-10 and (c) 2010-11. 
Jonathan Shaw, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Detailed allocations have still to be finalised. The expectation is that funding for DEFRA's ongoing programme of support for bee health will be around the same level as previously. In the event of a need to respond to new serious threats, there are contingency arrangements in place for additional funding to be made available.
Mr. Dave Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps his Department has taken to investigate the reasons for unexplained losses of queens from bee hives. 
Jonathan Shaw: Unexplained colony losses which have occurred this season, for which there is no ready explanation, are being investigated by the National Bee Unit.
Mr. Dave Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what research his Department has (a) commissioned and (b) evaluated on the emergence of an Asian variation of the bee pathogen Nosema ceranae. 
Jonathan Shaw: Last year, the National Bee Unit conducted an initial survey to estimate the prevalence of both Nosema species that affect honeybees across England and Wales as part of a horizon scanning project. Nosema ceranae, which is sometimes termed the Asian variant of the more common Nosema apis, was confirmed for the first time in the UK, infecting 37 per cent. of colonies sampled during the summer of 2007. This is the first time that sampling for Nosema ceranae has been carried out. It has been found in samples from 13 counties in England and Wales, including Cornwall and North Yorkshire. Nosema apis was also present in 14 per cent. of these samples.
We do not yet know the impact of Nosema ceranae, but the distribution suggests that it has been present for some time. A more detailed survey to estimate the impact of both Nosema species across England and Wales is planned for this year.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what steps she is taking to ensure that regional transport funding is distributed on an equitable basis. 
Ms Rosie Winterton, Minister of State, Department for Transport: I would refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave to his question of 12 March 2008, Official Report, column 448W.
We have already increased investment in transport in all regions. By 2008 transport spending will be 80 per cent. higher in real terms than in 1997, and we will continue to take account of the needs of all regions in making investment decisions.
The introduction of regional funding allocations has allowed regions to align these increased funding levels to their key priorities and needs, delivering the best outcome for each region.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): One of the best performing schools in this country is the Whickham sports college in my constituency. Sadly, a number of weeks ago it was badly damaged by fire. May I ask the Prime Minister to urge the Schools Minister to sit down with the local education authority and the school to try to bring forward Building Schools for the Future money to repair the school, and not let the Opposition do away with billions of pounds of the BSF programme?
The Prime Minister: I know that the school in my hon. Friend's constituency to which he refers was subject to a fire but that the children are now back in the school, and I know that he wants resources for urgent repair work. The Building Schools for the Future programme is increasing the number of secondary schools that are either renewed or completely rebuilt, and he is absolutely right - what would put that at risk is the Conservative proposal to take £4.5 billion from that programme and to deprive people of the secondary schools that they have been promised.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): The Secretary of State is very aware of the problems around the western bypass in Gateshead. Can she give me an update on progress on that matter?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tom Harris): My hon. Friend has campaigned on that issue for a long time. I share his concern that we have to see some progress on that project. However, he knows that widening that section of the A1 is likely to be complex and costly and will take time to deliver. However, the Highways Agency is aware of my concern to make progress. I am happy to discuss the matter with my hon. Friend in the near future. He will also know that the Highways Agency is investigating the possibility in the meantime of low-cost measures to improve the operation of the A1, including options for improving accident and incident management and speeding up the clearance of accidents.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): What guidance her Department has issued to local authorities on the development of local transport services through local transport plans. 
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Ms Rosie Winterton): The Department for Transport issued guidance to local authorities about local transport plans in December 2004. It also issued advice in 2007 about reviewing progress on delivery of transport plans.
Mr. Anderson: I thank the Minister for her response. May I say, on behalf of the people I represent, that they are very glad that, at long last, they are going to get back some local control over public transport services? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Conservatives oppose these plans simply because they would still rather put private profit before public services?
Ms Winterton: My hon. Friend is quite right to express amazement at the fact that the Conservatives decided to vote against the Local Transport Bill on Second Reading. All Labour Members appreciate the need to improve our bus services, to increase the integration of public transport and to improve community transport. It is beyond belief that the Conservatives do not support those principles. I also believe that they are completely out of step with Conservative local councillors whom I meet around the country, who say that this is exactly -
Mr. Speaker: Order. Perhaps we can have ministerial answers now. We can talk about ministerial responsibility.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will ensure that NHS Direct remains a nurse-led organisation.
Ben Bradshaw (Minister of State, Department of Health): Nurses carry out an important role in NHS Direct in assessing patient's needs and, where appropriate, advising on self-care. Trained health advisors also have a role to play carrying out an initial assessment of patients' needs and referring callers to nurse colleagues, other health services or giving out health information. It is important that NHS Direct has the right skill-mix to deal with a variety of health calls and so nurses will continue to be a crucial part of the organisation.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps she plans to take to reduce the number of animals used in the testing of food additives.
Meg Hillier (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office): The testing of food additives is carried out to satisfy the requirements of the Food Safety Act 1990, for which the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has responsibility, and is an example of specific legislative requirements under which procedures on animals are carried out. The number of animals used varies from year to year and depends on the requirements of industry and the regulators concerned. In the circumstances, it would not be appropriate to place a limit on such testing. However, the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 requires that the procedures authorised must cause the minimum possible suffering to the smallest number of animals of the least sentience and we will continue to ensure that these requirements are met in all categories of animal use, including the testing of food additives.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): How many empty properties there are in England; and what steps she is taking to ensure effective use of the national housing stock. 
The Minister for Housing (Caroline Flint): The housing strategy statistical appendix completed by local authorities shows that there are currently 672,924 empty properties across England - that is a 12 per cent. reduction since 1997. Of these, 271,252 are privately owned properties that have been empty for more than six months.
Mr. Anderson: I thank the Minister for her reply and I welcome the fact that the percentage has gone down, but surely 670,000 is a lot of houses to stand empty. What role should local authorities play, and what powers do they have, in ensuring that they can bring these houses back into use?
Caroline Flint: My hon. Friend is absolutely right: progress is being made, and the figures also have to be seen in the context of rising house numbers, but we have to do more to reduce the number of long-term empty homes. That is why in the Housing Act 2004 we introduced empty dwelling management orders, which give local authorities power to take over the management of properties that have been empty for more than six months. The orders are often used as a last resort but, for example, Manchester city council's threat to use them led to 40 properties coming back into use.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what consideration she has given to the merits of a moratorium on the implementation of the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation. 
Jim Fitzpatrick, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport: The Renewable Transport Fuel Obligations (RTFO) Order 2007 implements the RTFO scheme and the Government could not suspend the introduction of the RTFO without amending or repealing the order. The new amending or repealing order would require consultation in accordance with the Energy Act 2004 and would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, with debates in both Houses of Parliament.
The Government believe that suspending the introduction of the RTFO until such time as mandatory, EU-wide sustainability criteria for biofuels are in place would be counter-productive. The reporting requirements under the RTFO will cause suppliers to develop systems for capturing environmental and sustainability information which will help prepare for the introduction of mandatory standards and inform the development of those standards. In addition, the UK is widely perceived as playing a leading role in developing a sustainability framework for biofuels through the reporting requirements under the RTFO. Abandoning this could marginalise the UK in EU negotiations, and give other member states greater influence over the direction of the EU's future biofuel policies.
Mr. David Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what steps she is taking to ensure that the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation will not result in a conflict between the need to grow crops for both food and fuel. 
Jim Fitzpatrick: The Renewable Fuels Agency (RFA) will have a statutory duty to report annually to Ministers on the effects of the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), including the indirect effects such as impacts on food and commodity prices. These reports will inform the development of the Government's longer term biofuel policies.
The Government have also asked the Renewable Fuels Agency to lead an urgent review of the potential indirect impacts of biofuel production. This will, among other things, consider the risk that biofuel policies will affect international food commodity prices in the period to 2020. The terms of reference for this review are available via the Department for Transport's website at:
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make arrangements to enable the making of peaceful protests at Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Bob Ainsworth, Minister of State, Ministry of Defence: The MOD recognises the democratic right of individuals to participate in lawful and peaceful protest activities. Such activities have taken place at AWE for many years, and there are well-rehearsed plans in place to ensure minimum disruption and to allow peaceful protests to occur. Safety and security at AWE are paramount. Any protester action that could compromise these will always be dealt with appropriately. There were demonstrations at AWE as recently as 24 March and Thames Valley Police subsequently congratulated the organisers for organising an effective and peaceful demonstration.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform if he will take steps to investigate the dumping of Chinese air compressors in the EU. 
Mr. Gareth Thomas, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development and Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform: On 17 March the Council of Ministers agreed a proposal from the European Commission to impose anti-dumping duties on imports of certain types of air compressor originating in the People's Republic of China. The measures will come into force on 20 March and last for two years.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps her Department is taking to enforce compliance with the ban on hunting with dogs; and what progress has been made on improving the detection of illegal hunting. 
Mr. Vernon Coaker, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office: Police have stated their commitment to enforcing the Hunting Act. The Government continues to meet with interested stakeholders and to work closely with the police, through the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to identify what more can be done to ensure the Hunting Act is effectively and appropriately enforced and to improve detection of illegal hunting.
The Association of Chief Police Officers have conducted a survey of local police forces' response to enforcement of the Hunting Act which will inform practical best-practice guidance. The Government are also working with ACPO on ways to raise awareness of issues surrounding enforcement of the Hunting Act across the police service, and to communicate the importance of visible enforcement to community policing in rural areas and to the maintenance of public order.
We are also working closely with the Attorney General about what more can be done to secure prosecutions where evidence has been presented of Hunting Act offences being committed. The Attorney-General in turn has agreed to raise the issue of the burden of proof in hunting cases with the Director of Public Prosecutions, and to engage with local Crown Prosecution Service leads to better understand and then communicate, the evidence needed to bring forward successful prosecutions.
26 individuals have now been convicted of offences under the hunting Act 2004 which does show that the legislation is enforceable when the evidence presents itself.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government whether national policy statements under the provision of the Planning Bill will be required to be assessed under the (a) EU Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive and (b) EU Habitats Directive; and if she will make a statement. 
John Healey, Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government: All national policy statements will be subject to appraisal of the sustainability of the policies they contain. Some will also be required to be assessed under the regulations which transpose the EU Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive and the EU Habitats Directive. The Government will carry out assessments in all cases where they are required by the regulations, as part of the appraisal of sustainability.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what criteria the Infrastructure Planning Commission will use on sustainability in its assessment of development proposals. 
John Healey, Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government: The Infrastructure Planning Commission will take decisions on applications for development consent for nationally significant infrastructure within the framework provided by national policy statements, which will integrate economic, social and environment objectives with the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): It is a great pleasure for me to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Hood.
My hon. Friend the Minister's point is surely obvious. [That city dwellers visit forests] In the North-East, we have Kielder forest and Hamsterley forest, which are being run commercially through activities such as mountain biking. We are also trying to develop a Great North forest. The Forestry Commission's role is to provide funds to supplement such developments, so clearly what is happening in Ringwood is positive for the rest of the country.
Joan Ruddock, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: I am grateful for that intervention, which fits well with what I have said to the hon. Member for Christchurch. We have to see the forest as a resource for people beyond the local area.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): By what means individual budgets will be allocated to social care users over the next three years. 
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Ivan Lewis): Local authorities will receive an annual social care reform grant in addition to mainstream resources over the next three years to support the radical transformation of social care in every area. Personal budgets for the vast majority of those receiving public funding are at the heart of that vision.
Mr. Anderson: What can be done to ensure that the organisations that deliver these services for vulnerable people are properly trained and have knowledge of health and safety, that police records are checked and that the organisations are capable of doing the job that we are going to pay them to do?
Mr. Lewis: My hon. Friend is right to raise those issues. Personal budgets put maximum power and control in the hands of people using services and their families, recognising that they are best placed to make choices about where they want to get care from and allowing them to control their own care and support. Of course, we also must ensure the right balance between giving people that power and control, and appropriate protection in terms of the quality of the support that people receive.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what consultations his Department held with the Public and Commercial Services Union before the announcement of the proposal to reduce its staffing levels by 12,000 in the next three years; what assessment he has made of the effect of the reductions on his Department's delivery of services; and how many of the proposed job losses will be in the North East. 
Mrs. Anne McGuire, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions: The Department gave a full briefing to its Trade Unions prior to publication of its Three Year Business Plan 2008-2011, which covered the planned reduction in our workforce over the 2007 Spending Review period.
The Department's Three Year Business Plan 2008-2011, which was published on 28 February, also sets out the Department's assessment of how it intends to improve the service it offers customers over this period, in particular by further focusing its services on customer need. Detailed business-level planning is currently being undertaken, and at this stage it is too early to provide regional workforce plans.
Copies of the Plan have been placed in the Library of the House, or can be viewed electronically at the following address:
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Health what use the NHS is making of geographical information systems to improve health care treatment in the UK. 
Mr. Ben Bradshaw, Minister of State, Department of Health: It is for individual national health service trusts to decide whether they wish to use geographical information systems to support the planning and delivery of health care services.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how much he expects his Department to pay to private and voluntary sector organisations to deliver services under the Helping People into Work strategy. 
Mr. Timms, Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions: Our recently published "Three Year Business Plan 2008-11", which is available in the Library, provides figures for planned expenditure on employment programmes. These figures are in the following table.
|Planned expenditure on Department for Work and Pensions employment programmes|
We anticipate that up to 70 per cent. of this expenditure will be contracted to voluntary and private sector organisations. However, as indicated within our recently published Commissioning Strategy, which is also available in the Library, the exact amounts are yet to be approved by Ministers.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the effect on users of his Department's services of the increased provision of services on the internet; and what assessment he has made of the level of IT literacy of the users of his Department's services. 
Mr. Timms, Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions: DWP offers a wide range of services on-line enabling a large number of our customers to access them in a time and place that is convenient to them.
We know that many of our customers have access to and regularly use the internet, and that this number is growing. We will continue to develop services which meet their needs and to engage customers in the design and delivery of future on-line services. Customers who do not use the internet will continue to be able to access the Department's services in the conventional way.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if she will take steps to ensure that transport funding per head of population in the North-East is increased to the national average. 
Ms Rosie Winterton, Minister of State, Department for Transport: Expenditure across English regions is not directly comparable and a wide range of factors is taken into account in determining how funding should be distributed, including the needs of different areas.
Investment in transport within the North-East is at record levels. The Department for Transport's spending on road and rail in the region has increased by 80 per cent. over the six years to 2007-08 - from £165 million to £298 million. £457 million is provisionally allocated to fund major schemes in the North-East in the 10-year period to 2015-16 through the regional funding allocations process. And the recent local transport plan settlement allocated £245 million funding over the next three years for local authorities across the North-East, providing more funding per head of population in 2008-09 than any other region except the South-West.
The North-East also benefits from improvements to key corridors and services outside of the region. For example, A1 upgrades in Yorkshire will improve North-East connectivity to major cities to the south and improvements on East Coast Main Line and TransPennine Express benefit many regions.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform what consideration he gives to risks to bottlenose dolphin populations when determining licences for oil and gas extraction. 
Malcolm Wicks, Minister of State, Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mark Williams) on 3 March 2008, Official Report, column 2233W.
Proposed licensing and any subsequent offshore activities in or near to these areas will be subject to the provisions of the habitats and wild birds directives. Wherever oil and gas development is likely to have a significant effect upon special areas of conservation such as Pen Llyn and Pembrokeshire, an environmental assessment under the habitats and wild birds directives will be carried out before any licences are awarded under the 25th licensing round; where relevant, an environmental assessment will also be carried out before oil and gas activities are consented. I will have regard to the results of any such environmental assessment.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform if he will take steps to prevent utility companies from doubling the charge for off-peak electricity used in night storage heaters. 
Malcolm Wicks, Minister of State, Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform: The Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) is responsible for regulating gas and electricity supply, including prices. Ofgem recently announced that it was launching an investigation into the operation of energy supply market. It will be open to Ofgem to decide whether additional regulatory action is required.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what steps he is taking to protect whales, dolphins and porpoises in UK waters; 
(2) what steps he is taking to protect the bottlenose dolphin. 
Jonathan Shaw, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: All cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) are protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which makes it an offence to intentionally kill or injure cetaceans. The Government strengthened the protection given to cetaceans through the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 which introduced a new offence of recklessly disturbing cetaceans. The first successful conviction under the Act was in December 2007.
All cetaceans are also listed under Annex IVa of the Council Directive (92/43/EEC) on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora (the Habitats Directive), as species in need of strict protection. This directive is transposed into UK law by the Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations 1994, protecting cetaceans from deliberate killing and capture.
The UK is also a Party to ASCOBANS - the Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North seas - which aims to restore and/or maintain biological or management stocks of small cetaceans at the level they would reach when there is the lowest possible anthropogenic influence and proposes to reach these aims through co-ordinating and implementing conservation measures for small cetaceans.
We realise that the by-catch of cetaceans in some fisheries can be a problem. In an attempt to reduce fisheries by-catch DEFRA and the devolved administrations' fisheries departments published the UK Small Cetacean By-catch Response Strategy in March 2003. An update on the progress of implementing the strategy can be found at:
As part of this strategy, the UK Government spent around £1.6 million from 2000-05 on research into cetacean by-catch caused by fishing effort and measures to mitigate against by-catch.
Mr. David Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if he will take steps to prevent the closure of the bottlenose dolphin sanctuary in the Moray Firth. 
Jonathan Shaw: This matter is within the devolved responsibility of the Scottish Executive. The hon. Gentleman may wish to write to the Executive about this matter.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps she has taken to raise public awareness of the risk of theft of laptop computers from cars through the use of devices to detect laptop signals from outside the car. 
Mr. Vernon Coaker, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office: The Home Office has produced a wide range of information for the public aimed at informing them what they can do to reduce the risk of being victims of crime. In relation to theft from vehicles, there is general advice on not leaving any item on display in vehicles, regardless of its value, in our "Steer Clear of Car Crime" leaflets. We would encourage local police and other agencies to make use of and add to these messages.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many women receive reduced pensions having paid the married woman's stamp; what steps he is taking to help women adversely affected as a result of reduced pension payments; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Mike O'Brien, Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions: Basic pension entitlements for women who paid national insurance contributions at the married women's reduced rate at some point in their working lives are shown in the following table.
Women who elected to pay reduced rate contributions were able to revoke their elections at any time. Leaflet NI 1 - "National Insurance for Married Women" went to great lengths to make it clear that married women who chose to pay reduced-rate contributions would not qualify for national insurance entitlements, including retirement pension. Married women opting to pay reduced-rate contributions were required to sign a declaration on a form attached to NI1 that they had read and understood the leaflet.
There are no current plans to take steps to alter the level of pensions which they acquired as a result of this choice.
|Full Category A retirement pension or Category B retirement pension||1,257,000|
|Reduced Category A retirement pension or Category B retirement pension||548,000|
|Full Category B married women's pension||1,228,000|
1. Data is based upon a one per cent sample and are shown to the nearest thousand.
2. UK cases only.
One per cent. IFD Datasets
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what scrutiny activity the Infrastructure Planning Commission will undertake other than of National Policy Statements. 
John Healey, Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government: The Infrastructure Planning Commission's main function will be to examine and determine applications for development consent for nationally significant infrastructure projects. National Policy Statements will be scrutinised by Parliament.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if she will reconsider the procedures used in removals to Ghana following the recent case of Ama Sumani. 
Mr. Liam Byrne, Minister of State, Home Office: There are no plans to change procedures for removals to Ghana. Each case will continue to be assessed and reviewed in accordance with existing legislation and guidance.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the Iranian Government on the penalty to be imposed on sisters found guilty of adultery for being in the company of men other than their husbands in Iran. 
Dr. Howells, Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office: We are deeply concerned that Ms Zohreh Kabir and Ms Azar Kabiri from Shahriar in Tehran province and Mr. Abdollah Farivar from Sari in Mazandaran province in Iran have been charged with adultery and sentenced to death by stoning. The EU presidency, on behalf of all EU member states, issued a public declaration on 7 February condemning these sentences. In this statement, the EU reiterated its opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances and urged the Iranian Government
"to abolish immediately, in law and in practice, the use of stoning as a method of execution - as called for in the most recent UN General Assembly resolution on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2007".
We will continue to press the Iranian authorities to uphold its international human rights commitments as described in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and to abolish cruel and degrading punishments such as stoning, flogging and amputations once and for all.
Mr. David Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations he has made to the Government of Iran on human rights. 
Dr. Howells: We generally raise human rights issues with the Government of Iran through the EU, in order to maximise impact and emphasise that the concerns we have are shared across a range of countries. In 2007, the EU raised human rights issues with the Iranian authorities in Tehran on 28 occasions, through meetings and statements. So far this year, the EU has raised human rights issues with the Iranian authorities five times, most recently in two statements on 7 February about death sentences and the deteriorating situation of Baha'is in Iran.
We also discuss human rights issues bilaterally with Iranian officials in London and Tehran. In 2007, the UK raised human rights issues bilaterally on eight occasions, on issues of particular concern including the rise in the use of the death penalty, the execution of juveniles and the use of amputation.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent steps his Department has taken on the (a) safety of and (b) support for Iraqi interpreters working with British forces in Iraq. 
Des Browne, Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence: We take our responsibilities to the Iraqi interpreters working with UK armed forces in Iraq extremely seriously, and have in place various measures for their protection and support. If a direct threat is made against any of our locally employed civilians then we will take action to provide them with extra security, which may include bringing them into the contingency operating base. If an interpreter is required for a particularly sensitive issue, which would place an Iraqi in a difficult situation, then we will use a third country national to translate instead.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced on 8 October 2007, Official Report, columns 23-24, we have introduced a policy to provide additional assistance to recognise more fully the unique contribution made by our Iraqi staff who have completed their work with us. This policy was detailed in written statements to the House by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on 9 October 2007, Official Report, column 27WS, and 30 October 2007, Official Report, column 30WS, and is now in the process of being implemented.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will freeze the level of duty on diesel; and if he will make a statement. 
Angela Eagle, Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answers I gave the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) and the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) on 7 January 2008, Official Report, column 330W.
Mr. Greg Knight: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will reduce duty on petrol and diesel to reflect recent changes in oil prices. 
Angela Eagle [holding answer 3 December 2007] : Budget 2007 pre-announced fuel duty rates for three years for environmental reasons, to fund public services and provide certainty alongside the other tax reforms in that Budget. The Government keeps all taxes under review and will continue to monitor developments in the oil market.
Mr. Amess: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will freeze the rate of fuel duty; what recent representations he has received about the issue; and if he will make a statement. 
Angela Eagle: It is the Government's policy that fuel duty rates should rise each year at least in line with inflation as the UK seeks to reduce polluting emissions and fund public services. The 2007 Budget announced fuel duty rates for the next three years. The Treasury routinely receives a range of stakeholder views in the approach to the Budget and the Chancellor considers all relevant economic, environmental and social factors when deciding taxation policy.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps he is taking to ensure that recent increases in energy prices do not increase levels of poverty among pensioners. 
Mr. Mike O'Brien, Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions: The Government are committed to tackling fuel poverty. Fuel prices do fluctuate and although fuel prices have risen since 2003 this follows a period of price stability between 1997 and 2003. Between 1996-97 and 2005-06 pensioners' incomes increased by 29 per cent. in real terms, compared with a 15 per cent. real terms increase in utility bills between 1996-97 and 2006.
Winter fuel payments provide a significant contribution to pensioners' heating bills. The winter fuel payment has risen from £20 in 1997-98 to £200 and £300 for oldest pensioners. Last year the winter fuel payment helped more than 11 million older people with their fuel bills, and assistance has been provided for two million low income households though schemes to improve energy efficiency, for example through better heating and insulation.
Incomes of the poorest pensioner households have risen by around 30 per cent. over the last 10 years. In addition we have successively raised the pension credit standard minimum guarantee in line with earnings every year since its introduction. In April 2008 the standard minimum guarantee will rise by 4.2 per cent. which is higher than the relevant average earnings index, ensuring that pension credit more than keeps pace with earnings and prices.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what plans he has to call upon the Standing Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to examine the compliance of the Japanese whaling industry with the provisions of the Convention. 
Jonathan Shaw, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Following the recent announcement that Japan intended to take 50 Humpback whales in the southern ocean as part of its JARPA II whaling programme, the UK Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Management Authority wrote to the CITES Secretariat asking for clarification on the legal position. We have drawn the contents of the reply to the attention of the EU CITES Management Committee, which will consider it at its next meeting in April.
Mr. David Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) if he will seek to place the recent report by a panel of independent legal experts on the legality of the Japanese whaling industry on the agenda of the annual meeting of the International Whaling Congress in Santiago in June 2008 for consideration by the parties; 
(2) what representations he has received on the legality of the Japanese whaling industry; what research he has (a) commissioned and (b) evaluated on this subject; and what plans he has to raise this matter with the (i) Japanese government and (ii) International Whaling Commission. 
Jonathan Shaw: DEFRA is aware of the recent report commissioned by International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) which questioned the legality of Japan's whaling under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).
Following the recent announcement that Japan intended to take 50 humpback whales in the Southern Ocean as part of its JARPA II whaling programme, the UK CITES Management Authority wrote to the CITES Secretariat asking for clarification on the legal position. We have drawn the contents of their reply to the attention of the EU CITES Management Committee, which will consider it at its next meeting in April. Japan subsequently announced it will not target humpbacks, but will still target minke and endangered fin whales
DEFRA has also received representations from Greenpeace UK and IFAW about the legality of Japanese whaling under CITES. A number of hon. Members have also made representations in support of IFAW's position.
We will continue our efforts, along with other countries, to urge Japan to reconsider their position on whaling. In the build up to the annual International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Chile (IWC60) and in discussion with other like-minded anti-whaling countries, we will consider all reports and options, including all legal avenues available.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform what steps his Department is taking to protect the public from identity fraud. 
Meg Hillier, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office: I have been asked to reply.
We are involved in a variety of activity to protect the public from identity fraud. A public-private sector work programme, the Identity Fraud Steering Committee, was set up in 2003 to co-ordinate this work. There have been a number of successes. Tougher criminal penalties have been introduced for driving licence and passport offences, alongside offences in the Identity Cards Act 2006 to target those who possess and use false identity documents and genuine documents belonging to someone else.
Face to face interviews of first time passport applicants over 16 years old are now taking place in 66 interview offices to verify the identity of individuals, and this is one of a series of measures to improve the prevention and detection of fraudulent passport applications. In addition the Passport Validation Service allows public and private sector organisations to check passports presented as proof of identity against the passport database, realising significant savings in its 18 months of operation.
More powers to share data to combat fraud have been enacted, and most recently the Disclosure of Death Registration Information Scheme was launched on 16 January 2008. We have sought to ensure better co-ordination in prosecuting fraudsters, and have worked extensively to raise public awareness.
Finally, our plans for a national identity scheme will provide people with a highly secure means of protecting their identity and help citizens to prove their identities easily, quickly and with vastly improved security.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): What assessment he has made of the likely effect of budget changes on services provided by Northumbria probation service. 
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. David Hanson): Northumbria's probation budget will increase by more than 2 per cent. in 2008-09. The regional offender manager and probation staff are examining the service levels based on that increase.
Mr. Anderson: Is the Minister aware that the probation service has said that it expects a 5.31 per cent. deficit by March 2011? That could impact on the service offered to offenders, and lead to the loss of 24 posts. It could mean that 24 trainee probation officers are not put in post, which would be a waste of £800,000 of public money. There are also threats to employees' terms and conditions. Is that what the Minister meant when he met me last year to say that things were going to get better?
Mr. Hanson: I say to my hon. Friend - I hope that he will accept this - that this year Northumbria's budget will increase from more than £25.484 million to more than £25.995 million, which is an increase of more than 2 per cent. Northumbria has been able to recruit 24 trainee probation officers. The national staffing levels in the probation service have risen by more than 49 per cent. from more than 13,000 to more than 20,000 in the past 10 years of Labour Government. The number of staff in post in Northumbria stands at 644, and the regional offender manager and the probation service will try to live within the 2 per cent. increase for next year. I met my hon. Friend in Northumbria during the summer, and I am happy to meet him again to discuss the issues should he so wish.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what assessment he has made of the likely effect on employees' terms and conditions of budget reductions in the Northumbria probation area. 
Maria Eagle, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice: There are no budget reductions in the Northumbria probation area. Terms and conditions of service are determined nationally through the National Negotiating Council of the National Probation Service and this national collective bargaining is retained as probation boards move to trust status from April 2008. A modernised pay and grading structure supported by a national job evaluation scheme was introduced in 2005. Local boards have the ability to negotiate some lesser terms and conditions such as essential car user allowance. These are a matter for the local employer in this case the Northumbria Probation Board through consultation and negotiation with their employees.
Mr. David Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what assessment he has made of the likely effect on trainee probation officers of budget reductions in the Northumbria probation area. 
Maria Eagle: Northumbria was able to recruit 24 trainee probation officers during Cohort 10 (07/08), having not recruited for the previous two Cohorts. A new process for training will be introduced in October 2008 and because of this, the number of trainees each board will recruit is currently unknown.
Mr. David Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice whether staff will be made redundant as a result of budget reductions in the Northumbria probation area. 
Maria Eagle: There will be no budget reductions in 2008-09 in Northumbria probation area. Northumbria's budget will increase from £25,484 million to £25,995 million between 2007-08 and 2008-09 (2.01 per cent.). In addition, their 3 Year Corporate Plan includes a programme of cash savings of up to £1.3 million from their non staffing budget. They are however considering the option of some voluntary redundancies phased over Years 1 and 2 of the 3 year period.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what assessment he has made of the effect of budget reductions on the support provided to offenders as a result of budget cuts in the Northumbria probation area. 
Maria Eagle, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice: Northumbria probation area in conjunction with the regional offender manager for the North East will determine the quantity and quality of services to be provided in the forthcoming year. This will be through service level agreements between the board and the regional offender manager. Northumbria's budget will increase from £25,484 million to £25,995 million between 2007-08 and 2008-09 (2.01 per cent.). In addition, their three year corporate plan includes a programme of cash savings of up to £1.3 million from their non staffing budget.
Mr. David Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice if he will take steps to prevent reductions in the budget for Inventory of Offenders programmes in the Northumbria probation area. 
Maria Eagle: Any reduction in budget for Inventory of Offenders programmes in the Northumbria area will be with agreement with the regional offender manager (North East), through service level agreements and the board will look to deliver against the targets set both nationally and through the regional offender manager. Northumbria's budget will increase from £25,484 million to £25,995 million between 2007-08 and 2008-09 (2.01 per cent.). In addition, their three year corporate plan includes a programme of cash savings of up to £1.3 million from their non staffing budget.
Sir John Butterfill: The press and the general public, who are informed by the press, do not remember that on 4 November 2004 we voted to end our generous early retirement arrangements; they were to be phased out from 2009. The Government were asking civil servants and all those in the public sector to go down a similar route, although they proposed that the date for those groups be 2013. Faced with the threat of strikes across the country, the Government backed down. We made that gesture, thinking that we were leading the way and showing that we were not frightened of making the change. We thought that we would get some credit for that, but we did not - not with the public, and not with Messrs. Watson Wyatt.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): Did not the Government put that proposal to employees across the public sector in 2004 because of the same problem that the hon. Gentleman said affected us - contribution holidays had been taken by public and private sector employers over a number of years?
Sir John Butterfill: The situation is that the right to retire early exists in all other areas of the public service, but it is not available to Members of Parliament.
Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): The speech by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir John Butterfill) showed how the debate has gone today, with people of massive experience across the House speaking very seriously about very serious issues. I do not have the experience that he has in the matters that he discussed, but I do have the experience of being involved as a trade union activist and negotiator for the best part of four decades. Going right back to the early 1970s, I was involved in a national strike, as were some of my hon. Friends sitting in front of me. In 1972, miners were getting paid the paltry sum of £26 a week; we went on strike and ended up with the fantastic sum of £35 a week. I go from that experience to the early 2000s, when I was involved in the negotiations on the agenda for change, which covered 1.5 million workers in the health service, and single status in local government, which covered 1 million workers. I would therefore argue that I have, if not expertise, some experience in this area.
Throughout all those years, I have never seen a pay round so badly handled by a Government. Without a doubt, the Treasury has had its fingerprints over all the public sector pay deals this year, so that we have ended up in the situation in which we find ourselves, both as public servants and as representatives of millions of public servants outside. Nurses should have been given the pay that they were due, because they were covered by a pay review body, as were prison officers, who did not get what they were due either, and ultimately ended up going out on strike; now they are facing legal challenges in this House. Obviously, as a former miner I do not have a lot of time for the police, given the history between us, but on a point of principle they should have been given what their pay review body said that they were entitled to.
The key thing about pay review bodies is that they were not settled on by some sort of whim, but mainly to try to avert or resolve disputes, and they have been very successful in that. They should have been respected, but they have not been. The sad thing about where we are today is that our pay review body should be respected, but because of how the Treasury has handled the situation in the past nine months, we cannot legitimately say that we want our piece of the cake if our constituents - our fellow public servants - are denied their share of it. We therefore have no option other than to agree to the Government's position on the 1.9 per cent.
We need to learn a lesson from this - that pay review bodies and deals must mean something. We must have a mechanism that works, but it must be simple, too. My blood ran cold when the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean), in a very good speech, talked about job evaluation and comparators. When he said that we should look at responsibility, but not at workload or hours worked, I was taken back to 10 years of knocking my head against a brick wall trying to implement the single status agreement in local government, when the very same things were said, and where we have ended up with ordinary men and women facing court cases because they cannot get agreement on equal pay, and suchlike. We need a very simple mechanism, and it is not beyond the wit of people in this Chamber to achieve that.
I ask my Front-Bench colleagues to listen to what the people on the Members Estimate Committee have said and work with them, because, as was clearly shown by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West, they have an element of expertise that the so-called experts have not shown. We are where we are, and we need to get away from it; part of that is about involving the people whom we entrust with looking after our own interests.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what progress has been made on development of (a) cattle and (b) badger vaccines for bovine tuberculosis; and if he will make a statement. 
Jonathan Shaw, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: The research programme for producing an effective vaccine against tuberculosis in (a) badgers and (b) cattle remains broadly in line with the timetable outlined in the Krebs report (1997).
Identification of candidate vaccines and development of differential diagnostic tests started in 1999 and is ongoing. Experimental investigations of vaccination protocols are progressing, including a natural transmission study in cattle looking at various candidate vaccines. Badger vaccines are further advanced with a three and a half year vaccine field trial to gather safety data and assess the efficacy of injectable Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG), and a project on the development of oral formulations.
Badger vaccines are likely to be available sooner than cattle vaccines. An injectable badger vaccine could be available within three to five years, and an oral badger vaccine in five to seven years. It will probably be at least eight years before a cattle vaccine is available. As with all research there is no guarantee of success
In addition to developing the vaccine itself, there are a number of important legal, commercial, regulatory and policy issues surrounding the implementation of a bTB vaccine. Work has begun to identify and address these issues so we are able to make full use of a vaccine once it becomes available.
Mr. David Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) when he expects to make a decision on policy on badger culling; and if he will make a statement; 
(2) what assessment he has made of research on the effects on cattle health of culling badgers as a response to bovine TB; and if he will make a statement. 
Jonathan Shaw: The question of whether badger culling has a role to play in controlling bovine TB in cattle is complex and presents very difficult choices.
Results from the Randomised Badger Culling Trial show that small-scale badger culling can increase levels of bovine TB in cattle. However, they also suggest that co-ordinated and efficient culling carried out over areas larger than the RBCT and sustained over a number of years could prove beneficial. However, Professor John Bourne's report said that culling could not meaningfully contribute to the control of bovine TB.
The Secretary of State has been clear that the next step is for DEFRA's ministerial team to have discussions with interested parties. He has already met with former members of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, including Professor John Bourne, and separately with the former Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Sir David King.
While we are keen to make progress on reaching a decision, there is no specific timetable for doing so.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform what steps are being taken to encourage householders to access the low carbon building programme. 
Malcolm Wicks, Minister of State, Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform: We are working in partnership with the Energy Saving Trust to promote the low carbon buildings programme household funding stream, raising awareness of the funds that remain available to successful applicants.
To date, we have used both their advice network and market segmentation models to target those that are most likely to install microgeneration technologies and apply for grants. We have also raised awareness at a national and regional level through the issuing of a press release that focused on the low carbon buildings programme in December 2007.
Furthermore, at officials' last review meeting with industry representatives in September 2007, we encouraged the involvement of industry in promoting the programme, and look forward to meeting with them in February 2008 to discuss the outcomes.
Grants of up to £2,500 remain available to successful applicants until the funds are exhausted in full or March 2009, whichever comes sooner. Further details are available at www.lowcarbonbuildings.org.uk.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps the Government are taking to encourage the Colombian Government to investigate alleged murders of civilians by the Colombian army. 
Meg Munn, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office: Whilst the majority of murders in Colombia are committed by illegal armed groups, we regularly call on the Colombian Government, privately and in public, to ensure procedures are in place to fully investigate alleged abuses against civilians by the Colombian army. My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Dr. Howells, did so with the Colombian Defence Minister and Vice President during their visits to the UK last year, and he repeated these concerns when visiting Colombia in November 2007. We have been impressed at the Colombian government's commitment to tackling this problem, but we recognise that more needs to be done. This is why the UK continues to provide the Colombian armed forces with human rights training and practical advice on military justice reform - which includes forging a closer working relationship between the Colombian Attorney General's Office and the Colombian armed forces - so to promote their adherence to international humanitarian law.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): The Secretary of State mentioned Ed Sweeney's plan as being a road map. In the view of the prison officers and many Labour Members, however, the wording of the second part of new clause 36(3) is actually a road block. The reference to
"any other action likely to affect the normal working of a prison"
would be a catch-all, whereby people would be guilty of a criminal offence for any simple thing, if such action is defined by the management. Will he remove that provision, alter it, or define clearly what it means?
Mr. Straw, Lord Chancellor, Ministry of Justice: That phraseology picks up the phrasing of paragraph 6 of the annexe to the current agreement.
Mr. Anderson: That is why it did not work.
Mr. Straw: It is not why it did not work, with great respect. In the hope of being helpful, while I cannot give an undertaking now as to the terms I am certainly ready to sit down and consider ways in which that provision can be tightened, with a view to bringing forward amendments in the other place.
Mr. Anderson: Is not the obvious difference the fact that while under the JIRPA people who took action that was slightly out of order would be guilty of a disciplinary offence, under the new clause they would be guilty of a criminal offence? Those to whom we look to lock up criminals would become criminals themselves.
Mr. Gerrard: That is quite possible. Another possibility is that the wording will become the subject of interpretation by courts. I do not think any of us can be certain what the consequences of that will be: what it might mean in terms of a new definition of industrial action and, once it has happened in this context, into what other contexts it might spill.
Mr. Straw: As I said to our hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson), although I will not give an undertaking on the precise wording until we have reached an agreement, I am prepared to consider points that are raised, and I understand the point that has been raised so powerfully by both my hon. Friends.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the ways to make sure that the long-term settlement in Northern Ireland works is through the expansion of integrated education? At present 95 per cent. of children do not meet people from other cultures. What can he do to encourage integrated education?
Mr. Shaun Woodward, Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office: Academic selection is the issue that my hon. Friend touches on. It is entirely a matter for the devolved Administration. The Minister of Education has set out her vision for the education system. That is now a devolved matter, but I look forward to hearing more about the details of how she will take it forward.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) if he will make a statement on the results of the Commission for Social Care Inspection's 2007 employee survey; 
(2) what equality impact assessments have been carried out by the Commission for Social Care Inspection of (a) its estates strategy and (b) the restructuring and headcount reduction programme for 2007-08; what the main findings were of those assessments; and what steps have been taken by the Commission for Social Care Inspection management in response; 
(3) how much and what proportion of the Commission for Social Care Inspection's payroll budget was spent on agency staff in the last 12 months; and what proportion of the Commission's spending on agency staff was accounted for by agency fees. 
Mr. Ivan Lewis, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health: We have been informed that the chief inspector of the Commission for Social Care Inspection has replied in writing to my hon. Friend. A copy of the reply has been placed in the Library
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): The Lord Chancellor spoke of the POA walking away from the JIRPA [joint industrial relations procedural agreement]. The reality is that the POA could not make the JIRPA work because the management - a management that is prepared to discipline people for wearing a trade union badge - were interested in going to court at the drop of a hat. Will he tell us what exactly will be done to improve the quality of management? If there is no such improvement, the new agreement will not work either.
Mr. Straw, Lord Chancellor, Ministry of Justice: Of course opinions differ, as they often do in respect of industrial relations. In the case of the Prison Service, the employees and employers have different perceptions; I do not want to comment on that. In my view, the report from Mr. Ed Sweeney provides a positive way forward. My hon. Friend will know from his trade union experience that there have been plenty of occasions on which although relations have not been all that good, they have got better as a result of good will on both sides and new agreements. That is what I hope will happen in the four months before 8 May.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Health whether the Commission for Social Care Inspection is required to undertake a new inspection of a care home when the registered manager of a care provider changes.
Ivan Lewis (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health): Before a person is registered to manage any service regulated by the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI), they must complete the application process. This will not necessarily involve an inspection of the care home in question, but it ensures that new managers are positively approved in their personal capacity before becoming registered and starting work.
All registered persons are required, under Regulation 39 of the Care Homes Regulations 2001, to notify CSCI when a manager of the service in question is to leave, or if a new manager is to be appointed. CSCI may respond to notifications in any way it chooses, and will decide on what action to take in relation to a change of manager depending on what is already known about the service in question. In some cases, CSCI may decide it is appropriate to visit the service in question.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs for what reason British military assistance has been provided to the High Mountain Battalions of the Colombian Army. 
Dr. Kim Howells, Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office: Our bilateral defence co-operation programme in Colombia has very specific objectives: to improve the Colombian Army and National Police's adherence to human rights norms and values, including international humanitarian law, humanitarian demining and counter narcotics. All our assistance has respect for human rights at its core. It comes with conditions and safeguards attached, and we monitor this closely. All reasonable precautions, subject to resource constraints, are undertaken to avoid any UK assistance being implicated in any human rights abuses.
We do not publish details of all the support we provide, nor to whom we provide it, as to disclose such information could endanger not only the effectiveness of the support, but also the lives of the British and Colombian personnel involved.
Mr. David Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the observance of human rights in Colombia; and if he will make a statement. 
Dr. Howells: We are concerned about the human rights situation in Colombia and the continued threats against human rights defenders, including trade unionists, community leaders and teachers. However, we are encouraged by the positive steps the Government of Colombia has been taking to address the human rights situation. For example, a new unit of specialised prosecutors with greater resources has been established to deal with cases of human rights abuses involving trade unionists - a point specifically welcomed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in his report on Colombia, published on 15 March 2007.
The UK provides assistance to Colombia in the area of human rights so that the serious, continuing challenges facing the country can be addressed and further improvements can be made to the lives of the Colombian people. Further detail can be found on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website:
We will continue to work with the Colombian Government and other partners, such as the EU, UN and civil society, to help Colombia address its serious problems.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): The debate is about low-income families and their access to financial services. I want to focus on the impact of companies that force people to look for financial services when they may not need to do that, and especially on a recent report by Energywatch about the impact of prepayment meters.
I have a lot of experience of dealing with low-income families. I was a trade union representative for local government workers, school meals workers, cleaners - women who made around £80 for a 20-hour week. They did not want a bank account - they had never had one - and were frightened of the impact of having one. That is borne out by a National Consumer Council report of a couple of years ago, which clearly stated:
"Low income consumers with bank accounts have higher levels of borrowing than those without access to bank accounts."
People do not want to be sucked into a situation in which they may find it easier to access money.
Some people also distrust direct debit accounts because they read the horror stories of people being hit with bills that bear no relation to their consumption and the problems of trying to rectify that. While they try to rectify that, they get into a bigger hole.
From information that Energywatch has provided, it is clear that at least one in 11 energy consumers do not have access to a bank account. That means that they have to resort to other methods, including the use of prepayment meters. Energywatch reported last week that prepayment meters cost people £195 more for the same amount of energy than direct debit. The worst case about which Energywatch reported was that of npower, to which some people pay £304 a year - at least a third more than those paying by direct debit for exactly the same amount of energy. That is disgraceful. The average is £195.
Last week, a pensioner on a prepayment meter will have received a heating allowance of £200. They can immediately throw £195 away, because they will get only £5-worth of energy out of that £200. It is clear that there is a detrimental impact on people who have prepayment meters. They are subsidising people like me, others in this Chamber and lots of other people around the country who are on direct debit and who can switch their bank accounts and energy accounts, thereby saving even more money - at least £150 a year on average, as shown in a report published today. Lack of access to such services leaves people worse off.
People with prepayment meters are also - that ugly word - self-disconnecting. In the past, if people did not pay their electricity, gas or water bill, a guy would come along and cut them off, and there was a huge cry. That does not happen now; people do it themselves. So they are not only in poverty but not keeping warm and not keeping fed, and therefore in danger of becoming ill.
Approaches have been made to the Energy Retail Association - the trade association of energy suppliers - which has said that it would not want an equalisation of rates between prepayment meters and direct debits. [Interruption.] Sorry, I am off message. I understand the Energy Retail Association's point of view, but that is clearly not fair on the people who are being made to suffer. The regulator, Ofcom, suggests that the cost to the companies of prepayment meters is £85, which means that on average they are raking in £110 from poor people, for what we do not know. Surely that cannot be fair.
To illustrate how big the issue really is, Energywatch estimates that at least £300 million a year is spent by prepayment customers without power, and that the figure could be as much as £500 million. Last year alone, more than 366,000 prepayment meters were installed in houses for people who were in debt. They did not want prepayment meters, but they were told that the only way they could continue to access energy was by having a prepayment meter. Again, that impacts on their ability to make ends meet and it is another reason why they will suffer from financial exclusion.
It is clear that we need to do something other than just talk about the issue. What could be done? Companies could show some real corporate social responsibility and say that it is unfair that the poor are subsidising the rich. Instead of the consumer taking the hammer, they could let the shareholder pick up some of the £300 million or £500 million. They could also do what used to be done when they were nationalised - they could spread the cost of the service charge equally across every consumer, so that the one in 11 who have a prepayment meter no longer subsidise the other 10 and share the cost. If that does not work or if the companies do not agree, perhaps we in the House need to sit down and legislate, and make it so that people who are in poverty no longer subsidise people who do not need it.
That is not the only situation where such issues arise. On behalf of one of my constituents I have previously raised in the House the situation whereby British Telecom charges people who will not go on to direct debit. As a result of that complaint, Ofcom has instituted a review of telephone charges, which has shown that some companies do not charge anything for non-direct debit payments, whereas others charge as much as £25 a quarter. That is absolutely disgraceful. Again, people who do not have access to bank accounts are being made to subsidise people who are well-off.
Last week in business questions I raised the issue of Energywatch. The Leader of the House said that she thought that it was a good subject on which to have a topical debate. The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) said that he did not agree, but I am glad that the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newmark) agrees that it is a good topic to debate. The truth is that when we in the House do not think that it is topical to talk about alleviating poverty, we should all give up and go home.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): The last time that we debated this issue, a number of my colleagues and I were accused in the Tory press the following morning of being parochial. Perhaps I have got it wrong, but I thought that that was part of my job. I have not read the job description, but I think it is all right to be parochial.
Last week, the House had a parochial debate about the road scheme around Stonehenge. The hon. Members for Salisbury (Robert Key), for North Dorset (Mr. Walter), for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) and for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) and the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) rightly argued their corners for their parts of the world. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has mentioned the A1. In any debate on transport and road structures, we would all argue strongly for the improvements that we want in our parts of the world. That is why we are here, and I feel no shame whatever about being parochial again. The argument is parochial, although it is also a national and potentially international argument.
I want to start with the parochial impact on the work force. There are thousands of workers in the North-East in this very key sector - one that is not a traditional strength in our area but one that we want to build on. If that fails, the knock-on impact could be very serious.
The trade union representing the majority of that work force has set up a charter of rights that it wants included in its discussions. It wants to be recognised as a stakeholder in the future of Northern Rock and to ensure long-term job security for its employees. It wants to protect and improve terms of employment for the employees and to improve and maintain existing pension rights.
Clearly, the union wants the work of the Northern Rock Foundation to continue and the bank to stay a listed company. It is entering discussions with the private companies and saying, "These are the things that we want to work with you on." As far as I am aware, it is not saying to us or any other political party that it wants to discuss nationalisation. For it, nationalisation would simply mean that it had failed totally and saw no way out other than nationalisation. The union says clearly that it would like politicians to stop playing politics with our lives and asks people to stop talking down Northern Rock's opportunity to make its way out of its situation. I hope that Members across the House will listen to that.
In my region, we are far too used to the realities of unemployment. Twenty years ago, the Conservative party was clear that unemployment was a price worth paying. The truth, of course, was that it was not paying it - but people in our part of the world were paying it in spades. We do not want to go back to those days - certainly not in respect of the people working at Northern Rock.
I turn now to the Northern Rock Foundation. This is a parochial point, but an important one to ordinary people on the ground. I shall go through some of the things that the foundation is doing day in, day out, as it promotes social justice. It has invested £8.5 million in work with disadvantaged young people across the North-East; £8 million in regeneration; £8 million in schemes to help disadvantaged people to set up their own businesses; £6.5 million in tackling domestic abuse; £6.5 million in reducing crime; £4.5 million in helping people with mental health problems who do not get support from elsewhere; £4 million in helping people with debt problems; £16 million in the cultural renaissance of the region, including £1 million in the establishment of the Sage music centre in Gateshead, which is now among the world's state-of-the-art opera houses; £5.5 million in heritage projects; £6 million in advice and support to local charities and development of the region's voluntary sector; and nearly £5 million in providing training and development support directly to local groups.
In my own constituency, the foundation has spent £15,000 to provide a live-at-home scheme for elderly people. Last week, I was fortunate to be able to go to their Christmas party with 100 people who, but for the foundation's support, would not be getting out of the house and enjoying this time of year. It has provided nearly £2 million to establish a domestic abuse rapid response service, £70,000 to a women's health project, and £120,000 to a young women's outreach project. Of course we do not want to lose that. It is a key thing in our region; we are very proud of it and want to hold on to it.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): I appreciate the list of good things that the hon. Gentleman has given to the House, but does all that justify committing the equivalent of the defence budget in taxpayers' money to propping up the bank?
Mr. Anderson: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman asked that question; I was about to come to that. He is right to say that all those important things alone would not justify it, but they are part and parcel of what will not be there if we do not carry on trying to find a resolution.
This is not just a parochial matter. The hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) said that what happened was unprecedented and unexpected. It hit Northern Rock in a way that it should not have, and it hit other banks, but we did not intervene as a Government solely to protect Northern Rock but to protect the whole banking system. As the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) pointed out, it was about not only what was happening in the north but in this part of the world. The whole system was at risk, and we stopped that.
It is clear that the Liberal Democrats are starting to bottle out. As usual, they have taken an opportunistic chance to make some hay while the sun shines - that is the way they work, and that is up to them. They talk about nationalisation. I spent my life working in nationalised industries - 20 years in coal mines and 16 years in local government. I have a very different ideological view from that of my party's Front Benchers: their view is that public ownership is a good thing and we should have more of it. However, we should not have it only when things are on their knees. That is what happened in the past. In the post-war years, we nationalised the pits, the railways and the steel industry because we had to, because they had been run down and not looked after properly by the Government or the businesses that were supposed to be protecting them.
Northern Rock may not be nationalised, but we should give a chance to the people who have stepped in and fulfilled some of the criteria put forward by people who work for the Rock and by the Governor. Virgin and Olivant have said in their bids - they must be tested; I do not have a problem with checking carefully what companies say before we sign up to it - that they will make up-front payments back to the Treasury on day one, give guarantees that the rest of the taxpayers' money will be paid back over two or three years, support the work force with guarantees of no compulsory redundancies, support the foundation, and protect mortgage-holders and savers. They will also do what they can for the shareholders who, as Members on both sides of the House have said, need to understand the situation and bear the risk. Surely we should give the people who have come forward with a bid the opportunity to work with the bank and with the trade union, on behalf of the work force, to try to make this work.
The Liberal Democrats have come forward with proposals that they think will grab a headline. We are used to that. The people of the North-East will see through what they are doing and will not forgive them for it.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): Will the Prime Minister make contact with the authorities in the United Arab Emirates to ask about the whereabouts of Alsadiq Abdullah, who disappeared on 23 September and has not been seen since?
The Prime Minister: I understand that the constituent to whom my hon. Friend refers is a British business man, but he has Sudanese nationality. It is a matter for the Sudanese to put pressure on that Government. I believe that that is happening, and we will support the Sudanese in anything they do.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many paramilitary-style assaults took place in Northern Ireland in each of the last 12 months for which figures are available, broken down by group deemed responsible. 
Paul Goggins: The following table details the information requested.
|Casualties as a result of paramilitary style assaults|
|(1) Attribution is as perceived by PSNI based on the information available and does not necessarily indicate the involvement of a paramilitary organisation. Note: 2007-08 statistics are provisional and may be subject to minor amendment. Source: Central Statistics Unit, Police Service of Northern Ireland, Lisnasharragh.|
The Government continue to work through and with the political parties to create the conditions that will make such assaults a thing of the past. The PSNI, which has the support of all parties in Northern Ireland, will continue to investigate all such incidents and where sufficient evidence exists will bring those responsible to justice.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what steps she is taking to ensure that the renewable transport fuels obligation will help to lower carbon dioxide emissions. 
Jim Fitzpatrick, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport: The Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), which will come into effect in April 2008, is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by requiring transport fuel suppliers to ensure that an increasing percentage of their total road transport fuel sales is made up of biofuels. The amount of greenhouse gas emissions saved by different biofuels varies considerably and depends on a wide range of factors including the amount of energy used in the cultivation, processing and transportation of the crop. The RTFO will include a reporting mechanism to encourage transport fuel suppliers to source those biofuels which deliver high levels of carbon savings in a sustainable way, and to allow the policy's greenhouse gas savings to be accurately quantified. The Government estimate that by 2010 the RTFO could save between 2.6 and 3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum.
From April 2010 the Government aim to reward biofuels under the RTFO according to their carbon savings in order to provide greater certainty as to the precise carbon savings delivered by the scheme. Further details of how this might be done are set out in a policy paper which is available via the Department's website at:
Such a change would require a number of changes to the existing RTFO legislation, which would be subject to public consultation.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): May we have a debate in this House on the report from Energywatch that shows that people who use prepayment meters spend on average £195 a year more than those who pay by direct debit? That is an attack on poor people.
Ms Harman, Lord Privy Seal, Leader of the House of Commons: I will take that as a suggestion for a topical debate.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): It is not topical.
Ms Harman: It is topical; people cannot afford their heating when it gets colder. I will take that as a suggestion for a topical debate, and I thank my hon. Friend for making it.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): It is almost a year and a half since Farepak went into liquidation, and people are facing a second Christmas without a resolution. My understanding is that a report has been prepared by the Government. May we have an assurance from the Leader of the House that it will be published quickly, and that we will have a proper debate in the House about the recommendations in the report?
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Congratulate him on his award, Harriet.
Ms Harman, Lord Privy Seal, Leader of the House of Commons: I am sure the whole House would wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) on his award. He makes a serious point about Farepak. He will know that it is being investigated under the Companies Act. We are very concerned that the situation should never occur again. He has done important work by continually raising the subject.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what plans her Department has for trials of larger and heavier lorries on UK roads. 
Jim Fitzpatrick, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport: There are no plans to trial larger and heavier goods vehicles in the UK. The Department has commissioned a desk study into the issues surrounding longer and heavier goods vehicles, but the purpose of this is not to advise on whether to allow trials, rather it is to better inform any future decisions.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (1) how much he has allocated to assist facilities commissioned to monitor and test imported toys for health and safety issues; 
(2) what steps he is taking to reduce the importation of toys with high levels of heavy metals to the UK. 
Mr. Gareth Thomas, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform: The Toys (Safety) Regulations 1995 which govern the safety of toys sold in the UK are enforced by local authority trading standards departments (TSDs), who check toys placed on the market to ensure that they comply will all the essential safety requirements of the regulations including those regarding heavy metals. I have asked TSDs to step up their enforcement efforts in light of the recent toy recalls.
We have not allocated any additional funds to TSDs as enforcement of the regulations is part of their usual regime on the enforcement of consumer product legislation, funded through the normal local authority funding arrangements for which the Department of Communities and Local Government is responsible.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Health what is being done to raise awareness of and tackle, sudden arrhythmic death syndrome. 
Ann Keen, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health: In 2005, the Department issued an additional Chapter to the Coronary Heart Disease National Service Framework (CHD NSF), launched in 2000. The additional chapter, chapter 8, covers arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death. Chapter 8 sets out quality requirements and markers of good practice in developing and delivering services in this area.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Health when the draft versions of the updated specialised services national definition set will be circulated for consultation to the wider stakeholder community, including patients' groups. 
Ann Keen, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health: The national specialised commissioning team will start consulting with stakeholders in December 2007 about the initial eight updated definitions from the specialised services national definition set. Stakeholders will include the relevant patient groups in each service area.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what the (a) cost and (b) construction timetable is of the proposed new wall at Hazelwood Integrated Primary School; and if he will make a statement. 
Paul Goggins, Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office: The estimated cost of the fence is £202,000.
Preparatory ground work is now finished and the fence should be completed by mid January 2008.
The decision taken to erect a security fence at Hazelwood Integrated Primary School was based on a PSNI security assessment. The on-going requirement for the fence will be subject to regular review.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): It does not surprise any of us that Opposition parties do not care about 6,000 jobs in the North-East, as they have a track record of not caring about work in the North-East. What is really in the interests of the public and taxpayers is to ensure that neither Opposition party ever again gets control of the financial levers of this country.
Mr. Darling, Chancellor of the Exchequer: I have some sympathy with that proposition, too.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps the Government are taking to protect birds of prey. 
Joan Ruddock, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Birds of prey enjoy high levels of protection from killing and taking. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is an offence to kill, take or possess wild birds, including all birds of prey and their eggs. It is also an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb any wild bird listed on Schedule 1 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Most species of birds of prey are listed on Schedule 1.
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) another international body for persistent use of forced labour; and if he will make a statement. 
Meg Munn, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office: There are provisions in the Constitution of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) which allow a state to pursue a complaint that another state has breached an ILO convention; this could ultimately lead to proceedings in the International Court of Justice. However, the Secretariat of the ILO believe that it would be wrong to start such action now in respect of forced labour in Burma. The ILO want to see the Memorandum of Understanding, that they signed with the Burmese government on 26 February 2007, produce results. The memorandum provides that alleged victims of forced labour in Burma will have full freedom to submit complaints to the ILO Liaison Officer in Rangoon.
We support the actions of the ILO aimed at ensuring that Burma complies with its international obligations on forced labour. We are actively working with our European and international partners, as well as through the UN and ILO, to press the regime to end the appalling human rights violations and to engage in a genuine process of national reconciliation involving all relevant parties and groups in Burma.
Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): May we have a debate on the cleaning of hospitals? In it, we should particularly take into account the experience of the 1980s, when ancillary staff numbers were reduced from 171,000 to 66,000 - so it is no wonder that we had dirty hospitals then, and that we now need to put that right.
The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): My hon. Friend makes an important point. Ensuring that our health services do not expose patients to the risk of hospital-acquired infection is a high Government priority. It is important that members of cleaning teams feel valued and that there is an interrelationship between them and the nursing and medical teams.
The Petition of persons living in the vicinity of the Derwent Valley and the historic Gibside Estate,
Declares that the proposed development of an open cast coal site at a place known as Skons Park will have a detrimental effect on the environment, the development of the area as a tourist destination and on the natural habitat of an area that has for centuries borne the scars of coal mining.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for the Department of Communities and Local Government to consider the negative impacts of this open cast proposal and not approve its development.
And the Petitioners remain, etc. - [Presented by Mr. David Anderson , Official Report, 24 July 2007; Vol. 463, c. 805 .] [P000039]
Observation from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government:
On the basis of the information made available to my Department, a planning application was submitted to Gateshead Borough Council in May 2005 by Halls of Durham, for the development of an open-cast coal site at Skons Park, Whickham in the Derwent Valley, to provide 0.5 million tonnes of coal and fireclay. In March 2006 Gateshead Borough Council refused planning permission for the development. In November 2006 the applicants lodged an appeal against the refusal of planning permission, but in June 2007 the applicants withdrew the appeal. My Department has not been involved in this matter. Until planning permission has been obtained for the development it is not able to proceed.
Reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO