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A1 (Dualling)

11. Mr. Cousins: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent discussions he has had with the Transport Minister of the Scottish Executive on the dualling of the A1. [141574]

Mr. Wilson: I have regular discussions with the Minister on a wide range of transport issues. I understand that the Scottish Executive also have frequent contact with the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions in order to discuss issues of common interest, including improvements to the A1.

Trade Unions

12. Mr. Tynan: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met representatives of Scottish trade unions; and what matters were discussed. [141575]

Dr. Reid: I meet representatives of Scottish trade unions regularly to discuss a wide range of matters of importance to the Scottish economy.

New Deal

13. Mrs. Irene Adams: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many employers in Scotland have signed up to the new deal. [141576]

Dr. Reid: Employers have made an important contribution to the success of the new deal in Scotland, which has helped 29,200 young people into work since April 1998. As at November 2000, 12,530 employers in Scotland had signed up to the new deal.

Winter Fuel Payment

14. Miss Begg: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received about this year's winter fuel payment to pensioners in Scotland. [141577]

Mr. Wilson: The amount of the winter fuel payment has been increased to £200 for households that qualify--double the amount that was paid last winter. This is excellent news for the majority of people aged 60 and over in Scotland. Latest information shows that around 1 million people in Scotland will benefit from payments totalling almost £150 million, including over £2.2 million in Aberdeen, South constituency.

17. Mr. Savidge: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many Scottish pensioners will benefit this year from the increased winter fuel payment. [141580]

Mr. Wilson: Around 1 million people in Scotland aged 60 or more will benefit from the increased winter fuel payment this winter. Latest information shows that almost £150 million will be paid out in Scotland, including over £1.7 million in the Aberdeen, North constituency. This is part of our work to help Scottish pensioners. Other areas are the minimum income guarantee, free TV licences for pensioners aged 75 or over, and the increase in the state pension.

21. Mr. Ernie Ross: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received about the winter fuel payment for households in Scotland. [141584]

Mr. Wilson: The winter fuel payment has been increased to £200 for households that qualify--double what was paid last winter. This is excellent news for the

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majority of people in Scotland aged 60 or over. Latest information shows that payments totalling almost £150 million will be made to over 700,000 households in Scotland, including over £2.2 million in Dundee, West constituency. All automatic payments have already been issued and should be received before Christmas--as should payments in respect of claims determined before 9 November.

Rural Post Offices

15. Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the future of rural post offices in Scotland. [141578]

Mr. Wilson: This Government recognise that post offices form a vital part of the rural community, and are fully committed to maintaining the existing size and shape of the rural network. We have asked the Post Office to ensure that it prevents any avoidable closures of rural post offices. This obligation will be written into the social and environmental guidelines under the Postal Services Act 2000. Where necessary, there will be funds available to back it up.

Rural Economy

22. Mr. Nicholas Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what discussions he has had with the First Minister about the future of the rural economy in Scotland. [141585]

Dr. Reid: I have regular discussions with the First Minister on a wide range of issues.

The Government are committed to the sustainable development of the rural economy and rural communities. Overall development of the rural economy in Scotland is a matter for the Scottish Executive. However, recent announcements made by the Chancellor in the Pre-Budget Report to abolish Vehicle Excise Duty for tractors, extension of reduced VED for cars under l500 cc and hauliers, and proposed reductions in duty on low sulphur diesel and petrol will help to address the issue of high transport costs in rural areas. This Government also recognise that post offices form a vital part of the rural community, and are fully committed to maintaining the existing size and shape of the rural network.

McDermott Employees (Pension Plan)

23. Mr. David Stewart: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received from former McDermott employees at the Ardiersier oil fabrication yard on the winding up of their pension plan. [141586]

Dr. Reid: I refer my hon. Friend to my written answer of 18 December 2000, Official Report, column 39W.

ADVOCATE-GENERAL

Human Rights Convention

26. Miss McIntosh: To ask the Advocate-General in how many cases her advice has been sought on the implementation of the Human Rights convention; and if she will make a statement. [141589]

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The Advocate-General for Scotland: I am frequently asked for, and give advice on, matters relating to the application in the UK of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Human Rights Act 1998

27. Mr. Baldry: To ask the Advocate-General what discussions she has had with the Home Secretary about the impact of the Human Rights Act 1998 on Scottish law. [141590]

The Advocate-General for Scotland: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Buckingham, (Mr. Bercow) on 19 December 2000, Official Report, column 195.

CABINET OFFICE

Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology

Commission

Mr. Page: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office if she will list the members of the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission and the names of the environment organisations to which they belong. [143122]

Mr. Ian McCartney: A full list of the members of the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission and a copy of the register of interests has been placed in the Library of the House. Members are appointed on a personal basis and not as representatives of environmental or other organisations.

Ministerial Correspondence

Mr. Ian Bruce: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office what her assessment is of the progress of ministers in replying to letters from hon. Members more promptly. [141611]

Mr. Stringer: The prompt and efficient handling of Members' correspondence is an issue to which I and ministerial colleagues attach the greatest importance. I know that Departments are working hard to improve their response times, and I hope that the forthcoming annual report on Departments handling of Members correspondence (which is due to be presented to Parliament in the Spring) will show that real progress has been made.

Official Publications

Mr. Clappison: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office if she will list each new publication issued by her Department since 1997 and the total cost to the Department of each publication. [141474]

Mr. Stringer: I refer the hon. Member to the answer provided on 1 November 1999, Official Report, column 51W. A list of official publications issued by the Cabinet Office since May 1997 was placed in the Library. This list will be updated in the new year with information for 2000-01. I will write to the hon. Member with this information when it has been provided.

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Spending plans for Cabinet Office management units in 2001-02 are currently being discussed and are not available in the format requested.

Official Correspondence

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office what her policy is on authorising ministers and officials to reply to letters from (a) privy councillors, (b) hon. Members and (c) members of the House of Lords; what distinction she makes between members of the opposition and Government supporters; and which categories of correspondents the Prime Minister replies to himself. [142980]

Mr. Stringer: There are long-established conventions governing the handling of correspondence from Privy Councillors and Members of both Houses. These are set out in various guidance documents issued by the Cabinet Office. The most recent guidance document, "Handing Correspondence from Members of Parliament: Guidance for Departments", was published in July 2000. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House.


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