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Written Answers to Questions

Wednesday 8 September 2004


Freedom of Information

Matthew Taylor: To ask the Prime Minister (1) on what date he issued the direction to set up the Ministerial Committee on Freedom of Information (MISC 28); for what reasons he decided to set up this committee; and if he will place in the Library a copy of the direction setting up this committee; [186606]

(2) how many times the Ministerial Committee on Freedom of Information (MISC 28) has met since it was set up; on what dates it has met; when it was set up; and whether the committee has discussed the issue of deciding what level of fees should be charged for requests under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. [186607]

The Prime Minister: It is established practice, as reflected in the Ministerial Code and under Exemption 2 of Part II of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information, not to disclose information relating to the proceedings of the Cabinet and its committees.

I announced the establishment of the Ministerial Committee on Freedom of Information (MISC28) to Parliament on Thursday 27 May 2004. The Committee was established to oversee the Government's strategy on Freedom of Information, particularly as Government Departments make final preparations for the full implementation of the Freedom of Information Act in 2005. Details of the membership and terms of reference of the Committee are available in the Libraries of both Houses and on the Cabinet Office website.


Public Records

Lynne Jones: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs pursuant to his answer of 22 July 2004, Official Report, column 535W, on public records, under what legal provision files that have passed the normal 30 years disclosure period laid down by the Public Record Act 1958 have been either closed or retained; how many of the closed files have been closed to protect personally sensitive information; for what categories of reason the remainder are closed; and what plans there are for the future publication of the retained files. [187622]

Mr. Lammy: Records may at present be kept closed to public access longer than 30 years under s5(1) of the Public Records Act or specifically to prevent a breach of good faith under s5(2). S3(4) allows for retention in Departments beyond the 30 year period. In all these cases the approval of the relevant Minister and the Lord Chancellor, who takes account of the views of his
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Advisory Council on National Records and Archives, is required. Variations of the 30 year closure period are authorised by an Instrument signed by the Lord Chancellor.

The 1993 Open Government White Paper set out the criteria against which applications for extended closure have been assessed. Since 1993 76.9 per cent. of records which have been closed relate to personally sensitive information. The other criteria for extended closure are described in the White Paper.

The Open Government White Paper of 1993 requires Departments to review retained records, and to consider whether actual damage would be caused by their release. These arrangements will continue.

Information on Access to Public Records can be found on the National Archives website at: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/recordsmanagement/advice/schedules.htm


Metropolitan Police (Artefacts)

Mr. Boris Johnson: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport whether the closure on 14 July of the warehouse containing the Metropolitan Police Service's collection of artefacts is permanent; and if she will make a statement. [187475]

Estelle Morris: This a matter for the Metropolitan Police Authority. I understand that the closure is to allow staff time to carry out work needed to ensure compliance with the Freedom of Information Act when it comes into force on 1 January 2005.

Conditions at the storage facility in which the collection and archives are held raise health and safety issues for staff and visitors. I understand the Metropolitan Police Service is committed to looking for a more suitable location for the artefacts and is exploring ways in which the collection can be displayed, without placing a burden on police funds.


Kate Hoey: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what discussions she has held with the London 2012 Olympics bid team on the venue for shooting events. [186934]

Tessa Jowell: London 2012 is responsible for selecting the venues for the bid to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games and announced on 16 January that Bisley would host the shooting events. Following the report from the IOC Working Group on 18 May which highlighted potential problems that may result from the number and geographical spread of venues, London 2012 have been considering alternative sites nearer to the Olympic Zone.

A firm decision will be made for inclusion in the Candidate File that will be submitted to the IOC on 15 November 2004.
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Corporate Plan

Mike Gapes: To ask the hon. Member for Gosport, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission when the Electoral Commission's Corporate Plan for 2004–05 to 2008–09 was approved by the Speaker's Committee. [186592]

Mr. Viggers: The Electoral Commission's Corporate Plan for 2004–05 to 2008–09 was approved by the Speaker's Committee at its meeting on 14 July. The Plan was laid before the House by the Speaker, on behalf of the Speaker's Committee, on 22 July as House of Commons Paper No. 797, copies of which are now available in the Vote Office. I understand that the Electoral Commission has also sent copies to all Members.



Mr. Liddell-Grainger: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office what the average number of working days lost per employee through illness was in his Department in each of the last five years; and what targets for days lost were set for each year. [186599]

Mr. Alexander: Information on working days lost per employee due to illness in the Cabinet Office is published each year in "Analysis of Sickness Absence in the Civil Service". The latest publication covers 2002 and is available in the Library of the House. The figures for 2003 are expected to be published in autumn 2004. Information for the available years requested are set out in the following table.
Working days lost per employee

Cabinet Office targets for reducing levels of sickness absence cover three years as follows:
Target for working days lost
per employee
20016.4 days or less
20036.1 days or less
20105.1 days or less

To further reduce short-term sickness absence, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced in the Spending Review an examination of the use of self-certification in the civil service.

Mr. Liddell-Grainger: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office if he will withdraw payment for an initial period of absence from working through illness in the Civil Service and public sector; and if he will make a statement. [186537]

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Mr. Alexander: My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced during the Spending Review on Monday 12 July 2004 that the Cabinet Secretary and I will consult on, and negotiate changes to the current arrangements for self-certifying absence in the civil service.

In such circumstances it would not be appropriate for me to pre-empt this exercise by making changes to the way that payment is made for sickness absence.

Although this review will encompass solely the civil service, it is hoped that any change made to the self-certification system will serve as an example of good practice for the wider public sector.

Civil Contingencies

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office if he will make a statement on his Department's role in projects to be funded following the announcement relating to civil contingencies in the Spending Review. [186673]

Mr. Alexander: The Cabinet Office has lead responsibility within Government for local authorities' civil protection activities. It has secured a doubling of the Government's contribution to the cost of local authorities' civil protection work.

The wider programme of increased investment in the counter-terrorism and resilience area falls to a range of Government Departments, and will be overseen by the Home Secretary, who has overall responsibility for domestic security and resilience.

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