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Child Support Agency

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): The administration of the Child Support Agency is a matter for the Chief Executive, Miss Ann Chant. She will write to the noble Lord.

Letter to Earl Russell from the Chief Executive of the Child Support Agency, Miss Ann Chant, dated 2nd April 1996.

I am replying to your parliamentary Question to Her Majesty's Government about alternative channels of redress when the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration (PCA) does not accept a referral for investigation.

All cases referred for investigation by the PCA are sent to him by a Member of Parliament acting on behalf of the individual involved. The PCA's jurisdiction covers maladministration, not policy or legislation or matters of adjudication that have their own independent appeals process. In cases that are not accepted for investigation, and indeed any other case, a Member of Parliament may always raise any concern directly with the Minister, or with myself as Chief Executive of the Agency.

I hope this is helpful.

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Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Child Support Agency will improve arrangements for correcting errors in its computer records.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The administration of the Child Support Agency is a matter for the Chief Executive, Miss Ann Chant. She will write to the noble Lord.

Letter to Earl Russell from the Chief Executive of the Child Support Agency, Miss Ann Chant, dated 2nd April 1996.

I am replying to your parliamentary Question to Her Majesty's Government about correcting errors in the Child Support Agency computer records. The computer records held by the agency include both personal details and maintenance assessment data.

The agency makes every effort to ensure that the personal information held on the Child Support Computer System is correct; our main source of information is from our clients themselves, and the details they provide us.

As far as maintenance assessments are concerned, we are committed to continuous improvement to the computer system and at present there are two further releases due this year which make further adjustments to the system. Additionally, several initiatives have been introduced over the last six months. These include developing an aid to guide staff through the relevant decision-making processes, and introducing stringent checks to ensure that procedures have been correctly followed.

Any errors identified on the system, whether on personal details or maintenance assessment data are referred to the appropriate section urgently for correction.

I hope this is helpful.

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to section three of the third report of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, Investigation of Complaints against the Child Support Agency, whether there is a potential conflict between the Child Support Agency's duty of confidentiality and its obligations under the Data Protection Act 1984.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The administration of the Child Support Agency is a matter for the Chief Executive, Miss Ann Chant. She will write to the noble Lord.

Letter to Earl Russell from the Chief Executive of the Child Support Agency, Miss Ann Chant, dated 2nd April 1996.

I am replying to your parliamentary Question to Her Majesty's Government about potential conflict for the Child Support Agency between confidentiality and the Data Protection Act 1984.

The agency operates its computer systems in accordance with the principles of the Data Protection

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Act 1984, the Computer Misuse Act of 1991, and the Social Security Administration Act of 1992.

The Child Support Agency is registered with the Office of the Data Protection Registrar, in accordance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act. This registration includes details of the sources from which we may request information and to whom such information may be disclosed.

In addition, the Child Support Act and Regulations provide for the furnishing of information or evidence and specify clearly the persons who can be required to co-operate. The regulations also provide for the disclosure, by the Secretary of State or a child support officer, of information held by them for the purposes of the Act.

The agency is aware of the sensitive nature of the information which it collects, and has taken firm measures to ensure that confidentiality is maintained and personal information is protected.

I hope this is helpful.

Local and European Elections: Conduct of Government Business

Baroness Young asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What advice has been furnished to government departments on the conduct of government business during the period prior to local and European elections.

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): The Cabinet Office is circulating to departments today the normal guidance to civil servants on the principles which they should observe in relation to the conduct of government business during the period prior to local and European elections. It is as follows:


    Local and European Elections


    1. Local and European Election campaigns differ from general elections in that there is no prospect of a change of government consequent upon the elections, and the business of government continues as usual. However, there is an increasing tendency by all political parties to approach local and European elections from a national point of view, with nationally produced material. Officials of all departments should therefore take especial care during the period of local or European election campaigns not to undertake any activity which could call into question their political impartiality, or could give rise to the criticism that public resources are being used for party political purposes. Particular care should be exercised in relation to the announcement of sensitive decisions with a local or European dimension, and in relation to paid publicity campaigns.


    2. The following general principles should be observed:

(a) there should be even-handedness in meeting information requests from candidates from different political parties. Such requests and

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responses should be channelled through the appropriate Minister's private office and handled in accordance with the principles laid down in the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information;

(b) special advisers should if necessary be reminded of the rules against circulating material on party paper within departments;

(c) particular care should be taken over official action and use of public resources, including publicity, surrounding and supporting ministerial announcements which have a bearing on local or European matters;

(d) similar care should be taken over announcements of decisions made at official level. In some cases it may be better to defer an announcement until after the election but this would need to be balanced carefully against any implication that deferral could itself influence the political outcome; each case should be considered on its merits; and

(e) special care should be taken in respect of paid publicity campaigns, particularly new campaigns, which should not be open to the criticism that they are being undertaken for party political purposes.


    3. The period of sensitivity preceding local or European elections is not fixed in relation to any particular date but, for the purposes of this guidance, the general convention is that particular care should be taken in the three weeks prior to polling day.

Scottish Agricultural Science Agency

The Earl of Dundonald asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the performance of the Scottish Agricultural Science Agency against its targets for 1995-96 and what are its targets for 1996-97.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Lindsay): The agency is on course to meet the targets for 1995-96 which my right honourable friend the then Secretary of State for Scotland set out in his Written Answer of 9th February 1995 (House of Commons, vol. 254, cols. 359-360).

For 1996-97 my right honourable friend has set the agency the following key performance targets:


    fulfilment of the Service Level Agreement with the Scottish Office Agriculture, Environment and Fisheries Department within the running costs voted to the agency for 1996-97;


    recovery of full economic costs for charged services;


    continuation of the programme of consultation of all major customers on the quality of the work done by the agency;


    completion of 92 per cent. of all scientific tests and analyses within the timescale set by customers; and


    improvement in the unit of the scientific work of the agency (cost per direct scientist hour).

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Air Pollution Control Scheme, Scotland

The Earl of Dundonald asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will give details of the 1996-97 charging scheme for local air pollution control in Scotland under Part I of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

The Earl of Lindsay: Charges to cover the costs of local enforcing authorities in regulating processes which are subject to Part I of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 were introduced in Scotland in April 1992.

With the approval of the Treasury, and following consultation with local authority associations and industry, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has made a revised scheme specifying the scale of fees and charges to take effect from 31st March 1996. From 1st April, the new Scottish Environment Protection Agency has taken over the regulation of these processes.

The main changes are that the standard application fees is increased by £25 to £1,015, the application fee for a former Alkali Act works is reduced to £300, the substantial change fee is increased by £15 to £650, and the annual subsistence charge is increased by £20 to £625.

The scheme has today been laid before both Houses of Parliament and a copy placed in the Libraries.


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