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Intergovernmental Conference: UK Proposals

Lord Clark of Kempston asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: The UK negotiators are today tabling the following proposals in the IGC Working Party:

(a) A memorandum on the European Court of Justice working up in detail the proposals outlined in paragraph 37 of A Partnership of Nations;

(b) The addition of a protocol to the EC Treaty enabling member states to take appropriate action to regulate quota-hopping in the common fisheries policy. The details of this are set out more fully in a Written Answer today from my honourable friend Mr. Tony Baldry, the Member for Banbury, in another place;

(c) A package of measures to improve the quality of EC legislation, including Commission legislation;

(d) An amendment to Article 42 of the EC Treaty to provide for the state aid provisions of the Treaty to apply to all agricultural products;

(e) An amendment to Article 129c of the EC Treaty to make clear that private sector projects are eligible for Community budget support under the financial regulation on Trans European Networks;

(f) The addition of a Protocol to the EC Treaty which will place a formal legal obligation on Community institutions to give full regard to considerations of animal welfare in the exercise of their powers on agriculture, transport, research and the single market. This is set out more fully in a Written Answer of today's date from my honourable friend in another place, the Member for Tiverton.

These proposals were placed in the House Libraries this morning.

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We are currently working up a number of other proposals, including on the Health and Safety Article and on subsidiarity, which will be tabled in due course.

CSA: Computer System

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether any decision has been taken to replace the computer system of the Child Support Agency.

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 19th July 1996:

I have been asked to reply to your Parliamentary Question about the Child Support Agency computer system.

Agency officials are currently assessing the findings of a review of its information systems strategy. This review examined our likely needs for the routine replacement and/or further enhancements of existing computer systems. Whatever we decide must be consistent and compatible with the Department of Social Security's corporate strategy for information systems.

I hope this is helpful.

Teacher Training: Children with Special Educational Needs

Baroness Jeger asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many places there are in teacher training colleges allocated to the training of teachers of children with learning difficulties; to what extent are there specialised courses to provide for different handicaps; and whether these courses lead to established qualifications.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Lord Henley): There are no initial teacher training courses specialising in the training of teachers of children with special educational needs. All initial training courses should, however, give students a basic introduction to identifying and providing for children with SEN.

The Government's policy is that specialist training to teach children with SEN should be undertaken by qualified teachers who have gained experience in a mainstream school. Teachers of classes consisting wholly or mainly of visually--or hearing impaired children are required to gain an additional approved qualification. There is a wide range of training courses available for teachers of children with other special educational needs, some of which lead to a qualification. Information about these courses is not collected centrally.

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Microbial Culture Collections: Response to Report

Lord Kingsland asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When it will respond to the review of UK Microbial Culture Collections, commissioned as part of the government response to the report on Systematic Biology Research produced by the Select Committee on Science and Technology.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Fraser of Carmyllie): The Government's response, A New Strategy for the UK Microbial Culture Collections was published on Friday 19th July.

A Culture Collections Advisory Group managed by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, is to be set up to help implement the new strategy. The Office of Science and Technology will provide £1.34 million over three years to help co-ordinate the activities of the collections and to encourage the use of modern molecular technologies.

Copies of the response have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. It is also available on the World Wide Web at the OST Home Page.

Gas Services: Standards

Baroness Masham of Ilton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have any responsibility for the standard of gas services provided to domestic customers.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: The Gas Act 1995 provided the regulatory framework for the introduction of competition in the domestic supply of gas. Competition allows consumers to choose the mix of price and service that best meet their requirements. However, the Secretary of State was responsible for determining the standard conditions of the licences of gas suppliers and public gas transporters, which provide certain standards; responsibility for enforcing the licences lies with the DGGS.

In addition, British Gas Trading and British Gas Transco--who are the incumbent monopolists--operate in accordance with a package of service standards agreed with OFGAS.

Unfair Dismissal Rights

Lord McCarthy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will list, for each year over the period 1985-95, the ratio of the number of women who qualified for unfair dismissal rights as against 100 men, on the following basis: After three months' service; after six months' service; after 12 months' service; after 18 months' service; after 24 months' service.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: It is not possible to provide this information in the format requested. Whether or not individuals qualify to complain of unfair dismissal

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depends upon a number of factors, including their employment status and their ability to meet any qualifying conditions. The general right to complain of unfair dismissal currently has a qualifying period of two years' continuous service, though complaints about dismissals on some specified grounds require no qualifying period. Information about employees' length of service is available from the Labour Force Survey and I will write to the noble Lord with further details.

Joint Rapid Deployment Force: New LPDs

Lord HolmPatrick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to improve the capability of the Joint Rapid Deployment Force.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe): The Government are committed to the Joint Rapid Deployment Force, which will become operational on 1st August. Our amphibious capability will play a key role in that force: the Royal Marines' ability to mount amphibious operations is critically dependent on the Landing Platform Docks, currently HMS "Fearless" and HMS "Intrepid". Both vessels have given long and distinguished service, including in the Falklands campaign, but will soon be approaching the end of their operational lives. I am pleased, therefore, to be able to announce that a contract has today been placed with GEC Marine to design and build two replacement ships at the VSEL shipyard at Barrow-in-Furness. The new LPDs will be called HMS "Albion" and HMS "Bulwark". They displace 13,000 tonnes, have a maximum speed of 18 knots and have a crew of just over 320. They can carry up to 650 troops, a range of vehicles, including tanks, and eight landing craft. They also have a flight deck that can accommodate two EH101 helicopters or one Chinook. They are expected to enter service early in the next decade. This order will be warmly welcomed by the Royal Navy and will also be good news for Barrow and for the many sub-contractors throughout the UK providing weapons systems, marine equipments and other components for the ships. The order, worth more than £450 million to GEC Marine and its sub-contractors, will help to sustain some 2,000 jobs in the UK.

Civil Service Code

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they have taken to draw the contents of the Civil Service Code to the attention of individual members of the Civil Service; and

    What steps they have taken to bring the contents of the Civil Service Code to the attention of members of the public; and whether they will take further such steps; and, if not, why not.

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Earl Howe: Copies of the Civil Service Code were printed for every civil servant, and distributed throughout the Civil Service at the start of this year when the code came into effect.

The code is primarily a document for internal use within the Civil Service. However, at the time of its introduction it was publicised in Written Answers in both Houses [30th October, HoL WA146 and HoC col. 10], and in press notices issued by Cabinet Office (OPS). It is freely available on request to members of the public.

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