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Government Secure Intranet

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The Government Secure Intranet is designed to make communications within government faster and more efficient. The Government do not believe it will adversely affect either

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openness and accountability or the role of the Civil Service in the effective conduct of business.

Windfall Tax: Impact

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Answer given by Lord McIntosh of Haringey on 10 July (WA 86), whether they will now provide answers omitted from their reply concerning profitability, shareholders' funds and dividend policies.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The windfall tax should have no effect on the underlying profitability of the companies affected. There will inevitably be some effect on shareholders' funds depending upon how companies choose to finance their tax bills. Dividend policies are a matter for companies. A number have said they expect to maintain strong dividend growth, a view shared by market analysts.

Pension Funds and ACT

The Earl of Lindsey and Abingdon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why, in proposing to alter the treatment of advance corporation tax (ACT) for pension funds, it is intended to abandon the convention that tax is levied either on contributions or on pensions in receipt, but never on both, so far as personal pension holders and the self employed are concerned.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: There is no tax charge on exempt pension funds when they receive dividends. But they will no longer receive a subsidy from the Exchequer on their dividend income. The reform of corporation tax has removed a distortion which gave a tax incentive for pension schemes to prefer dividends to long-term growth.

Lockerbie Investigation

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have asked the office of the Frankfurt prosecutor for details of the information given by Mr. Abolghasem Mesbahi, a former Iranian intelligence agent who gave evidence in the Mykonos trial, about the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, and whether there are any plans by those in charge of the Lockerbie case to ask the German authorities for permission to interview Mr. Mesbahi themselves.

The Lord Advocate (Lord Hardie): It is not the policy of the Scottish prosecuting and investigating authorities to give details of investigative steps. I can however assure the noble Lord that the appropriate steps are being taken to look into these matters.

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Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Act 1979: Review

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to review the Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Act 1979.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington): The Government have commissioned an independent and fundamental review of the current operations of the five statutory bodies created by the Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Act 1979--the United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting and the National Boards for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting in the four countries of the United Kingdom.

Asylum: Withdrawal

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they will take concerning allegations that two Sudanese doctors working in the United Kingdom's National Health Service were involved in acts of torture in Sudan; and whether a person who was granted exceptional leave to remain, or refugee status, having failed to declare that he committed serious human rights violations in his country of origin would be liable to have his status revoked.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: At present there is no evidence to substantiate these allegations. However, if evidence shows that actions of this nature have taken place, we would expect the appropriate action to be taken.

The Government have discretion to withdraw the grant of asylum in the light of evidence that refugee status was obtained by a misrepresentation of material facts or where one of the exclusion clauses of the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees would have applied had all the relevant facts been known. We would apply the same considerations where exceptional leave had been granted on humanitarian grounds. Each case would need to be assessed on its individual merits in the light of all the available evidence.

MMR Immunisation and Autism

Baroness Darcy de Knayth asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What has been the annual rate of take-up of the mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) vaccine since its introduction; and, for each of those years, how many five year-olds were in the general population; and

    How many cases of regressive autism have been diagnosed in children in each year since the introduction of (a) the MMR vaccine and (b) the measles and rubella (MR) vaccine.

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Baroness Jay of Paddington: Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) immunisation has been recommended for children aged 12 to 15 months since 1988. Coverage figures are therefore collected on the basis of children immunised with MMR vaccine by their second birthday. Since October 1996, a routine second dose MMR immunisation has been recommended for children as part of the pre-school booster programme. Uptake figures for the second dose are not yet available. Coverage figures and the numbers of five year-old children in the general population are given in the following tables.

Completed primary course: percentage of children immunised by their second birthday in England by financial year

YearMMR take up rate

Office for National Statistics mid-year resident population estimates in England

YearNumber of children age 5

Data are not collected centrally on the number of cases of autism. It is primarily a matter for the statutory authorities to monitor arrangements for assessment in their area. There is no specific requirement to register children diagnosed with autism. It is estimated that the prevalence rate of classic autism is between 4-5 per 10,000 population and that (including these) about 21 per 10,000 may exhibit some features of autism. Recent research in Scandinavia suggested a prevalence rate of Asperger syndrome of 36 per 10,000.

Human Rights and Biomedicine Convention: Consultation

Lord Ashbourne asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Which organisations for the disabled in Great Britain have been consulted about the final wording of Clause 17(2) of the European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: The final wording of Clause 17(2) was a matter for the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. The Government

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are still considering the ethical and legal ramifications of the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, and have undertaken no formal consultation on the Convention.

Lord Ashbourne asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will take into account the view of the "VdK" (Verband der Kriegs und Wehrdienstopfer, Behinderten und Rentner Deutschland) organisation for the disabled in Germany, and that of the International League of Societies for Persons with Mental Handicaps, in deciding whether to sign the European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: The Government will take into account any views made known to it concerning signature of the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine.

Opencast Coal Extraction

Lord Brooks of Tremorfa asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to publish a consultation paper on planning policy for opencast coal extraction.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): We have published a consultation document on the review of planning policy for opencast coal today. This consultation paper, which deals with England only, seeks views on the issues raised by the 10-point plan for opencast coal which we prepared when in Opposition, and the options for change. In the light of responses to this consultation, the Government will decide what changes to policy guidance could and should be implemented in interim planning guidance; which would better be accommodated in a full review, planned for 1998, of Minerals Planning Guidance Note 3 (Coal Mining and Colliery Spoil Disposal), and whether any legislative changes are necessary or desirable in the long term. Copies of the consultation document will be placed in the House Library.

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland expects to publish shortly an equivalent paper for Scotland.

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