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14 May 1998 : Column WA127

Written Answers

Thursday, 14th May 1998.

Firearms Compensation: Fraudulent Claims

Lord Burton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Up to this date:

    (a) in which police constabulary areas in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, there have been, or are, investigations into fraud in connection with the Firearms Act 1997 Compensation Scheme;

    (b) how many police officers and civilians, and of what grade, are or have now been suspended, giving dates and the relevant constabulary name in each case; and

    (c) how many suspended police officers and civilians, and of what grade, have since been reinstated, giving the dates and the relevant constabulary name in each case·[HL1765]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): Pursuant to my reply of 18 March (WA 202-203), we are now aware of one further investigation into potential fraud in relation to firearms compensation claims, making six in all. The police areas concerned are: Nottinghamshire; South Yorkshire; Devon and Cornwall; Essex; the Metropolitan Police; and Thames Valley. In the South Yorkshire case, nine police officers (eight constables and a sergeant) and one civilian employee have now been suspended from duty pending the outcome of the investigation. The dates of suspension were 13 November, 12 December, 28 January, 18 February, 20 March (two officers) and 9, 20, 28 and 29 April. In the other cases, the investigations relate to the possibility of attempted deception by claimants, with no indication of police involvement. Two claimants have been prosecuted (resulting in one conviction and one case still pending), and in two other cases charges were withdrawn on the advice of the Crown Prosecution Service.

As I have said before, the number of attempted deceptions must be seen in the context of over 40,000 claims received, but these occurrences nevertheless reinforce the need for care and vigilance in the examination of claims by the Firearms Compensation Section.

Data Protection Bill: Transitional Exemptions

Viscount Astor asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will publish details of their proposals under the Data Protection Bill regarding arrangements for processing which is already under way and details of transitional relief provisions.[HL1809]

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Lord Williams of Mostyn: Schedule 8 to the Data Protection Bill provides that personal data subject to "processing already under way" immediately before 24 October this year are eligible for transitional relief at any time up to 23 October 2001. The Government believe that this expression includes, among other things:

    amendments to existing personal data;

    the addition of personal data on existing data subjects;

    the addition of personal data on new data subjects;

    essential program and software changes to enable such processing to continue.

For manual data where processing was already under way immediately before 24 October 1998, the special transitional exemptions continue after 23 October 2001 until 23 October 2007.

Northern Ireland: Firearms Control Legislation

The Earl of Haddington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in view of the statement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in her review of the Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 1981 that she will not be bringing forward legislation to ban handguns in Northern Ireland, they will now repeal the 1997 Firearms (Amendment) Acts.[HL1818]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Government have no intention of repealing either of the Firearms (Amendment) Acts 1997. For historical reasons, the controls on the lawful possession of firearms in Northern Ireland have long differed from those on the mainland. The proposals in the Northern Ireland Office's consultation document will have no bearing on the arrangements in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Welsh Assembly: Draft Transfer of Functions Order

Lord Hooson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they propose to publish a further draft of the Transfer of Functions (National Assembly of Wales) Order.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales has published a second draft of the order today. A copy is in the Library. He will be publishing a full draft in the autumn for consultation.

Turkey: Human Rights Abuses

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will use their best endeavours to secure the re-opening of the offices of the Human Rights Association (IHD) of Turkey in cities where

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    they have been closed--for example, Diyarbakir and Mardin; and whether they will make representations concerning the harassment recently suffered by Goc-Der, an organisation in Istanbul representing internally-displaced Kurdish villagers from the south-east region.[HL1706]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): Her Majesty's Government remain deeply concerned at the harassment suffered by the Turkish Human Rights Association (HRA) and we will continue to raise this issue with the Turkish authorities. We understand that the HRA's Mardin office has now been reopened.

We are aware of reports that the Mersin office of Goc-Der has been closed. Our Embassy in Ankara will be discussing this further with the Turkish authorities.

US Ballistic Missile Defence Systems on UK Territory

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether it is their intention to allow United States forces in the United Kingdom or in the United Kingdom's dependencies to deploy ballistic missile defences intended to protect United States forces while not protecting the adjacent civil population or property; and, if so, what control they would exercise.[HL1720]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty prevents the deployment by the US of systems to counter strategic ballistic missiles outside its national territory.

There are no systems to counter theatre ballistic missiles deployed in the UK or our Overseas Territories. We would consider a request from the US to deploy such a system when and if it was made.

Cancer: Speed of Access to Treatment

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the average time gap between diagnosis of cancer and hospital admission where an operation or other radical therapy is called for in cases of:

    (a) breast cancer;

    (b) lung cancer;

    (c) cervical cancer;

    (d) prostate cancer;

    (e) cancer of the bowel; and

    (f) cancer of the liver;

    in the area of each health authority.[HL1792]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington): Patients with cancer are placed on a waiting list only if the clinician responsible for their care decides that the patient's

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condition is stable and immediate treatment is not required. We have already set the target in England that everyone with suspected cancer will be able to see a specialist within two weeks of his or her general practitioner deciding he or she needs to be seen urgently and requesting an appointment. We have guaranteed these arrangements for everyone with suspected breast cancer by April 1999 and for all other cases of suspected cancer by 2000. Our next aim is to speed up access to treatment. Information on current waiting times for cancer treatment is not available centrally but retrospective data show that around half of all United Kingdom patients with cancer are admitted within 14 days of being placed on a waiting list. We plan to improve on this. Last summer we made an extra £10 million available for breast cancer care in England, and the Budget provided a further £10 million for colorectal cancer in 1998-99. We have also established an audit of the various stages between a patient seeing his or her GP and starting treatment to determine how long patients wait and the reasons for any delays. The results will enable us to identify what needs to be done to deliver our manifesto around waiting times for cancer treatment, especially breast cancer.

Amalgam Fillings

Lord Colwyn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether dentists were given advanced notice of the Department of Health's recent announcement on the use of amalgam fillings during pregnancy; and, if not, why not.[HL1810]

Baroness Jay of Paddington: A joint letter from the Chief Dental Officer and the Deputy Chief Medical Officer was dispatched on 29 April to dental practices listed with health authorities, and a press briefing arranged for 30 April. Unauthorised information about the letter's contents was given to Radio Scotland and appeared in the media on 29 April. To provide an accurate response to media enquiries, the department therefore brought forward the announcement by a day.

Copies of the letter have been placed in the Library.

Lord Colwyn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether all general practitioners, community dentists, hospital dentists, dentists who teach in dental schools and private practitioners have now been circulated with the information contained in the Department of Health's announcement on the use of amalgam fillings during pregnancy.[HL1811]

Baroness Jay of Paddington: A joint letter from the Chief Dental Officer and the Deputy Chief Medical Officer was sent on 29 April to general medical and general dental practices registered to provide National Health Service treatment, and to the chief executives of hospital and community trusts with a request that they notify dental staff. Subsequently copies of the letter were sent to dental schools and details of the announcement put on an electronic network used by health authorities (EPINET) and the Internet. The

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department has responded to enquiries from private dentists by sending them a copy of the letter.

Copies of the letter have also been placed in the Library.

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