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Clinical Negligence Cases: Conditional Fee Insurance

Earl Howe asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Lord Chancellor: Conditional fee agreements supported by insurance policies can provide access to justice for individuals seeking to pursue clinical negligence cases who are ineligible for legal aid. The insurance market provides and is continuing to develop affordable products to support conditional fee agreements for civil actions including clinical negligence cases.

Earl Howe asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Lord Chancellor: In its paper Access to Justice with Conditional Fees (March 1998), the Government considered whether it was appropriate to remove clinical negligence from the ambit of the Legal Aid Scheme. The Government were of the view that, while sufficiently experienced lawyers ought to be able to employ conditional fee agreements in such cases, the provision of insurance for such cases was relatively new and many solicitors' firms may not yet be financially structured in a way that would enable them to bear the investigative costs associated with clinical negligence. In recognition of this, clinical negligence cases will continue to attract public funding. However as the market develops and lawyers adapt to the greater use of conditional fees, the position will be kept under review.

Trustees' Powers and Duties

Lord Brightman asked Her Majesty's Government:

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The Lord Chancellor: The Government are currently considering the recommendations made by the Law Commission in their report on Trustees' Powers and Duties, which was published on 20 July. It is expected that a formal response will be made during the next session of Parliament.

General Pinochet: Leak Enquiry Report

Lord Lamont of Lerwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have received the results of the leak enquiry into the Law Lords' second hearing on the case of General Pinochet; and what are the conclusions.[HL3752]

The Lord Chancellor: No. The leak enquiry is not yet concluded.

Marriage Contract

Lord Patten asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will allow spouses to take out a marriage contract which permits divorce only on the grounds of fault in order to give legal force to their marriage vows.[HL4019]

The Lord Chancellor: The Government have no plans to legislate for this purpose.

Weights and Measures: Use ofImperial Units

Lord Shore of Stepney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in extending from 31 December 1999 the United Kingdom's derogation from the directive concerning units of measurement for a further 10 years, retailers of "loose from bulk" goods, mainly fruit, vegetables, cheese etc., will be free as hitherto to use in quoting prices, weights and other measurements imperial units only; and if not what penalties will be imposed on those who refuse to convert to metric units of measurement.[HL3921]

The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): The European Commission has proposed that Directive 80/181/EEC on units of measurement, as amended by Directive 89/617/EEC, should be amended to authorise the use of imperial units in all member states as "supplementary indications" alongside the equivalent metric units until 31 December 2009. The Government expect the proposal to be adopted by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament later this year.

The amendment will mean that until 31 December 2009 the ounce and the pound can be used as supplementary indications for the sale of goods loose in bulk, mainly fresh foods.

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It is an offence under Section 8 of the Weights and Measures Act 1985 for traders to fail to use units of measurement authorised for the sale of goods by weight or measure. Offences are liable to a fine not exceeding £2,000 and the forfeiture of measuring equipment. Under legislation made in 1994, the ounce and the pound are authorised for trade after 31 December 1999 only as supplementary indications.

Breast Radiotherapy (START) Trial

Lord Ironside asked Her Majesty's Government:

    (a) how many of the 53 United Kingdom radiotherapy treatment centres are participating in the Standards in Radiotherapy (START) trial; (b) what are the objectives of the trial; and (c) whether the objectives of the trial should be reassessed in view of the very low dose in two fractions per day regime now being adopted in Germany by some expert radiotherapists as being the most efficacious and safest treatment regime.[HL3864]

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: The MRC is supporting the UKCCCR standardisation of breast radiotherapy (START) clinical trial.

(a) Thirty-seven of the UK radiotherapy centres have expressed an interest in participating in the START trial. Twenty-three of these 37 centres are already recruiting patients and a further nine have local research ethics committee approval.

(b) The objectives of the trial are to test the effects of radiotherapy schedules using fraction sizes larger than 2.0Gy in terms of normal tissue response, loco-regional tumour control, quality of life and economic consequences in women prescribed postoperative radiotherapy for early breast cancer.

(c) There is considerable variability in radiotherapy regimes used to treat breast cancer in Germany, North America and Europe and no widely accepted method. One of the commonest regimes is 2Gy per day, and this is one of the regimes in the START trial. There is no evidence that this is the optimal fractionation regime and there is a need for prospective good quality comparative data, comparing this with other regimes for both local control rates and short and long term morbidity to establish best practice in the area. This is the purpose of the START trial.

DTI: New Deal Scheme Recruits

Baroness Blatch asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many young people on the New Deal Scheme have been taken on by the Department of Trade and Industry since April 1998.[HL3830]

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: As at 1 April 1999, the number of participants of the New Deal Scheme for 18 to 24 year-olds appointed to this department (including its agencies) was 21.

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Gas Companies' Sales Practices

Lord Blackwell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are monitoring the sales activities of competitive gas suppliers in attracting new customers; and whether they are satisfied with these sales practices.[HL3882]

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: The Government believe that misleading and over-aggressive selling practices are unacceptable, and have helped to introduce changes to curb such activities in the domestic gas market, including a licence condition covering marketing, and strengthened doorstep selling regulations. Also, members of the Association of Energy Suppliers have established a marketing code of practice.

The Office of Gas and Electricity Markets has been monitoring the sales activities of suppliers. The changes which have been introduced are having a positive effect, but some complaints about misleading doorstep selling are still being made. The Government look to the Regulator to take tough action where evidence of abuses exists. Ofgem is currently looking closely at the marketing activities of some suppliers, and is working with the industry to ensure that abuses are stamped out.

Assisted Places for Primary-aged Pupils: Ruling

Baroness Blatch asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Answer given by Baroness Blackstone that "The court ruled that the Government's policy on the duration of assisted places for primary-aged pupils is lawful, and is being applied in a consistent and fair manner" (H.L. Deb., 20 July, col. 812), whether they will provide the reference for this ruling in the relevant court judgment by Mr. Justice Kay.[HL3868]

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): The application for judicial review had been sought on the basis of a claim that the Secretary of State's decision in this case was unlawful because a legitimate expectation had been frustrated, the underlying policy was not logical or consistent, and the decision was contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. The judgment rejected all those challenges. The court therefore upheld the Secretary of State's decision and policy as lawful, consistent and fair.

Pension Fund Trustees:Investment Principles

Baroness Jeger asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What legal compulsion there is on trustees of pension funds to invest solely in order to achieve the highest income irrespective of the moral or ethical considerations of the beneficiaries of the funds.[HL3650]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): It is not for the Government to give a definitive statement of the law in this area: that is the role of the courts.

The Goode Committee, in its Report on Pension Law Reform, considered the question of how far trustees might lawfully have regard to ethical and social considerations in deciding on investments. Their view was that trustees were entitled to avoid certain kinds of prudent investment that they considered scheme members would regard as objectionable, so long as they made equally advantageous investments elsewhere, and that they were entitled to put funds into investments which they believed the members would regard as desirable, providing these were proper investments on other grounds. However, trustees were not entitled to subordinate the interests of the beneficiaries to ethical or social demands and thereby deprive the beneficiaries of investment income or opportunities they would otherwise have enjoyed.

We believe that it is right that pension fund trustees should consider how far such issues should affect the

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way they invest the assets of their schemes. From 3 July 2000, trustees will be required to state their policy, if any, on Socially Responsible Investment in their Statements of Investment Principles.

Invalid Care Allowance Recipients in Work

Lord Rix asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the number of Invalid Care Allowance recipients who undertake work; and whether they will express this figure as a percentage of the total number of recipients.[HL3711]

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The estimated number of Invalid Care Allowance (ICA) recipients that undertake work in the form of paid employment or self-employment is around 50,000. This is 13 per cent. of ICA recipients.


    1. The estimates are based on results from the 1997-98 Family Resources Survey (FRS) and are subject to a margin of error.

    2. The number of recipients in work has been rounded to the nearest 10,000.

    3. The FRS is limited to private households in Great Britain.

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