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Secretary of State for Education: Question and Answer Sessions

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): A wide range of regional newspapers were invited to include this offer as part of the Parents and Schools Campaign and Parents On-line Week. The specific offer from my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, to answer questions from members of the public, was included in the following newspapers (in addition to the Bristol Evening Post):

Manchester Evening News16 August
Newcastle Chronicle22 August
Sheffield Star24 August

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State also participated in two radio phone-ins where callers were able to question him on their concerns on education. On 30 August he took part in an extended phone-in on Your and Yours (Radio 4), and on 20 September he took calls for one hour on the Jimmy Young Show (Radio 2).

It is open to any member of the public, at any time, to write to the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to raise questions or concerns.

Youth Services: Local Authority Support

Baroness Anelay of St Johns asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Blackstone: Local authority youth services support the voluntary sector through grant aid, staff secondments and provision of free or subsidised premises. Local authorities decide on the level and type of grant in the light of local needs and priorities.

The Connexions Service is being introduced in some areas from April next year. Local Connexions Partnerships will help to maintain and develop those areas where the voluntary sector is providing necessary services for young people.

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Prison and Probation Inspectorates

Lord Harris of Greenwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many organisations and individuals had by 2 October expressed support for the Government's proposals relating to the Prison and Probation Inspectorates; and how many had opposed them.[HL40003]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): Out of the initial 42 stakeholders, government departments, voluntary organisations, interested parties and various trade unions who were invited to comment, six responses had been received as at 2 October. Of the options identified by the consultation document:

    one respondent has favoured Option A--Maintaining Current Arrangements;

    one respondent has favoured Option B--Establishing Terms of Reference for the Inspection of Joint Working combining it with option C;

    two respondents have favoured Option C--Sharing Inspectors Between the Two Inspectorates; and

    option D--Joint Chief Inspector for Prisons and Probation, has not been a favoured option by any respondent.

The other two respondents were not definitive in their responses to the options proposed.

The date for the conclusion of the consultation exercise is 31 October 2000.

Criminal Record Checking: Fees

Baroness Anelay of St Johns asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What estimate they have made of the costs that will be incurred by individuals who apply to become registered volunteers using the proposed Criminal Record Check and Enhanced Criminal Record Check; and[HL3953]

    What estimate they have made of the costs which may be involved for voluntary sector bodies acting as registered agencies to facilitate the criminal record check procedure; and what measures they have taken to ameliorate such costs for the voluntary agencies concerned.[HL3954]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: It has always been the intention that, when the Criminal Records Bureau comes into operation, it will be expected to recover its costs through charges that it makes in relation to the certificates that it issues, on application, to individuals. Voluntary organisations, and employers, will be able to reimburse applicants if they so wish. In the case of Criminal Record Certificates and

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Enhanced Criminal Record Certificates, applications will need to be countersigned by a person registered with the Bureau for this purpose. Work is continuing on determining the fees for certificates, taking into account a number of elements, including costs incurred by police forces in undertaking searches of local police records in connection with Enhanced Criminal Record Certificates and the bureau's running costs, and fees for registration. The fees will be set by regulations, which will be laid before Parliament.

Waiving charges in respect of those applying from the voluntary sector would inevitably increase the cost to the public purse or for other applicants. We have made clear our determination to keep fees as low as possible. An impact assessment will address the implications for the voluntary sector and others. This exercise will provide an up-to-date assessment and the results will be made known.

EU Charter of Rights

Lord McColl of Dulwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will press for Article 9 of the current draft of the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights to be gender specific in the same form as Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights.[HL3956]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: No. Article 9 of the proposed European Union Charter of Rights states that "the right to marry and the right to found a family shall be guaranteed in accordance with the national laws governing the exercise of these rights". For the United Kingdom, the national laws in question must, following the Human Rights Act 1998, so far as possible be read and given effect compatibly with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The proposed charter will not be legally binding; nor does it apply to matters outside the competence of the Community.

Lord McColl of Dulwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether Article 13 of the draft European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights presents any challenge to the restrictions on research specified by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990.[HL3957]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): The charter will be a political declaration and is not legally binding. Article 51(1) specifies that the charter is addressed to member states only when they are implementing Union law. Embryo research is not subject to Union law, and therefore it is not the Government's view that the charter should affect the restrictions on research specified by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990.

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Chief Medical Officer's Annual Report

Lord McColl of Dulwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why, for the first time in 150 years, the Chief Medical Officer's annual report was not published last year; and whether the Department of Health intends to publish it this year.[HL4012]

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The last Chief Medical Officer's report was published in August 1998 by Sir Kenneth Calman shortly before he left office. The present Chief Medical Officer came into post in late September 1998. He has taken stock of the publications issued by the Chief Medical Officer and introduced a number of changes. He is currently exploring the opportunities for greater use of web-based publishing methods.

After listening to a wide range of views, he also intends to introduce changes to the format of his annual report. Although the previous format served its purpose well in the past, it is very detailed and it is not always clear in what areas action is being called for. The practice of the CMO's annual report containing descriptions of a wide range of government policies which are contained in other documents added to the detailed nature of the reports.

It is the intention of the Chief Medical Officer to produce the new format of the report later this year. It will be shorter, with a clear focus on areas for action and in a more accessible form.

Polio Immunisation

Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the incidence of polio in the United Kingdom has yet declined to the point where inactivated Polio Vaccine would be preferable to Oral Polio Vaccine, with its attendant risks of "paralytic polio"; and, if not, how the United Kingdom differs from the United States in this respect.[HL4039]

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The World Health Organisation recognises the United Kingdom as one of those countries that have eliminated indigenous polio due to wild virus. The last case of indigenous wild virus poliomyelitis was seen in the United Kingdom in January 1982. However, cases of wild virus poliomyelitis that have been acquired overseas have continued to occur.

The whole of the Americas has been declared free of polio. However, the Indian sub-continent and central and west Africa continue to have relatively high rates of wild virus polio. These are areas of the world with which many residents of the United Kingdom have frequent contact. The United Kingdom therefore currently recommends oral polio vaccine (OPV), since this provides a greater degree of community protection than inactivated polio vaccine (IPV), which is used in the United States and which provides protection only for the individual.

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The World Health Organisation has set a target for eradicating polio world-wide. The Government are keeping the situation under review and, once we can be confident of the control of wild virus polio in the Indian sub-continent and central and west Africa, will seek advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation on future polio immunisation policy. Until such time we will continue to provide OPV.

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