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Mr. Milburn: Concerted action has been taken in the Department to reduce the number of outstanding parliamentary questions. The Department is now receiving questions at the rate of around 45 a day, almost double the rate of the last session. Last week the Department responded to over 500 questions. There are currently 411 outstanding questions due for reply before 14 February 2002. I aim to have provided right hon. and hon. Members with answers to those outstanding questions by 12 March 2002.
Several Members have raised concerns about unanswered questions and the length of time it has taken for questions to be answered. Last week in the course of dealing with these inquiries evidence came to light of what appears to be systematic falsification in recording the handling of parliamentary questions in the Department's parliamentary section. This included recording questions as having been answered when no such reply had been given to the Member or to the Official Report. Some of these questions date back to the beginning of this session.
The falsification that took place meant that both officials and Ministers were wrongly led to believe that Members had received replies to their questions when they had not. A full investigation is now under way to ensure that all the facts are known and that the necessary remedial action is taken. An official from the Department's parliamentary section has been suspended and is now the subject of a disciplinary investigation. The decision to suspend the official was taken by the line manager of the individual concerned in accordance with standard departmental disciplinary procedures.
Ministers and officials within the Department are fully committed to supporting the system of accountability to Parliament which underpins our democracy. We aim to provide timely and accurate responses to parliamentary questions. There has been a serious failure in honouring that commitment which I deeply regret. All possible steps will now be taken to deal with the backlog of outstanding parliamentary questions. As soon as I am able I will also report to Parliament on the outcome of the investigation that is now under way.
Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Health on what grounds the Health and Safety Executive is proposing to tighten regulations governing the presence of white asbestos in buildings. 
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Research by Professor Peto and Health and Safety Executive epidemiologists, published in The Lancet on 4 March 1995 confirmed that building and maintenance workers are the largest group at risk of exposure to asbestos. At least a quarter of the 3,000 people now dying from asbestos related diseases have at some time worked in these trades. The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations are therefore being tightened to ensure workers know where asbestos is in premises and can take appropriate precautions. A copy of the research paper is available in the Libraries of the House.
The evidence that white asbestos represents a risk to human health has been published. The evidence has been recently reviewed by a WHO task force and published in the International Programme on Chemical Safety's Environmental Health Criteria (EHC) Series. A recent review of the studies providing the basis for quantification that confirmed the risk from chrysotile is: "The Quantitative risks of mesothelioma and lung cancer in relation to asbestos exposure" by Hodgson and Darnton. Copies are available in the Libraries of the House.
The Health and Safety Executive cannot precisely separate costs to local authorities. Total costs in Government offices, public buildings and state schools are estimated at £440 million over a 50-year period, including costs arising from the provisions implementing the Chemical Agents Directive. The average yearly cost over the first five years the proposals would be in force in these buildings is £47 million. A large proportion of this cost would fall to local authorities.
Details of the costs of the proposals were given in the Consultation Document published by the Health and Safety Commission, and have since been revised. The total cost to businesses, charities and voluntary organisations of the proposals are currently estimated at £4.2 billion over a 50-year period. This includes a relatively small number of Government buildings open to the public, and also includes the estimated costs of complying with the provisions in the regulations arising from the Chemical Agents Directive. This cost is equivalent to £2.9 billion once costs are discounted to present values following Government costing conventions. The average yearly cost over the first six years the proposals would be in force is £460 million.
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White asbestos is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, on behalf of the World Health Organisation, as a category 1 carcinogen hazardous by inhalation. The most recent and comprehensive study carried out on the relative risks of asbestos "The Quantitative Risks of Mesothelioma and Lung Cancer in Relation to Asbestos Exposure" suggests there is a real risk of cancer from white asbestos (1 in 5,000) at levels of exposure realistically experienced by maintenance workers. The quantification of risk at these levels of exposure is however highly uncertain. The same paper implies the arguable range of risk runs from a quarter to seven times the central estimate.
The Department does not collect this data. While there is no legal requirement for local education authorities and schools to have specific medical support policies, the Department promotes the drawing up of school policies in its good practice guide "Supporting Pupils with Medical Needs" (produced jointly with the Department of Health), which includes a section on asthma.
Mr. McNamara: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department how many and in what proportion of cases in the last year where police have issued charges the DPP decided to discontinue prosecution. 
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In the period between 1 January 2001 and 31 December 2001 the Department of the Director of Public Prosecutions received files in respect of 1,832 persons who had already been charged by police at the point of submission of the file. Current information indicates that no prosecution was directed of 200 such persons (10.92 per cent.).
Mr. McNamara: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what reasons have been given by the DPP for NI for not prosecuting RUC Sergeant A for the killing of Pearce Jordan in 1992. 
No reasons, other than in general terms, have been given to date. Inquest proceedings in relation to the death of Pearce Jordan are currently live. Once the proceedings have been completed, the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland will give further consideration to whether any prosecution should follow. Following the decision of the ECHR in the case of Jordan v. UK the Director has reviewed his policy on the giving of reasons. I would refer my hon. Friend to a written reply the Attorney-General gave on 1 March 2002, Official Report, House of Lords, column WA 259 which I reproduce here:
In furtherance of that objective, I have had a number of discussions with the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland (the Director) regarding the giving of reasons when a decision is reached not to initiate or continue a prosecution. We have agreed that the following statement should issue.
"The policy of the Director in the matter of providing reasons for decisions not to initiate or continue prosecutions, is to refrain from giving reasons other than in the most general terms. The Director recognises that the propriety of applying the general practice must be examined and reviewed in every case where a request for the provision of detailed reasons is made. This policy is based on a series of public interest considerations. It also reflects the duties owed by the Director to a range of parties as a public authority under section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998. The lawfulness of the policy was upheld by the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal in Re Adams Application for Judicial Review (2001) NI 1.
The Director, in consultation with the Attorney General, has reviewed his policy in the light of the judgments delivered by the European Court of Human Rights on the 4 May 2001 in a number of Northern Ireland cases, including the case of Jordan v The United Kingdom. Having done so, the Director recognises that there may be cases in the future, which he would expect to be exceptional in nature, where an expectation will arise that a reasonable explanation will be given for not prosecuting where death is, or may have been, occasioned by the conduct of agents of the State. Subject to compelling grounds for not giving reasons, including his duties under the Human Rights Act 1998, the Director accepts that in such cases it will be in the public interest to reassure a concerned public, including the families of victims, that the rule of law has been respected by the provision of a reasonable explanation. The Director will reach his decision as to the provision of reasons, and their extent, having weighed the applicability of public interest considerations material to the particular facts and circumstances of each individual case."
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