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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The Prime Minister's Chief Press Secretary has repeated the publicly expressed views of the Prime Minister, calling for greater balance in the media debate on the National Health Service.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): Green Ministers held their first meeting of this year on 16 March. The Committee agreed the publication of a series of guides to help
At the meeting, Green Ministers discussed progress on environmental management systems, travel plans and integrating the environment into policy. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office, their Green Minister, outlined progress on greening the police and prison service as well as the main department.
The departments represented by Ministers were: Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions; Cabinet Office; Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Department of Health; Department of Social Security; the Chancellor's Departments; Law Officers Departments; Home Office; the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; and the Welsh Office. Those represented by officials were: Department for International Development and Department of Trade and Industry.
Lord Whitty: My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions received a copy of a survey of local authority sites prepared by the Traveller Law Research Unit under cover of the noble Lord's letter on 17 March. We are currently considering this document and will compare its findings with those of DETR's annual list of Gypsy sites which is due to be published around Easter this year.
DETR is to commission a research project later this year to look at the management and maintenance of existing Gypsy caravan sites which will also inform our views on future site provision and the issues raised in this survey. We would welcome views from the Travelling community on the project and officials will make contact with the Traveller Law Research Unit and others when work begins.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): Under the protocol for responding to inspection reports, the Prison Service has 30 working days from the date of publication to draw up an action plan addressing the recommendations. I will write to the noble Lord when the action plan has been approved.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Under Section 6(2) of the Representation of the People Act 1985, anyone who cannot reasonably be expected to go in person to a polling station by reason of physical incapacity is entitled to an absent vote.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, Mr O'Brien, published this consultation paper on 11 November 1999 and the consultation period ended on 31 January 2000. The Home Office received 2,820 responses, mostly from casino staff. Two-thousand, eight hundred and nine of the responses opposed the proposals. Six were neutral and five expressed support.
Many casino staff were concerned about the impact which the proposal would have on them and their families, about the difficulties in travelling home especially for female staff in the early hours, and about more exposure to passive smoking. Some also said that management had not consulted them about the proposed change. They wanted us to regulate these employment issues by using the law rather than through employee/employer negotiations.
The unions opposed the change. They drew attention to the lack of recognition for collective bargaining purposes in casinos and to the timing of the implementation of the union recognition provisions of the Employment Relations Act 1999.
Having considered the responses very carefully, my honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, Mr O'Brien, has nevertheless concluded that we should proceed with the proposal. The issue is not the number of responses, but the strength of the argument for restricting commercial freedom. Casinos will not be obliged to adopt longer opening hours, but they will have more flexibility to meet consumer demand and increase their competitiveness. The changes will not so significantly affect the running of casinos as to require deferment pending the outcome of the independent gambling review, which is to start after Easter. The Gaming Board for Great Britain has no objections.
The Government understand the concerns about the impact of additional operating hours on casino staff and their families or on local residents. But the Gaming Act 1968 provides a regulatory framework for gambling in the public interest and is not designed to regulate normal employer/employee relations, which are subject to the Employment Relations Act 1999. We agree with the view expressed by the unions that any changes to casino hours should not be made before the union recognition provision of the Act is in force. The