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Written Answers to Questions

Tuesday 1 April 2008

Electoral Commission Committee

Electoral Register

Mr. Spellar: To ask the hon. Member for Gosport, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission whether the Electoral Commission plans to produce standard forms for (a) electoral registration and (b) applications for postal votes. [197578]

Peter Viggers: The Commission informs me that it provides standard forms for electoral registration and for postal vote applications both in print and downloadable format.

These forms are not prescribed in legislation. While electors and Electoral Registration Officers may use the Commission-supplied forms, they are under no obligation to do so. The sole registration form to be prescribed in regulations is the canvass form. The Commission does not provide this form as it is already set out in legislation.


Mr. Hands: To ask the hon. Member for Gosport, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission what the value was of each contract awarded to Rackspace by the Electoral Commission in each of the last nine years. [197520]

Peter Viggers: The Electoral Commission informs me that the relevant financial records are readily available only from 2003 onwards and since that time no contracts have been awarded to Rackspace.


Departmental Alcoholic Drinks

Mr. Weir: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland at how many events held by his Department (a) wine and (b) Fairtrade wine were served in the last three years; and what assessment his Department has made of the merits of serving Fairtrade wine at future events. [196945]

David Cairns: We serve wine at all receptions held by the Scotland Office. We have served Fairtrade wine at one reception in the past three years. The Scotland Office has a policy of using local produce wherever possible so as to reduce ‘food miles’ and our carbon footprint in line with Government targets for sustainable development. The wine served is organically grown and uses recycled packaging materials. We are currently drafting a policy for hospitality procurement. The policy will be designed to promote Fairtrade and sustainable development wherever possible.

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Departmental Consultants

Mr. Hoban: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what contracts were awarded by his Department to (a) KPMG, (b) PricewaterhouseCoopers, (c) Ernst and Young, (d) McKinsey, (e) Deloitte and (f) other consultancy firms in each of the last 12 months; and what the (i) purpose and (ii) value was of each of these contracts. [196814]

David Cairns: No payments were made to these companies and other firms for consultancy work during 2006-07.

Departmental Sustainable Development

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when his Department plans to publish its sustainable operations policy statement. [195896]

David Cairns: The Scotland Office is part of the Ministry of Justice for these purposes. The Ministry of Justice published its Sustainable Development Action Plan on 14 March 2008. It sets out the vision for sustainable development in the Ministry of Justice, how sustainable development will be incorporated into the operations and policy making of the Department, the key commitments and how the plan will be delivered.

Departmental Training

Mr. Philip Hammond: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many staff in his Department attended the (a) Influencing with Integrity, (b) Emotional Intelligence, (c) Counselling Skills for the Workplace, (d) Managing your Confidence, (e) Balancing Work/Life Realities and (f) Working Assertively training course run by the National School of Government in the last 12 months for which information is available; and at what cost. [197069]

David Cairns: None.

Departmental Video Conferencing

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will set a target to increase the use of video-conferencing by his Department to reduce the need to travel to meetings. [195897]

David Cairns: The Scotland Office encourages staff to consider video conferencing facilities first before travelling to meetings. However, this does not always prove possible and a target is not considered appropriate.


Mr. Hands: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what the value was of each contract awarded to Rackspace by his Department in each of the last nine years. [197518]

David Cairns: Nothing.

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House of Commons Commission

Visitor Reception Building

Mr. Greg Knight: To ask the hon. Member for North Devon, representing the House of Commons Commission when the Cromwell Green Visitor Entrance will be opened; and what the reasons for the time taken are. [197903]

Nick Harvey: I refer the right hon. Member to the reply I gave on 10 March 2008, Official Report, column 3W. A large scale internal trial was successfully carried out on 28 March, and limited use by the public has now begun to complete the trial programme.


Freedom of Information

Mr. Hoban: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer pursuant to the answer of 27 February 2008, Official Report, column 1489W, on Northern Rock: freedom of information, (1) how many of the 31 freedom of information requests have been refused; and what were the grounds in each case; [195905]

(2) in how many cases information was (a) wholly and (b) partly exempted; and how many requests were answered in full. [193518]

Angela Eagle: HMT assesses FOI requests on their individual merits and summary data on the Department's cases are collated and published by MoJ on a quarterly basis. Since your previous request further FOI requests have been received.

Many of these requests seek extensive amounts of information and exceed the costs regime for processing FOI requests. In these cases, requestors have been invited to narrow their requests to bring them within the cost limit. Other requests seek information that has already been published or information that the Government intend to publish in the future; in six cases HMT has refused in full as the information sought comprised information provided to the Government in confidence, commercially sensitive information, and policy advice where the policy process is yet to conclude.

Departmental Data Protection

Mr. Weir: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether confidential or personal information has been compromised through the loss of property from his Department since 1997. [193451]

Angela Eagle: Other than in exceptional cases, when it is in the public interest, it has been the policy of successive governments not to comment on breaches of security. However, following the publication of the Data Handling Procedures in Government: Interim Progress Report on 17 December 2007, Official Report, column 98WS, all Departments will cover information assurance issues in their annual reports.

Departmental Plants

Mr. Hoban: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how much his Department spent on pot plants in each of the last five years. [192050]

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Angela Eagle: For information on 2006-07 I refer the hon. Member to the answer given to him by the former Financial Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (John Healey), on 7 November 2006, Official Report, column 1022W. For information on 2005-06 I refer the hon. Member to the answer given to the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) on 2 May 2007, Official Report, column 1743W. Information on earlier years could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

Economic Situation

Mr. Meacher: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what steps he is taking to contribute to (a) tackling the turbulence in the international financial markets and (b) preventing such crises in future. [195187]

Angela Eagle [holding answer 18 March 2008]: On 30 January 2008 the Treasury, Bank of England and the FSA published the consultation paper Financial stability and depositor protection: strengthening the framework. It includes proposals related to strengthening the stability and resilience of international financial markets and preventing crises in the future. The Government have also taken actions to address problems in the markets for mortgage backed securities (MBS). On 6 March the Government introduced new regulations for covered bonds, which will increase the pool of potential investors and strengthen market confidence in the longer term. The Government announced at Budget a Working Group that will take forward market initiatives to improve liquidity in the MBS market. Financial market turbulence has been global and also demands a global response. That is why the Government support, and is heavily involved in, the EC and G7 work programmes aimed at improving the stability and resilience of the financial system for the future.

Northern Rock: Consultants

Mr. Hoban: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer for how long Goldman Sachs will be retained in its role as financial adviser to HM Treasury on Northern Rock. [188857]

Angela Eagle: The financial adviser in question will be retained for as long as necessary for the purpose of restructuring of Northern Rock, as is normal and proper in company restructuring of a similar scale to this.

Northern Rock: Nationalisation

Mr. Hands: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer who among his ministerial team has lead responsibility for Northern Rock while in temporary public ownership; if he will take steps to provide for the answering of oral questions by that Minister on Northern Rock under arrangements equivalent to those established for the Minister for the Olympics; and if he will make a statement. [190569]

Angela Eagle: Responsibility rests with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, assisted by other Treasury Ministers as appropriate. The Chancellor has undertaken to keep the House informed of developments relating to Northern Rock. He has no plans to change the arrangements for answering parliamentary questions on the matter.

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Norwich Union

Derek Wyatt: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he has had discussions with Norwich Union and the Prudential on their inherited estate proposals; and if he will make a statement. [198256]

Angela Eagle: The management of the insurance inherited estate is a matter for the Regulator, the Financial Services Authority (FSA), which sets the rules covering the management of with-profits funds.

Private Finance Initiative: Liability

Stewart Hosie: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the timescale is for ensuring that private finance initiative and private public partnership liabilities will henceforth be recorded as Government liabilities. [190037]

Angela Eagle: Budget 2008 announced that from 2009-10 the annual accounts of Government Departments would be prepared using International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) adapted as necessary for the public sector.

The accounting guidance in relation to private finance initiative and public private partnership (PPP) under IFRS is being finalised. The Treasury is working with the Financial Reporting Advisory Board to include the guidance in the IFRS based Government Financial Reporting Manual. It will form the basis for determining the appropriate balance sheet treatment of all PFI and PPP liabilities.

Tobacco: Belgium

Mike Penning: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make representations to the relevant EU Commissioner on the effects on independent tobacco retailers in the United Kingdom of illegal sales of tobacco imported from Belgium. [196872]

Angela Eagle [holding answer 26 March 2008]: HM Revenue and Customs has a strategy in place to tackle tobacco smuggling which was refreshed at Budget 2006 when the Government published a paper 'New Responses to New Challenges: Reinforcing the Tackling Tobacco Smuggling Strategy'. New measures have recently been introduced to address the smuggling of tobacco from other countries, including legislation which places an obligation on tobacco manufacturers not to facilitate smuggling, and the incorporation of a covert anti-counterfeit security mark on packs of cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco. The introduction of the security mark supports legitimate retailers by creating a deterrent to counterfeit products infiltrating the retail supply chain.

In addition, HM Revenue and Customs is committed to supporting legitimate businesses and in this context works closely with the Tobacco Alliance: Retailers Against Smuggling'.

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Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture: Subsidies

Mr. Jamie Reed: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what plans his Department has for provision of financial support to farms after 2013. [196198]

Jonathan Shaw: Decisions on financial support to farms under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) post-2013 will be reached during the EU future financing negotiations for 2014-20, which should commence in 2010-11.

The joint DEFRA/Treasury Vision for the CAP, published in 2005, envisages the abolition of Pillar 1, including direct support payments to farmers, by 2015-20. A central tenet of this Vision is that farmers should be rewarded by the market for their outputs, and by the taxpayer only for producing societal benefits that the market cannot deliver. Our Vision foresees that with Pillar 1 abolished, residual EU spending on agriculture would be based on Pillar 2.

Atlantis Initiative

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if he will make a statement on his Department’s initiative of the Atlantis Initiative; which other Government Departments and other bodies participate in it; what funding has been allocated to it; and who co-ordinates this Initiative. [197398]

Mr. Woolas: Atlantis is a combined initiative by organisations within Government to make data more readily accessible to support flooding and water management.

Organisations in the Atlantis Initiative are Ordnance Survey, the Met Office, the British Geological Survey, the Hydrographic Office, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and the Environment Agency.

There is no funding available to the Atlantis Initiative. Co-ordination is through a Programme Executive Board made up of chief executives of each organisation or their representatives.

Birds: Trade

Martin Horwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment he has made of the effect of the EU ban on wild bird imports on the illegal wildlife trade in birds in the UK; what research his Department has conducted on the matter; and if he will make a statement. [197007]

Joan Ruddock [holding answer 31 March 2008]: In December 2006, DEFRA let a contract to assess the impact of the restrictions brought in by Commission Regulation 318/2007 in March 2007. The contractors were asked to assess the impact of the current import ban on wild birds on illegal trade levels, as well as the related risk of the introduction of exotic diseases to native and domestic bird populations. Completion of the report was delayed to enable the contractors more time to obtain and assess data. The contractors draft report has however now been submitted to DEFRA,
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and it is being considered to ensure its accuracy and that the contract terms have been met. It is anticipated that the report will be finalised and published either in April or May. In addition, Government continue to support the national wildlife crime unit which acts as a monitor on the illegal trade in such species in the UK.

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