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Speeches and parliamentary questions in the House of Commons

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Citizenship Applicants - 14/07/99
Manufacturing Jobs (Northern Region) - 14/07/99
Employment (City of Durham) - 13/07/99
Manufacturing Investment - 13/07/99
Further Education Arrangements - 30/06/99
Defence - Vaccines - 08/06/99
European Fraud - 19 May 1999
Teachers' Salaries - 13/04/99
Teacher Promotions - 30/03/99
Prescriptions (Pensioners) - 30/03/99
Pensioners (Income Support) - 30/03/99
National Insurance Scheme - 30/03/99
Genetically Modified Crops - 29/03/99
Incapacity Benefit - 26/03/99
Incapacity Benefit - 25/03/99
Further Education - 24/03/99
Winter Fuel Payments - 24/03/99
House of Lords Reform - 16/03/99
Schools (Exclusions) - 16/03/99
Depleted Uranium - 15/03/99
Retail Developments - 15/03/99
Education Budgets - 10/03/99
IT Initiatives - 10/03/99
Higher Education - 10/03/99
No-smoking Areas - 10/03/99
Smoking-related Diseases - 10/03/99
British Gulf War veterans - 10/03/99
Private Beds in NHS hospitals - 25/01/99


Commons Hansard
14 July 1999

Citizenship Applicants

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what criteria are used to determine whether an applicant for citizenship is a political extremist. [90982]

Mr. Mike O'Brien: There are no such criteria. "Political extremism" is not a matter which is included in the guidance to staff on the good character requirement.

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Commons Hansard
14 July 1999

Manufacturing Jobs (Northern Region)

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will list the number of manufacturing jobs in the Northern Region in May of each year since 1979. [91006]

Mr. Battle: Information on a consistent basis is available from June 1982 and is shown in the table. Estimates for May are not available as the data are collected quarterly. The estimates refer to the former North standard statistical region, which comprised the counties and former counties of Cleveland, Durham, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear and Cumbria.

Year (June)Employee jobs in manufacturing,
not seasonally adjusted

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Commons Hansard

Employment (City of Durham)

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many (a) male and (b) female employees in the City of Durham were in (i) full-time and (ii) part-time employment in (1) temporary and (2) permanent jobs in each year since 1990. [90985]

Ms Hewitt: The information requested falls within the responsibility of the Director of the Office for National Statistics. I have asked him to reply.

Letter from John Kidgell to Mr. Gerry Steinberg, dated 13 July 1999:

In the absence of the Director of the Office for National Statistics (ONS), I have been asked to reply to your recent parliamentary question on employment in the City of Durham. The information is available from two sources. Employee Jobs from the Annual Employment Survey (AES) are shown for the City of Durham Parliamentary Constituency, by gender and full-time/part-time status at September of 1991, 1993, 1995, 1996 and 1997 in the attached table. This Survey was formerly known as the Census of Employment when it was conducted biennially. Figures from the September 1998 AES will be available in January/February 2000.

The second source of information is the Labour Force Survey (LFS). Figures from the LFS are shown for Permanent/Temporary Employees by gender in the table. However this data is only available for the wider area of the County of Durham at 1996, 1997 and 1998.

Both sources of information are not seasonally adjusted.

Employee Jobs in City of Durham(17) at September

Male full-time15.715.616.215.816.2
Male part-time1.
Female full-time10.29.610.49.310.6
Female part-time9.69.89.910.29.4

(17) Parliamentary Constituency


1991-1993 Census of Employment, 1995-1997 Annual Employment Survey

Number of temporary and permanent employees in the Former County of Durham
All employees(18)126120123
All employees(18)112107107
All employees(18)237227229

(18) Includes some employees who did not state whether they were temporary or permanent
(19) Average of the spring to winter quarters

Source: Labour Force Survey

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Commons Hansard
13 July 1999

Manufacturing Investment

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will list the average rate of return on manufacturing investment in the (a) United Kingdom and (b) Northern Region in the last five years. [90984]

Ms Hewitt: The information requested falls within the responsibility of the Director of the Office for National Statistics. I have asked him to reply.

Letter from John Kidgell to Mr. Gerry Steinberg, dated 13 July 1999:

In the absence of the Director of the Office for National Statistics (ONS), I have been asked to reply to your recent parliamentary question on the rate of return on manufacturing investment.

Rates of return were last published in the ONS First Release, Profitability of UK companies in July 1997, which is available in the House of Commons Library. The estimates for the rate of return on capital employed by manufacturing companies in the United Kingdom were:

1991: 4.3%
1992: 5.1%
1993: 6.2%
1994: 8.0%
1995: 8.8%

The estimates are being up-dated and converted to the definitions in the European System of Accounts, 1995 and the next issue of the First Release is expected to be in November 1999. There are no estimates of rates of return by region.

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Commons Hansard
30 June 1999

Further Education Arrangements

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I welcome the proposals that the Secretary of State has announced this afternoon. Does he agree that one of the most disgraceful aspects of further education since incorporation has been its lack of accountability? For example, the Further Education Funding Council and the Department have been unwilling to intervene in some absolute scandals--and many of them have come to light in the past few years. Will the Secretary of State explain how he intends to make further education more accountable and to whom it will be accountable?

Mr. Blunkett: I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome. In chapter 3, from paragraph 34 onwards--which my hon. Friend has obviously not had time to examine thoroughly--I spell out a new, accountable system. I also do that in the same chapter in the early paragraphs about learning partnerships. The development of a local learning forum and the accountability of both the providers and the local learning and skills council--which will have to present a report, detail what they have been doing and answer for the decisions that they have taken--will be very important. It will be linked to the changes that we are making to the governance of further education, the new audit arrangements and the new inspection scheme. Together, they will form a powerful package and will ensure that we root out corruption and lack of probity and lift standards.

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Commons Hansard
8 June 1999

Defence - Vaccines

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the recent work of his Department's vaccine fact-finding team with particular reference to the findings relating to the presence of squalene in blood samples provided by US and British veterans. [83015]

Mr. Doug Henderson: The MOD's Fact Finding Team within the Gulf Veterans' Illnesses Unit (GVIU) was established in September 1997 to look into the implementation in-theatre of the 1991 immunisation programme against biological warfare agents, with particular reference to the level of coverage and uptake of vaccine across the various units of the UK Armed Forces that participated in the Gulf conflict. This review is based on oral testimony and extant documentary evidence, with a view to making public as much information as possible. The team's fieldwork was completed last autumn and a paper based on their work, and on other contemporary material that has been located, is in the course of preparation. This will be published once it is completed, which is expected to be within the next three years.

This review is aimed at providing more information about how the immunisation programme was carried out in principle, not the compositions of the vaccines used, which have already been set out in the MOD paper "Background to the Use of Medical Countermeasures to Protect British Forces during the Gulf War (Operation GRANBY).

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): To ask the Secretary of State for Defence which vaccines were acquired from the USA for the use of British soldiers in the Gulf War; which vaccines were used; and which contained squalene. [83014]

Mr. Doug Henderson: Details of the Ministry of Defence's programme to immunise UK troops against the potential threat posed by Iraq's biological weapons during the Gulf conflict were published in October 1997, in the MOD paper "Background to the Use of Medical Countermeasures to Protect British Forces during the Gulf War (Operation GRANBY)". This describes in detail how a vaccine against plague was purchased from the US DoD for use by UK forces. None of the other vaccines used for this programme were acquired from the US. None of the vaccines used for this programme contained squalene. In addition, UK Service personnel would have received other immunisations against disease that potentially posed a public health threat. So far as has been ascertained, none of the latter vaccines were either acquired from the US or contained squalene.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if (a) his Department, (b) the Defence and Evaluation Research Agency and (c) the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment produce vaccines or components of vaccines for use on Gulf War troops which contained squalene preparations. [83013]

Mr. Doug Henderson: No.

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Commons Hansard
19 May 1999

European Fraud

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): As a member of the Public Accounts Committee, I visited Brussels and Luxembourg in April to look into fraud in the European Union and what was being done about it. The visit was prompted by the National Audit Office's report, "Audit of the General Budget of the European Union for 1997 and Related Developments", and by the whistleblowing of Paul Van Buitenen, an EU official, who, incidentally, ranks as fraudulent not only those on whom he blew the whistle, but everyone else connected with the EU.

To examine fraud in the EU, one must start with what the EU does. In 1997, the total budget was about £54 billion, spent under three basic headings--the common agricultural policy, structural funds and directly managed expenditure, including aid to countries in central and eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and budget compensation to the newest member states. The United Kingdom is the third largest contributor, paying about £1.3 billion, so our visit was thought appropriate. There is clearly a huge problem.

CAP accounts for 50 per cent. of the Budget and the NAO found errors in CAP payments amounting to around one sixth of the total. Farmers overdeclared areas eligible for subsidy for cereals and set-aside. The errors were exacerbated by generous subsidy and ineffective checks by the paying agencies. Although the overpayments may be relatively small, it would be an understatement to say that the global sum was quite big. In fact, it was huge.

The NAO also detected errors in structural funds payments, which account for about one third of the EU budget. Aid is distributed to member states for operational programmes that can last up to about six years. Often, member states declared expenditure ineligible for funding. The Commission's programme closure procedures did not detect ineligible expenditures.

About £8.9 billion was spent on external aid, but much of it does not go where it is supposed to. Only 82 per cent. of aid intended for central and eastern European countries was paid out, and only 64 per cent. of that meant for southern Mediterranean countries was paid. During 1998, the Commission uncovered suspected fraud in humanitarian aid. The ECHO affair, as it was called, involved aid to Yugoslavia and the great lakes region of Africa. Since 1992, £420 million has gone missing from that project.

In 1998, the PAC reported waste, error and fraud in EU expenditure programmes. Frankly, matters are no better a year later. Four examples of the most appalling cases of fraud are contained in the NAO report.

The first deals with cigarette smuggling from Montenegro. The report states:

"One of the main routes used by crime syndicates for trafficking cigarettes was through the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The cigarettes are loaded onto speedboats declared to be bound for Italy and are offloaded on the Adriatic Coast as contraband. The sole purpose of this is to divert them to the European Union black market. The Commission estimates that this activity results in a loss to the Community General Budget of some . . . £410 million".
The second example relates to the fraudulent import of olive oil. The report states:
"Olive oil claimed to be in transit for Israel and Turkey was in fact unloaded in the Community through an ingenious subterfuge. Two ships sailed from France with cargoes of olive oil and sunflower oil. The ships docked in Italy and unloaded the olive oil, but claimed that it was sunflower oil so that the lower level of duty was payable on it. To cover up the fraud, the perpetrators pretended to sell the sunflower oil in exchange for olive oil, even to the extent of driving around empty lorries to justify purchases of fuel. As a result of this fraud, some 5.1 million ECU (£3.4 million) of customs duties were evaded and some . . . £1.2 million . . . aid was claimed without entitlement."
The third case related to tourism. In 1990, the European year of tourism was launched. By 1999, 76 bodies or individuals were subject to criminal proceedings or additional inquiries in member states and £3.5 million had been fraudulently paid out.

The last fraud that needs to be mentioned is the Leonardo programme, a four-year youth training programme with a budget of about £450 million, headed by Commissioner Edith Cresson of France. Favouritism and irregularities were rife. All the cases that I have mentioned substantiate the view that there is large-scale organised crime across national borders.

Miss McIntosh: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the tourism fraud was exposed by the leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, Mr. McMillan- Scott? That shows the seriousness that Conservatives attach to fraud.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I do not for one moment dispute that. I do not attempt to make political points.

The Public Accounts Committee went to Brussels and Luxembourg to see the problems of fraud in the EU. The situation is deplorable and something needs to be done about it.

Mr. Gapes: I do not seek to minimise the terrible things to which my hon. Friend refers, but is it not a fact that about 85 per cent. of the EU budget is controlled not by EU institutions but by national member states? One of the problems with which we are dealing is something over which EU institutions do not have control. It is a problem of transfers between one member state and another, for example, as regards the tobacco scams and other scams to which my hon. Friend has referred.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): My hon. Friend is partly right and partly wrong. There is tremendous irregularity and fraud within the Commission. I agree that a great deal of responsibility lies with the member states, but we cannot blame just one section of the EU. The whole thing seems corrupt. I believe that corruption and fraud are much more prevalent across the EU than in the UK. The standards of probity in public affairs in the UK are higher than in most other western European countries. The report of the National Audit Office refers to places such as Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal. I do not mean to be disrespectful to those countries, but their record is appalling.

Financial arrangements in the European Union lend themselves to misappropriation and misuse of funds. The structure of the EU is bureaucratic rather than democratic. There appears to be little control over those who participate in corruption and fraud and little effort or capacity to get rid of them. It appears from the examples that I have given that about 10 per cent. of the EU budget is misappropriated and not spent on the purpose for which it was designated. That mis-spend amounts to about £5 billion a year. That is an incredible amount of money.

With great respect to the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), I got the impression from his speech that he was complacent. We heard the same arguments from him as I heard from the European Court of Auditors. The auditors seemed to say, "There is misappropriation and one would expect that to happen with such a huge budget. I do not think that one can say that. The Commission should have high standards.

The recent disclosures by Van Buitenen were already well known before he blew the whistle. It was clear what was going on and he happened to bring it to the fore. Everyone knew what was going on. He showed that the standards of the Commissioners were anything but proper, and collectively they had to resign. The Commissioners ought to have been setting high standards, but they were not. Examples of nepotism and manipulation of funds emerged.

On our visit to Brussels and Luxembourg, we met representatives of the Commission, the EU anti-fraud organisations and the committee of independent experts set up by the European Parliament to examine the way in which the Commission detects and deals with fraud. The anti-fraud organisation, known as UCLAF, has an atrocious record and was clearly unable to do an effective job. It has now been replaced by OLAF. I was little impressed, bearing in mind the seriousness of the situation. The only thing that was apparent was complacency.

We met the Budgetary Control Committee of the European Parliament. Although it recognised the problems and played its part in triggering the resignation of the Commissioners, the fact is that it knew for years that fraud and waste were rampant, yet it tolerated the situation. Can you imagine, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Public Accounts Committee tolerating such a situation? I cannot, but that seems to be the way things are.

We had a meeting with the European Court of Auditors. That filled me with horror. Its members were apparently so complacent, and I told them so. One of the most disgraceful aspects of EU administration is not only that large sums of money in budgets cannot be properly accounted for but that the auditing and signing-off of EU accounts often runs years into arrears as a result of lax accounting systems, some of which are seemingly riddled with fraud. We all know that it is impossible to run any organisation efficiently without accurate, up-to-date accounts.

It seems to me that the problem with the EU Court of Auditors is the same as in so much of the rest of the EU. Those able and willing to set high standards are dragged down by those who are much more easy going. One amazing statement made at our meeting with the auditors was that fraud was a price worth paying for the Union. I may have misunderstood that because I was dropping off to sleep, but I do not think so. Well, they may think that, but I disagree with them.

After our visit to the EU, the Committee was unanimous in its conclusions. There need to be significant and urgent improvements in the financial culture governing European spending. These issues are central to public confidence and fundamental to the democratic legitimacy of Europe. The Commission must define more clearly who is accountable to whom and for what.

We found that the current arrangements for investigating and prosecuting cases of abuse were inadequate. Rapid action is required to reform the procedures for identifying and handling cases of suspected fraud within the Commission and other EU institutions. That should include a strong, independent head of fraud investigations with statutory protection from dismissal.

The National Audit Office report concludes that it is important that the Commission and member states keep up the pressure on effective implementation of the sound and efficient Management 2000 initiative, which simplifies schemes so that they can be easily and effectively managed and so that the risk of fraud can be reduced. The NAO also concludes that effective action must be taken to pursue and repress fraud across the EU budget. Better arrangements are needed for combating fraud and corruption involving EU institutions.

I intended to sit down and say no more at this stage, which would probably delight everyone, but after listening to the Opposition, I should like to add an extra item. The approach that Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen have taken to the debate is so sad. They have attempted to make EU fraud a party political issue. It is an important issue. The Tory record in government was hopeless. All the cases of fraud that I have mentioned started in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the previous Government were in power. It is important that this debate has taken place, but why do the Opposition always shoot themselves in the foot? It is plain daft to try to lay the blame on the Government and Labour Members of the European Parliament for allowing fraudulent activities to go on in the EU. The activities have been going on for years, and went on all through the time of Tory government.

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Commons Hansard
13 Apr 1999

Teachers' Salaries

Mr. Steinberg: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what was the total cost of salaries of teachers in England and Wales in state schools in the last year for which figures are available. [78812]

Ms Estelle Morris: The total cost of salaries of teachers in England and Wales in state schools at March 1997 is estimated at £9.9 billion.

This is based on salaries for all teachers employed in the maintained nursery, primary, secondary and special sector including pupil referral units. It excludes employer national insurance and pension contributions.

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Commons Hansard
30 March 1999

Teacher Promotions

Mr. Steinberg: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what funds he has estimated will be required to implement his policy on the promotion of teachers in the next five years.[78813]

Ms Estelle Morris: The Technical Document on Pay and Performance Management, published on 1 February 1999, indicated that for the two financial years 2000-01 and 2001-02, up to £1 billion is available to support the implementation of the Green Paper, "Teachers: meeting the challenge of change." Much the largest single element of this will be the new pay arrangements. Expenditure plans have not yet been fixed beyond the financial year 2001-02. The implementation of the Green Paper proposals will be one of the issues considered when they are.

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Commons Hansard
30 March 1999

Prescriptions (Pensioners)

Mr. Steinberg: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what cost was incurred by his Department in the most recent available year in respect of NHS prescriptions to pensioners. [78934]

Mr. Denham: In 1997, the estimated cost of prescription items dispensed by community pharmacies and appliance contractors to persons aged 60 and over was £1,906 million.

This is the net ingredient cost, which is the basic cost of a drug and does not take account of discounts, dispensing costs, fees or prescription charge income. Information about the cost of prescriptions dispensed in the community by dispensing doctors or dispensed in hospitals to persons aged 60 and over is not available.

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Commons Hansard
30 March 1999

Pensioners (Income Support)

Mr. Steinberg: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what are the estimated costs to the Exchequer in the current financial year of (a) housing benefit and (b) council tax relief to those pensioners who qualify as a result of being on income support. [78937]

Angela Eagle: The information is in the table.

£ million
1998-99 estimated outturn, cash
Housing benefit2,256
Council tax benefit659

Source: The figures underlie the 1999 Departmental Report

Mr. Steinberg: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is the estimated total cost of Income Support paid to those pensioners who qualify in the current financial year. [78936]

Mr. Timms: The total programme cost of Income Support paid to pensioners in 1998-99 is estimated to be £3,641 million.

"Pensioners" for Income Support purposes, means a single person aged 60 or over, or a couple (counted as one benefit unit) where one or both members is aged 60 or over.
Social Security Departmental Report 1999-2000.

Mr. Steinberg: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many pensioners (a) receive and (b) do not receive Income Support. [78938]

Mr. Timms: As at August 1998, there were estimated to be 1,637,000 pensioners who were either in receipt of Income Support, or the partner of a person in receipt of Income Support. The estimated number of pensioners not dependent on Income Support in 1998 is 8,816,000.

1. Figures are rounded to the nearest thousand.
2. Pensioners are defined as men aged 65 or over, and women aged 60 or over.
3. In the case of a couple, for Income Support purposes the claim by one partner includes both members.
4. The estimates of Income Support recipients are based on a 5 per cent. sample and are therefore subject to a degree of error.
5. The total pension age population of Great Britain for 1998 is estimated to be 10,453,000 based on a population projection for 1998 provided by the Government Actuary's Department.

1. Income Support Quarterly Statistical Enquiry August 1998.
2. Official Population Projections of Government Actuaries Department, 1998.

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Commons Hansard
30 March 1999

National Insurance Scheme

Mr. Steinberg: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is the (a) number and (b) percentage of former contributors to the National Insurance Scheme who are not entitled to a state retirement pension. [78285]

Mr. Timms: The information is not available in the format requested. Such information as is available is as follows.

It is estimated that there are about 400,000 people over State pension age and resident in Great Britain who do not receive a State Retirement Pension. This represents about 4 per cent. of pensioners resident in Great Britain. It includes those who have contributed to the National Insurance scheme but who have paid insufficient contributions to satisfy the conditions for receiving a State pension.

1. Figures are for Great Britain, and are rounded to the nearest hundred thousand.
2. Percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number.
Pensions Strategy Computer System (PSCS) which contains a 5 per cent. sample of all persons in receipt of a State Retirement Pension at September 1998.
Government Actuary's Department mid 1998 population forecast.

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Commons Hansard
29 March 1999

Genetically Modified Crops

Mr. Steinberg: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what safeguards the Government plans to impose to guard against cross-pollination with non- genetically modified plants when genetically modified foods are planted commercially. [75138]

Mr. Rooker: The issue of cross-pollination is considered by the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE) when examining each application for release of genetically modified (GM) crops. Appropriate conditions (e.g. separation distances) may be included in a consent, but a consent would not be granted if ACRE considered the risks associated with cross-pollination to be unacceptable. In addition the Government have encouraged the development of industry guidelines which will set out best practice for growing GM crops, and these guidelines will include minimum separation distances between GM and non-GM crops.

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Commons Hansard
26 March 1999

Incapacity Benefit

Mr. Steinberg: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many people since 1995 who had been receiving invalidity benefit failed the work test when they applied for incapacity benefit. [78280]

Mr. Bayley: When Incapacity Benefit was introduced in 1995, existing Invalidity Benefit recipients were transferred to the new benefit without being required to apply for it. However, with some exceptions, these cases were subject to the All Work Test, which is being applied on a rolling programme over a period of several years.

Information on the numbers of former Invalidity Benefit claimants who have failed the All Work Test since the introduction of Incapacity Benefit is not available for the period April 1995 to August 1996. From September 1996 to August 1998 inclusive, it is estimated that some 39,250 ex-Invalidity Benefit claimants have failed to satisfy the test. In addition, just under 4,000 others have had their claims terminated following failure to return the All Work Test questionnaire, or failure to attend a medical examination.

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Commons Hansard
25 March 1999

Incapacity Benefit

Mr. Steinberg: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many successful appeals there have been against a refusal of incapacity benefit for the years 1996 to date. [78281]

Angela Eagle: The information is in the table.

Appeals heard and decidedAppeals decided in appellant's favour(Percentage of appeals heard and decided)Lapsed on review/superseded
Incapacity benefit: all work test
Incapacity benefit other than all work test

Note:Lapsed on review and superseded includes cases that could have been due to a re-instatement of benefit, but can include other causes.
Source:100 per cent. computer extract from Independent Tribunal Service (ITS) systems.

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Commons Hansard
24 March 1999

Further Education

Mr. Steinberg: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what change there has been in the number of students in further education in the United Kingdom since tuition fees were introduced. [75022]

Mr. Mudie: The information requested in not available.

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Commons Hansard
24 March 1999

Winter Fuel Payments

Mr. Steinberg: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans he has to extend to those (a) in receipt of benefits and (b) on low incomes the heating allowance for those on pensions. [77990]

Angela Eagle: The Winter Fuel Payments scheme provides extra help to around ten million eligible pensioners, in over seven million households towards their heaviest fuel bills. We have no plans to extend the scheme to other groups.

We are committed to tackling the problems associated with vulnerable people keeping warm and has already introduced numerous substantial measures to meet this objective.

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Commons Hansard
16 March 1999

House of Lords Reform

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I am delighted to be here on a day that I regard as historic, to fulfil the pledge that I gave my constituents at the general election by implementing the Government's manifesto commitment, on which all Labour Members fought.

The manifesto stated:

"The House of Lords must be reformed. As an initial, self-contained reform, not dependent on further reform in the future, the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will end by statute. This will be the first step in a process of reform to make the House of Lords more democratic and representative. The legislative powers of the House of Lords will remain unaltered.

The system of appointment of life peers to the House of Lords will be reviewed. Our objective will be to ensure that over time, party appointees as life peers more accurately reflect the proportion of votes cast at the previous general election. We are committed to maintaining an independent cross-bench presence of life peers. No one political party should seek a majority in the House of Lords.

A committee of both Houses of Parliament will be appointed to undertake a wide-ranging review of possible further change and then to bring forward proposals for reform."

That is what we promised and that is what has been delivered.

The Third Reading of the Bill moves us a giant step towards fulfilling the objectives and keeping the manifesto commitment. It is the first step in the essential modernisation process.

Mr. Tyrie: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Steinberg: I have only just started, but I will.

Mr. Tyrie: If we have a vote on the Weatherill amendment, will the hon. Gentleman vote against it, on the grounds that it diverges from the manifesto pledge to which he is clearly so deeply attached?

Mr. Steinberg: If that occurs, I will decide at the time. I will probably follow the party Whip.

The reform, which is on the point of enactment, is long overdue. It will ensure that Parliament is ready for the 21st century. We are not abolishing hereditary peers, as some have tried to imply, but simply their automatic right to vote in Parliament--a right derived only from the accident of birth. It is indefensible that people whose only claim is of birth should be able to legislate in a democracy. I am completely amazed that anyone can defend that.

On reflection, perhaps it only almost amazes me. It is no wonder that the Conservatives want to keep the status quo. That historic process has given the Conservative party a built-in majority. In the House of Lords, the Conservatives outnumber Labour by nearly 3:1. As we have seen over the years, they do not hesitate to use their majority to try to pervert the course of democracy. Recent examples include the banning of handguns following the Dunblane tragedy. The whole country wanted to get rid of handguns, but not that lot sitting at the opposite side of this building.

More recently, the minimum wage--a manifesto commitment for which millions of people voted at the general election--passed through this House, but was not supported by the House of Lords.

The most recent challenge--on the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1999--demonstrated that the House of Lords had deliberately set out to undermine the authority of a Government elected with a huge popular mandate. That action led to the use of the Parliament Act 1911 for only the second time in 50 years--and only 20 months into a Labour Government. We can see what the attitude of the House of Lords was from the beginning. Within 20 months they took action to try to stifle legislation coming from the Labour Government.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: The hon. Gentleman is clearly very concerned about challenges to this House from the other place. Could he tell us what will happen when this Bill goes through and the other place is reformed? Does he expect that the other place will always follow the line of this House, or does he expect it to challenge this House in the future?

Mr. Steinberg: If the hon. Gentleman listens to my speech, I will make that clear later. In the previous Session, even though the Conservatives had just lost a general election overwhelmingly, they were able to defeat the Labour Government 33 times by using their hereditary peers. Suppose the situation had been reversed, and Labour had had three times as many peers as the Conservatives. Is it possible to imagine the Conservatives allowing the situation to persist for 18 years? Would Mrs. Thatcher have accepted such a situation? She could not even accept that the Greater London council, carrying out its democratic mandate, should be allowed to continue. We all know what happened to the GLC, because it became a thorn in Mrs. Thatcher's side.

Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman seems to be confused. He said that the Parliament Act 1911 had to be used 20 months into this Government, but it did not. The last time that the Parliament Act had to be invoked was by a Conservative Government who were seeking to get their legislation past the House of Lords. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that most of the remarks he has just made are complete nonsense?

Mr. Steinberg: I am not confused. I may be wrong and I apologise to the House if I am, but I seem to remember that the Parliament Act was used recently, and I was here when the Parliament Act was used to get through the War Crimes Act 1991.

We do not want to remove the ability of the House of Lords to ask the Government to think again, and Labour will not have an overall majority.

The hereditary system is not only undemocratic: it is unrepresentative. I am sure that the statistics have been cited many times during our debates, but can anyone really argue that the hereditary peers are representative when 45 per cent. of them went to Eton; when, of the 635 sitting in the House of Lords, only 16 are women; when 42 per cent. had careers in the armed forces; when 60 per cent. claim land management and farming as their occupation; and when only two--a staggering 0.31 per cent--are from ethnic minorities? Is that truly representative of the people of this country? I am sure it is not.

Many attempts have been made to reform the House of Lords--in 1911, 1917, 1948 and 1967. In all those attempts, the hereditary principle was not felt to be credible or legitimate, but all of them failed because of the smokescreen put up about what should be put in its place. Now we have a Government who will not be put off. The Tories have argued that we should do nothing until we have a total package--and we have heard that argument again today. They realise that that approach is a tried and tested formula for doing nothing and safeguarding their built-in, gerrymandering majority, which will continue to thwart Governments--as long as they are not Tory Governments.

The fact that the Tories now argue that we should do this or that gives rise to the question of why they failed to tackle this unrepresentative and undemocratic body in their 18 years in Government. Eighteen years of inaction speak louder than the weasel words that we have heard from the Opposition in the past few weeks. The Conservatives used the hereditary peers to force through unpopular measures such as the poll tax and rail privatisation. They need only 37 per cent. of their peers to vote to defeat 100 per cent. of the Government's vote. No wonder they want to keep the hereditary peers.

The Tories do not want to remove hereditary peers from Parliament because their presence means that, whoever wins the general election, the Tories stay in power in one of the Houses of Parliament, while a Labour Government get through only the legislation that the Conservative hereditary peers allow.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): How many of the hon. Gentleman's constituents go to Scottish universities and are grateful to the other place for overturning Government legislation that would have charged £1,000 extra in fees to those of his constituents attending Scottish universities?

Mr. Steinberg: I have not got a clue. I will write to the hon. Gentleman--as the response goes.

The 1997 Conservative general election campaign guide said that the hereditary principle was

"An asset to Democracy. Hereditary peers bring colour, tradition, youth and a wealth of experience to Parliament. They are a link to the customs and traditions that formed and shaped this country . . . It is important to defend the hereditary principle in its own right."
The Conservative manifesto contained three lines on the subject, opposing our manifesto pledge. It said that the Tories
"would oppose change for change's sake".
That is hardly an indication of a commitment to democratic reform. If the Tories had won the general election, we would have had almost 25 years--a quarter of a century--of a Tory Government with no desire or willingness to reform the House of Lords.

The Tories' arguments have lacked any credibility. I was not surprised to learn that a recent poll found that 49 per cent. of Tory Members of Parliament did not want any change at all. Recent history has shown that the hereditary peerage is incapable of changing--and unwilling to change--to reflect the attitudes of society. The most recent proof of that was found in the results of the general election, when an estimated 5 million voters switched directly from the Tories to the new Labour Government. In addition, two Members of the Conservative party crossed the Floor to the Labour Benches. How many Tory peers said that they could not stand the stench of Tory sleaze, the little Englander mentality or the bankrupt policies of the Conservative party? None.

The Labour party gained more than 13.5 million votes in the election. With only 17 hereditary peers, Labour's representation in the House of Lords is some 797,000 votes to one hereditary peer. The Tories polled 5.9 million votes and have 300 hereditary peers, bringing their representation in another place to 32,000 votes to one hereditary peer That is hardly a fair reflection of electoral support.

Mr. Fraser: For the sake of clarification, would the hon. Gentleman tell us the source of the poll on Conservative voters to which he has referred, and who conducted it? I should be happy if he would write to me on that point.

Mr. Steinberg: I will write to the hon. Gentleman. The people would not stand for a House of Commons that had such an in-built bias. Why should we tolerate it in the House of Lords? The Government are determined to implement reform before the millennium to make sure that the principle of democracy--not birth, not privilege--should be our driving force. There will be wide-ranging consultation and debate. The argument that the timetable for that process is open-ended is spurious. The royal commission's terms of reference are explicit:

"Having regard to the need to maintain the position of the House of Commons as the pre-eminent Chamber of Parliament and taking particular account of the present nature of the constitutional settlement, including the newly devolved institutions, the impact of the Human Rights Act and developing relations with the European Union:

To consider and make recommendations on the role and functions of a second chamber: and

To make recommendations on the method or combination of methods of composition required to constitute the second Chamber fit for that role and those functions.

To report by 31 December 1999."

That is clear.

A tight timetable will enable the commission's recommendations to be completed in sufficient time for the Government to respond before the next general election. That shows the Government's resolve that there will be full reform of the second Chamber.

Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Steinberg: I will give way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman because he will make a sensible intervention.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I have listened carefully to his argument.

If the Bill is enacted in its present form, the House of Lords will be wholly nominated. Does he believe that that is democratic?

Mr. Steinberg: No, that will not be fully democratic, and I hope that once the commission has reported and the necessary consultations have taken place, there will be a democratic second Chamber. My own view is that it should be wholly elected. However, a transitional Chamber is better than what we have now.

It would be wrong at this stage to debate the pros and cons of the various options. There will be plenty of time for that in future. Whether the Chamber is directly elected, or constructed, perhaps, by having elected regional assemblies elect it on the basis of proportions of their political make-up, the most important point is that whatever the royal commission comes up with cannot be worse than the existing House of Lords. Whatever it is, it will be a damn sight better. I would go so far as to say that to have no second Chamber at all would be better than having our current system. I do not advocate scrapping the second Chamber, but it would be better than having the current House of Lords.

The House of Lords suffers a lack of credibility that makes the use of its powers almost impossible. On the occasions on which that power is used, it is deeply offensive in a democracy. Even a transitional House will be more representative, more balanced, more modern and fairer than the existing House of Lords.

There is no intention to change, reduce or emasculate the legislative powers of the House of Lords. It will still be able to act as a check on the Executive and on the House of Commons, asking both to think again. The most important point is that it will not be a biased, Conservative Chamber--a Chamber which has in the past been prepared to act as a check only on Labour legislation, and which has supported Conservative laws no matter how dreadful they have been.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Steinberg: No, I have given way enough, especially to you.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has not given way at all to me. He must use the correct parliamentary language.

Mr. Steinberg: I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. To be frank, the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) gets under my skin and makes me forget proper parliamentary language.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be the first holder of his office to reduce, voluntarily, his own powers of patronage. He will give up his current right to nominate life peers, retaining the ability to influence only nominations from his own party. The Conservatives have been happy to continue with a Chamber dominated by inheritance and by new Tory patronage.

The Government have a mandate to modernise, and we are modernising schools, hospitals, the criminal justice system, economic institutions and our welfare system.

Everything that I have said today has been said before in the past few weeks. It has also all been said before since 1911--on many, many occasions. The Bill leaves the Commons in the same shape in which it started. Now the Lords can have their say. It will be interesting to see whether they accept the will of the House of Commons and of the people. If they do not, they will show how out of touch they really are.

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Commons Hansard
16 March 1999

Schools (Exclusions)

Mr. Steinberg: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment how many (a) permanent and (b) temporary exclusions there have been over the last five years. [75023]

Mr. Charles Clarke: The following table shows the number of permanent exclusions from maintained schools in England for each of the school years for which information is available centrally. Data on permanent exclusions in 1997-98 are currently being collated and will be published later this year.
Permanent exclusions from maintained schools in England

YearNumber of permanent exclusions

The Department does not currently hold information on fixed period (temporary) exclusions. The Department plans to collect information about fixed period exclusions of more than five days from the end of the 1998-99 school year. This information will be used to set a baseline for a national target of a one-third reduction in fixed period exclusions by 2002.

The Government will be spending £493 million over the next three years on initiatives to reduce truancy and exclusions, including the provision of more on-site units in schools for disruptive pupils.

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Commons Hansard
15 March 1999

Depleted Uranium

Mr. Steinberg: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence
  1. what continuing research is in progress on depleted uranium under the medical assessment programme; [74718]
  2. for what reason testing for depleted uranium has been omitted from the overt list of standard tests carried out at the medical assessment programme; [74717]
  3. what tests for depleted uranium have been undertaken under the medical assessment programme; and what consent for such testing was sought from those tested. [74719]

Mr. Doug Henderson: The primary purpose of the Gulf veterans' Medical Assessment Programme (MAP) is to investigate the medical complaints of UK Gulf War veterans and, so far as possible, to diagnose what they are suffering from and recommend appropriate treatment, or provide reassurance if no illness is found.

When the MAP was first established in 1993, its first Head, Wing Commander (now Group Captain) Bill Coker, initially carried out those tests he felt necessary on clinical grounds to establish a diagnosis. When the number of patients referred to the MAP increased, he carried out a number of screening tests, similar to those then used by the US Department of Defense's Comprehensive Clinical Evaluation Programme (CCEP), which is broadly equivalent to the MAP. These screening tests did not include a test to detect the presence of uranium because Group Captain Coker had not previously seen any features in patients to indicate that such testing was clinically necessary. The US experience had suggested that the urinary excretion of uranium was only significantly increased in those veterans with retained fragments of depleted uranium (DU). As MOD was not aware of any UK Service personnel who had sustained shrapnel injuries from DU-based ammunition, it was not thought necessary to screen routinely for uranium excretion, although testing could be carried out on a case by case basis if clinically indicated. Any other tests considered clinically appropriate would also be performed, these additional tests varying from patient to patient. This system of investigation was in place at the time of the Royal College of Physicians' (RCP) clinical audit in 1995.

The RCP's subsequent report, published in July 1995, endorsed the MAP's professional independence and integrity and made specific comments on how the Programme could be improved. However, with the exception of a recommendation concerning psychiatric assessments, the RCP did not recommend any changes to the tests and examinations carried out by the MAP.

The baseline tests currently carried out on MAP patients by St. Thomas's Hospital on the MAP's behalf are very similar to those which were in place at the time of the RCP audit in 1995. They are as follows:

A management audit of the MAP has recently been conducted, looking at all aspects of patient care and the service provided by the Programme. A final report is in preparation and MOD expects to receive this shortly. We intend that this will be made public in due course. This work will then be followed by a clinical audit which will include a review of the range of tests and examinations currently undertaken at the MAP.

The tests listed are the baseline investigations at the MAP; additional investigations and/or referrals to other consultants/specialists are sometimes required for particular patients. As part of this, any tests which are considered clinically appropriate by the examining MAP physician, which could include those to detect the presence of uranium, are arranged. However, MAP physicians have not so far considered it clinically necessary to conduct tests on any MAP patients to detect the presence of uranium.

Contrary to some recent media reports, the MOD is not conducting testing in relation to the possible exposure of Gulf veterans to DU, secret or otherwise.

On 16 December 1998, Official Report, columns 520-22, I announced that I had asked my officials to collate the information which the Department possesses concerning mechanisms which could be used to test for the presence of uranium in the human body. I expect to publish the results of this work shortly and will make arrangements for copies to be placed in the Library of the House.

The MAP is not a research programme and it is not involved in any research concerning DU. Although the Ministry of Defence is funding a range of studies into aspects of Gulf veterans' illnesses, none of these are specifically aimed at investigating the relationship between possible exposure to DU and the illnesses being experienced by some Gulf veterans.

The Ministry of Defence is well aware that a link has been suggested between DU exposure and Gulf veterans' illnesses. However, this is only one of a number of factors which have been suggested as causes of Gulf veterans' illnesses and, pending further medical and scientific evidence, MOD is keeping an open mind on this issue. MOD would be very interested to see any new relevant information on this subject.

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Commons Hansard
15 March 1999

Retail Developments

Mr. Steinberg:To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will make money available to local authorities to help them to enable shopping centres in town and cities to compete equally with designated out-of-town shopping areas. [75277]

Mr. Raynsford: The Government's policy is to encourage retail development in the centre of towns and cities rather than at out of town locations. This was set out in our Response to the Select Committee report on Shopping Centres [Cmnd 3729], which also reaffirmed our commitment to Planning Policy Guidance note 6 (PPG6): Town Centres and Retail Developments. Through our funding of the Association of Town Centre Management and the Civic Trust, we have been assisting local authorities to promote town centre management by preparing and disseminating good practice.

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Commons Hansard
10 March 1999

Education Budgets

Mr. Steinberg: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what in the last five years for which information is available was the expenditure per pupil in full-time education in the (a) whole education budget, (b) general schools budget, (c) potential budget and (d) aggregate schools budget. [74977]

Ms Estelle Morris: The following table gives, for schools in England for the financial years 1994-95 to 1998-99 inclusive, the averages of the (a) General Schools Budget, (b) Potential Schools Budget and (c) Aggregated Schools Budget, per pupil. Information on the whole education budget, per pupil, is not held centrally.

LEA-Maintained schools in England

Average per pupil

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Commons Hansard
10 March 1999

IT Initiatives

Mr. Steinberg: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment how much money has been made available for information technology initiatives since May 1997 for (a) initial teacher training and (b) schools. [75021]

Mr. Charles Clarke: In respect of initial teacher training (ITT), the Teacher Training Agency has allocated just over £6 million for measures to improve the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) across the curriculum. This includes £1 million to support implementation of Qualified Teacher Status standards and the ITT National Curriculum for primary English and mathematics. During this period, support fr £666 million of ICT-related initiatives in schools in England has been announced as part of a £1 billion programme to implement the National Grid for Learning.

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Commons Hansard
10 March 1999

Higher Education 

Mr. Steinberg: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what was the amount of funding per student in higher education in Durham in the last five years. [74976]

Mr. Mudie: The following tables show, for each of the last five years, public funding per student at the University of Durham from recurrent grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and tuition fees paid from public funds.

Consistent data for the five years concerned are not available. For the years 1994-95 to 1996-97, the figures are based on data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and the unit of funding is in respect of full-time undergraduate and postgraduate students combined. For 1997-98 to 1998-99, the figures are based on data from the HEFCE and the unit of funding is in respect of full-time undergraduate students.

Table 1

Academic yearPublic funds (1) (£ million)Students (2) (Thousand)Funding per student (£)

(1) HESA 'Resources of Higher Education Institutions', published in June 1996, June 1997 and May 1998
(2) HESA 'Students in Higher Education Institution', published May 1996, July 1997 and June 1998

Table 2

Academic yearPublic funds (3) (£ million)Students (4) (Thousand)Funding per student (£)

(3) HEFCE recurrent funding circulars in February 1997 and March 1998
(4) Student numbers are those within the University's maximum aggregate student number (MaSN)--predominantly full-time undergraduate students

Mr. Steinberg: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment how many mature students entered higher education in Durham in each year since 1995. [74978]

Mr. Mudie: The information is given in the following table.

Mature (5) entrants to higher education courses at the
University of Durham

YearMature entrants (6)

(5) Mature students are defined as postgraduates aged 25 and over and undergraduates aged 21 and over.
(6) The numbers are census counts of enrolments, as at 1 December, onto the first year of both full-time and part-time undergraduate and postgraduate HE courses.
Note:Provisional higher education entrant figures for 1998-99 will be available in April 1999

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Commons Hansard
10 March 1999

Smoking-related Diseases

Mr. Steinberg: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what estimate he has made of the number of people who suffered from smoking-related diseases in each of the last five years. [75459]

Ms Jowell: The latest figures available in "The UK Smoking Epidemic: Deaths in 1995", by the Health Education Authority, estimate that at least 121,000 people died as a result of their smoking in United Kingdom in 1995. Comparable figures are not available for earlier years.

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Commons Hansard
10 March 1999

No-smoking Areas

Mr. Steinberg: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will take steps to impose a legal duty on restaurants to provide non-smoking areas. [75458]

Ms Jowell: No. We gave careful thought to the legislative option, but concluded that voluntary commitments by the industry were more likely to be implemented effectively and with public support. The White Paper "Smoking Kills" includes a new charter on smoking in public places, agreed by the hospitality industry. The results will be monitored and we will consider the need for any further action in the light of progress.

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Commons Hansard
10 March 1999

British Gulf War veterans

Mr. Steinberg: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to introduce testing for British Gulf War veterans using protocols recommended by Dr. Asaf Durakovic; [74716] what discussions his Department has held with Dr. Asaf Durakovic; and if he will make a statement. [74715]

Mr. Doug Henderson: Dr. Asaf Durakovic is Clinical Professor of Nuclear Medicine at Georgetown University, Washington DC. He discussed his current work in general terms with MOD officials at a meeting last month, when he explained that, in conjunction with others, he is carrying out a study into uranium levels amongst veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf conflict, in which a small number of UK Gulf veterans are participating. Our understanding is that Dr. Durakovic and his colleagues plan to publish their findings later this year: hence we look forward to seeing full details of the methodology they are using and the results obtained in due course.
MOD continues to advise UK Gulf veterans who are concerned that their health has been adversely affected by service during the Gulf conflict, including by possible exposure to depleted uranium (DU), that they are entitled to seek a referral to the Gulf veterans' Medical Assessment Programme (MAP) for a full medical assessment. Any tests which are considered clinically appropriate by the examining MAP physician, including those to detect the presence of uranium, will be arranged.

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Commons Hansard
25 January 1999

Private Beds in NHS hospitals

Mr. Steinberg: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will estimate the proportion of all private beds in use at any specific time. [66389]

Ms Jowell: In 1996-97, the latest figures for which information is available, 50.4 per cent. of beds in private hospitals and clinics in England registered under Section 23 of the Registered Homes Act 1984 were occupied at the time of inspection. Information on occupancy of private beds in National Health Service hospitals is not collected centrally.

Mr. Steinberg: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many (a) private hospitals there are in England and Wales, (b) private beds there are in these hospitals and (c) private beds there are in NHS hospitals in England and Wales. [66388]

Ms Jowell: At 31 March 1998 there were 396 private hospitals and clinics in England with a total of 11,089 registered beds. Information on the number of private beds in NHS hospitals is not currently collected centrally.

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Reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO