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1993 - PMQT Written Answers 17th December 1993

Below is the text of the written answers relating to Prime Minister's Question Time from 17th December 1993.


PRIME MINISTER:

Policy Objectives

Mr. Tracey : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list the policy objectives of the Government which have been fulfilled since the general election of 1992.

The Prime Minister : Among the more important objectives fulfilled since the last general election have been getting inflation down and keeping it down so that it now stands at 1.4 per cent., the lowest level for 26 years; the continuing fall in unemployment, for the eighth month running this year; the achievement of a successful GATT deal which will benefit industry and consumers alike; the continuing rise in retail sales and manufacturing output; reforms of the education system to provide children with a better education and a wider choice of qualifications and parents with more information; an intensified fight against crime; the continuing progress with the citizens charter, with resulting improvements in public services; and further progress with NHS reforms and an increase in the number of patients treated.


Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant

Mr. Llew Smith : To ask the Prime Minister when he received a copy of the letter signed by members of the United States Congress, the Japanese Diet and right hon. and hon. Members appealing for a public inquiry on and review of the thermal oxide reprocessing plant at Sellafield.

The Prime Minister : A copy of the letter was received in my office on Monday 13 December and has now been passed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment for consideration.


Regional and Urban Policy

Mr. Stern : To ask the Prime Minister if he will detail the duties of sponsor Ministers in relation to regional and urban policy.

The Prime Minister : The duties of sponsor Ministers in relation to regional and urban policy are set out in a note placed in the Library of the House by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment on 4 November, Official Report, columns 515-24, when he announced the package of urban and regional policy measures. A copy of that note has been sent to my hon. Friend. In carrying out their duties, sponsor Ministers will liaise as necessary with hon. Members.


Scott Inquiry

Mr. Llew Smith : To ask the Prime Minister what is his policy towards the correction of answers given to Parliament where civil servants responsible for drafting, or Ministers or former Ministers have told the Scott inquiry that they were inaccurate.

The Prime Minister : Lord Justice Scott's inquiry is still in progress : his conclusions will be published in the inquiry's report. The Government will respond to the report when it is published and hon. Members will then be able to table questions on the report and on the Government's response.

Mr. Llew Smith : To ask the Prime Minister what contact, either by written communication or telephone or telefax, his office has had with Mr. Frank Machon of Glasgow in regard to matters raised at the Scott inquiry.

The Prime Minister : Mr. Machon wrote to my office once during 1991, and once in 1992. In addition, the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) wrote on three occasions on Mr. Machon's behalf during 1992.


Ex-Ministers

Mr. Matthew Taylor : To ask the Prime Minister, pursuant to this answer of 7 December, Official Report, column 143, if he will name (a) the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office who received a severance payment on 14 April 1992 (b) the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office who received a severance payment on 27 April 1992.

The Prime Minister : Lord Belstead's appointment as Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, ceased on 14 April 1992. On 27 April, Lord Cavendish resigned as a Lord in Waiting, but was erroneously referred to as Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office.


EC Directives

Sir Teddy Taylor : To ask the Prime Minister pursuant to his oral statement of 13 December, Official Report, column 686, if he will publish a list of the 17 directives which the European Council agreed should be repealed, withdrawn or amended.

The Prime Minister : The 17 directives are listed in an annexe to the Commission's report on subsidiarity, which has been made available to the House. The Brussels European Council on 10 and 11 December called for early action to put the report into effect.


Home and Justice Affairs

Mr. Spearing : To ask the Prime Minister what matters were agreed in principle at the European Council in Brussels on 10 to 11 December concerning home and justice affairs; when such matters were debated in the House, or any of its Standing Committees; and when he expects publication of conventions of the European Union incorporating these matters.

The Prime Minister : The European Council expressed its determination to use the new provisions of the Maastricht treaty on co-operation in the field of justice and home affairs to the full. It noted the work which had already been done in these areas and approved the action plan prepared by the Interior and Justice Council, in particular in relation to a number of specific areas. The Government followed the practice adopted for the former immigration/Trevi ministerial meetings and deposited in the Library of the House documents approved by the Interior and Justice Council on 29 and 30 November. The action plan and work programmes sent to the European Council have now also been placed in the Library. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department has made proposals for future parliamentary oversight of title VI work, which will include sending to Parliament important documents before they go to the Council. We look forward to the House's reaction to these proposals and to putting an effective scrutiny procedure in place. Any conventions that are found to be necessary to achieve the aims of the interior and justice programme of work will be dealt with in accordance with this procedure.


Correspondence

Mr. Meacher : To ask the Prime Minister what proportion of correspondence received by (a) his office and (b) each of his office's agencies receives (i) an acknowledgement within five days and (ii) a substantive reply within 15 days.

The Prime Minister : My office aims to acknowledge correspondence within five days and provide a substantive reply within 15 days.


South Africa

Mr. Winnick : To ask the Prime Minister if it is Her Majesty's Government's policy to encourage South Africa under a majority Government to join the Commonwealth.

The Prime Minister : While it will be for the new democratically elected Government in South Africa to decide on whether it should seek to return to the Commonwealth, Her Majesty's Government and their Commonwealth partners look forward to welcoming a non-racial and democratic South Africa back into the association at the earliest opportunity.


Civil Servants

Mr. Steinberg : To ask the Prime Minister what Civil Service rules or guidelines exist in relation to contact between civil servants and hon. Members and their personal staff; whether there have been any recent changes to any such rules or guidelines; and if he will place copies of any such rules or guidelines in the Library.

The Prime Minister : There have been no recent changes in guidelines concerning briefing of MPs by civil servants.

It is an established principle that civil servants should not engage in activities likely to call into question their political impartiality, or to give rise to criticism that people paid from public funds are being used for party political purposes. Accordingly, the following rules apply :

(a) civil servants in their official capacity are prohibited from attending conferences arranged by political parties;

(b) they may not attend meetings of policy or subject groups of the parliamentary parties;

(c) they may not attend all-party subject groups or committees except to accompany a Minister and to respond to factual questions;

(d) these rules need not inhibit factual briefing by officials of MPs on overseas or regional visits;

(e) Ministers may also arrange factual briefings by officials, for MPs of one party provided that a Minister attends the meeting and similar facilities are offered to MPs of other parties;

(f) Ministers should always be present when MPs are to discuss sensitive areas of public policy with officials.

Written briefing material provided by officials to Ministers may be distributed to Back-Bench Members provided that it would be released to any bon fide inquirer and that hon. Members of all parties may have access to it.

The rules do not prevent agency chief executives and managers of local offices, with the Minister's approval, from communicating with hon. Members about problems of individual constituents.

The convention governing pre-election contacts between senior civil servants and Opposition leaders was set out in my reply to a written question by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) on 27 November 1991, at column 527.


Post Office Privatisation

Mr. Gordon Prentice : To ask the Prime Minister when he received the report from the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) on the privatisation of the Post Office; and if he has now completed his consideration of it.

The Prime Minister : I have received a number of papers from colleagues at the Department of Trade and Industry arising from the review of the structure and organisation of the Post Office, both before and since the departure from the Government of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle. No decisions on the outcome of the review have been taken.


Northern Ireland

Mr. Marlow : To ask the Prime Minister if he will set out his views on the union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The Prime Minister : I support it and will uphold it for so long as it remains the democratic wish of a greater number of the people in Northern Ireland.


Subsidiarity

Sir Teddy Taylor : To ask the Prime Minister if he will publish the European Commission's lists of (a) proposals which fail the subsidiarity test and will be dropped or changed and (b) Community laws which the Commission believes must be simplified or abolished, to which he referred in his oral statement of 14 December 1992, Official Report, column 24, on the European Council at Edinburgh; and what progress has been made in the past year on each of those directives.

The Prime Minister : The lists referred to by my hon. Friend were included as an annexe to the conclusions of the Edinburgh European Council, copies of which were made available to the House. Details of progress are contained in the Commission's report on subsidiarity, which has been made available to the House.