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1995 - PMQT Written Answers 24th April 1995

Below is the text of the written answers relating to Prime Minister's Question Time from 24th April 1995.


PRIME MINISTER:

Lockerbie

Mr. Dalyell: To ask the Prime Minister, pursuant to his answer of 28 March, Official Report, columns 545-46, and to his letter to the hon. Member for Linlithgow of 10 April, what response he has had from the United States authorities as to the authenticity or otherwise of a signal, a copy of which was sent to him and to the US embassy in London, by the hon. Member for Linlithgow, purporting to be a threat to the life of Major Charles McKee, who died over Lockerbie by the agencies of the United States Government.

The Prime Minister: The United States authorities' examination of the document concerned is continuing. They have not yet been able to establish its authenticity.


Nursery Places

Mr. Corbyn: To ask the Prime Minister what are the total number of workplace nursery places provided by each Government Department; and what plans there are to increase this provision.

The Prime Minister: Information on individual Departments and agencies' number of workplace nursery places is not collected centrally in the form requested. However, as detailed in the childcare bulletin, to be published by the Cabinet Office later this month, 39 Departments, agencies and non-departmental public bodies are currently involved in 71 workplace nurseries, in which there are over 1,800 places. Copies of the bulletin will be placed in the Library of the House.

It is for Departments and agencies to decide whether to increase their childcare provision in the light of their own circumstances, provided they can justify this in value-for-money terms and contain costs within their existing budgets. I am aware of plans for two further workplace nurseries--in Falkirk, 30 places, and in York, 33 places.


VE Day (Poland)

Mr. Mackinlay: To ask the Prime Minister what representations have been made to Her Majesty's Government alleging disparity of treatment between Poland and other allied countries in respect of Poland's exclusion from the principal allies Heads of States and Heads of Governments visits to allied countries in and around the days of commemorating victory in Europe; and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister: We have had no such representations. Her Majesty's Government invited the Polish Head of State, President Walsea, to attend the United Kingdom's VE day commemorations. The Polish Foreign Minister, Wladyslaw Barotszewski, will attend as his representative. It is for other countries to decide who to invite to their commemorations.


Kashmir

Mr. Cox: To ask the Prime Minister if he will state the policy of his Government on the existing United Nations resolutions on Kashmir; and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister: Britain supported, and both India and Pakistan agreed, the United Nations resolutions of 1948 and 1949, which provided the basis of a possible solution of the Kashmir disputes. Neither side fully implemented those resolutions which have, to some extent, been overtaken by events. The 1972 Simla agreement represents the most recent formal agreement between India and Pakistan on the handling of the dispute. It envisages settlement through bilateral negotiations or other peaceful means mutually agreed between them. We believe this to be the best way forward.


Mahogany

Mr. Matthew Taylor: To ask the Prime Minister how many metres of mahogany or products containing it his Department has bought in the last five years; and if he will list the purpose and the costs.

The Prime Minister [holding answer 19 April 1995]: None.


Security Vetting

Mr. Cohen: To ask the Prime Minister, pursuant to his answer of 15 December 1994 on security vetting, Official Report, column 764, where civil servants who undergo vetting are informed as to why they have been refused security clearance; whether they are given an opportunity to contest the accuracy of information held against them; whether they are informed of any appeals process; and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister: Under the security vetting system introduced on 1 January 1995, civil servants in post must always be informed of the outcome of their vetting. An individual who is refused security clearance will be informed of the reasons for this. In a small number of exceptional cases, considerations of national security and maintaining the confidential nature of the information provided by referees may limit disclosure. If a clearance has been denied on the grounds of criminal convictions, or as a result of financial inquiries, the individual will be shown the information on which the decision was based and will have the opportunity to correct any inaccuracies. Under the grievance procedures provided for in the civil service management code, it is open to civil servants to appeal against any management decisions which affect them adversely, including vetting decisions.

Mr. Cohen: To ask the Prime Minister, pursuant to his answer of 15 December 1994 on security vetting, Official Report, column 764, if he will outline the safeguards he has put in place to protect those who are vetted; and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister: All candidates for security vetting are asked to complete a security questionnaire which explains the purpose of the procedure and invites them to provide the personal details required for the necessary checks to be carried out. Only the checks listed in my statement to the House of 15 December 1994 are carried out. All information given for the purpose of the vetting process is treated in confidence and protected accordingly.

Mr. Cohen: To ask the Prime Minister, pursuant to his answer of 15 December 1994 on security vetting, Official Report, column 764, to what extent the basic check involves the use of criminal records and criminal intelligence to ensure that potential recruits are reliable and trustworthy; whether contractors, needing to carry out basic checks, will be able to access information from police sources to access whether potential recruits are reliable and trustworthy; and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister: The basic check is designed to assure Departments that potential recruits are reliable and trustworthy primarily through the verification of identity, the taking up of character references and self-declaration of unspent criminal convictions. In some exceptional cases, however, it may be decided, with Cabinet Office--Office of Public Service and Science approval, that additional checks are necessary. This may involve a check against the national collection of criminal records. Contractors are not able to access these records and the department or agency placing the contract conducts this part of the check.


Advisers

Ms Eagle: To ask the Prime Minister how many advisers his department employs broken down to show (a) political advisers and (b) economic advisers; at what grade and salary they are employed; and what are their minimum working hours in each case.

The Prime Minister: My Department employs seven political advisers. Their salaries and conditions of work are negotiated individually in relation to their previous earnings and are confidential. My department employs no professional economists; economic advice is obtained from career civil servants, who may be employed on a variety of working patterns.


Acceptance of Gifts

Mr. Alton: To ask the Prime Minister if the Government have been approached during the last 15 years for advice on the suitability of accepting any financial gift, payment or commission by a Minister, a relative of a Minister, an hon. Member or a relative of an hon. Member.

The Prime Minister [holding answer 18 April 1995]: Advice to Ministers on the acceptance of gifts by themselves or by members of their families is contained in "Questions of Procedure for Ministers". Advice on specific cases sought by and given to individuals is private.

Hon. Members are guided in these matters by the rules of the House.


Ministers (Car Hire)

Mr. Matthew Taylor: To ask the Prime Minister, pursuant to his answer of 5 April, Official Report, column 1131, if he will publish the rules governing the use by members of the Government of private hire cars at public expense.

The Prime Minister [holding answer 21 April 1995]: I have nothing to add to the answer given on 5 April. There are no rules governing the use of private hire cars.


Allowances

Mr. David Shaw: To ask the Prime Minister (1) if he will list the total amount paid by his central Department and each agency for which he is responsible in subsistence allowances for travel (a) within the United Kingdom and (b) outside the United Kingdom in each of the last three years;

(2) if he will list for each agency and the central Department for which he is responsible (a) the total amount of removal costs and associated expenses reimbursed to officials who were required to relocate as part of their employment, (b) the amount of each of the highest three claims that were concluded and settled and (c) the average amount of each claim in each of the last three years;

(3) if he will list for each agency and the central Department for which he is responsible (a) the total hours of overtime worked for which payment has been made, (b) the total amount paid in overtime and (c) the total time in days and its monetary equivalent lost through sickness in each of the last three years.

The Prime Minister: For this purpose, my office is part of the Cabinet Office. I refer the hon. Member to the reply given by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service and Science on 20 April, Official Report, columns 258-61.


Correspondence

Mr. McMaster: To ask the Prime Minister what is the target time that each Government Department aims to take in replying to letters from right hon. and hon. Members and if he will give the reasons for variations; and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister: I refer the hon. Member to the reply given by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service and Science, to the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover) on 18 April, Official Report, columns 21-24.

The nature of correspondence varies greatly between Departments. In some Departments, for example, a high proportion of correspondence requires reference to individual casework before a reply can be sent. Targets are set to reflect the particular circumstances of Departments and consequently target times may differ.


Departmental Report

Mr. Matthew Taylor: To ask the Prime Minister (1) what measures the Department takes to assess the cost and staff implications of compiling material for the departmental annual report;

(2) how much staff time, and at what estimated cost, was put into compiling the departmental annual report; and what the figures were for each year for which figures are available since 1990.

The Prime Minister: For this purpose, my office is part of the Cabinet Office. I refer the hon. Member to the reply given by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service and Science on 21 April, Official Report, column 290.