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Written Statements

Volume 405: debated on Tuesday 13 May 2003

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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 13 May 2003

Deputy Prime Minister

Homeless Households

The Minister for Social Exclusion and Deputy Minister for Women
(Mrs. Barbara Roche)

I am today issuing a consultation paper on temporary accommodation for homeless households. The consultation paper sets out and invites comments on proposals to:

Strengthen existing homelessness legislation such that placing homeless families with children in B&B hotels for longer than six weeks will not be permitted;
Issue statutory guidance to clarify existing minimum standards for all temporary accommodation used by housing authorities to accommodate homeless families and individuals under the legislation;
Issue statutory guidance on additional standards that should apply to B&B hotels where this is used by housing authorities to accommodate families with children for less than six weeks, or other households and individuals for any length of time, under the legislation; and
Issue statutory guidance on the arrangements that should be put in place to ensure that all households placed in temporary accommodation by housing authorities under the legislation receive support to ensure that their health, education and social services needs are met.
Responses to the consultation are invited by 5 August 2003. A copy of the consultation paper has been placed in the Library of the House.

Health

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome

I should like to provide an update to the statement on severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) given on 28 April 2003, Official Report, columns 38–52 by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.World wide reported cases total 7,296 as at 10 May, with 526 deaths. The situation in Toronto is now such that Canada has been removed from the World Health Organisation and UK travel advisories. However, the WHO has now extended its travel advice to cover Tianjin, Inner Mongolia Province and Taipei. The UK followed suit and amended its advice for UK travellers on 8 May.The UK total of "probable" cases now stands at four. This figure includes one case diagnosed retrospectively from March as a result of a review of the clinical findings. At the same time, other cases have been removed following confirmation of alternative diagnoses. The last case in the UK was admitted to hospital on 10 April, and all those diagnosed as probable cases have now recovered.

The UK has now been removed from the World Health Organisation's list of "affected countries". We were listed as a result of our last case having acquired the illness in London following a face-to-face meeting with a Hong Kong business man who was passing through, and who was diagnosed with SARS on his return to Hong Kong. There have been no other cases associated with this incident.

My right hon. Friend outlined a five point plan of further action following advice from the Chief Medical Officer. Progress on implementing these is as follows:

First, a letter went to all Chief Executives of National Health Service and primary care trusts on 29 April, reminding them of the action they need to take in their own organisations as a precaution in case of further possible cases presenting to the NHS. This included advice on health care workers recruited to the NHS from SARS affected areas. A summary of this letter has gone to all general practitioners.

Secondly, observers have been to Hong Kong and Singapore to look at their exit health screening procedures in relation to the guidance issued by the World Health Organisation. Plans are in train to send a further observer to Beijing, this time in association with the WHO.

Thirdly, we have secured agreement with UK carriers and Air China on the distribution of information to passengers leaving SARS affected areas, and are continuing to take this work forward with the other non-UK carriers.

Fourthly, a letter has been sent, incorporating relevant parts of the Aircraft Regulations, to remind airlines of the laws which apply to them. This includes in particular their obligations to provide an aircraft declaration of health when a plane arrives in this country should the medical officer require it; and for the commander of an aircraft to report details of an individual suffering from an infectious disease (or with symptoms which may indicate the presence of an infectious disease) before arrival at destination.

And fifthly, the Department of Health is taking forward the proposal for a meeting of Ministers alongside the World Health Assembly later this month. In the meantime a special European Health Council met last week at which the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), led the UK delegation. The Council agreed draft conclusions. It endorsed the measures taken so far and set out actions to strengthen European preparedness. The Council will review the situation at its meeting on 2 June.

Defence

Defence Analytical Services Agency

The Business Review of the Defence Analytical Services Agency (DASA) has been completed. Having consulted widely with customers and other stakeholders the Review concluded that DASA is delivering a good service to its existing customers, but that it needs to have more impact on central policy-making. It recommended DASA embed itself with central policy making staff when the Ministry of Defence Headquarters moves back into the refurbished main building. It also concluded that the currently configured owners advisory board does not provide sufficiently focused strategic direction to the agency, nor is the expertise of the non-executive directors being fully realised. It recommended that the advisory board be reformed.The review also recommended that DASA merge with some other analytical organisations in MOD, and that its corporate HQ move to Bath.Finally, the Review recommended that DASA retain Agency status, but this should be reviewed once the benefits to be accrued from site rationalisation and internal restructuring have been realised.I have endorsed these recommendations, and action is now in hand to give them effect as soon as possible. The new DASA advisory board is planned to come into existence in summer 2003. A copy of the business review report has been placed in the Library of the House.

Work And Pensions

Appointment Of Chief Executive, Jobcentre Plus

I am pleased to announce that the Prime Minister has approved the appointment of David Anderson as Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus, part of the Department for Work and Pensions. David is currently Chief Executive of the Yorkshire Building Society and will take up post on 2 June.

Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

Occupied Territories

I am deeply shocked that three British nationals have been shot in the Occupied Territories in recent months. Since the shooting of lain Hook by the Israel Defence Forces on 22 November 2002, Thomas Hurndall was seriously injured on 11 April and James Miller was killed on 2 May. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the victims.I welcome the co-operation the Israeli Government have provided in investigating the death of Mr. Hook. I hope for similar co-operation into the incidents involving Mr. Hurndall and Mr. Miller also. I have asked the Israeli Government for full and transparent investigations into these incidents.I am deeply concerned about the number of incidents in which civilians, both Palestinian and foreign, have been killed or injured as a result of encounters with the Israel Defence Forces. I have urged the Israeli Government to take steps to revise their tactics in the Occupied Territories in order to reduce the likelihood of such incidents happening again.