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Written Statements

Volume 408: debated on Friday 11 July 2003

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Written Ministerial Statements

Friday 11 July 2003

Home Department

Criminal Records Bureau

The Government, in their response on 27 February 2003 to the Independent Review Team's recommendations for changes to the way in which the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) is managed and operates, Official Report, columns 32–36WS, agreed that the CRB should be reconstituted as a free-standing Executive Agency within the Home Office as soon as practicable.Vince Gaskell has been appointed to lead the new Agency which will be launched on 1 September. I have today placed in the Library of the House a copy of its Framework document which sets out its role and functions and makes provision for its governance. A copy of its corporate and business plan including the targets set for the current financial year was placed in the Library of the House on 5 June.Much has been done to strengthen and improve the CRB's performance and significant improvements in output volume and turnaround times have already been achieved. Since October the CRB has been issuing an average of 40,000 Disclosures a week compared with 24,500 a week last August and the Bureau is now meeting its service standards for turnaround times. Once the provisions in the Criminal Justice Bill to implement a number of the Independent Review Team's recommendations are in force, further improvements can be made to the efficiency and effectiveness of the CRB's services. We will consult further with registered bodies and others on the terms of the regulations to be made under the legislation before they are brought into force.The establishment of the CRB as a separate Agency will enable its senior management team under the leadership of Vince Gaskell to focus exclusively on the delivery of the CRB's changing and increasingly demanding functions and ensure that its customers receive the quality of service they have the right to expect.

Environment, Food And Rural Affairs

Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
(Mr. Ben Bradshaw)

A Progress Report on Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies in Great Britain was placed in the Library of the House yesterday.

The Report explains primarily how we have managed BSE during the period 1 July-31 December 2002. The encouraging reduction in BSE in cattle continues. This shows that the controls, which have been put in place, are continuing to have an important effect.

The Report explains the background to the lifting of the French ban on imports of Date Based Export Scheme beef; it also outlines the progress of the TSE surveillance programme and the review of the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC). It covers issues bearing on European matters and the TSE research programme. It also sets out progress on the National Scrapie Plan and the results of enforcement visits to ensure compliance with the rules on specified risk material and animal feed. The report is being published on DEFRA's website at: http://www.defra.gov. uk/animalh/bse/index.html

Gm Crops

The Strategy Unit's report, "Field Work: Weighing up the Costs and Benefits of GM crops", is being published today as a report to Government. The report sets out the Strategy Unit's analysis of the overall costs and benefits of commercial cultivation—or non-cultivation—of GM crops in the UK. It looks at crops that are currently available and at possible developments over the next 10–15 years.I commissioned the Strategy Unit project as one of three strands of work on GM, along with the Science Review and the public debate "GM Nation?" The report does not contain specific recommendations for Government. But, along with any responses to it and the outcomes of the other two strands, it will inform Government decision-making and policy on GM crops and foods—on which my Department leads.The Strategy Unit's central conclusions are that:

existing GM crops could offer some cost and convenience advantages to UK farmers;
however, any economic benefit to the UK is likely to be limited, at least in the short-term—only a narrow range of existing GM crops are currently suited to UK conditions, and weak consumer demand is likely to limit take-up;
looking to the longer term, future developments in GM crops have the potential to offer more wide-ranging benefits, to farmers and to consumers—possibilities include GM crops with agronomic benefits more suited to the UK; GM crops delivering direct health benefits (e.g. delivering foods with reduced allergenicity or added nutrients); or non-food GM crops used as a source of pharmaceutical and vaccines;
however, the overall balance of future costs and benefits will depend on public attitudes, and on the ability of the regulatory system to manage uncertainties.

The Strategy Unit has invited comments on the report by 17 October 2003. Comments will be published on the Strategy Unit website and passed to my Department.

Copies of the report have been placed in the Vote Office and the Libraries.

Education And Skills

Teenage Pregnancy

The Independent Advisory Group on Teenage Pregnancy has published its second annual report today, 11 July 2003.This is a very thorough report which builds on the Group's first annual report. We commend the Independent Advisory Group for the valuable contribution it has made since it was formed. We welcome the Advisory Group's acknowledgement of the significant progress made to date across Government on implementing our Teenage Pregnancy Strategy. We recognise that the Strategy's goals can only be achieved by sustaining the commitment and energy we have demonstrated so far. The report contains eight recommendations on potential areas for further action. Each recommendation will receive our full and careful consideration and a detailed Government response will be published by December 2003.A copy of the Independent Advisory Group's second annual report has been placed in the House of Commons Library.

Deputy Prime Minister

Home Loss Payments

Following the consultation exercise which concluded on 6 January, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister will today lay Regulations to update the Home Loss Payment thresholds in section 30 of the Land Compensation Act 1973 (as amended). Home loss payments are paid at a rate of 10 per cent. of the market value to owner-occupiers who are displaced from their homes as a result of compulsory purchase or certain housing orders. These are subject to maximum and minimum payments. Tenants receive a flat rate equal to the minimum payment to owner-occupiers.With effect from 1 September 2003, the maximum payment to owner-occupiers displaced from their home will be increased from £15,000 to £31,000 and the minimum payment will be increased from £1,500 to £3,100. The flat rate will be increased from £1,500 to £3,100.The period of about two months between laying the Regulations and commencement will give acquiring authorities reasonable notice to revise their budgets for compensation. This is similar to the two months notice that was given the last time home loss payments were amended in 1991. The existing provisions were commenced two months after Royal Assent was given to the Planning and Compensation Act 1991, which amended the Land Compensation Act 1973.

Treasury

Tax Benefit Reference Manual

The 2003–04 edition of the Tax Benefit Reference Manual has been published today.Copies are available in the Library of the House.

Constitutional Affairs

Draft Gender Recognition Bill

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs
(Mr. David Lammy)

The Government are today publishing, as Cm 5875, a draft Gender Recognition Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny by the Joint Committee on Human Rights which will be introduced to Parliament as soon as parliamentary time allows. The draft Bill follows the ministerial statement on 13 December 2002, announcing the Government's commitment to legislate to allow transsexual people who have taken decisive steps to live fully and permanently in the acquired gender to gain legal recognition in that gender.The legislation demonstrates that this Government are committed to understanding and recognising the needs and aspirations of those members of society who are in a minority; committed to securing their rights and committed to their social and legal inclusion. I hope that transsexual people can now look forward with optimism to the enjoyment of those rights, responsibilities and protections previously unavailable to them in their acquired gender.Transsexual people, some of whom may have lived in their acquired gender for many years, are not treated as being of that gender in law. They do not have access to any of the rights or responsibilities confined to people of that gender. They are not able to change their birth certificates. They live in a state of limbo, between the gender in which they are living and the gender in which they were born; because that is how the law defines them. The Bill will mean that transsexual people will for the first time be afforded all the rights and responsibilities appropriate to that gender. It is fundamental to an inclusive society that individuals and groups be given the rights to which they are legitimately entitled and wherever possible be allowed to live their lives as they determine. The Bill will give transsexual people the right, from the date of recognition, to marry in their acquired gender and be given birth certificates that recognise the acquired gender. Transsexual people will be able to obtain benefits and State Pension just like anyone else of that gender.The Gender Recognition Bill will establish a Gender Recognition Panel with the power to decide applications from transsexual people seeking legal recognition in their acquired gender. Transsexual people who seek legal recognition will have to provide evidence supporting their applications in accordance with prescribed legal and medical criteria. Legal recognition will follow from the issue of a gender recognition certificate by the Gender Recognition Panel. Before issuing a certificate, the Panel must be satisfied that the applicant has been diagnosed as having the medical condition gender dysphoria; has lived in the acquired gender throughout the preceding two years and intends to continue to live in the acquired gender.It is fitting that it is the anniversary of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in Goodwin v UK and I v UK. The European Court found the UK to be in breach of its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights to respect a person's privacy and family life and a person's right to marry. Under this Bill, the UK will meet its commitment to implement those rulings and to deliver its obligation to give transsexual people their Convention rights.Provision will need to be made across the United Kingdom to comply with the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. The Bill as drafted covers England and Wales. Agreement has been gained with the Northern Ireland Office for provisions covering Northern Ireland to be added before the Bill begins its passage through Parliament, in the absence of restoration of the devolved institutions. The Scottish Executive wishes to comply at the earliest opportunity with the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights and to achieve an integrated solution that avoids cross-border anomalies. Accordingly, the Executive intends to invite the Scottish Parliament to approve a Sewel motion which will enable devolved as well as reserved aspects to be dealt with in the one Westminster Bill.The Government look forward to receiving the report of the Joint Committee and I encourage people to submit evidence to the Committee as it conducts pre-legislative scrutiny. The draft Bill, together with Explanatory Notes, has been published as a command paper. It is available via the website of the Department for Constitutional Affairs.Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Health

Annual Report

The Department of Health's annual report for 2003, Cm 5904, has been published today. Copies have been placed in the Library.

Northern Ireland

Human Rights Commission

I have today laid before Parliament the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission's fourth Annual Report.