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Written Statements

Volume 447: debated on Thursday 22 June 2006

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 22 June 2006

Cabinet Office

Central Office of Information

I have set the Central Office of Information the following targets for 2006-07.

Financial:

To break even, taking one year with another.

Efficiency:

To achieve a 2.5 per cent. reduction in the unit costs of output.

Quality:

Customer satisfaction index score of 8.25 (out of 10)

96 per cent. scores of 6 or more

62 per cent. response rate.

Constitutional Affairs

Parentage Tests

The Department for Constitutional Affairs is responsible for maintaining a list of accredited bodies able to carry out court-directed scientific tests for parentage in accordance with a direction made by a court pursuant to section 20 of the Family Law Reform Act 1969. This list is a procedural device to allow the court to identify a tester in cases where the court makes a section 20 direction.

As a result of a recent review of the procedures associated with adding bodies to the list, a revised list of criteria for accreditation has now been agreed. The criteria are:

Applicants must make a written application on a form supplied by the Department;

Applicants must produce evidence of current accreditation to ISO/IEC 17025 (an international laboratory standard concerning measurement and testing) by an accreditation body which complies with the requirements of ISO/IEC 17011 evidenced by full membership of the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC);

Applicants must give an undertaking to: comply with the Department of Health's code of practice and guidance on genetic paternity testing services (or any revised version thereof) when carrying out court-directed tests under section 20 of the Family Law Reform Act 1969; comply with the Blood Tests (Evidence of Paternity) Regulations 1971 (as amended), or any revised version thereof; and comply with the Department's restrictions on the way in which their accredited status is represented in advertising or informational material.

The Department will consider applications from ISO-accredited laboratories wherever situated, but will not consider applications from intermediary organisations. The Department will conduct an annual review of the continuing eligibility of each body on the list.

A more detailed paper on the accreditation by the Department of paternity testing bodies has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses today.

Defence

Defence Industrial Strategy and Defence Procurement

I am very pleased to announce substantive progress on two commitments we made under the defence industrial strategy: the signature of a strategic partnering arrangement with AgustaWestland and the award of a contract for the Future Lynx aircraft to Westland Helicopters Ltd. (part of the AgustaWestland group). These commitments will improve our military capability and help sustain on-shore critical design engineering skills identified in the defence industry strategy.

The strategic partnering arrangement will be supported by a contractual business transformation incentivisation agreement that enshrines the demanding partnered relationship envisaged by the defence industry strategy. It includes challenging measures and targets to maintain effective business transformation both within AgustaWestland and the Ministry of Defence. It presents opportunities for the company to secure bonus payments for performance improvements across the full spectrum of the business relationship and default payments, retained by MOD, if the company fails to improve performance. This balance of challenge and opportunity is key to driving the changes necessary across all our transactions with AgustaWestland and ensuring the effective through-life support for those elements of our existing helicopter fleet for which AgustaWestland have a design authority role. It is also a model that we will examine for future partnering relationships. We remain clear, however, that we will continue to look to the vibrant and competitive global market place to satisfy our future helicopter requirements with AgustaWestland’s role neither predefined nor guaranteed, but dependent upon their performance and the value for money of their propositions.

The purchase of the Future Lynx meets our requirement for a dedicated small helicopter for use in both the land and maritime environments, as confirmed by the future rotorcraft capability programme last summer, and has been assessed as a value for money proposition. It also offers wider benefit in retaining onshore critical design engineering capabilities.

The award of the Future Lynx contract is excellent news for the Royal Navy, the British Army and for UK industry. The aircraft will, compared with existing Lynx aircraft, significantly increase load-lifting capability, reconnaissance endurance and operational range and cost less to own and operate. The first Army aircraft is expected to enter service in 2014 and the first Royal Navy aircraft in 2015. This £l billion contract will help support some 850 jobs across the UK, both within Westland Helicopters Ltd. and its supplier base including Thales UK, LHTEC (a joint venture between Rolls Royce and Honeywell), Selex UK, Smiths, GKN and General Dynamics.

Review Board for Government Contracts

The Government have accepted the findings of the Review Board for Government Contracts as detailed in their report of the 2006 annual review of the profit formula for non-competitive Government contracts. I will be placing a copy of the report in the Library of the House. The recommendations will be implemented retrospectively with effect from 1 June 2006.

Home Department

Justice and Home Affairs Council

The Justice and Home Affairs Council was held on 1-2 June 2006 in Luxembourg. My noble and learned Friend the Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, and my noble Friend Baroness Ashton attended the meeting. I thought it would be useful if I were to outline what was discussed and decided at the Council.

The Austrian presidency opened the Council with the ‘A’ points list which was approved.

The presidency secured a general approach to the European Evidence Warrant (EEW) following lengthy negotiations. Discussion at Council focused on the two key issues of territoriality and definitions of offences. A ground for refusal based on where the offence took place was agreed, subject to the requirement that any decision is taken “in exceptional circumstances and on a case by case basis” and after consulting Eurojust. The provision will be reviewed within five years of the EEW coming into force. Proposals to create definitions of certain offences for which dual criminality will not be applied in the framework decision remained unacceptable to most member states and agreement was only possible by allowing Germany to reserve the right to refuse assistance in respect of six offences if the definition of the offence is not that required by Germany. We are content with this compromise solution as we believe that, in practice, very few if any EEW requests relating to serious crime would be affected. I am aware that there are outstanding issues and hope that we can allay any concerns.

There was discussion on the mutual recognition of custodial sentences. A number of member states maintain that a prisoner’s consent should be the general rule although there was a split in the Council. The issue of definition of residence has been remitted to official level.

The presidency concluded that further work was required on the proposal for a framework decision on certain procedural rights. This will continue at senior official level with the UK urging the presidency to ensure future discussion fully involves the Council of Europe. Work will continue on both the legal instrument and proposals for practical measures. There remain concerns over the legal base with the Government noting that there is a risk of legal uncertainty created by the creation of a parallel legal instrument to the ECHR.

A general approach was agreed on a European small claims procedure. The UK supported this as it fulfilled the three principles agreed under the UK presidency that a small claims procedure be simple, swift and inexpensive.

A general approach was not reached on the draft Council decision on asset recovery offices. The presidency will seek a compromise with a view to adopting the Council decision as an ‘A’ point at the next JHA Council.

The presidency noted the report on the future of Europol setting out concrete suggestions for improving the functioning of Europol and that it provided an excellent basis on which future presidencies could build. The question of whether to move to a more flexible legal framework than a convention remained open. The Council conclusions were agreed, subject to a drafting change, based on a UK proposal; the government feels it is premature to state in the Council conclusions that the Europol convention will be converted to a Council decision.

The presidency summarised the Vienna ministerial conference of 4-5 May and hoped to continue the dialogue that had been held between the EU, the US and Russia. Agreement was reached on the conclusions on the Organised Crime Threat Assessment (OCTA).

There were presentations on the implementation of the EU counter-terrorism strategy and the follow up to Hampton Court as well as a lunch time presentation from Mr. Michel Barnier on his recent report on crisis management. Council also heard from the commission on its initial reaction to the ECJ judgment on passenger name records and on the safe third country list.

In the mixed Committee, two subjects were discussed. A general approach was agreed on the revised test of the regulation on the second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II). The presidency clarified that UK and Ireland asylum authorities would not have access. Commission Vice-President, Mr. Franco Frattini, made a presentation of a proposal for common application centres for visas.

Leader of the House

Business Questions

During business questions on Thursday 9 March, in response to a request for a debate on the conduct and management of the NHS from the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), the then Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon) said,

“The right hon. Gentleman is usually a fair-minded person when it comes to establishing the facts, and I am sure that in the interests of his reputation he would want to add that in Fylde there are 5,400 more nurses, 543 more doctors and 142 more consultants. That is a remarkable record, and one on which I know, if he had a little more opportunity, he would want to congratulate the Government. Having a debate about the astonishing improvement in the health service under this Government is not something that the Government fear at all. We have had a number of debates on the question.

On health service deficits, I have set out the figures before; a tiny number of NHS organisations are responsible for an overwhelming proportion of those deficits. [Interruption.] Right hon. and hon. Members are shaking their heads and groaning, but these are the facts. The truth is that a small number of organisations are involved. I thought that the Conservative party was concerned with financial propriety and with ensuring that organisations balance their books. That is precisely what the Government are trying to do in the health service”. [ 9 March 2006, Official Report, c. 953.]

My right hon. Friend for Ashfield has, however, asked me to say that whilst the three figures above were given by him in good faith, he regrets that they were not accurate. I have apologised to the Member for this error and have assured him that the Department of Health have been asked to rigorously check data provided for the weekly business statement.

The correct numbers for both the Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Hospitals NHS Trust and the Cumbria and Lancashire Strategic Health Authority (SHA) according to the September 2005 workforce census data published by the Department of Health on 24 April 2006 are as follows:

2002

2005

Increase

Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Hospitals NHS Trust

Nurses

1,497

1,530

33

Consultants

108

111

3

Doctors

163

217

54

Cumbria and Lancashire SHA

Nurses

12,661

14,901

2,240

Consultants

715

895

180

Doctors

889

1,275

386

Local NHS workforce data is published on the Department of Health website at: http://www. dh.gov.uk/nhsfactsheets.

I should add that information given during business questions in response to constituency health issues usually relates to health trusts, PCT area, or to the area of a strategic health authority.

Northern Ireland

Rivers Agency (Key Performance Targets)

Rivers Agency is an executive agency of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development for Northern Ireland. It acts on behalf of the Department as the statutory drainage and flood defence authority for Northern Ireland.

The following key targets have been set for the agency for the 2006-07 business year:

Urban Flood Defences

To construct or refurbish 1,693 metres of urban flood defences.

Drainage Infrastructure

To accommodate increased storm run-off from 18 hectares of development land.

To replace/refurbish 242 metres of dangerous culverts.

Maintenance Watercourses

To complete identified maintenance works on 865 of the 1,484 designated open watercourses included in the Notice of Annual Maintenance as part of a six-year scheduled maintenance programme.

Replies to Written Enquiries

To issue substantive replies to 80 per cent. of written enquiries within 15 working days of receipt.

Schedule 6 Applications

To respond to 98 per cent. of schedule 6 applications within three months.

Trade and Industry

Low Pay Commission

I am pleased to announce that the Government have today written to the Low Pay Commission setting out the terms of reference for their 2007 Report.

The Commission is asked to:

Continue to monitor, evaluate and review the NMW and its impact, with particular reference to the effect on pay, employment and competitiveness in the low paying sectors and small firms; the effect on different groups of workers, including different age groups, ethnic minorities, women and people with disabilities; the effect on pay structures; and taking into account the forthcoming changes to the statutory annual leave entitlement.

The Government have asked the Commission to report to the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Trade and Industry by the end of February 2007.

Copies of the terms of reference have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.