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Written Statements

Volume 451: debated on Monday 30 October 2006

Written MinisterialStatements

Monday 30 October 2006

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Democratic People's Republic of Korea (UN Sanctions)

With the support of Her Majesty's Government, the United Nations Security Council on 14 October 2006 unanimously adopted UNSCR 1718 (2006) under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. The Security Council's rapid and decisive action, in response to DPRK's nuclear test on 9 October, sends a strong signal to the DPRK Government that the international community will not tolerate its irresponsible and provocative actions.

The resolution is targeted at stopping the DPRK's WMD and missile programmes and changing the behaviour of the regime in Pyongyang. We now expect the DPRK to comply with the resolution and return to the six party talks without pre-conditions. If it does comply fully with the resolution's provisions and if the talks resume successfully, the UK would expect the Security Council to lift the measures imposed by the resolution.

The resolution backs these demands by imposing sanctions against the DPRK. All states have a legal obligation to comply. The individual sanctions comprise an assets freeze and travel ban on individuals and entities involved in or supporting DPRK's nuclear and ballistic-missile programmes; a ban on making funds available to those individuals and entities; a ban on the export or supply of certain substantial military items, nuclear materials, missiles and sensitive technologies; the export of luxury goods; the provision of any technical assistance, training or other advice in relation to the military or nuclear/ballistic-missile items and the procurement of any of the sensitive items so that DPRK can not export proliferation-sensitive technologies to other countries. The resolution also includes a provision calling upon states to inspect cargo going to and from DPRK subject to action being in conformity with international law and member states' own national laws, where such action is necessary to prevent illicit trafficking in prohibited goods and materials.

Health

Medical Expert Witnesses

A report was commissioned of the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, by the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon Friend for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), and the then Minister of State for Children, Young People and Families, Department for Education and Skills, my right. hon Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge).

The Chief Medical Officer was asked to consider the role of medical expert witnesses in relation to family law cases and in particular to examine the experts’ participation throughout the process, and the competencies needed; to examine evidence of best practice for expert witnesses; to identify a template and portfolio of medical skills by which a practitioner may be regarded as competent to offer evidence, and to advise on a sustainable supply of competent, quality-assured expert medical witnesses.

Sir Liam reported to Ministers at the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills in 2005, in his independent capacity as Chief Medical Officer for England and chief medical advisor to the United Kingdom Government. I have been considering the next steps, in consultation with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda) and the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, and we are pleased to announce that we have decided Sir Liam's report should form the basis for a consultation document, and be published for a period of public consultation. The report has been placed in the Library and is available on the Department's website at: http://www.dh.gov.uk/Consultations/LiveConsultations/fs/en.

It is of paramount importance that we secure medical expertise in family law proceedings in the interests of children and families whose future lives depend upon the integrity and quality of judgments delivered in public law Children Act cases. I hope and expect that the consultation process will draw responses from the widest spectrum of interested parties and organisations who are affected by, and who work with and within the court system.

Children's Palliative Care Services

On 5 June I was pleased to announce new funding of £27 million spread over three years for children's hospice services. Applications for the Children's Hospice and Children's Hospice at Home Grant have now been considered by a group which included key stakeholders and I am pleased to announce that 35 hospice services successfully applied for grants and will benefit from this funding. The payments will be made as soon as possible.

At the same time as announcing this grant I announced a review of children's hospice services and subsequently announced in a written ministerial statement on 18 September that the review had been extended to consider the long term sustainability of children's palliative care services and funding more generally. I am pleased to announce that Professor Sir Alan Craft and Ms Sue Killen have agreed to lead this important review. The consultation phase of this review commenced in October and contributions are being sought. Contact can be made with the review team at childpalliativecare@dh.gsi.gov.uk. I expect the review to be completed by spring 2007.

Home Department

New Charging Regime for Immigration and Nationality Fees

Today the Government publish a consultation paper on a new charging regime for immigration and nationality fees, meeting our commitments to consult on charging for the new points based system and significant changes to visa fees, and to support the boost to our border security and enforcement capability set out in the IND review last July.

Migration and tourism benefit Britain greatly. But to continue to welcome legitimate migrants, we need an immigration system that is fair and effective. The integrity of the immigration system depends on robust borders, with effective security overseas and in the UK ensuring and enforcing compliance with our immigration laws. As the Home Office implements the measures outlined in the IND Review, and improved controls and measures are introduced overseas and in-country by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Home Office jointly, we need to consider how immigration and nationality services are paid for and whether our charging strategy should better reflect the end-to-end cost of the whole immigration system. We want improved enforcement of a fair and effective immigration system. We believe that it is right that a greater contribution towards the costs of maintaining such a system should fall to those for whom immigration to our country brings benefits and rewards.

The Government are committed to boosting Britain's economy by bringing the right skills from around the world and ensuring that it is easy to visit legally. We want to continue to welcome the holidaymakers, visitors, business people and students who come here, recognizing the valuable contribution they make to economic growth and the way that they enrich our society through cultural exchange.

The consultation paper sets out some options on how we charge for our immigration and nationality services. We want a genuine debate on the most appropriate way to charge, and hope that key stakeholders and members of the public engage with this consultation process. We will be holding a number of stakeholder events throughout the consultation period in order to get the views and ideas of as many people as possible.

Copies of the consultation paper have been placed in the Libraries of the House and may also be downloaded from www.ind.homeoffice.gov.uk www.ukvisas.gov.uk or www.fco.gov.uk

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Police Restructuring

Following the decision to abandon plans for police force mergers in the immediate future, I agreed in principle to provide police authorities with assistance towards the additional costs incurred through the preparatory work they had carried out. The Home Office invited claims for the marginal costs incurred and these have now been received from all authorities. The Metropolitan Police Service and City of London Police have claimed no additional costs.

In deciding how best to contribute towards these claims, consideration has been given to the need to treat all forces fairly given the wide disparity in the amounts claimed. Other factors included:

the affordability of the total amount of money to be paid out;

where costs have been incurred by individual forces or authorities on behalf of others;

specific advice given to individual police forces and police authorities to make financial commitments, including an undertaking to provide additional funds to support the work of the pilot strategic force merger of Lancashire and Cumbria Constabularies.

An upper limit of £100,000 has been applied to the amount to be paid to any single police authority, in line with these considerations. Exceptions to this upper limit are:

Lancashire and Cumbria Police Authorities, because their claims include Joint Programme Office commitments undertaken on specific advice from the Home Office who also undertook to meet the exceptional start-up costs associated with the pioneer status of this merger group;

Lincolnshire Police Authority, because their claim includes premises costs on behalf of their merger group incurred on specific advice from the Home Office;

Dorset Police Authority, because their claim is made on behalf of the 5 South-West region forces and authorities (Avon and Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, Dorset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire).

No reimbursement for opportunity costs is being made.

The table below provides the figures for amounts claimed and the award of payments to be made in respect of those claims on this basis.

Forces and Authorities will be notified of the amounts allocated to them and asked to provide a confirmation that the amounts claimed have been stated in accordance with the terms of the original invitation.

Police Authority

Amount Sought

Payment to be made

Bedfordshire

£23,430

£23,430

Cambridgeshire

£242,714

£100,000

Cheshire

£339,767

£100,000

City

-

-

Cleveland

£189,986

£100,000

Cumbria

£271,000

£271,00 0

Derbyshire

£58,469

£35,782*

Dorset (for the 5 SW forces)

£140,836

£140,836

Durham

£67,155

£67,155

Dyfed-Powys

£225,891

£100,000

Essex

£169,870

£100,000

GMP

£75,810

£75,810

Gwent

£96,467

£96,467

Hampshire

£11,495

£11,495

Hertfordshire

£144,327

£100,000

Humberside

£119,730

£100,000

Kent

£152,042

£100,000

Lancashire

£725,000

£725,000

Leicestershire

£37,232

£37,232

Lincolnshire

£287,600

£287,600

Merseyside

£266,357

£100,000

Metropolitan

-

-

Norfolk

£135,729

£100,000

North Wales

£245,020

£100,000

North Yorkshire

£167,808

£100,000

Northamptonshire

£85,800

£85,800

Northumbria

£38,021

£38,021

Nottinghamshire

£46,200

£46,200

South Wales

£326,944

£100,000

South Yorkshire

£30,652

£30,652

Staffordshire

£56,317

£56,317

Suffolk

£45,483

£45,483

Surrey

£649,311

£100,000

Sussex

£519,879

£100,000

Thames Valley

£33,860

£33,860

Warwickshire

£174,608

£100,000

West Mercia

£89,061

£89,061

West Midlands

£117,591

£100,000

West Yorkshire

£104,569

£100,000

Total

£6,512,030

£3,997,200

*Legal costs of judicial review proceedings will not be met by the Home Office.

Work and Pensions

Pensions Reform

I have today published two papers on pensions reform.

In May, the Government published its Command Paper “Security in retirement: towards a new pensions system”. In the 15-week consultation period we have talked to the public and to stakeholders to build a consensus around our reforms. We have received over 350 separate responses from organisations and individuals, many of them extremely detailed. The report I am publishing today provides a summary of the views that have been expressed. I am grateful to all who have contributed, and our response shows how the consultation process has shaped our reforms.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee published its report “Pension Reform” in July this year. I am publishing today the Government's response to the conclusions and recommendations of that report. I am grateful to the Committee for its work and analysis, which has been an important contribution to the White Paper consultation exercise.

Our package of reforms aims to address the long-term challenges faced by the pensions system and do more to increase saving, whilst ensuring that no pensioner has to live in poverty. We have built on the hard work of the Pensions Commission which created the basis for consensus on future pensions policy.

Copies of both documents are available for hon. Members from the Vote Office.

Improved Services for Jobcentre Plus Customers

Today, I am pleased to announce that Jobcentre Plus is to introduce enhanced services across the country for people who wish to apply for working age benefits.

In response to feedback from customers, staff and key stakeholders, Jobcentre Plus has been testing improved services in parts of North Lincolnshire since 27 February 2006 and parts of London since 24 April specifically designed to improve the customer's experience when applying for working age benefits.

These changes have proven effective and have been well received in the pilot area. Therefore in the early part of 2007 Jobcentre Plus will start to introduce the following improvements nationally.

The introduction of a 0800 telephone number for all people making new claims to working age benefits. Currently the initial call to an 0845 number is made at the customer's expense;

Customers will only need to have one telephone conversation with a Contact Centre Adviser to make their application. Currently there are two;

We will introduce fast-track procedures for people making repeat claims and for people who do not require an immediate work focused interview; and

Faster access to improved information and advice to help customers access the service they need.

These enhancements, along with administrative changes, will improve and simplify the service we offer to our customers and provide speedier access to the help they need to get into work as soon as possible.