Written Ministerial Statements
Tuesday 13 March 2007
I am pleased to announce that I have re-appointed Mrs. Alison Gallico, Professor Derek Leslie and Air Vice-Marshal Ian Stewart as members of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body for a second three-year term, commencing March 2008. All three appointments have been conducted in accordance with the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments’ guidance on appointments to public bodies.
Education and Skills
Ministerial Meeting (Heidelberg)
I attended the meeting which was chaired by the German Education and Research Minister, Dr Annette Schavan. The meeting focused on two areas for discussion: the contribution education policy can make to promote the acceptance and dissemination of shared European values; and a second discussion on the theme "Making Lifelong Learning a Reality for All" which focused on developing pre-primary education and adult learning.
Representatives of about 40 countries attended (the EU-27, EEA and the Western Balkans).
The overall discussion on European values was wide ranging, with a number of member states citing active citizenship, the importance of language learning, and mobility as contributions education can make to Europe, as well as the more general values of freedom, respect and tolerance. I used my intervention to warn against trying to define a set of common European values to be included in a curriculum, as everyone holds different views. I made it clear that Education and Curriculum are national not EU competencies. There was general consensus in the discussion on adult learning and early childhood education, with all speakers agreeing that these formed important parts of lifelong learning. I spoke strongly in favour of lifelong learning, referring to the Leitch Review of skills, which shows how adults need to be equipped to perform higher skilled jobs. Extra investment is needed not just from the state, but from the employer and the individual too, and in making the investment in skills, it is important to respond to the needs of business. The chair did not try and summarise the discussion, which had been very general. However, a final communiqué will be prepared by the Presidency and made available to participants.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Climate Change Bill
The Queen's Speech indicated the Government's intent to bring forward legislation on climate change. I am pleased to announce that today we are publishing a draft Climate Change Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny and public consultation. I am also publishing today a strategy document setting out the broader context for the draft Bill. Copies of both documents have been placed in the House Libraries and are available on my Department's website.
The debate on climate change has shifted from whether we need to act to how much we need to do by when, and the economic implications of doing so. The time is therefore right for the introduction of a strong legal framework in the UK for tackling climate change. The draft Climate Change Bill is the first of its kind in any country.
The Government have shown consistent leadership in the field of climate change by setting bold targets and pursuing ambitious policies. We are committed to securing a strong multilateral agreement beyond 2012 and, within the EU, move to a low-carbon economy over time. At home, we have already shown progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining economic growth, and are set to almost double our target under the Kyoto Protocol.
This Bill provides a legal framework to manage future emissions. It provides a clear, credible and long- term framework that will provide greater clarity and confidence for businesses and individuals to plan and invest in delivering the changes needed to move to a low carbon economy. It will demonstrate leadership through example—a vital factor in helping to secure future international agreements.
In summary the Bill:
makes challenging carbon dioxide reduction targets for 2020 and 2050 legally binding;
introduces a system of 'carbon budgeting' capping emissions over five-year periods—with three budgets set ahead to help businesses plan and invest with increased confidence;
creates a new independent body to advise on the setting of carbon budgets and to report to Parliament on progress;
contains enabling powers to make future policies to control emissions quicker and easier to introduce; and
introduces a new system of Government reporting to Parliament including on climate change adaptation policies.
Taken together these measures create a coherent framework that will ensure we achieve reductions in emissions through domestic and international action whilst maintaining a strong and growing economy and high levels of social welfare.
The Government look forward to receiving a wide range of views on its proposals. We aim to introduce the final Bill to Parliament in autumn this year.
The accompanying strategy document sets out how the draft Bill fits into the Government's broader strategy for tackling climate change. It highlights some key announcements coming up in the next few weeks and months which will be central to the Government's strategy —in particular the Energy White Paper, the Waste Strategy and the Planning White Paper. And it sets out the broader international context, where the UK will continue to press for action through the EU, the G8 and the UN— recognising that only collective action can ultimately solve this unique global challenge.
Local Authority Fees and Charges Scheme
Charges to cover the costs of local enforcing authorities in regulating processes which are subject to Part I of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (Local Air Pollution Control (LAPC)) were introduced in April 1991. Interim charges for installations which are subject to the Pollution Prevention and Control Act 1999 (Local Air Pollution Prevention and Control (LAPPC) and Local Authority - Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (LA-IPPC)) were introduced in August 2000.
With the approval of the Treasury, and following consultation with local authority associations and industry, I have made revised schemes in respect of the Environmental Protection Act and in respect of the Pollution Prevention and Control Act. The schemes specify the scale of fees and charges to take effect from 1 April 2007.
For LAPC, LAPPC and LA-IPPC fees and charges for 2007-08 there will be an increase of between 2.37 per cent. and 2.86 per cent. for all subsistence fees and by 2.11 per cent. for all other charges. There is also an increase in the application charge for standard Part B and A(2) installations by £1,058 and for reduced fee installations by £63 in cases where existing operators, who have been operating without a permit, subsequently apply for a permit.
The basis of these increases and the risk-based scheme is set out in the regulatory impact assessment which is available on the DEFRA website at the following website address: http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/ppc/localauth/fees-risk/fees.htm.
Some minor amendments to the schemes have also been made in the light of consultation with local authorities and industry.
Copies of the schemes have been placed in the House Libraries.
On 28 March 2006 my predecessor made a Statement to announce that my noble Friend Baroness Jean Corston had agreed to undertake a “Review of Women in the Criminal Justice System with Particular Vulnerabilities”. I am delighted that Baroness Corston's report is being published today and wanted to make a statement to welcome her report and to give an undertaking that the Government will now give serious and detailed consideration of the issues it raises and the recommendations it makes for change.
The Government invited Baroness Corston to conduct this independent review following the tragic series of deaths of six women at Styal prison in 2002-03. The purpose was to look at the measures in place to ensure that we are doing everything possible for women who come into contact with the criminal justice system who have particular vulnerabilities, such as mental health problems, drug addiction, or histories of abuse. The scope of the Review was, therefore, very wide and considered the services and interventions available to such women on each occasion they come into contact with the criminal justice system, and also to those women at risk of offending.
I would like to thank Baroness Corston for producing such a comprehensive and thought-provoking report and I welcome the honesty and directness with which she addressed her remit and the recommendations she makes for more to be done. Her report tackles some of the most difficult, complex and entrenched issues and provides a valuable insight into the reality of the problems faced, and presented, by many women offenders.
I am particularly grateful for the support and assistance that Baroness Corston received from all those who contributed to the Review, especially the families sadly bereaved by the deaths at Styal and other prisons and women offenders themselves who have spoken so powerfully about their experiences. I would also like to thank the voluntary organisations who gave their valuable time and resources to support the review.
The 43 recommendations made are wide-ranging and propose action by a number of different Government Departments and other organisations to address together the complex and multiple needs of women both in the criminal justice system and at the risk of offending. These recommendations will be carefully explored with all the Departments and agencies concerned and the Government will develop a detailed response and set out an agreed way forward.
Baroness Corston also makes some overarching recommendations for how the management of women in the criminal justice system should be co-ordinated across Government. I agree that, in order to drive forward this important work, it is necessary to ensure that there is high level commitment and effective inter-departmental working. We will, therefore, look carefully at what mechanisms and governance arrangements would be possible to achieve this and I will discuss this with my ministerial colleagues.
Baroness Corston's report also highlights the work and initiatives that are already being taken forward to tackle issues for women offenders and ensure that their needs are met, in a system that has primarily been developed in response to the majority of male offenders. She refers in particular to the Women's Offending Reduction Programme and the Together Women Programme, which is using an injection of Government funding to test out how a more integrated community-based approach can effectively tackle the multiple needs of women and reduce the use of custody for those women who do not present a significant risk and do not need to be held in prison. She also highlights the importance of the Gender Duty, which comes into force in April 2007, in supporting this agenda.
In developing the detailed response, we will consider how the lessons learnt and recommendations in Baroness Corston's report can be used to build on the work already underway.
I commend this report to anyone with an interest in, or working with, women in the criminal justice system. I know that it will be an invaluable resource in taking forward our agenda to tackle the issues that can lead women into crime and avoid the damaging effects that this can have on women and their families.
Modernising Medical Careers
In my written ministerial statement of 7 March 2007, Official Report, column 131-132ws, I set out the Department's plan for an immediate review of the first round of the new national recruitment and selection process for doctors in postgraduate training.
As part of the Modernising Medical Careers (MMC) reforms of postgraduate medical training, new specialty training programmes will be introduced in August 2007. To support this, a new national recruitment and selection process was introduced this year, facilitated by the on-line Medical Training Application Service (MTAS). This process sets out national recruitment and selection criteria, documentation and standards—replacing the countless local appointment processes that had previously been in place.
Our aim, of course, is to ensure that we recruit the right people for the right jobs for the benefit of the National Health Service, its patients and its staff. As a result, the new arrangements were developed with the help of the medical Royal Colleges, trainee doctors and others. We will continue to work with them to ensure that trainee doctors are properly supported and fairly treated, and that the NHS is able to train and recruit the best doctors for the future.
Doctors have been applying for their preferred specialty training programme since 22 January 2007 and interviews have already begun. A large number of posts will not be filled in the first round and we have stressed to those interviewing in round one that they should not consider appointing unless they are absolutely satisfied with the calibre of candidates.
While the Department believes this will deliver a fair and transparent appointments process, it is clear that there have been concerns about the selection process, and that the process as a whole has created a high degree of insecurity amongst applicants and, indeed, more widely in the profession. The review was therefore commissioned to analyse what had gone well and what needed to be improved with a view to establishing greater confidence in the process.
The review is independent, being led by Professor Neil Douglas, Vice-President of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Members of the review group include representatives of the Royal Colleges, the British Medical Association, the four United Kingdom health Departments and employers.
The review group met on 7 and 9 March to agree immediate action, and will continue its work throughout March.
The review group decided that round one should continue, but recommended immediate steps to strengthen the interview process, including allowing applicants to provide CVs and portfolios to support their applications. These steps have been communicated to the deans and we have written to every applicant. The information is also on the MMC and MTAS websites.
As a result, some junior doctors who have expressed fears that they have been overlooked in the first round, will be given the opportunity to have their application form reviewed by a trained medical adviser from a postgraduate deanery. Successful candidates will then be given an interview.
In addition, significant changes will be made to improve selection in the second round. This will include changes to the application form and the scoring system. The revised approach will now be tested with junior doctors, selectors, deanery recruitment teams and employers, and agreed with the medical Royal Colleges, postgraduate deans, trainee and consultant representatives and employers before it is introduced.
The review group has also recommended that further advice and information should be made available as quickly as possible for applicants. The Department has agreed that this will include:
information about competition ratios by specialty, entry level and geography;
the process and timetable for making applications in the second round plus generic guidance about what panels will be looking for;
generic feedback on how applicants can improve their applications for the second round;
information about sources of support for applicants; and
enhanced frequently asked questions on the MTAS website, building on feedback from the first round.
This will be done as soon as possible.
I am very grateful to Professor Douglas and his colleagues for their continuing work on the Review Group. We will publish the group's final report once it is completed.
Irish Language Legislation
In the St. Andrews agreement, Government made a commitment to introduce an Irish Language Bill for Northern Ireland reflecting on the experience of Wales and Ireland and to work with the incoming Executive to enhance and protect the development of the Irish language. My Department issued a consultation paper on Irish language legislation on 13 December 2006 with a closing date of 2 March 2007. The consultation attracted a significant number of responses. Of the 668 substantive responses received, 625 supported the introduction of legislation. In addition 1376 postcards supporting legislation were received by my Department and an advertisement placed in the press by the Irish language group, POBAL, attracted 800 signatures. My Department also received a petition from POBAL with 2,500 signatures.
The consultation showed a pronounced divergence of views across the communities in Northern Ireland about the benefits of Irish language legislation. In addition, during the course of the consultation the suggestion was made that the process would be more meaningful if the consultation was based on draft legislation. My Ministerial colleagues and I see merit in this proposal and today we are publishing a further consultation on Irish language legislation with draft indicative clauses.
This further consultation will last for 12 weeks, closing on 5 June 2007.
Currently, UK law permits employers or principals to remunerate seafarers differently on grounds of nationality, if they applied for their employment or were engaged for it outside Great Britain. The European Commission has asked the Government to investigate the legality of this practice under European Law.
A consultation on section 9 of the Race Relations Act 1976, has today been launched. Copies of the consultation document have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Work and Pensions
On 20 July 2006, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (John Hutton) announced interim measures to speed up current claims handling for mesothelioma sufferers. He also confirmed that we would put in place a long-term solution.
We committed to having a full dialogue and invited comments from all interested parties. Initial views were sought on ideas for improving support for those with mesothelioma, both by improving the systems for dealing with these claims, and the better focusing of Government support. This process has been very constructive, with many thoughtful responses and helpful ongoing dialogue.
A Summary of Responses to that consultation was published on 1 March and is available at
We know that nearly all mesotheliomas occur as a result of occupational or environmental exposure to asbestos—a legacy of our country's industrial past.
Today I announce that we are committing, subject to legislative approval, to ensure that everyone with mesothelioma—irrespective of their employment history—can claim a payment as those under the Pneumoconiosis etc (Workers' Compensation) Act 1979 ("the 1979 Act"). This will mean that once mesothelioma is diagnosed, every sufferer should have early access to a substantial payment, normally within six weeks of diagnosis, providing a claim is made immediately.
We intend to achieve this by:
Continuing payments from the 1979 Act to all those who currently receive payments; these will remain at existing levels.
Introducing a compensation recovery process so that payments under the 1979 Act are recovered if a civil compensation claim is subsequently successful, in order to prevent double provision and continue with the policy line that the "polluter pays".
Introducing compensation payments similar to those from the 1979 Act to those people who do not currently receive payments from the 1979 Act. These will initially be at a rate commensurate with what can be afforded out of projected compensation recovery amounts.
Increasing these latter amounts to match those paid to others under the 1979 Act as funds allow.
We are holding a Mesothelioma Summit today to begin to make these changes a reality.
We are also continuing the essential work that is ongoing to speed up the full compensation payments due to many sufferers and their families through the civil claims process, and I am confident that this, too, is already leading to improvements for sufferers. Furthermore, we will look at the state benefit scheme so that the claims process is streamlined to provide an improved service to our customers.
We will continue to work with our partners to ensure that these outcomes are delivered as soon as possible.
Maritime Labour Convention
The 94th (Maritime) Session of the International Labour Conference 2006 adopted a new Convention - Maritime Labour Convention.
I have today published and laid a White Paper entitled International Labour Conference, Proposed action on a Convention adopted at the 94th (Maritime) Session of the International Labour Conference 2006.
Copies of the White Paper will be available from the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.