Written Ministerial Statements
Thursday 17 May 2007
Unclaimed Assets Distribution
The Government are today publishing a consultation document setting out proposals for the distribution of unclaimed assets within the UK. This second unclaimed assets consultation document—“Unclaimed Assets Distribution Mechanism: A Consultation”—follows on from the previous document published in March this year1 and provides further detail on how unclaimed assets will be reinvested in the community, with a focus, in England, on funding for youth services and financial capability and inclusion. The devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will determine their own priorities for distribution which reflect the needs of communities in each country.
The consultation document proposes using the Big Lottery Fund (BIG) as the main UK-wide unclaimed assets distribution body. BIG has a UK-wide distribution infrastructure in place, capacity to handle assets on this scale, extensive experience of delivering community programmes—with emphasis on young people, and the know-how on distributing funding through a different range of organisations, particularly from the third sector. Using BIG, an existing organisation, to distribute these assets will also help to limit spending on administration costs, meaning that more money reaches the front line.
The Government also want to use a proportion of unclaimed assets to help develop the social investment market and invest in the long-term sustainability of the third sector, and will look at another delivery option to channel funds into this area.
Copies are available in the Vote Office and the Library of the House.
1 A UK Unclaimed Assets Scheme: a consultation, HM Treasury, March 2007
Communities and Local Government
Planning Casework Performance
The provisions of paragraphs 1 and 2 of Schedule 2 to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 require the Secretary of State to set and meet a timetable for the majority of planning cases which are to be decided by her (as opposed to being decided by a Planning Inspector) where the inquiry closed on or after 1 April 2005; and to make a report to Parliament each year on performance. This is intended both to ensure that such cases are dealt with expeditiously and to enable the parties to any particular case to know when they can expect to receive a decision.
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has accordingly today laid before Parliament an Act Paper reporting on all decisions where the inquiry, hearing or site visit ended on or after 1 April 2005 and the decision was made between 1 April 2006 and 31 March 2007. Some 199 of the 200 decisions—99.5 per cent.—made by the Secretary of State during this period on cases other than appeals under tree preservation orders were made within their statutory timetables, as were 694 out of 702 decisions—98.9 per cent.—on tree preservation order appeals.
These provisions relate to decisions on called-in planning applications; planning appeals recovered for the Secretary of State's decision; other cases linked to such decisions, including listed building consent, conservation area consent, advertisement consent and enforcement notice appeals; and tree preservation order appeals. They do not apply to cases decided by Inspectors or to those decided by the Secretary of State jointly with a Minister of another Department.
Culture, Media and Sport
British Red Cross Relief Fund for UK Victims of Terrorism Abroad
The Chancellor announced in his 2006 Budget the creation of a new charitable fund to support British citizens injured in or affected by terrorist attacks abroad. The British Red Cross Relief Fund for UK Victims of Terrorism Abroad is formally launched today.
The £1 million contribution to the fund announced by the Chancellor will be used by the Red Cross to administer two separate schemes. £900,000 will establish an ongoing fund that will offer immediate small scale payments to UK victims bereaved or injured in terrorist attacks overseas. Payments will be made in two phases using a simple application process. Phase 1 payments of £3,000 will be paid immediately. Phase 2 payments of £12,000 will be available on application, to those severely injured or bereaved. Twenty-one interim payments of £3,000 have already been made since March 2006; all those who have received interim payments will also be eligible to apply for second phase payments of £12,000. The Red Cross hopes to be able to raise more money for the fund on the back of this initial Government donation.
The other £100,000 will be made available to the small number of households affected by terrorist attacks abroad prior to the fund's announcement last March, who are still suffering severe financial hardship as a result of what has happened to them.
The Government have worked closely with victims groups and the voluntary sector in drawing up the details of this fund, to ensure that all those who are tragically affected by overseas terrorist attacks will receive assistance which is sensitive and appropriate to their needs.
Agency Key Targets
Key targets for the financial year 2007-08 for the following Ministry of Defence agencies and trading funds have been placed in the Library of the House.
Defence Analytical Services Agency
Defence Storage and Distribution Agency
Defence Science and Technology Laboratory
Key targets for ABRO, Defence Aviation Repair Agency, Defence Medical Education and Training Agency, Defence Vetting Agency, Ministry of Defence Police and Guarding Agency, People Pay and Pensions Agency, Service Children’s Education, Service Personnel and Veterans Agency and the UK Hydrographic Office will be published shortly.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
My 2007 Departmental Report, which contains information on progress against the Department's strategic priorities, Public Service Agreement targets, the challenges ahead and summary expenditure plans for 2007-08, has been laid before Parliament today. Copies will be placed in the Libraries of the House.
Human Tissue and Embryos Bill
The Government have today laid before Parliament in draft form the Human Tissue and Embryos Bill (Cm 7087). The Bill is the outcome of an extensive review and public consultation. It represents a major overhaul of the existing law and regulatory structures. The draft Bill will now be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny.
The draft Bill has been placed in the Library.
The Department's annual report for 2007 (Cm 7093) was laid before Parliament today.
Copies have been placed in the Library.
Children's Palliative Care Services
In May 2006, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced details of an independent review of palliative care services for children and young people with life-limiting or life-threatening illnesses and their families. This review offers an important opportunity to look at current provision and consider what more can be done to improve the sustainability and accessibility of services in both the statutory and voluntary sectors.
I welcome the thorough review that has been conducted by Professor Sir Alan Craft and Sue Killen and thank them for their efforts. Their report comes at an important point in the evolution of children’s services and it is critical that children and their families have confidence in the valuable support that palliative care services currently provide.
I also recognise and pay tribute to the pioneering work carried out over the years by the voluntary sector and by hugely committed doctors, nurses and other care workers that has got us to this point. Together they have raised the profile of children’s palliative care and this has resulted in a model of care which enables the children and families who use those services to live in dignity and comfort.
The independent reviewers have made various recommendations to improve and develop palliative care services and the commissioning and planning systems in which they operate. In the longer-term, they recommend that palliative care should become a sub-specialty in its own right and be a properly funded service.
Some of the recommendations are contingent on the comprehensive spending review, the results of which will not be known for some months, while others are for consideration by the voluntary sector, the royal colleges, regulators and other Government Departments such as the Department for Education and Skills. We are committed to working with these key partners to achieve real and lasting change.
The Government will consider carefully the recommendations and their implications for life-limited children and young people and for the health and social care system across the country. A detailed Government response will be formed alongside plans to take forward any recommendations coming out of HM Treasury and the Department for Education and Skills review of disabled children.
In the meantime, I am setting up a delivery group of key stakeholders to co-ordinate delivery on those recommendations that can be taken forward immediately, including the development of a national strategy for children’s palliative care. I very much hope those invited will accept the offer to work with the Government to help achieve the step-change we all desire.
The report has been placed in the Library and copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office.
Westminster Tracer Gas Trials
The Home Office would like to inform Parliament of a series of tracer gas trials that are due to commence in the Westminster area as part of the Home Office's chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) Science and Technology Programme.
The trials will improve our understanding of the movement of air-borne material in the urban environment, and will enable enhancements in public protection to be developed.
The work is part of the Home Office's commitment to improve security and counter-terrorism. It will improve the UK's ability to deal with the consequences of a CBRN release through an increased knowledge of the dispersion of material in the urban environment. This knowledge will assist in planning for CBRN response and in public and emergency responder safety.
The trials will involve the release of small amounts of non-toxic, odourless gases in the Marylebone area of Westminster starting from 20 May 2007. The trials will run for a four to six-week period during which time information leaflets will be available to the public. The tracer trials will pose no adverse effect on public health or on the daily routine in the Marylebone area of Westminster.
Similar tracer trials, led by the Department for Transport, were undertaken on 25 March and 1 April 2007 as part of a study looking at air movement within the London Underground environment.
I have today published the Home Office’s 2007 departmental report. Copies are available in the House Library and on the Home Office website. The report describes the work of the Home Office during 2006-07, in particular as reflected in its strategic objectives and key targets.
Duchy of Lancaster
I have today laid before Parliament the “Cabinet Office Departmental Report 2007” (Cm 7108).
The Departmental Report describes the work of the Cabinet Office and includes a performance report for each of our Public Service Agreement targets. The report contains information on the achievements and successes of the Cabinet Office, outlines the priorities ahead and also includes a set of tables showing past outturn and future expenditure plans.
Copies are available in the Vote Office and in the Library for the reference of Members.
Trade and Industry
I will be attending the Competitiveness Council in Brussels on 21 and 22 May.
The first nine items on the agenda will be taken on 21 May.
The first four substantive items on the agenda will be chaired by Michael Glos, German Minister for Economics and Technology. The first item on the agenda will be Better Regulation. The presidency have tabled a progress report, but there is unlikely to be substantial debate on this issue.
The next item on the agenda is the proposed Regulation on Mutual Recognition. The presidency have tabled a progress report. We support the objective of this regulation, but we are keen to ensure that it does not restrict the ability of national authorities to take swift action to take dangerous or harmful products off the market.
This will be followed by a progress report on two measures relating to the New Approach (technical harmonisation). The UK supports the progress that has been made so far.
The next item on the agenda is EU Industry Policy. There will be a policy debate prior to adopting Council conclusions. We are supportive of the Commission’s general stance on this issue and their emerging ideas on making the most of the competitive opportunities of tackling climate change.
The next two items on the agenda will be chaired by Brigitte Zypries, the German Minister for Justice. The next item on the agenda will be the EU Consumer Policy strategy. There will be a brief exchange of views on this issue.
The Consumer Credit Directive will be taken next. This directive is being put for political agreement. Positive steps have been made in this negotiation and we hope to reach an agreement that will bring benefits to EU consumers and lenders.
Eleven items will be taken under any other business:
(i) The Internal Market in Global Competition: Outcome of the Informal Ministerial meeting (information from the presidency.
(ii) Proposal for a directive on improving the effectiveness of review procedures concerning the award of public contracts. (Information from the presidency on the state of play)
(iii) Proposal for a directive on including aviation activities in the scheme for greenhouse gas emmission allowance trading within the Community (information from the presidency)
(iv) Proposal for a directive laying down rules on nominal quantities for pre-packed products (information from the presidency on the negotiations with the European Parliament)
(v) European Conference “Innovation and Market Access Through Standardisation” (information from the presidency)
(vi) 4th European Conference on Craft Industries (information from the presidency)
(vii) European Conference on Tourism (information from the presidency)
(viii) GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) Conference (information from the presidency)
(ix) Regulation on a Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling (information from the Commission)
(x) Impact of the proposal for a regulation on the law applicable to contractual obligation (ROME I) (requested by the Luxembourg delegation)
(xi) Information on Poland’s proposal to organize the exhibition EXPO 2012 in Wroclaw, Poland (requested by the Polish delegation)
The European Space Council and discussion on the remaining agenda items will take place on 22 May.
The European Space Council will convene in the morning and will be chaired by German State Secretary Peter Hintze and Dutch Economics Minister Maria van der Hoeven. The main item on the agenda will be the adoption of a Resolution on the European Space Programme.
The remaining items on the agenda relate to research and will be chaired by Annette Schavan, the German Research Minister. The first issue to be dealt with in this section of the Council will be the Commission proposal for the European Institute for Technology. UK broadly supports the objectives of the proposal but there remain a number of outstanding issues including budget and governance.
Following on from this there will be a presentation from the Commission on the establishment of the ARTEMIS joint undertaking to implement a joint technology initiative in embedded computer systems. This will be followed by a presentation by the Commission on a regulation setting up the innovative medicines initiatives joint undertaking. The UK supports the establishment of joint technology initiatives in principle.
This will be followed by an exchange of views on the Commission’s Green Paper “The European Research Area: New Perspectives”. The UK supports the launch of a debate on the future of the European research area.
The next item on the agenda will be on research infrastructures in the European research area (ESFRI). There will be an exchange of views followed by the adoption of Council conclusions. The UK welcomes the ESFRI road map and supports the Council conclusions.
Two research points will be taken under any other business:
(i) Euro-Med Education and Research Ministers meeting (information from the presidency)
(ii) Commission proposal on article 169 Initiatives (information from the Commission).
I have today published my Department's Annual Report for 2007. Copies have been laid before Parliament and placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Report sets out the Department's activities and achievements over the last year. It also describes the Department's future expenditure plans for the period of the spending review 2004.
Work and Pensions
Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council
The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council will be held on 30 May in Brussels. The Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, My hon. Friend, the Member for Stirling (Mrs. MsGuire), who has responsibility for disabled people, will be representing the UK. Health and Consumer Affairs issues are being taken on 31 May.
The Council will seek political agreement on guidelines for the Employment Policies of the member states. The UK supports this text.
There will be an endorsement of the Active Ageing opinion following a study of all member states policies in this area. We welcome this exchange of good practice underpinning a key Lisbon priority.
The Council will consider the adoption and a policy debate on the Commission's published Communication on a new health and safety strategy for 2007-2012, published on 21 February 2007. The Council will be invited to adopt a draft Resolution on the strategy. It generally welcomes the strategy, but reinforces calls on the Commission to simplify the legislative framework and reduce administrative burdens. The UK will support the Resolution.
The Council will aim to reach agreement on a partial general approach on both the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council implementing Regulation (EC) No 883/04 on the co-ordination of social security schemes and the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EC) No 883/ 2004 on the co-ordination of social security systems, and determining the content of Annexe XL. The UK is content, but will be making a statement for the Council minutes to make clear that our agreement to the provisions for healthcare is provisional and subject to future discussions on the proposal for health services.
The Council will receive an amendments package for Regulation (EEC) No 1408/71 on the application of social security schemes to employed persons, to self-employed persons and to members of their families moving within the Community. This amendments package is non controversial.
The key agenda item will be the Presidency hopes to get political agreement on a directive for improving the portability of supplementary pension rights. Depending on the outcome of current negotiations, we are likely to support the Presidency proposal.
The Council will seek adoption of the draft conclusions on the importance of family-friendly policies in Europe and the establishment of an Alliance for Families. The UK supports this initiative on the basis that the Alliance works with existing EU structures and does not duplicate work.
The Council will seek adoption of the conclusions pertaining to the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. The Presidency has chosen to work on the theme of “The Education and Training of Women” and has produced a report including a set of indicators. The UK supports the text.
The chair of the Social Protection Committee (SPC) will inform the Council on the progress on a communication on Social Services of General Interest. The SPC has discussed Member State responses to a consultation on whether significant problems exist between modernising social services and applying EU competition policy. There will be further EU level evaluation before any conclusions are drawn and any proposals brought forward.
Under Any Other Business, there will be reports of recent Presidency conferences.
Post Office Card Account (Successor)
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry outlined a package of measures on 14 December 2006 to put the Post Office network on a stable footing, Official Report, columns 1026-28, volume 454.
In that statement he said:
The Government remained committed to allowing people to get their pension or benefit in cash at the post office if they chose to do so, and a range of accounts were already available at the post office that made that possible;
The current Post Office card account contract ended in March 2010 and that the Government had decided to continue with a new account after 2010. The new account would be available nationally and customers would be eligible for the account on the same basis as they are now;
That European Union procurement rules required the Government to tender competitively for this new product.
My Department has now started this process by submitting a notice which will appear in the Official Journal of the European Union. I will arrange for a copy of the notice to be placed in the Library. The key elements of the notice are:
The procurement will cover the provision of end to end services (e.g. card acquisition and maintenance, and payments of cash) for a simple card-based customer owned account;
The customers should be able to access their cash at an ATM and personal teller outlets (across a counter) located throughout the UK;
The size of the personal teller network is expected to be in the region of 10,000 outlets.
We will be joined in the procurement exercise by HM Revenue and Customs, the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency and the Northern Ireland Social Security Agency.
Details of the successful bidder(s) will be announced in due course with our aim being to sign contracts in the first part of 2008.