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Written Statements

Volume 475: debated on Tuesday 6 May 2008

Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 6 May 2008

Children, Schools and Families

Rose Review (Primary Curriculum)

In a written statement on 9 January 2008, Official Report, column 9WS, I summarised the remit of Sir Jim Rose’s independent review of the primary curriculum. Among other things, his remit includes making recommendations on introducing greater flexibility to help schools narrow the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.

In the Children’s Plan, the Government acknowledged that more needs to be done to improve outcomes and provision for children with special educational needs, to increase parental confidence that children’s educational needs are being met, including for children with dyslexia.

To encourage schools’ development of best practice in improving outcomes for children with dyslexia, my Department is:

Providing funding of around £l million over three years to the No to Failure project. No to Failure is trailblazing and evaluating the impact of specialist training for teachers and specialist tuition for children with dyslexia in some schools in three local authority areas.

Through the National Strategies, rolling out to all areas this year an inclusion development programme (IDP) designed to increase knowledge and awareness of dyslexia and communication difficulties among the schools and early years workforce and improve learning outcomes for this particular group of children

Providing £150,000 over two financial years to enable the British Dyslexia Association to develop their helpline, which provides advice about dyslexia—including to teachers and parents.

Providing £250,000 over three financial years to enable Dyslexia Action to run further Partnership for Literacy pilots.

In this context, we have now additionally asked Sir Jim Rose, in the light of evidence, to make recommendations on the identification and teaching of children with dyslexia, and on how best to take forward the commitment in the Children’s Plan to establish a pilot scheme in which children with dyslexia will receive reading recovery support or one-to-one tuition from specialist dyslexia teachers.

We have asked Sir Jim Rose to include the following sources of evidence in developing his recommendations:

a summary of published research on the impact of specialist dyslexia teaching and reading recovery on progression and outcomes for children with dyslexia, currently being prepared by Dr. Chris Singleton of Hull University;

evaluations of Every Child a Reader, including reading recovery, carried out by the Every Child a Chance Trust and the Institute of Education;

a recently published interim evaluation of the No to Failure project’s identification of children at risk of dyslexia/specific learning difficulties;

No to Failure project’s final evaluation of the progress made by children identified as being at risk of dyslexia/specific learning difficulties who have received specialist dyslexia teaching, which the project expects to publish at the end of this year.

Sir Jim Rose will also consult with the No to Failure project and other dyslexia organisations in considering his recommendations. He has agreed to prepare a report containing his recommendations early in 2009.

Communities and Local Government

Flood Recovery Update

Last summer’s exceptional floods caused widespread damage and misery for thousands of people. But the response was equally exceptional—from local authorities and other local agencies, the police, fire and rescue services, the military and neighbours helping each other. Government have been committed to playing our part and we have already made up to £88 million available so far to flood-hit communities to support their efforts to get back on their feet.

The costs of the floods to the country were significant. That is why in August we submitted an application to the European Union solidarity fund, which was set up specifically to help countries that have experienced extensive damage from natural disasters such as floods. We have worked closely with the Commission on this application and I can confirm that the European Commission gave clearance for the funding to be paid to the UK when it approved the amended EU budget on 7 April. I welcome this clearance and recognise the key role played by Commissioner Hübner in the EU’s decision to approve our UK application.

The European Commission’s clearance was for payment of around £110 million as a contribution to the cost of recovery from last summer’s floods. However, the UK’s special “abatement mechanism”, agreed between Government and the EU and in place since 1984, means that the net value to the UK of this allocation is an extra £31 million.

I therefore announce today that all this extra funding will be paid to flood-affected local areas. The money will be distributed through a new one-off £30.6 million restoration fund to local authorities, police authorities and fire authorities in England, with the balance allocated to the Northern Irish and Welsh devolved Administrations. I propose that eligibility for payments from the new fund will be based on the costs incurred in dealing with the flood problems since the summer and that local authorities will be free to spend this money according to the local priorities they determine. I am starting a short consultation on this basis today.

The restoration fund will mean the Government have made up to £118 million available so far to local areas hit by last summer’s floods.

The Government will account for the spending of the EUSF payment directly to the European Commission so that local authorities eligible for payments from the new fund will not have to deal with the strict rules that govern EUSF and can concentrate on the job of leading the full recovery efforts in their communities.

Parliamentary Question (Correction)

The hon. Member for Peterborough (Stewart Jackson) asked for a copy of all correspondence relating to the purchase by the Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation (TTGDC) of (a) the Grays TA headquarters and (b) industrial land at Purfleet in the financial year 2007-08 to be placed in the Library of the House.

In my response on 18 February 2008, Official Report, columns 645-46W, I said that the correspondence would be placed in the Library of the House, subject to the exclusion of any information that may compromise commercial negotiations or contravene the Data Protection Act.

I have now been advised that in order to meet this undertaking, officials of the Department and the Thames Gateway Development Corporation would have to scrutinise thousands of documents at a significant cost to the public purse. In the light of this further advice, I do not consider this to be an effective use of my Department’s resources and I will not therefore be able to provide a copy of the correspondence. I regret this has occurred.

I am writing to the hon. Member for Peterborough to say that TTGDC will invite him to visit the sites at Grays and Purfleet and to meet with them. They have said that they are happy to discuss progress on these projects.

Defence

Headley Court

I am pleased to inform the House of the outcomes of our review of Defence Medical Rehabilitation. The review concluded that Defence Medical Rehabilitation is a success story, returning service personnel, whenever possible, to full fitness faster than in the past.

The Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre (DMRC) at Headley Court is widely recognised as delivering first-class specialist rehabilitation of complex cases. The enormous benefit of bringing together service personnel, both those wounded on operations and those injured in training, contributes to the astonishing recovery that so many of our patients make.

The Government recognise that continuing investment is needed to ensure that Headley Court retains its reputation as a centre of excellence.

With the increase in the numbers and complexity of military casualties over recent years, we have steadily enhanced DMRC’s capabilities:

We now have our own workshops and technicians to provide a “state of the art” limb fitting service, enabling us to start to mobilise patients who have lost limbs as soon as they arrive at DMRC and to make adjustments to their prostheses as required.

We have increased the numbers of therapists and nurses and introduced a new team to deal with head injuries, working closely with partner organisations.

We have deployed physiotherapists into Iraq and Afghanistan to assess patients’ needs and start treatment, where appropriate, in advance of their arrival at Headley Court.

Last May we opened a new temporary ward annexe, providing 30 additional beds and giving us a total of 66 ward beds.

Headley Court benefits from the use of a hydrotherapy pool and four gyms on site.

We are building this year a new 58-bed temporary accommodation block, at a cost of about £4 million—work on site is due to start today.

Our review has confirmed that the DMRC Headley Court should continue to be the specialist centre for rehabilitation, and has recommended further improvements so that it can continue to deliver first-class care.

In the light of the review we have now decided to invest an additional £24 million in the Headley Court site over the next four years to maintain and enhance DMRC’s capabilities. This will enable us to:

replace the new ward annex (designed to be a temporary structure) by extending the Peter Long Unit, and incorporating into that extension an expanded prosthetics facility, treatment areas, and imaging facilities.

replace progressively over the next few years all the existing 180 non-ward bed patient and staff accommodation.

I pay tribute to the charitable bodies that have also contributed to the work of DMRC and its predecessor organisations since Headley Court first opened its doors to RAF patients shortly after the second world war. The estate is owned by a charitable trust, which has itself contributed generously to the improvement of facilities on the site.

The Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Family Association has purchased a house in nearby Ashtead that was opened earlier this year as a “home from home” for families visiting patients at Headley Court, supplementing accommodation that we had already provided on site.

Last year a new charity, Help for Heroes, generously offered to raise funds for a swimming pool and gym, which would together form a new rehabilitation complex, with additional space for rehabilitation and assessment. The charity has already made impressive progress in its fund-raising. We are working closely with Help for Heroes in planning the new facility.

We warmly welcome the contributions of charities to the welfare of the services. Support for them enables the public to demonstrate their appreciation for the work of the armed forces in tangible ways.

The new investment I have announced today, together with current funding for new facilities, means that Headley Court will see investment over the next four years totalling some £28 million in addition to the substantial funding that Help for Heroes intends to provide for the new rehabilitation complex.

Our review also looked at the Services’ Primary Care Rehabilitation Facilities (PCRFs) and Regional Rehabilitation Units (RRUs). The review recommended enhancements to the permanent capability of RRUs, and improvements to the referrals process. The roles and locations of some of the RRUs should be adjusted to align better with current and future population centres. I have agreed that we should provide an additional £1.5 million per year from financial year 2009-10 to establish the necessary permanent manning uplifts at the RRUs, and commissioned further work to take forward the other recommendations.

The outcomes of the review demonstrate our commitment to rehabilitation. The review charts the strategic direction we shall now follow, to build on our success to date in returning service personnel to mobility and usually to duty. In partnership with the charity sector, we are ensuring that service patients, particularly those severely wounded on operations, receive the best treatment that is available and that it is delivered in an environment that supports their rehabilitation in every way possible.

Our servicemen and women deserve no less for the efforts that they are making on our behalf.

I shall place a copy of the review’s top level report and recommendations in the Library of the House.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

General Affairs and External Relations Council

I represented the UK at the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) in Luxembourg on 29 April 2008.

The agenda items covered were as follows:

External Relations

Zimbabwe

I agreed Council conclusions that underlined the EU’s deep concerns at the delay in announcing the results of the general election, condemned violence and called for moratorium on arms sales. Ministers agreed that SADC but also the AU had a crucial role to play and the EU should continue to work closely with African states to encourage their efforts to deliver a credible and genuinely democratic solution to the crisis.

I intervened to underline that it was clear President Mugabe was in the process of trying to steal the election and that the EU needed to remain robust in exposing and condemning the violence and human rights abuses on the ground.

Middle East Peace Process

Ministers discussed developments since the Annapolis conference, the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee meeting in London on 2 May and looked ahead to the Berlin conference in support of Palestinian security and the rule of law on 2 June. Ministers underlined the importance of continuing to support the political process, and expressed concerns over the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Iraq

Ministers had an exchange of views on the situation in Iraq, following the Iraq neighbours’ conference in Kuwait on 22 April. Ministers welcomed security improvements and progress on national reconciliation, but recognised that the situation remained fragile. Ministers also looked forward to the annual review of the international compact with Iraq in Stockholm on 29 May.

Pakistan

High Representative Solana gave a read out of his recent visit to Islamabad. I agreed the Council conclusions reaffirming the importance of EU-Pakistan relations, including support for the development of regional and bilateral trade, education and democratic institution building. Ministers supported the Pakistani Government’s fight against extremism and progress on reinforcing democracy since the election on 18 February. Ministers also underlined the importance of supporting the Government of Pakistan to implement the Electoral Observation Mission’s recommendations for electoral reform to support the democratic process in Pakistan, improve transparency and help ensure participation of citizens in the election.

Burma

The Council adopted a common position renewing restrictive measures against Burma for another 12 months. I also agreed Council conclusions on Burma, which highlighted the Council’s ongoing concern about the situation in Burma, and in particular the deep flaws in the regime’s 10 May referendum on a new constitution aimed at entrenching military rule. The Council underlined its readiness to consider further restrictive measures in the light of developments. Ministers had an exchange of views on the text of the draft constitution and referendum on 10 May.

Piracy off Somali Coast

Ministers noted recent piracy incidents off the Somali coast, which they condemned.

Western Balkans

Discussion of the Western Balkans focused on Serbia. The Council agreed on the signature of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Serbia, which President Tadic signed in the margins of the Council. I intervened to stress the importance of full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia remaining a condition in Serbia’s EU accession process. The requirement for full co-operation was fully recognised in the Council’s conclusions, which make clear that ratification of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement and implementation of the Interim Agreement will be dependent on a Council decision that Serbia is fully co-operating with the ICTY.

The Council also expressed its readiness to sign the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Bosnia and Herzegovina, following the recent adoption of legislation on police reform. The Government welcome Bosnia and Herzegovina’s progress against the conditions for signing the Stabilisation and Association Agreement and hope that signature will take place rapidly.

Georgia

Ministers agreed that the EU should reaffirm its support for Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty in the light of recent developments. The Government support the presidency’s initiative to organise a visit to Georgia, to highlight the EU’s concerns and offer support in resolving tensions with Russia.

Russia

Ministers discussed adoption of the mandate for negotiation of a successor to the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement with Russia. Agreement was not possible at this GAERC, Ministers are expected therefore return to the issue at the May GAERC.

Zimbabwe

In the five weeks since the elections in Zimbabwe, 7,000 people have been displaced, 500 beaten, 120 hospitalised and at least two murdered. Many more were unable to access medical treatment. In addition, the police have arrested scores of people who they associate with the opposition in Zimbabwe and have raided their offices. The announcement of the result of the presidential election should be seen against that background. Violence has been commonplace in Zimbabwe but those figures and these acts show the brutality of the regime in its quest to hold on to power.

Very soon after the election it was clear that the majority of the electorate had rejected President Mugabe. But ZANU-PF chose to delay the results, rather than face the truth. That delay has simply allowed the Zimbabwean authorities to contaminate the results. We can have little faith that the figures announced accurately reflect the will of the people. Significantly, the MDC opposition have not endorsed those published figures, even though they show that a clear majority of voters want change.

The first round of voting in Zimbabwe suffered from significant structural deficiencies. The electoral roll was and is still grossly inaccurate. The majority of the 3 million to 4 million people who have fled Zimbabwe were and will still be prevented from registering as voters. Within Zimbabwe media coverage of the election was already biased towards Mugabe and ZANU-PF. And the Government of Zimbabwe, at its own admission, did not invite anyone to monitor the election whom they thought might point out its flaws—including the EU and the UN. For a second round to be considered free and fair, there must at least be an immediate end to violence, and international observers must be put in place now, well ahead of the vote itself.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, my noble Friend Lord Malloch-Brown and I continue to engage regional leaders. They are feeling the destabilising effects of the crisis. They know it is in their interests for the SADC principles and guidelines on elections to be enforced and the rule of law in Zimbabwe established. Both SADC and the AU have a pivotal role to play now in ensuring an end to the violence, and by introducing observers to prevent further reprisals by ZANU-PF to punish voters for the choices they made in the first round.

International concern about the situation in Zimbabwe remains high. The UN Security Council briefing held in New York last week exposed the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe and the need for the UN to be more engaged to resolve it. We will continue to press for a human rights mission or envoy to visit and for arms sales to cease until there is a return to democratic Government in Zimbabwe. We will also call again for UN backed monitors to go to Zimbabwe to observe any second round, and for the Government of Zimbabwe to allow EU and other observers in now to oversee preparations for the elections, as well as the voting itself.

We continue to support all those working for democratic change in Zimbabwe. We all share the wish of the Zimbabwean people to secure their democratic rights. We commend civil society groups in Zimbabwe who continue to fight for democracy and good governance in increasingly impossible circumstances.

We continue to respond to the humanitarian crisis on the ground. We are the second largest bilateral donor to Zimbabwe, giving around £49 million in 2007 and more than £200 million since 2000. UK aid currently keeps over 1.5 million people alive. The UK, along with the international community, is committed to supporting recovery in Zimbabwe when conditions on the ground allow it. This cannot happen until the will of the people is respected and democracy returned to Zimbabwe. But when that happens we will be ready to respond.

It is clear to all, including many in ZANU-PF, that this situation is unsustainable. Economically, Zimbabwe has been in decline for many years: total economic collapse, with the massive humanitarian cost that will bring, is inevitable unless there is a radical change in policy and approach in Zimbabwe. We still believe that the solution to the crisis must be an African solution supported by the international community. For the sake of all the people of Zimbabwe, this solution must come soon.

Health

Adults with Learning Disabilities

We are today laying before Parliament the Government’s response (Cm 7378) to the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) report “A Life Like Any Other? Human Rights of Adults with Learning Disabilities”, which was published on 6 March.

The JCHR’s report recognises that life for people with learning disabilities has improved considerably over the last 30 years. However, the Committee still found serious cause for concern about the way people with learning disabilities are treated by society at large.

The Government response welcomes the JCHR’s report and sets out the Government’s commitment and practical steps that we are taking to uphold the rights of adults with learning disabilities in mainstream public services.

Several of the Committee’s recommendations are around influencing the outcome of the consultation response on “Valuing People Now”, the Government’s consultation on learning disability policy. This response commits the Government to revisiting the JCHR report and providing a further response to the Committee when publishing the final “Valuing People Now” strategy.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire), is making a written statement today on the Government’s response to the Committee’s recommendation about ratification of the UN convention which is contained in this publication.

Today’s publication is in the Library and copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office.

Home Department

National Identity Scheme

The fourth cost report of the national identity scheme is being laid before Parliament today. It sets out an estimate of the public expenditure likely to be incurred on the scheme over the next 10 years, in accordance with section 37 of the Identity Cards Act 2006. It reports on developments over the past six months, since the third cost report was published on 8 November 2007.

Immigration

I am today announcing the next steps in our programme of comprehensive immigration reform for 2008. I am publishing statements of intent which set out how the points system will work for skilled migrants coming to fill vacancies here, and for those who come to the UK temporarily for cultural and other non-economic reasons.

The Points-Based System

The UK’s new points system is central to our plans for controlling the numbers and skills of people coming to the UK, and ensuring only those the UK needs from outside the EEA can come to work or study.

We began the points system earlier this year with arrangements for highly skilled migrants. The statements of intent I am publishing today outline details on how the system will work for skilled and temporary migrants.

These arrangements will significantly reduce the number of routes to the UK and will include five key changes for skilled workers.

First, all employers who wish to employ skilled migrants will need a licence, provided and monitored by the UK Border Agency. This will help ensure employers are fulfilling their obligations to the UK, for example, helping migrants to understand and comply with our immigration rules.

Secondly, migrants will be required to show English language competence to assist with their effectiveness at work and their integration into British life.

Thirdly, all jobs will be required to meet the resident labour market test before a migrant can be recruited unless the job is in a certified shortage occupations or is an intra-company transfer.

Fourthly, all migrants not filling jobs on the shortage occupation list will be required to earn points through their qualifications and prospective earnings.

Fifthly, there will be a maintenance requirement so that would-be migrants must prove they have the ability to support themselves for the first month they are here.

We are publishing the draft points pass mark today. The final points pass mark for the skilled tier of the points system will be informed by the work of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) on economic needs and that of the Migration Impacts Forum on the wider effects of migration.

The MAC will produce shortage occupation lists for the UK, and Scotland only, showing where there are skilled shortages that can be sensibly filled by migration through the points based system.

Statement of Intent for the Temporary Workers and Youth Mobility Tier (Tier 5).

Tier 5 of the points-based system covers temporary workers and the UK’s new international youth mobility scheme, allowing people to travel to the UK to satisfy primarily non-economic objectives including five sub-categories: creative and sporting; charity workers; religious; Government-authorised exchange; and international agreement.

As with our arrangements for skilled migrants:

All migrants will need a certificate of sponsorship from a licensed sponsor who will vouch that the migrant will comply with the terms of their stay in the UK, before they even arrive in the UK.

Migrants must also meet the maintenance requirements, demonstrating that they can support themselves while they are here in the UK.

The Tier 5 international youth mobility scheme will allow young people from partner nations to come to the United Kingdom for up to two years to work and travel, while young UK nationals enjoy similar experiences in those countries.

We are publishing these documents today so that those affected by the changes we are putting in place can prepare. We are also giving people the opportunity to comment on the documents. A statement of intent for students under the points-based system will follow later this year.

Copies of the statements of intent on the skilled migrant tier and the temporary worker and youth mobility tier have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The documents are also available on the United Kingdom Border Agency’s website at: www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/documents/managingourborders/pbsdocs/.

Justice

Office of the Public Guardian

The Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) supports the Public Guardian in discharging his statutory duties under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. The OPG was formed in October 2007 with the implementation of the Mental Capacity Act and 2008-09 is therefore the first full financial year of operation for the agency.

The following list sets out the key performance targets that have been set for the Office of the Public Guardian and the Court Of Protection for the year 2008-09.

KPI 1: Lasting Power of Attorney/Enduring Power of Attorney

On receipt:

a) (i) On receipt of an invalid or incomplete LPA or EPA, we will notify 80 per cent. of applicants within 10 working days.

(ii) On receipt of a valid LPA, in 80 per cent. of cases we will notify the party or parties not making the application within 10 working days.

On registering:

b) (i) We will register 98 per cent. of LPA applications within five working days of the end of the statutory waiting period1.

(ii) Where an attorney makes an EPA application within 10 days of notifying relatives, we will register 98 per cent. within five working days of the end of the statutory waiting period2.

(iii) Where an attorney makes an EPA application more than 10 days after notifying relatives, we will register 98 per cent. within 15 working days of receipt, or within five working days of the end of the statutory waiting period, whichever is the later.

KPI 2: Supervision of Deputies

All deputyship cases will require a supervision regime based on a risk assessment. Risk criteria include: whether a deputy has been refused credit or is an un-discharged bankrupt; whether the deputy has any financial interests which conflict with those of the client; the value of the client’s estate; the relationship of the deputy to the client; and any objections which were made to the appointment of the deputy.

a) 90 per cent. of new deputyship cases will be assessed and a supervision level set within 30 working days of the court order being served on the Public Guardian.

b) 100 per cent. of ongoing deputyships with close supervision (type I) will have a formal reassessment of the supervision level within 13 months of the previous assessment.

c) We will carry out a case review on no less than 4000 type II cases during the year.

A case review could be a combination of:

review of annual report;

carrying out a visit; and

review of supervision level following short-term intervention.

KPI 3: Contacting the OPG

The contact centre will act as point of communication for anybody contacting the OPG for advice and information about the OPG, the Court of Protection and other MCA-related issues. It will also act as the first point of contact for most deputies in relation to queries about their powers and duties.

a) We will respond to 95 per cent. of correspondence (including letters, faxes and emails) within 15 working days of receipt.

b) 85 per cent. of telephone calls to the contact centre will be answered within 60 seconds.

KPI 4: Investigations

Upon receipt of an investigations case in the compliance and regulation unit, it is allocated to a specific caseworker. At this point of allocation the 14-day target to set an action begins. The three month target to complete the investigation is inclusive of the 14 days in which the action plan is put in place.

a) We will put in place an approved action plan in 100 per cent. of investigations cases within 14 days of receipt.

b) 75 per cent. of investigations will be completed within three months.

KPI 5: Quality of Service

a) To measure the quality of service people are experiencing in different areas of the organisation, we will carry out targeted surveys throughout the year and report the findings in the OPG 2008-09 annual report. A baseline figure will be agreed with Ministers following receipt of the 2007-08 results and will published in the Public Guardian section 60 report.

b) We will also devise measures concentrating on the quality of service delivered through the contact centre. The results will be published in the 2008-09 annual report.

KPI 6: Finance

Based on the statutory instrument for fees approved by Parliament, we will aim to achieve the following targets for full cost recovery:

a) OPG—100 per cent. full cost recovery.

b) Court of Protection—63 per cent. full cost recovery.

Full cost is defined as:

The total cost of carrying out the provision of services to the taxpayer, less social subsidy/fee remission; financial losses over and above a yearly notional premium; in-year bad debts write off and exceptional items.

Court of Protection

1. In 95 per cent. of cases we will contact the applicant within 20 working days of receipt of the formal application.

2. In 75 per cent. of applications where no oral hearing is directed, the court will give a direction within 16 weeks; and in 98 per cent. of applications the court will give a direction within 20 weeks.

3. In 75 per cent. of applications where an oral hearing is directed, the hearing will be arranged within six weeks of the direction, with all hearings being arranged within 14 weeks.

4. We will respond to 95 per cent. of correspondence (including letters, faxes and emails) within 15 working days of receipt.

5. We are due to carry out the first survey of court satisfaction by the end of March 2008. Our objective for 2008-09 is to increase satisfaction in court services from this baseline.

Copies of the Office of the Public Guardian framework document and business plan will be available in the Libraries of both Houses and from the website of the OPG (www.publicguardian.gov.uk) from 6 May 2008.

1The statutory waiting period for LPAs is 6 weeks from the latest date on which the Public Guardian gave notice as required by the Mental Capacity Act 2005 that he had received an application to register the LPA.

2The statutory waiting period for EPAs is 35 days from the latest date on which the attorney gave notice of his intention to register the EPA as required by the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

Transport

Draft Marine Navigation Bill

I am today publishing a draft Marine Navigation Bill, for public consultation and parliamentary pre-legislative scrutiny. The draft Bill contains legislative proposals to help to improve safety at sea and in our ports, to deal with wrecks if they do occur and to update the powers of the bodies responsible for maritime safety. Copies of the draft Bill, a consultation paper and other accompanying documents are available in the Libraries of both Houses and the Vote Office.

The issues dealt with in this Bill have been identified in a number of reviews, accident reports and the IMO international convention on the removal of wrecks 2007. In bringing forward this draft Bill I hope to address these issues as far as can reasonably be done. Any statutory safety measures need to offer a balance between excessive controls and prudent management. The changes that I am proposing in this draft Bill are not fundamental but they do represent a considered approach to the issues that have been identified and they will provide the responsible authorities with useful enhancements to their powers where necessary.

There are also measures in the draft Bill that will help to reduce costs to the shipping industry through the better management of the general lighthouse fund. When the IMO convention comes into force there will be significant improvements in our ability to recoup the costs of dealing with pollution and the aftermath of maritime accidents as it will introduce a strict liability regime and compulsory insurance for shipping operators, meaning that these costs will no longer be picked up by the authorities responsible for safety and the environment which can now happen when the operators or owners of the ship fail to accept responsibility.

The draft Bill sets out our legislative proposals to:

allow the ratification of the IMO convention in the UK so that the Government can compel ship owners to remove wrecks or, if emergency works are carried out by the Government or general lighthouse authorities, facilitate recovery of their costs from the ship owner or its insurers;

enable the Secretary of State to direct a harbour authority which is exercising its functions unsafely;

give all harbour authorities access to a power to give general directions to shipping;

allow a competent harbour authority to relinquish its unwanted pilotage powers;

provide a simple way for the duties of a harbour authority to be extinguished where it no longer serves a useful purpose and to ensure any residual duties are carried out appropriately;

permit the introduction of compulsory national occupational standards for harbourmasters and pilots;

improve the regulation of pilotage exemption certificates; and

modernise some of the powers of the general lighthouse authorities.

Publication of the draft Bill provides an important opportunity to ensure we get our proposals right through public consultation, and for Parliament to scrutinise the legislation in draft. We need to learn from and build on the diversity of experience of professionals in the ports and shipping industries and all who are concerned about the safety of shipping and the protection of the marine and coastal environment, so I encourage all interested parties to participate in the consultation process.

Work and Pensions

UN Convention on Disability Rights

Today the Government have responded to the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its report “A Life Like Any Other? Human Rights of Adults with Learning Disabilities”, that the Government should ratify the UN convention on disability rights and the optional protocol without further delay or provide clear unambiguous details of any specific impediments to immediate ratification.

The response makes it clear that the UK does not ratify any international treaty until it is in a position to ensure that it can implement the provisions and therefore comply with its obligations. In addition, the European Community is, for the first time, a party to an international human rights convention and this will inevitably affect the ratification timetable. Given the duty on member states to co-operate with the Community, the UK would wish to take into account the European Commission’s proposal for Community conclusion of the convention, which is still awaited.

Article 33 of the convention on disability rights is an unusual provision in UN human rights conventions. Article 33 requires states party to the convention to establish national monitoring arrangements, and the Government have wished to properly consult the equality and human rights commission and the devolved Administrations about these arrangements. These consultations are continuing.

Ratification will be in respect of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Part of this process has required the devolved Administrations and Government Departments to check their legislation, policies, practices and procedures against the convention’s provisions. This has inevitably taken some time. However, this phase of the work is now over and we are considering carefully the emerging findings. Our aim remains to ratify the convention by the end of this year.

The current position is that the Ministry of Defence has indicated that there is a need to enter a reservation in respect of service in the armed forces, consistent with the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 as amended (DDA) and Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation. Service in any of the naval, military or air forces of the Crown are excluded from the DDA’s employment provisions to preserve their combat effectiveness. The Department for Children, Schools and Families has indicated that there is a need to recognise that the general education system in the UK includes a range of provision, including mainstream and special schools which will require an interpretative declaration, and that there will also need to be a reservation in respect of disabled children whose needs are best met through specialist provision, which may be some way from their home. The Home Office has indicated that there may be a need to enter one or more reservations or declarations in respect of immigration, nationality and citizenship.

There are also a number of areas where we are continuing to explore whether there are any compatibility issues which may result in the need for an interpretative declaration or reservation. These are: measures relating to the exercise of legal capacity; aspects of mental health legislation; choice of place of residence; and cultural services (interpretive measures).

With regard to the optional protocol, the Government are aware of the importance that many disabled people and the Committee attach to this issue. The Government is carefully considering its position as part of the convention ratification process in the light of the ongoing review by the Ministry of Justice of a similar optional protocol relating to the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.