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Written Statements

Volume 476: debated on Thursday 22 May 2008

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 22 May 2008

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

Dissolved Companies (Restoration)

When part 31 of the Companies Act 2006 is commenced it will replace the provisions of the Companies Acts 1985 and 1989—and the equivalent Northern Ireland legislation—on restoration of dissolved companies to the register. The 2006 Act does not restate the bar, contained in the current legislation, on restoration of companies which were dissolved before 16 November 1969 (11 March 1971 in Northern Ireland). This bar could be retained using separate powers under the 2006 Act. However, the Government do not propose to retain the bar.

The current bar means that some ex-employees or their estates are unable to press claims for compensation in respect of personal injury or fatal accident, either against the employing company, its insurers or the financial services compensation scheme, simply because the company was dissolved prior to the cut-off date. Removing the bar, as the Government propose, may therefore enable such ex-employees or their estates to receive compensation which they are currently unable to obtain. This may be relevant in particular to sufferers of so-called long-tail diseases.

The relevant provisions of part 31 of the 2006 Act will be commenced with effect from 1 October 2009. However, the Government take the view that, as it is proposed to remove the bar, it would be desirable to do so before then. The Government therefore propose to repeal the current bar with effect from 1 October 2008, as part of the next scheduled tranche of provisions to implement the 2006 Act. This repeal would therefore be done separately from the commencement of part 31 of the 2006 Act.

The Government are inviting comments on this approach by 4 July 2008, and publishing a draft commencement order for this purpose.

Temporary Agency Workers: Joint Declaration by Government, CBI and TUC

The Government are pleased to be able to inform Parliament that the CBI and the TUC have reached an agreement on the way forward regarding equal treatment of agency workers. A copy of the joint declaration they agreed on 20 May 2008, with Government support, has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The Government consider that this declaration provides the basis for the introduction of measures to promote fairer treatment for agency workers while retaining the important flexibility that agency work can offer both employers and workers. One of the key issues on which agreement has been reached between the social partners is that there should be equal treatment of agency workers after 12 weeks in a given job.

The Government hope this declaration can pave the way to agreement in the EU on the draft agency workers directive, and will now work with its European partners to that end, in order to bring the agreement between the CBI and the TUC into legal effect in the United Kingdom. The Government hope that EU agreement will be obtained in time for the necessary UK implementing legislation to be introduced in the next Parliamentary session.

UK Civil Plutonium and Uranium Stocks

The Department will be placing the figures for the United Kingdom’s stocks of civil plutonium and uranium as at 31 December 2007 in the Libraries of both Houses. In accordance with our commitment under the “Guidelines for the Management of Plutonium”, we will also send the figures to the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who will circulate them to member states. The figures will be available on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the IAEA websites.

The figures show that stocks of unirradiated plutonium in the UK totalled 108 tonnes at the end of 2007. Changes from the corresponding figures for 2006 are a consequence of continuing reprocessing operations—for example, as reflected in the increased quantity of unirradiated separated plutonium in product stores at reprocessing plants. The main reason for the change in high enriched uranium (HEU) stocks was the transfer to waste of recharacterised historic operational residues. The increase in the civil depleted, natural and low enriched uranium figures reflects the increased stocks at the UK enrichment plant.

The stocks of civil plutonium and uranium in future years will be published on the HSE and IAEA websites without a written statement.

Children, Schools and Families

School Admissions and Parental Preferences for 2008

The Information as to Provision of Education (England) Regulations 2008, which were laid before Parliament on 15 January, committed the Government for the first time to publishing local authority by local authority data on how many families received an offer of a place at one of their preferred schools. On Monday 3 March 2008, around 570,000 families were awaiting their offers of secondary school places, and on 11 March I published provisional preference data which included unverified returns from 11 local authorities: Northumberland; Sefton; Wirral; Leicestershire; Suffolk; Oxfordshire; Slough; Surrey; Windsor and Maidenhead; Dorset; and Torbay.

Today I am pleased to announce the publication of final secondary preference data based on returns made and verified by all 149 local authorities. These figures represent no overall change in the national figures from the previously published data, and show that 82 per cent. of families received an offer of a place at their highest preference school; and 94 per cent. of families received an offer of a place at one of their top three preferred schools.

I am placing copies of the secondary applications and offers 2008 data in the Libraries of the House.

Defence

Armed Forces' Pay Review Body (Supplement to 2008 Report)

The supplement to the 2008 report of the Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body (AFPRB) making recommendations on the pay of service medical and dental officers has been published today. Copies of the report are available in the Vote Office and the Library of the House. I wish to express my thanks to the Chairman and members of the review body for their report.

The AFPRB has recommended an increase in basic military salary of 2.2 per cent. for all Defence Medical Services medical and dental officers—and all reserve equivalents—except general medical practitioners and general dental practitioners, for whom they recommended a 3.7 per cent. increase. The AFPRB has also recommended an increase in X-Factor from 13 to 14 per cent. and a restructuring to increase the amount of X-Factor paid to officers at Lieutenant Colonel, Colonel and Brigadier—and equivalent—ranks. In addition, the AFPRB has recommended a 2.2 per cent. increase in the values of national clinical excellence awards and distinction awards, and trainer pay, plus the introduction of general medical practitioner associate trainer pay, on a date to be determined.

Provision has been made to accommodate the additional cost to the defence budget.

I am pleased to confirm that the AFPRB’s recommendations are to be accepted in full, with implementation effective from 1 April 2008.

First World War (90th Anniversary)

I am pleased to announce that the Ministry of Defence is planning a commemorative event to mark this year’s 90th anniversary of the First World War Armistice. It has become clear in recent months that, while 90th anniversaries are not something that we normally commemorate nationally, there is a widely held desire to mark this important milestone.

We are not yet in a position to provide details of our plans but we expect the event to be centred around a service and wreath laying at the Cenotaph on Tuesday 11 November when distinguished attendees may include one or more of the remaining UK veterans of the Great War if they are able to attend. Further details will be announced in the coming months.

Innovation, Universities and Skills

UK Intellectual Property Office (Performance Targets)

My noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for intellectual property and quality has tasked the UK Intellectual Property Office with managing and shaping an Intellectual Property system which encourages innovation and creativity, balances the needs of rights holders and the public, promotes strong and competitive markets and provides a firm foundation for the knowledge-based economy.

The UK Intellectual Property Office has been set a broad range of targets; for 2008-09 based on a balanced scorecard approach. These targets are:

Customers and Stakeholders

To receive an overall “good” or “satisfactory” rating in at least 80 per cent. of responses in customer surveys.

Issue 90 per cent. of patent search reports within four months of request.

To issue a substantive response to an allowable request for accelerated patent examination within two months of receipt in 90 per cent. of searched applications.

To register 90 per cent. of processed trade mark applications, to which no substantive objections have been raised or oppositions filed, within seven months of application.

To register 95 per cent. of all correctly filed design applications within two months.

Meet 80 per cent. of agreed milestones in development of policy initiatives.

By 31 March 2009, 66 per cent. of business advisers (UKTI export and Business Link advisers and their devolved counterparts) will have received training from the UK-IPO in advising businesses on intellectual property (IP) management. (Contributing to the Science and Innovation Strategy goal for all business advisors [UKTI export and Business Link advisers and their devolved counterparts] to have received this training by summer 2009).

By 31 March 2009, to have a defined role for UK-IPO in relation to IP crime, working in partnership with other agencies, implementing the commitments in the Government’s Creative Economy Strategy, and to have developed the resources, expertise and authorisations to fulfil that role credibly and effectively.

Refine copyright policy and improve its relevance in the digital age and to make visibly perceived progress in the eyes of stakeholders through the chain from producers to end users.

Finance and Resources

Achieve the target of 4 per cent. on return on capital employed.

The Office will deliver additional direct benefits to customers and stakeholders of £2.5 million through a combination of the implementation of new or expanded services, and reductions in office statutory fees.

Internal Processes

Make the correct decision on registerability in at least 98.5 per cent. of trade mark applications.

Give good customer service in processing patent applications in 95 per cent. of quality assured cases.

Promote a healthy workforce where people are fit and able to come to work 97 per cent. of the time.

Complete, sign off and return 95 per cent. of performance management forms to personnel by 31 May 2008.

To achieve 99 per cent. of the agreed monthly service levels for key IT systems.

Reduce consumption of water, energy, travel and waste by 2 per cent.

Change and Development

Develop a highly trained workforce where 90 per cent. of people who have identified a legitimate training need will have received their training.

To achieve 80 per cent. or more of agreed milestones for key business-change projects within the reporting year.

By March 2009, UK-IPO Together (UK-IPO’s core management values) will be embedded in the office culture and 80 per cent. of staff know and. understand the management values.

The document has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Justice

Claims Management Regulation (Annual Review and Impact Study)

I am announcing that the Claims Management Regulation Annual Review and an Impact Study, a report to the Ministry of Justice, are being published today.

The Annual Review sets out the progress made on claims management in the first year of regulation. The Annual Review sets out the work undertaken this year in regulating the claims management sector and the challenges and priorities for the coming year.

The Department commissioned Mark Boleat, the first head of Claims Management Regulation, to assess the impact of regulation on the claims management market and produce a report. The Impact Study provides a comprehensive assessment of the claims management market and the impact of regulation on the industry. It concludes that the regulatory regime for claims management services is considered to have had a significant effect in reducing malpractice in its first full year of operation, one of the key objectives of regulation. Successes include dealing with cold calling in person, unauthorised advertising in hospitals and the misleading use of the term, “no win, no fee” which have all largely been eliminated

Copies of the Claims Management Regulation Annual Review and the Impact Study have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. Copies of the Annual Review are also available on the internet at: www.justice.gov.uk/publications/corporateinformation.htm. Copies of the Impact Study are also available on the internet at: www.justice.gov.uk//publications/policyreports.htm

Transport

South Central Franchise and Accreditation Process

I am today announcing the publication of the consultation document for the South Central franchise. The formal accreditation process for bidders also starts today.

Our overall aim for the new franchise is to ensure that continued improvement is maintained, while renewed emphasis is placed on improving the overall quality of the service offered to passengers.

The new franchise will begin operation on Sunday 20 September 2009 and will cover the operations of Southern and Gatwick Express and the Tonbridge to Redhill route operated by Southeastern. The franchise will last for five years and ten months, with the final year dependent on performance. It will be possible for the franchise to be extended by up to two years, at the Department for Transport’s discretion. The franchise is shorter than we would usually propose reflecting the major changes envisaged around 2015 when the Thameslink programme is complete. This approach gives the Government maximum flexibility when implementing the final Thameslink pattern of services.

We have previously announced significant changes to services on the Brighton main line. These changes, which occur in December, will see some peak period Gatwick Express services extended to Brighton, increasing carrying capacity to and from the South Coast. The new franchise will start with this timetable as its base.

The consultation document sets out the main challenges that the new franchise will face and highlights the key requirements that the Department proposes to include within the invitation to tender. The document includes details of likely service alterations to facilitate the delivery of a number of major infrastructure enhancements including the East London line extension, Thameslink programme and 10 car suburban rail network. It also sets out proposals to increase off peak services levels and improve security, access to stations, information provision and overall service quality.

Responses to the consultation will inform the development of the invitation to tender (ITT) that bidders for each franchise will be asked to bid against. We expect to publish the ITT later this year and will award the new franchise early next summer.

Last year’s White Paper set out a challenging programme to improve our rail network, by increasing carrying capacity, improving reliability, enhancing stations, simplifying ticketing and improving service quality. This outline franchise specification builds on this. Over the coming weeks the Department will be having extensive discussions with local interested stakeholders.

The consultation will run until the 14 August 2008. Copies of the consultation documents have been placed in the House Library, are available on the Department for Transport website at: www.dft.gov.uk and will be sent to key stakeholders.

Work and Pensions

Older People (Engagement with Government)

I have asked John Elbourne, former chief executive, Prudential Assurance UK Operations to examine the current arrangements for the engagement of older people and the ability of those arrangements to inform policy and actions of Government at all levels. Specifically, this will include examining Better Government for Older People’s: aims, structure and relationships; past achievements, lessons learned and best practice; lines of accountability, governance and reporting; and management arrangements, legal status and funding. He will explore options for improvement of engagement with older people in respect of the new Government performance framework and in relation to the roles of other organisations. He will then make recommendations to ensure that the findings of the review take full account of the expectations of older people, best support the independence and wellbeing of people in later life and ensure an effective and efficient process to serve these needs.