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Written Statements

Volume 506: debated on Friday 26 February 2010

Written Ministerial Statements

Friday 26 February 2010

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Public Sector Food Procurement Initiative

I have today deposited copies of the report giving the proportion of UK produce supplied to Government Departments and the armed forces, as well as the proportions supplied to prisons and hospitals under contracts negotiated by HM Prison Service and NHS supply chain. A copy of the report is available on the PSFPI web site at: http://defraweb/foodfarm/policy/publicsectorfood/awareness.htm


Out-of-Hours GP Services (Ministerial Correction)

In answer to a question following my statement to the House on 9 February 2010, Official Report, column 764, I stated as understood at that time that—

“On 21 April, Dr. Ubani was convicted, received a four-month suspended sentence and made a payment, although it is disputed whether it was a cost or a fine”.

It has come to light that proceedings in Germany against Dr. Ubani were finalised on 15 April 2009 where he received a suspended sentence of nine months and made a payment of €5,000. The CPS understands the sum was a fine, rather than costs.

I hope this clarifies the situation.

Access to the NHS (Foreign Nationals)

On 20 July 2009, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ann Keen) announced the outcome of the joint Department of Health and UK Border Agency review of the rules on overseas visitors’ access to the national health service in England, and the Government’s intention to consult publicly on the change proposals. Today, on her behalf, I am fulfilling that commitment by launching the consultation.

The proposals in the consultation strike a balance between public health needs, managing migration and upholding humanitarian principles, ensuring that we continue to deliver high quality care to all those with a legal right to it while protecting our NHS from those who would take advantage of it.

The consultation includes proposals to increase the time that UK residents can regularly stay outside the UK before losing automatic entitlement to free NHS hospital care, and to protect unaccompanied children who arrive in the UK. We propose to exempt from charges failed asylum seekers who are co-operating with, and are supported by, the UK Border Agency prior to returning to their own country, but to charge all other failed asylum seekers.

In my hon. Friend’s earlier statement, Official Report, column 97WS, she said that the Government were attracted to the principle that some visitors should be required to pay for their NHS treatment through personal health insurance, as is already the case in some other countries. Although developing a scheme that is fair and effective will be challenging, we are determined to take this forward. We will now seek views on the merits and feasibility of key principles and mechanisms for making this work, which have the potential both to increase the income that the NHS receives from overseas visitors, and to act as a deterrent to those seeking to abuse the NHS.

We have also taken the opportunity to consolidate the current regulations that underpin the policy on the charging of visitors, and to improve the supporting guidance that we provide for the NHS. Neither of these updates reflects any change in entitlements or operating practices, but they are provided in draft form for people to examine and comment on prior to them being launched.

The Minister of State for Borders and Immigration is today also launching a consultation on the proposal to refuse entry to the UK to those who have significant outstanding debts for NHS treatment. This will help the NHS to recover debts and discourage further those visitors who travel to the UK to seek treatment without paying.

The period for responding to the consultation will run until 30 June 2010. I have placed the consultation document in the Library and copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote office.

Home Department

NHS Debtors (Immigration Rules)

On 20 July 2009, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ann Keen) announced the outcome of the joint Department of Health and UK Border Agency review of the rules on migrants’ access to the national health service in England. As part of a balanced package of measures to rationalise and reform the present NHS charging arrangements, my hon. Friend signalled our intention to consult publicly on significant proposals for change emerging from the review, including action to protect the NHS from misuse by a minority of foreign nationals who are charged for using our public health services but default on their debts. Proposals to tackle the problem of “health tourism” sit alongside a broader range of measures to protect the interests of vulnerable individuals.

In taking forward this commitment, I have today published a public consultation on a proposal to change the immigration rules to provide for the first time that debt to the NHS above a prescribed amount will constitute grounds for refusal of permission to enter and stay in the United Kingdom for those subject to immigration control. The Government believe that those who take advantage of our hospitality should respect that hospitality or face consequences. The consultation sets out how the UK Border Agency would work in partnership with NHS to administer these new arrangements. The new immigration rule would supplement existing work by UK Border Agency officers at ports of entry to identify and remove visitors seeking to conceal an intention to enter the UK for the purpose of accessing NHS services. The period for responding to the consultation will run until 28 May 2010, and I have placed copies of the consultation documentation, together with regulatory and equality impact assessments, in the Vote Office and in the Library of the House.

International Development

EU Trade Ministers Informal Meeting

I represented the United Kingdom at the Spanish presidency’s Trade Ministers informal dinner on 21 February. I welcomed the presidency’s constructive highlighting of the importance of external trade for the economic strength of member states, and the importance of open and fair markets globally as the world emerges from the current economic crisis. I pointed to the importance of trade and exports to help tackle unemployment, currently at 10 per cent. across the EU-27 member states. The EU needed an open, fair trading system for our global competitiveness. I was pleased that my comments were reflected well in the new Commissioner, Karel de Gucht’s response, and I look forward to the UK working closely with the new Commission to deliver this critically important agenda.

I emphasised the importance of reaching a balanced conclusion to the Doha development round. Only through the multilateral trade structures can we address the unfair and unbalanced array of trade barriers which prevent growth, particularly in developing countries. But I also said that the United Kingdom welcomed EU progress on reaching free trade agreements, which were a stepping stone to a multilateral agreement. I welcomed the initialling of the agreement with Korea—with potential value of €19 billion for the EU—and stressed the importance to the UK and EU of free trade agreements with India and Singapore. On a free trade agreement with Andean countries currently under negotiation I was clear that we would need reassurances of adequate and appropriate human rights provisions.

I warmly welcomed a renewed focus on economic co-operation with our major trading partners, and the contribution this could make to EU competitiveness. We needed to prioritise relations with the US, Japan and China. We should focus on regulatory co-operation, on international standards, and an intellectual property framework that reflected emerging new technologies and supported greener economic growth.

I pointed to the importance of addressing trade barriers at the EU’s external borders. DG Trade in the Commission needed to work with other directorates general, in particular tax and customs, health and consumers, and energy and transport, on a risk-based approach to trade regulation and improve or remove disproportionately bureaucratic measures.

I strongly argued that we had to modernise our trade defence rules and ensure a transparent, economic and business-focused system that recognised the realities of global supply chains.

International trade and investment have the potential to bring benefits not only to our own economies, but also to developing countries. I therefore applauded the overall EU member state provision of more than 40 per cent. of the global Aid for Trade. But I argued that the Commission needed more effective and more flexible systems for spending it. On economic partnership agreements (EPAs) with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries I encouraged the Commission to press forward with negotiating full regional agreements that were truly development-friendly. We also needed mechanisms to implement and monitor existing EPAs. I pressed the Commission to make progress on the review of the general system of preferences (GSP). We needed increased transparency around the effective implementation of GSP+. I drew all member states’ attention to the plight of Pakistan. I argued that there was an overwhelming moral and political case to support the Pakistan economy at this time, and that an adjustment of rules within GSP+ could bring trade benefits that would have wider, mutually beneficial social and political impact. Finally I emphasised the importance of decent work. I argued that working more closely with the ILO we could make important progress to ensure that standards were raised and secured without creating artificial barriers to trade.


Thirty-year Rule Review

Yesterday I laid before each House a copy of the Government’s response to the 30-year rule review (Cm. 7822). Copies of this document are available in the Libraries of both Houses and also in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

This publication will further the Government’s plans to increase the accessibility of public information to improve the culture of openness and transparency in public life.

The right to access information has become a cornerstone of our democracy. On 25 October 2007, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, announced an independent review of the 30-year rule. The review, chaired by Paul Dacre, published its findings in January 2009. The Government have carefully considered those findings.

As my right hon. Friend, the Prime Minister, announced on 10 June 2009, Official Report, column 797, the Government plan to reduce the rule to 20 years via amendments to the Public Records Act 1958 and the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The Government believe that a 20-year rule offers the best balance between openness, affordability and the protection of the public interest in good government.

The new information access arrangements set out in the Government’s response to the 30-year rule review will provide earlier access to a wide range of public documents, while also ensuring that we are able to protect the most sensitive information and the constitutional relationships that underpin our system of government.

In order to bring forward these important proposals the Government yesterday tabled amendments to the Constitutional Renewal and Governance Bill. Those amendments also provide protection to royal records.

I would like to express my gratitude to Paul Dacre, and his two colleagues on the review Sir Joseph Pilling and Professor Sir David Cannadine for all their work on the review.

Prisoner Escapes (Ministerial Correction)

An error has been identified in the written answer given to the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), 10 November 2009, Official Report, columns 216-17W. The full answer should have been as follows:

The table below shows information relating to three prisoners still unlawfully at large for murder who have absconded from open prisons in England and Wales since April 2004.

Prisoners still unlawfully at large since April 2004 serving an index offence of murder.

Prisoner 1Prisoner 2Prisoner 3

Date of offence

March 1984



Date convicted to life imprisonment




Length of sentence




Date of re-categorisation to category D




Date of transfer to open conditions




Date of abscond

17/05/2005 HMP Sudbury

10/01/2007 HMP Sudbury

31/08/2009 HMP Ford

Was prisoner on temporary release at time of abscond




Number of offences against prison discipline during this period of custody




Note on table:

*All of these would have been proven and subject to disciplinary punishment.

These figures have been drawn from administrative data systems. Although care is taken when processing and analysing the returns, the detail collected is subject to the inaccuracies inherent in any large scale recording system

It is obviously in general much in the public interest that the names of those escaping and absconding should be made public, but there can be operational or other reasons for not doing so in specific cases. I will write to the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield with the name of the offender when the police have confirmed that there is no difficulty in placing this in the public domain.

Over 96 per cent. of prisoners who abscond are re-captured and returned to custody. On recapture the prisoner will be returned to a closed prison and referred to the police for consideration for prosecution for having been unlawfully at large.


Rolling Stock

My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Lord Adonis, has made the following written ministerial statement:

In order to replace Britain’s ageing fleet of Intercity 125 trains and to invest in capacity and passenger journey improvements on the east coast and Great Western main lines, the Government began the inter-city express programme procurement in 2007. The programme’s key objective has been to achieve value for money across the lifetime of the trains, taking account of costs right across the rail industry.

Good progress has been made, including the announcement of Agility Trains as preferred bidder in February 2009. Over the course of the procurement, however, there has been a reduction in the capacity of the debt market to support the transaction as originally envisaged, and passenger growth has also slowed. In addition the Government and Network Rail have committed to electrify the Great Western main line from 2016. The Government have identified appropriate adjustments to the original programme to take account of these developments. This has inevitably extended the contractual negotiations, which are not yet complete and would not be so until mid-March at the earliest.

The negotiations are for a contract of nearly 30 years, a multi-billion pound spend over the course of many Parliaments. In all the circumstances, the Government do not believe it would be appropriate to enter into this particular contract in the immediate run up to a general election. To ensure that a decision is taken at the beginning of the next Parliament on the basis of the fullest evaluation, the Secretary of State has today asked Sir Andrew Foster, former controller of the Audit Commission, to provide an independent assessment of the value for money of the programme and the credibility and the value for money of any alternatives which meet the programme’s objectives. It is critical for rail passengers that the right long-term decision is made about the next generation of inter-city trains, which will have a life of 30 years or more.

The existing rolling stock dates back to the 1970s and needs to be replaced. If Sir Andrew Foster reaffirms that the inter-city express programme is better than the alternatives, the Secretary of State’s intention would be to proceed with the project in the next Parliament, subject to satisfactory resolution of all the contractual issues.

Sir Andrew Foster will consult Agility Trains, the Department, the relevant train operating companies, the Office of Rail Regulation, Network Rail, passenger groups and the devolved Scottish and Welsh Administrations.

Sir Andrew Foster will report within three months. The report and the Government’s response will be published and reported to Parliament. A copy of the letter from the Secretary of State to Sir Andrew Foster has been laid in the Libraries of both Houses.