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Written Statements

Volume 507: debated on Tuesday 16 March 2010

Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Cabinet Office

Members and Peers Correspondence 2009

I am publishing today a report on Departments’ and agencies' performance on handling Members’ and Peers’ correspondence during 2009. Details are set out in the table. Correspondence statistics 2008 can be found on 2 April 2009, Official Report, columns 81-86WS. Departmental figures are based on substantive replies unless otherwise indicated.

The footnotes to the table provide general background information on how the figures have been compiled.

Correspondence from MPs / Peers to Ministers and Agency Chief Executives in2009

Correspondence from MPs / Peers to Ministers and Agency Chief Executives1

2009

Department or Agency

Target set for reply (working days)

Number of letters received

% of replies within target

Attorney General's Office

20

192

88

Department for Business, Innovation & Skills 2

15

17623

58

Companies House

10

96

100

Insolvency Service

10

794

74

UK Intellectual Property Office

10

481

88

Cabinet Office

15

1444

82

Charity Commission

10

214

78

Department for Children, Schools and Families

15

15256

78

Department for Communities and Local Government

15

9154

63

Planning Inspectorate

10

184

90

Crown Prosecution Service

15

483

96

Department for Culture, Media and Sport 3

20

3215

56

Royal Parks

20

30

93

Ministry of Defence

15

6254

86

Met Office

10

14

93

Service Personnel and Veterans Agency

15

198

94

Department for Energy and Climate Change 4

15

9071

51

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

15

12527

73

Animal Health

15

76

93

Marine Fisheries Agency

15

35

82

Rural Payments Agency

15

406

66

Food Standards Agency

DH Ministers replies

20

408

70*

20

584

95**

FSA Chair/CE replies

20

120

90

Meat Hygiene Service

15

22

100

* response to non-campaign letters ** response to campaign letters

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

20

10462

82

Government Equalities Office

20

1438

63

Department of Health

20

16008

93

Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency

20

516

95*

20

22

77**

NHS Purchasing and Supplies Agency

20

33

94

*Agency Ministerial cases ** Letters sent directly to agency chief executive or where agency chief executives responded on behalf of Ministers

Home Office

15

9128

88

Criminal Records Bureau

10

933

99

Identity and Passport Service

10

1012

72

UK Border Agency

20

66320

78

Department for International Development

15

2013

95

Ministry of Justice 5

20

4554

63

HM Courts Service

20

729

65

HM Land Registry

20

52

96

National Archives

20

60

95

National Offender Management Service

20

1723

60

Northern Ireland Court Service

20

16

88

Office of the Public Guardian

20

220

82

Official Solicitor and Public Trustee

20

32

50

Tribunals Service

20

273

66

Northern Ireland Office

15

637

85

Compensation Agency

10

15

73

Northern Ireland Prison Service

10

79

77

Office for National Statistics

10

112

79

Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Schools

7

232

58

Office of Fair Trading

15

497

72

Office of Gas and Electricity Markets

15

200

77

Office of the Leader of the House of Commons

15

418

72

Office of the Leader of the House of Lords

15

63

92

Office of Rail Regulation

20

93

92

Office of Water Services

10

404

58

Postal Services Commission

7

13

77

Scotland Office 6

15

75

40

Serious Fraud Office

20

43

81

Department for Transport

15

9150

89

Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency

7

1486

100

Driving Standards Agency

10

185

99

Highways Agency

15

443

94

Maritime and Coastguard Agency

10

12

91

Vehicle and Operator Services Agency

10

112

98

HM Treasury 7

15

16251

53

H M Revenue and Customs

15

5492

75

15

774*

81

National Savings and Investments

15

19

79

Office of Government Commerce

15

47

85

15

93**

93

* Local office and ‘delegated’ figures (where local tax offices have replied directly to MPs) ** Letters where chief executive has replied

Valuation Office

18

25

72

Treasury Solicitor’s Department

10

32

100

Wales Office

15

101

82

Department for Work and Pensions

20

18062

76

Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission

15

6352

99

Debt Management

15

43

86

Health and Safety Executive

15

117

66

Jobcentre Plus

15

2847

93

Pension, Disability and Carers Service

15

2292

84

1 Departments and Agencies which received 10 MPs/Peers letters or fewer are not shown in this table. Holding or interim replies are not included unless otherwise indicated. The report does not include correspondence considered as freedom of information requests.

2 Includes BERR and DIUS. Following an increase in correspondence relating to the recession, a review has been undertaken to improve performance and recommendations are now being implemented. Performance rose to 73 per cent. by end of 2009.

3 An external review was undertaken mid-year, from which an action plan was agreed. Performance rose to 73 per cent. by end of 2009.

4 In 2009 DECC’s correspondence was handled by a shared services system. DECC now has its own correspondence unit which will lead to an improvement in the handling of correspondence.

5 A substantial increase in the volume of correspondence received by MOJ has contributed to a downturn in performance. Measures are in place to improve correspondence handling as a matter of urgency and these have led to a significant improvement. Performance rose to 86 per cent. by end of 2009.

6 The drop in performance in 2009 is largely attributable to delays in receiving essential information. Measures have been put in place to improve our correspondence process as a matter of urgency, including systematic monitoring by senior management.

7 Performance has been affected by a significant increase in all correspondence to the Treasury, creating a backlog of cases in the first half of 2009. This has been addressed over the course of the year and performance rose to 59 per cent. by end of 2009.

Communities and Local Government

Housing and Planning Delivery Grant

I am announcing today the final allocations of £135 million of housing and planning delivery grant (HPDG) for 2009-10. The grant provides a direct incentive for councils to work with partners in the public and private sector to ensure that new homes are built where they are needed. It is an additional top up to mainstream funding and councils can choose how to spend it locally.

A copy of the determination and a table showing the local authority allocations is available in the Libraries of both Houses.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

EU Foreign Ministers (Informal Meeting)

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary represented the UK at the informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers—Gymnich—on 5-6 March in Cordoba, Spain.

The agenda items covered were as follows:

Emerging Powers

High Representative Ashton opened by saying the EU’s relationship with the strategic powers was one of her top priorities. The transatlantic relationship remained central, but we also needed close engagement with countries like China, Brazil, India, South Africa and Russia. If the EU wanted to be relevant, we needed a direct relationship with these key players.

The Presidency—Moratinos—led a wide-ranging discussion of the EU’s approach to the emerging powers following the changes to its structures brought about by the Lisbon treaty. Most Ministers agreed that we needed to make better use of summits and other meetings with these countries and in general take a more strategic and medium-term view of our relations, including now that the High Representative had a five-year term in which to work.

External Action Service

Discussion of the EAS spanned both days. The High Representative set out her thoughts and vision for the EAS including that it should bring coherence to all the EU’s external activities. The Foreign Secretary and other Ministers expressed their support for the High Representative and the need for a strong and effective EAS as a key tool to help deliver Europe’s priorities.

Middle East Peace Process

The presidency led a short discussion on the middle east peace process, focusing on how to take forward the December 2009 Council conclusions. The High Representative set out her plans to visit the region.

Western Balkans

The three Ministers of the candidate countries—The Former Yogoslav Republic of Macedonia, Croatia and Turkey—joined EU Foreign Ministers for a discussion.

The High Representative and Commissioner Füle stressed the importance of the region for the EU. The future of the region lay within Europe, and Europe would be judged by the effectiveness of its support to its neighbourhood. On visas, Commissioner Füle said the Commission would make recommendations in respect of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania following recent work.

Health

Maternity and Early Years

The Government have announced today the launch of a strategic vision for the further transformation of maternity services and early years services. “Maternity and Early Years—Making a Good Start to Family Life” has been placed in the Library and copies are available for hon. Members from the Vote Office.

The document has been developed jointly by the Department of Health, the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Prime Minister’s strategy unit, drawing on the views of mothers and fathers, children’s centre staff, local health practitioners and children.

“Maternity and Early Years—Making a Good Start to Family Life” makes the clear case for helping families to give their baby the best possible start in life and sets out a vision of renewed and more integrated maternity and early years services that put the excellent clinical care already available at the centre of a wider network of family support:

with commitments to consult on new entitlements for women to access maternity services early in pregnancy and make important choices around where to have their baby;

where local services will join up so that families have continuous care and support from early pregnancy to at least the child’s sixth month—with a named Sure Start children’s centre contact offered to parents early in pregnancy who will invite them into the children’s centre, and access to a health visitor for every children’s centre;

where families will also be offered more help to prepare for parenthood so they can give their baby the best possible start in life—with new antenatal education opportunities rolled out in settings that suit parents and with a further focus on the opportunities for fathers to get more involved—including an invitation for both parents to attend a family start meeting at their children’s centre and an opportunity to agree a parents’ plan together; and

understanding that families will have very different needs, and that some may want more support in preparing for parenthood, with extra support for those families that need it —for instance by expanding the family nurse partnership to help young, vulnerable first-time families.

With over 3,500 Sure Start children’s centres now established across the country, in addition to the existing network of GP surgeries and health centres, we are well placed to reach all families, and to make sure all families can draw on the support they want in preparing for and bringing up their baby.

Health and Social Care (Volunteering)

The Government have announced today the launch of a strategic vision for volunteering for health and social care. “Volunteering—involving people and communities in delivering and developing health and social care services” has been placed in the Library and copies are available for hon. Members from the Vote Office.

The vision is of a health and social care environment in which volunteering is encouraged and supported wherever it has the power to reduce inequality, enhance service quality or improve outcomes for individuals and communities. The strategic vision has been developed by the Department in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders from across the third sector, national health service and local government.

The Government’s emphasis for the future of health and social care is on better and more personalised services. “High Quality Care for All” urges the NHS to place quality at the heart of everything it does. “Putting People First” and the transformation of adult social care services increasingly place individuals in control of decisions about the services they receive and the resources that pay for them. These developments present new roles and opportunities for volunteering that complement services provided by the paid work force and engage the expertise of service users in the design and delivery of services.

Volunteers already make an enormous difference to the experience people have of the health and care services they come into contact with—making a huge contribution to almost every sphere of health and social care. Volunteering helps to create people-centred services; keeps people active, engaged and independent; and helps to meet the support needs of patients, carers and users of care services. It can and does contribute significantly to: quality, choice and innovation in services; building social capital and reduced isolation; enhancing the capacity of preventative care; meeting the culturally specific needs of health and social care service users; and increasing connections between citizens and the services they use.

Together these build a strong case for people across the health and social care system to refresh their thinking about volunteering and its role in their organisation or community. The strategic vision provides a starting point and an opportunity for leaders in this field to be at the forefront of service innovation, community engagement and improved user experience.

Articulating key messages and a framework for action in relation to leadership, partnership, commissioning, volunteer management, and support for individual volunteers, the vision is designed to engage everybody working in the health and social care system, in the public and third sectors, to support its aim to: enhance the profile and involvement of volunteers; highlight its potential in terms of health and well-being; improve the evidence base for investment; promote best practice; reduce obstacles and increase opportunities that make volunteering accessible to all; and inspire and enable change to support its delivery.

Home Department

Control Order Powers (Three-month Report)

Section 14(1) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (the 2005 Act) requires the Secretary of State to report to Parliament as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of every relevant three-month period on the exercise of the control order powers during that period.

The level of information provided will always be subject to slight variations based on operational advice.

The control order regime

In the 16 September 2009 quarterly report to Parliament on control orders, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department made clear that he considered that the control order regime remained viable following the June 2009 House of Lords judgment in AF & Others, but intended to keep that assessment under review as cases were considered by the courts. The High Court has upheld four control orders since the House of Lords judgment, following court proceedings that were compliant with the article 6 test laid down in AF & Others. The Government therefore remain of the view that the regime remains viable. The Government’s position was set out in greater detail in their memorandum to the Home Affairs Committee on post-legislative scrutiny of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (Cm 7797), which was laid before Parliament on 1 February.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department also asked the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, Lord Carlile, to consider in his fifth annual report on the operation of the 2005 Act the continuing viability of the control order regime in the light of AF & Others. I welcome the conclusion of Lord Carlile in that report, which was laid before Parliament on 1 February

“that abandoning the control orders system entirely would have a damaging effect on national security. There is no better means of dealing with the serious and continuing risk posed by some individuals.”

Lord Carlile emphasises that in reaching this conclusion he has

“considered the effects of the court decisions on disclosure. I do not consider that their effect is to make control orders impossible”.

Lord Carlile’s conclusion supports our view that control orders continue to be an important tool to protect the public from the risk of terrorism where individuals who we suspect of involvement in terrorism-related activity cannot be prosecuted or deported.

The powers in the 2005 Act have now been renewed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department for a further year from 11 March 2010, after both Houses of Parliament supported its renewal.

The exercise of the control order powers in the last quarter

As explained in previous quarterly statements on control orders, control order obligations are tailored to the individual concerned and are based on the terrorism-related risk that individual poses. Each control order is kept under regular review to ensure that obligations remain necessary and proportionate. The Home Office continues to hold control order review groups (CORGs) every quarter, with representation from law enforcement and intelligence agencies, to keep the obligations in every control order under regular and formal review and to facilitate a review of appropriate exit strategies. During this reporting period, no CORGs were held in relation to the orders currently in force. This is because meetings were held just before, and are due to be held just after, this reporting period. Other meetings were held on an ad hoc basis as specific issues arose.

During the period 11 December 2009 to 10 March 2010, one non-derogating control order has been made and served. No control orders have been renewed in accordance with section 2(6) of the 2005 Act in this reporting period. In this reporting period there have been two revocations of control orders that were in force. Neither control order was revoked because it was not possible to meet the disclosure test set out in the House of Lords judgment in AF & Others. The Secretary of State revoked one control order because it was no longer considered necessary, and was directed by the court to revoke another on the basis that the court considered that the order was no longer necessary.

In total, 11 control orders are currently in force, 10 of which are in respect of British citizens. All of these control orders are non-derogating. Six individuals subject to a control order live in the Metropolitan Police Service area; the remaining individuals live in other police force areas. Two individuals have been charged with breaching their control order obligations; no criminal proceedings for breach of a control order were concluded during this reporting period.

During this reporting period, 44 modifications of control order obligations were made; 13 requests to modify control order obligations were refused.

Section 10(1) of the 2005 Act provides a right of appeal against a decision by the Secretary of State to renew a non-derogating control order or to modify an obligation imposed by a non-derogating control order without consent. One appeal under section 10(1) of the 2005 Act has been lodged with the High Court during this reporting period. A right of appeal is also provided for by section 10(3) of the 2005 Act against decisions by the Secretary of State to refuse a request by a controlled person to revoke their order and/or to modify any obligation under the order. During this reporting period two appeals have been lodged with the High Court under section 10(3) of the 2005 Act.

Judgments have been handed down in relation to five control orders in substantive judicial review proceedings under section 3(10) of the 2005 Act during this reporting period. Four of these control orders have been upheld by the courts. The five judgments are these:

Judgment was handed down by the High Court in Secretary of State for the Home Department v. BG & BH on 15 December 2009. Both control orders were upheld. No further detail can be given for legal reasons.

Judgment was handed down in Secretary of State for the Home Department v. AM on 21 December 2009. The High Court upheld this control order as necessary and proportionate, finding that there was overwhelming evidence of AM’s past involvement in terrorism-related activity and his future intentions. AM sought permission to appeal against this judgment on various grounds and permission has been granted.

In Secretary of State for the Home Department v. Al-Saadi, also handed down on 21 December 2009, the High Court found that while it was necessary for him to be placed on a control order when it was initially imposed, it was no longer necessary. The court directed the Secretary of State to revoke the control order.

Judgment in Secretary of State for the Home Department v. BM was handed down on 16 February 2010. The control order was upheld by the court on the grounds that there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that BM is or has been involved in terrorism-related activity and that the imposition of a control order on him is necessary for purposes connected with protecting the public from a risk of terrorism.

A judgment was handed down on 18 January 2010 in the case Secretary of State for the Home Department v. AE & AF. This determined two preliminary issues: whether in circumstances where the requirements of article 6 of the ECHR compel the Secretary of State to withdraw the material relied upon in support of a control order such that the order cannot be maintained, the court should quash the control order or direct revocation; and whether the disclosure requirements identified in AF & Others apply where the Secretary of State wishes to rely upon closed material to defend against a claim for damages by a controlled person. The court found that in these circumstances the order should be quashed and that the requirements in AF & Others does apply, although the judge commented that it did not follow that the controlled individuals would automatically succeed on liability on all claims against the Secretary of State, and that even if they did recover any damages, the level of compensation payable was likely to be low. The Secretary of State is appealing against the judgment.

In addition to the appeals to the Court of Appeal mentioned above, one further individual subject to a control order has applied for, and been granted, permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal. One individual has been granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Most full judgments are available at http://www.bailii.org/.

Justice

“Cutting Crime: The Case for Justice Reinvestment”

I have laid today before Parliament the Government response to the Justice Committee report: “Cutting Crime: the case for justice reinvestment”. This document sets out the response of the Government to the report published by the House of Commons Justice Committee in January 2010.

In January 2008 the Justice Committee launched an inquiry into the cost implications of the Government’s current strategy to reduce reoffending and potential alternative policies. The Committee’s report contains 98 recommendations and conclusions and these make a case for a systematic approach to justice reinvestment as a way to reduce the size of the prison population, as well as providing an analysis of the current strategy for reducing reoffending and cutting crime. We are very grateful to the Committee for their contribution in this important debate.

The Government share with the Committee the ambition to tackle both crime and the causes of crime: to reserve custody for the most serious offenders; to make full use of tough community sentences that demand change from the offender and maintain public confidence; and to invest in ‘what works’ in reducing reoffending. The Government approach involves punishment for breaking the law, and giving offenders the opportunity to reform and turn away from crime. The aim is to ensure justice for victims and local communities; punishment and reform for offenders; and, ultimately, value for the taxpayer. This is a complex undertaking, and one in which we have already achieved much: according to the British crime survey, crime has dropped by over a third since 1997, and adult reoffending is down 20.3 per cent. since 2000 and 11.1 per cent. since 2005. However, we want to go further and will reflect carefully on the Committee’s analysis and recommendations.

Government have a duty to protect the public, and a key element of this is to provide sufficient prison places for the most dangerous, serious and persistent offenders. We are clear that prison remains the right option for these offenders and that a prison sentence, long or short, can be essential to demonstrating to law-abiding communities that offenders face the full range of punishments, including the deprivation of liberty behind bars. We must ensure therefore, that prison is available as an option for sentencers when necessary. The Government are committed to increasing prison capacity to 96,000 places by 2014 to meet projected demand.

Nevertheless, we recognise that for a significant number of offenders community sentences can be more effective: in 2008, the number of people sentenced to community sentences was 190,171 compared to 99,525 for immediate custody. More can be done as part of a wider approach that includes tough community sentences for lower-risk offenders and diversion away from the criminal justice system where other alternatives would be more effective, in particular access to mental health services.

Innovations such as intensive alternatives to custody, integrated offender management, and the prolific and other priority offenders programme, are clear examples of how partners can work together to focus resources where they can make the greatest impact. Our work to take forward the recommendations set out in the Corston and Bradley reviews (for women in prison and offenders with mental illnesses respectively) demonstrates our commitment to ensuring better use of community alternatives where this is possible and safe to do.

The Government seek to ensure that prison is used in a measured, responsible way on behalf of the wider community, that what happens in prison is effective and efficiently delivered, and that resources can be used in both custody and the community to reduce reoffending. Our detailed response is set out in the Government response to the Justice Committee report “Cutting Crime: the case for justice reinvestment”, copies of which have been placed in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

Work and Pensions

National Employment Savings Trust

I can confirm the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority signed yesterday the contract for the administration of NEST with Tata Consultancy Services. This marks another important milestone on the road to delivering a pension scheme for the millions of people currently excluded from low-cost pension saving.

As the terms of this contract have been finalised, the Government are able now to set out their plans for financing NEST.

NEST will be paid for by member charges. In the long term, it will be self-financing, and Government expect it to realise the Pensions Commission’s ambition of a charge level as low as 0.3 per cent. of members’ funds under management—an annual management charge (AMC) of 0.3 per cent.

Nevertheless, NEST will need to meet set-up and operational costs incurred in the period before charge revenues are sufficient to meet the full costs of the scheme. Therefore, NEST is expected to make a small additional charge on contributions of around 2 per cent., until set-up costs are extinguished.

This means the members of NEST, many of whom are expected to have low and moderate earnings, will, for the first time, be able to save for a pension while facing charges at levels currently only available to higher earners, or those accepted into large pension schemes.

NEST will have a public service duty, to accept all employers who want to use the scheme to discharge their duty to automatically enrol workers, irrespective of costs. This means NEST will be required to bear costs other pension providers do not face. In recognition of this, and in order to preserve the scheme’s low-cost aims, the Government intend to provide relief to the scheme to limit the overall interest charges scheme members incur on funds borrowed to the Government’s cost of borrowing. The Government are currently seeking the European Commission’s approval that this approach is consistent with European rules on competition and state aid.

The Government believe that this funding package represents a fair balance between delivering good value to NEST’s members, ensuring affordability for the taxpayer and putting NEST on a level playing field with the existing pensions industry.