Friday 14 July 2006
Energy Review: Correction to Commons Statement
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Alistair Darling) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
Further to my Statement to the House on Tuesday, 11 July, it has come to light that the statistics quoted on electricity appliances on standby should have referred to 8 per cent of electricity used in the home, not 7 per cent electricity generated in the United Kingdom (Official Report, 11/7/06; col. 1261).
EU: General Affairs and External Relations Council
The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 17 July in Brussels. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary (Margaret Beckett) will represent the UK.
The agenda items are as follows:
Presentation of the Presidency Priorities
The Finns will present their presidency programme. They will cover a number of important areas over the next six months, including follow-up to the Hampton Court agenda initiated under the UK presidency. Their informal European Council meeting in Lahti on20 October will focus on innovation and energy. They also plan to take forward work in key areas such as climate change, enlargement, security, migration and emergency and crisis response. We welcome these priorities.
This item is on the agenda following the recent conference in Rabat (10 and 11 July), which addressed migration from west Africa. The UK supports the work done by the Rabat conference and agrees with other partners that there is a need for parallel action on migration from east Africa. We will work with concerned partners on setting up follow-up action. Conclusions are expected.
World Trade Organisation/Doha Development Agenda
Commissioner Mandelson is expected toupdate partners on the latest state of play on the negotiations.
External Spending Instruments
This was originally put on the agenda as follow up to discussion by officials in Brussels. However, as the structure of the external financing instruments has changed over the past week, following further discussions with the European Parliament, an agreement may be reached on financial allocations at working-group level this week, which would lead to this item being taken off the GAERC agenda.
The UK is very concerned by President Bashir's refusal to accept transition to a UN force inDarfur. We will call for continued pressure on the Government of Sudan to accept handover. In the mean time the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) needs urgent bolstering. This will require significant financial support from the international community.
At the 18 July pledging conference all member states, including those who have not been significant donors so far, should make generous contributions. The UK will formally announce £20 million in support of AMIS for this year, bringing our total contribution to £52 million. We have been lobbying others to do more. Conclusions are expected.
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
Discussion is likely to focus on elections and the EUFOR RDCongo.
The DRC will see its first democratic elections in 45 years on 30 July. Together, the EC and EU member states are contributing 80 per cent of the financing for elections. The EU is providing an election observation mission (EOM) of over 300 observers. At UN request, the EU is also providing a force (EUFOR RDCongo) to support the UN organisation mission in the DRC (MONUC) over the election period. The French and Germans have provided most of the troops. The UK is providing three officers—one in Potsdam and two in Kinshasa headquarters). We are unable to provide further military personnel because of commitments elsewhere. Conclusions are expected.
Relations with the Western Balkans
We expect Kosovo and Serbia to dominate ministerial discussion. Martti Ahtisaari is likely to brief the GAERC following the UN Security Council meeting this week. We will want to see continued strong EU support for Ahtisaari.
The first meeting of the enhanced troika with Serbia is scheduled to take place following the GAERC.
The council is expected to adopt conclusions covering Kosovo, Montenegro, the conduct of the Macedonian elections and regional co-operation.
The Middle East Peace Process
Ministers will discuss the current situation in Gaza. They will consider how best to continue to work to reduce tension in the region. The council is expected to adopt conclusions.
We expect partners to consider latest developments and the high representative to brief on his recent contacts with the Secretary-General of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Larijani.
There may be discussion over lunch on Iraq, which is likely to focus on the international compact, the preparatory meeting of which is scheduled to take place on 20 July.
The secretariat and commission have also produced a joint paper on the Iraq compact. We do not expect conclusions.
Export Credits Guarantee Department
My right honourable friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for Trade and Industry (Ian McCartney) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I am pleased to inform the House that the Export Credits Guarantee Department's pilot trading fund has been extended for a further year.
ECGD has made good progress with its work to determine under what conditions it would be right for the department to move to statutory trading fund status. This has coincided with ECGD undertaking a significant restructuring programme. Extra time is therefore required to allow ECGD to complete its testing of statutory trading fund status and to advise Ministers accordingly.
Gulf War: Mortality Data
My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Tom Watson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
As part of the Government’s continuing commitment to investigate Gulf veterans’ illnesses openly and honestly, data on the mortality of veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf conflict are published regularly. The most recent figures for the period1 April 1991 to 30 June 2006 are published today as a national statistic on the Defence Analytical Services Agency website.
The data for Gulf veterans are compared to that of a control group known as the “Era cohort” consisting of Armed Forces personnel of a similar profile in terms of gender, service, Regular/Reservists status and rank, who were in service on 1 January 1991 but who were not deployed to the Gulf. As in the previous release, the Era group has been adjusted for a small difference in the age profile of those aged 40 years and over, to ensure appropriate comparisons.
Key points to note in the data are:
there have been 784 deaths among the Gulf veterans and 796 in the age-adjusted Era comparison group; and
the 784 deaths among Gulf veterans compare with approximately 1,265 deaths which would have been expected in a similar-sized cohort taken from the general population of the UK with the sameage and gender profile. This reflects the strong emphasis on fitness when recruiting and retaining service personnel.
These statistics continue to confirm that UK veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf conflict do not suffer an excess of overall mortality compared with service personnel who did not deploy. The full notice can be viewed at www.dasa.mod.uk.
Housing: Overcrowding and Temporary Accommodation
My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
During the passage of the 2004 Housing Bill the Government made commitments to consider whether it is possible to devise an approach to overcrowding that provides for some incremental improvement in standards over a period; and to consult on how the new Section 216 powers could be used to amend the statutory overcrowding standards in Part X of the Housing Act 1985.
The Government are today publishing a discussion document, Tackling Overcrowding in England, which sets out options for revising the outdated definition of overcrowding and developing long-term solutions. This document is designed to stimulate and garner ideas about how best we can tackle the problemsof overcrowding. DCLG officials will be actively engaging stakeholders in discussions, which will conclude on 15 September 2006. Copies of the document have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Government are also providing a £51 million package for tackling overcrowding and increasing the number of settled homes for people in temporary accommodation. The funding announced today is focused on two key areas.
Some £21 million will be made available for immediate action to tackle overcrowding, by increasing the supply of family homes in London. This could include converting existing homes to create extra bedrooms; adding extensions to existing council stock; building or purchasing additional homes, or buying back right-to-buy homes. Five co-ordinators will also be funded to work across London to tackle the most immediate problems of overcrowding.
Some £30 million will also be provided to fund an Extra Home pilot, which could help to deliver up to an extra 1,000 settled homes for families who are currently in temporary accommodation.
Low Pay Commission
My right honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Department of Trade and Industry (Jim Fitzpatrick) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
In its 2006 report to Government, the Low Pay Commission recommended that the accommodation offset provisions should continue to apply to all workers housed by their employer in all circumstances; and that Government update existing guidance and raise awareness. It also recommended that the Government should implement legislative measures to prevent employers using the device of a separate accommodation company to evade the offset.
The Government accepted the need to update guidance on the accommodation offset in their response in March 2006. In the House of Commons debate on 3 July and the Lords debate of 4 July 2006 on the draft National Minimum Wage Regulations 1999 (Amendment Regulations) 2006 the Government announced that they agreed with the Low Pay Commission's recommendation that the accommodation offset should apply in all situations, but believed that legislative measures were not required. Existing legislation already covers a wide range of circumstances in which the employer provides accommodation to workers. We announced our intention to consult on the clarity of the revised guidance.
I am pleased to advise in line with better regulations guidelines that we are issuing draft guidance on the accommodation offset for consultation and will be consulting with a range of interested parties.
Copies of the draft guidance will be placed in both Houses.
Ministry of Defence: Annual Report and Accounts
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I am pleased to announce that I am today publishing the Ministry of Defence's annualreport and accounts for 2005-06. It combines the department's annual performance report and departmental resource accounts in a single document that provides a comprehensive overview of the MoD's financial and non-financial performance. For a third successive year the Comptroller and Auditor General has approved the accounts without qualification. For the first time, this year we have achieved this in time for publication before the Summer Recess.
The report shows that once again the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defence delivered what they were required to do during a busy and challenging year. It reflects the broad and diverse range of operations and tasks undertaken during the year, including a number in support of the output of other government departments. It details the progress that the Ministry of Defence has made towards achieving the public service agreement and efficiency targets agreed with Her Majesty's Treasury in the 2004 Spending Review, and in delivering the capabilities and reformed force structure set out inthe July 2004 Command Paper Delivering Security in the Changing World: Future Capabilities. It also sets out the defence contribution against the Government's wider sustainability goals.
Copies of the annual report and accounts will be placed in the Library of the House. It is also available online from the department's internet site at www.mod.uk.
Ministry of Defence: Porton Down Trials
My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Tom Watson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
On 21 November 2000 the then Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Dr Lewis Moonie) announced a package of measures intended to address emerging concerns that some Porton Down volunteers might have suffered unusual ill health because of their participation in trials at the Chemical Defence Establishment, Porton Down. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has sought to address these concerns through a number of measures. These include a historical survey of the Porton Down service volunteer programme 1939-89 (the period of most interest to volunteers), which is published today. It sets out a full description of the size and shape of the studies in which volunteers took part, and explores their ethical aspects. Also, the MoD is funding an independently run epidemiological study, overseen by the Medical Research Council, to assess the incidence of cancer and mortality among former Porton Down volunteers. The study is expected to report in 2007 and it is hoped that the results will be published in peer-reviewed literature shortly thereafter.
Copies of the historical survey will be placed in the Library of the House and it will also be available on the MoD website at www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/AboutDefence/Issues/PortonDownHistoricalSurvey.htm.
The survey has been conducted by MoD officials who had no previous professional contact with Porton Down. No member of Porton Down staff was involved in determining the ground that the survey should cover or the documents which were to be consulted. Porton Down's advice has been sought in order to clarify explanations of scientific matters—for example, the effect of agents and treatments on physiology and the metrics used to measure doses and exposures. They have not had any further editorial involvement.
I would like to place on record my deep appreciation of Professor Sir Ian Kennedy's contribution as the independent supervisor to this project. I know that the survey team appreciated his valuable guidance. Sir Ian's assessment of Porton Down's conduct appears at the end of the survey. It draws on the descriptions of the trials conducted by the Chemical Defence Establishment, the information presented on how service volunteers were recruited and on Dr Alasdair Maclean's analysis of ethics codes/guidelines and practice. No attempt has been made by the MoD to summarise Sir Ian's assessment, to avoid any inadvertent changes in meaning or language.
Sir Ian identifies a small number of trials spread over several decades which he considers “amount to serious departures from what should have been done”. However, he is clear that they “are few in number”. Sir Ian also warns that these studies must be viewed in the historical context of both the Second World War and the Cold War. The MoD welcomes Sir Ian's view that “a very great debt of gratitude is clearly owed to those who volunteered to take part in the research at Porton and to those who carried it out”.
The MoD takes the health of veterans very seriously indeed. We are seeking to address the concerns of former volunteers who are worried about their health and it is for this reason that the MoD established an independent medical assessment programme (MAP) at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. Attendance at the MAP is free of charge but is conditional on the provision of details of participation in the Porton Down service volunteer programme and access to individual NHS medical records. If volunteers have concerns about their health and are interested in attending the MAP they should contact Porton Down on its helpline number (0800 7832521) in order to obtain their records of attendance. Volunteers also have the opportunity to inspect their own records relating to the trials in which they took part at Porton Down. Alternatively, they can contact the MAP direct on the MAP Helpline 0800 169 5401 or ask their GP for a referral. The MoD welcomes the publication of this historical survey today as being complementary to these existing resources.
NHS: Medical Regulation
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health (Patricia Hewitt) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The Shipman inquiry, chaired by Dame Janet Smith, examined the circumstances surrounding the murders of some 250 patients by Dr Harold Shipman, a general practitioner.
Following the publication of The Shipman Inquiry: Fifth report in December 2004, which was highly critical of the General Medical Council and the broader arrangements for medical regulation, my noble friend the Minister of State, the Lord Warner, commissioned a review. Shortly thereafter, the Department of Health elected to conduct a parallel review of the arrangements in place for the regulation of the other healthcare professions in order to provide consistency of approach and in recognition of the blurring of traditional job roles in healthcare.
The review of medical regulation was conducted by Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer for England. His report, Good doctors, safer patients, is published today, along with the parallel departmental review of non-medical regulation. Both reports focus upon the protection of the interests and safety of patients.
Good doctors, safer patients is a rigorous and thorough report, taking into account systems of regulation in other high-risk industries, systems in operation in other jurisdictions and the views of the profession and the public. It is the first comprehensive review of medical regulation for over 30 years. There are 44 recommendations. The parallel review of non-medical regulation followed a similar process.
Among the key themes raised in the two reports are: changes to the governance and accountability of the professional regulators; the importance of operationalised standards against which to regulate; the appropriate legal standard of proof; the introduction of an independent adjudicator; a spectrum of revalidation across all clinical professions; and devolution of some regulatory powers to the local level. Professional regulation is a complex area. I very much welcome the publication of these reports and the authoritative contribution that they make.
Today, I am announcing a period of consultation on the proposals put forward by the Chief Medical Officer in Good doctors, safer patients, and upon the options outlined in the parallel review of non-medical regulation. As regulation of most professions is a matter reserved to Westminster, comments on the reports are invited on a UK-wide basis. Matters relating to specific devolved Administrations may be copied to the appropriate Administration. Both reports are accompanied by initial regulatory impact assessments. Copies of the reports have been placed in the Library.