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Written Statements

Volume 684: debated on Monday 17 July 2006

Written Statements

Monday 17 July 2006

Armed Forces: Personnel and Veterans

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Tom Watson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

As foreshadowed by my predecessor in his Statement in March 2005, I am announcing today the outcome of the study to explore whether there is scope for further service improvement through the greater integration of services delivered by the Armed Forces Personnel Administration Agency and the Veterans Agency. The study has included consultation of trade unions and veterans’ groups and has recommended that the Armed Forces Personnel Administration Agency and the Veterans Agency are integrated on 1 April 2007.

I have decided that the integration of these two agencies should take place, as it will enable improvements to the service received by both veterans and serving members of our Armed Forces. It is my intention that each of these two groups should be able to access the whole range of services and benefits currently provided by the two agencies, simply by going to their own single, dedicated contact point where their different needs will be understood and valued. Bringing together these agencies will enable the creation of an organisation with separate front-office customer contact for veterans and serving personnel, supported by a single back-office and unified corporate services and strategy, with one person accountable for overall service delivery. This chief executive will be supported by directors with responsibility respectively for services to veterans and services to those currently serving. The new structure will enable more joined-up and hence more accurate assessments of total entitlements that currently span two agencies. It will also facilitate the development of integrated business processes and IT, leading in due course to further improvements in services for serving and retired members of the Armed Forces and their beneficiaries, thus providing excellent and efficient service from cradle to grave.

Integrating these two agencies does not of itself imply an intention to collocate or further outsource services. These are separate issues to be considered on their merits as and when opportunities arise or existing contracts expire. Integration is designed to improve the administrative support we provide to the Armed Forces and veterans; and robust key targets will be set to ensure no erosion in the quality of service provided. Bringing together the agencies is consistent with the pan-government initiative for more coherent, joined-up approaches to service delivery. To retain a sharp focus on the quality of veterans’ services and to reassure elderly customers through a sense of continuity, the Veterans Agency name for the veterans’ contact point will be retained, with a director dedicated to veterans’ services. As Minister for veterans, I am committed to ensuring that the quality of service to veterans and their dependants as well as the serving population is continued and improved even further under the new arrangements.

Breast Cancer: HER2

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health (Patricia Hewitt) has made the following Written Statement.

On 12 June 2006 (Official Report, cols. 47-48WS) I updated the House on Herceptin, following the announcement of its licence for early breast cancer and the publication of the draft recommendations of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) on its use. In that Written Statement, I promised to update the House on progress with introducing HER2 testing arrangements across the country. This Statement provides that update.

In October 2005, Professor Mike Richards, the National Cancer Director, wrote to all cancer networks to identify the current level of HER2 testing and to inform them that they would need to put arrangements in place to ensure that patients who may benefit from Herceptin for early breast cancer could be identified. This exercise confirmed that access to HER2 testing facilities was patchy and few networks were testing all women with early breast cancer to determine their HER2 status. This was unsurprising given that Herceptin was not then licensed for early breast cancer.

In March 2006, the National Cancer Director sought a progress report from cancer networks. This has shown that there has been a significant improvement in the number of cancer networks providing HER2 testing for all women diagnosed with early breast cancer. Twenty eight out of 34 cancer networks are now reporting that they HER2 test all women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. Of the remaining six, two (Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Rutland, and Surrey, West Sussex and Hampshire) report that they will be testing all these women by July/August 2006; and four, (Derby and Burton, Mount Vernon, Peninsula and Thames Valley) report that they will be testing all these women by September/October 2006.

Community Relations: Preventing Extremism

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I would like to provide an update on the recommendations of the “Preventing Extremism Together” working groups.

The machinery of government changes in May 2006 saw responsibility for working with Muslim communities to prevent extremism pass to the Department for Communities and Local Government.

I am clear that my new department's remit offers the opportunity to make real progress on tackling extremist ideologies. Our central policy on cohesion and faith will continue to be a key contributor to national debates and engagement, but we will be able to combine this with an extended reach into local authorities and communities to make a real difference at local level. We will continue to work to tackle disadvantage experienced by Muslim communities, but will combine this with a greater focus on enabling them, and other communities, to challenge extremism directly. Part of this work will be delivered by close engagement and partnership working with representatives of a broad range of Muslim individuals and organisations. I am keen to add new voices to a vigorous debate about how Government can support Muslim communities more effectively, while building on the successful consultations over the past year.

One of the key strands of that consultation was “Preventing Extremism Together”, the working groups for which disbanded in November 2005, although we continue to work with a number of people involved in them. I would like to inform honourable Members of a progress update on that project, which will be available later today on the department’s website at

The update shows that we have made clear progress on the recommendations from “Preventing Extremism Together” that were for Government to take forward, and that much of it has been made by supporting Muslim communities to deliver change for themselves. We will update the website regularly as progress develops. The update posted on the website indicates the work going on in response to all the themes raised in the report, with projects focused on Muslim women and young people, and work aimed at tackling alienation and strengthening civic structures.

The recommendations made to us by “Preventing Extremism Together” are an important part of our work with Muslim communities, but they are not the only part. By continuing to support interfaith activity, by funding grassroots projects through our £5 million Faith Communities Capacity Building Fund, and by continuing our local outreach, we will be able to empower communities to tackle these challenges head on. I will keep the House informed of progress in this area.

Crime: Financial and Organised Crime

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department (John Reid) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I have today published a consultation paper, New Powers for Organised and Financial Crime, which will make the UK the least desirable place for organised criminals to operate.

The proposals build on the plans set out in March 2004 in the Government's White Paper One Step Ahead: A 21st Century Strategy to Defeat Organised Crime. Those plans have been brought into being by the passing of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 and the establishment of the Serious Organised Crime Agency from April this year. The proposals on which we are now consulting would:

improve data-sharing within the public sector and between the public and the private sectors to help prevent crime;

introduce new offences of encouraging or assisting a criminal act to strengthen the current law and make it easier to bring to justice those involved in the margins of organised crime;

establish a new civil crime prevention order to prevent organised criminal activity by individuals or organisations by imposing conditions on them; and

strengthen the working of proceeds of crime legislation.

We believe that these additional measures would provide important new means for tackling organised criminality still more effectively.

Copies of the consultation document are available in the Library and on the Home Office website at We should be glad to receive views by 17 October 2006.

EU: Employment, Social Policy and Health Ministerial Meeting

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (James Plaskitt) has made the following Statement.

The Employment, Social Policy and Health informal meeting was held on 6 to 7 July in Helsinki, Finland. My honourable friends the Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Service (Jim Fitzpatrick) and the Minister for Health Services (Rosie Winterton) and I represented the UK.

The theme of the informal was to look at the challenges of globalisation and demographic ageing. The workshops were divided into three parallel groups. My honourable friend Jim Fitzpatrick participated in the workshop on productivity and quality of working life and focused on the UK experience and strategy for promoting high performance in the workplace as set out in Success at Work. I represented the workshop on prolonging working life for men and women and highlighted the Government's plans to extend working life through pension reform and measures to help people to stay in work and to balance their caring responsibilities.

My honourable friend Rosie Winterton spoke about the health, work and well-being strategy and emphasised the message that work is good for health, especially mental health, in the workshop looking at how to promote health in the workplace.

The presidency drew conclusions from the three workshops and said that it had seen a consensus that the ageing population raised clear challenges, which could best be met by shared objectives for employment, social and health policies. This could include flexicurity, effective social protection and consistent action on health. The flexibility needed to embrace social change should include action on work-life balance, gender equality, lifelong learning and health and safety to make work more attractive and increase productivity. Social partners and civil society must be fully engaged. All actions should be tailored to the needs of women and men.

Housing: Tenancy Deposit Protection

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The commencement date for tenancy deposit protection will be 6 April 2007. The summary of responses to the consultation on the tenancy deposit protection secondary legislation was published on 23 June 2006. The consultation sought views on the information requirements to be placed on landlords and the handling of deposits at the beginning and end of the tenancy. Alongside the publication of the summary of responses, the Government announced that the commencement date of 1 October 2006 was under review.

Responses to the consultation raised concerns about joint authorisation for deposit repayment where either landlord or tenant cannot contact the other party to obtain agreement. This includes situations where there are rent arrears and a tenancy has been abandoned.

Further consideration has now been given to stakeholders’ concerns expressed in the consultative process and the Government recognise that it would be beneficial to both landlords and tenants to enable single claims to be made on the deposit in certain circumstances. We therefore intend to bring to the House proposals to achieve this.

To ensure all provisions are in place and stakeholders have had the opportunity to prepare for the introduction of tenancy deposit protection, the commencement date has been moved from 1 October 2006 to 6 April 2007, which is a common commencement date.

Learning and Skills Council

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education (Bill Rammell) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I inform the House that the Learning and Skills Council for England has today published its annual report and accounts for the period to 31 March 2006. Copies will be placed in the House Libraries.

Mental Capacity Act 2005: Court of Protection

The Department for Constitutional Affairs has today published a consultation paper seeking views on new rules of court for the new court of protection established under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. The department is seeking views on the draft rules included in the consultation paper. Copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The department is also publishing the government response to the consultation on lasting powers of attorney today. The consultation ended on 14 April 2006 and 118 responses were received. The consultation response provides a summary of responses and the next steps in light of the consultation.

The Mental Capacity Act 2005 establishes a new specialist court, to be known as the court of protection, with a new jurisdiction to deal with decision-making for adults who lack capacity. This court will have important structural differences from the current Court of Protection. The new court will be able to make decisions both, as the current court can, about property and affairs (the term used in the Act to describe the financial decision-making jurisdiction) and about personal welfare matters, including healthcare. The new court of protection will begin operating from April 2007.

The Act also allows people to plan ahead for a time when they may lack capacity, by appointing an attorney to make decisions about both their property and affairs and personal welfare.

Prisons: National Offender Management Service

Her Majesty's Prison Service and the National Probation Service have today published their annual reports, reporting their performances for 2005-06. The Office for Contracted Prisons has today published its statement of performance. Copies of all the annual reports have been placed in the Library. The Prison Service report and the Office for Contracted Prisons statement of performance include the financial accounts for 2005-06. The financial accounts for the National Probation Service will be published later in the year.

Performance against all the national offender management targets for 2005-06 is shown in the table below.

Performance Against the National Offender Management Targets for 2005-06

Annual Target


Public Protection Targets

Category A escapes



Total escapes from prisons and prison escorts

Less than 0.05 per cent

0.014 per cent

Escapes from Contracted Escorts (NOMS)



Risk of harm assessments, full analyses and Offender Assessment Systems (OASys) sentence plans, including risk management plans, on high/very high risk of harm offenders completed within five working days of commencement of order or release into the community

90 per cent

81 per cent (Aug 05 -Mar 06)

Risk of harm screenings/full analyses (as appropriate) and OASys sentence plans completed on prolific and other priority offenders (PPOs) within five working days of the commencement of the order or release into the community

90 per cent

82 per cent (Aug 05 -Mar 06)

Supporting the Courts

Pre-sentence reports to the magistrates’ courts within the deadline specified by the court

90 per cent

97 per cent (July 05 -Mar 06

Timely arrival at court (NOMS)

85 per cent

82.31 per cent

Firm and Fair Punishment

Proportion of orders and licences in which the offender complies

85 per cent

81 per cent

Breach proceedings initiated within 10 days

90 per cent

91 per cent

Self-inflicted deaths

Less than 112.8 per 100,000

96.8 per cent

Serious assault

Less than 1.53 per cent

1.84 per cent

Overcrowding (public prisons)

Less than 24 per cent

23.7 per cent

Overcrowding (contracted prisons)

Less than 34.5 per cent

31.3 per cent

Helping to Cut Crime

Education Awards (Probation Service): Basic Skills starts



Education Awards (Probation Service): Basic Skills Awards achieved*



Education Awards (Prison): Basic Skills Awards achieved*



Education Awards (Prison): Work Skills Awards achieved*



Accommodation on release



Employment, training and education (ETE) place on release



Drug treatment and testing orders/drug rehabilitation requirements completed (Probation)



Drug treatment programmes completed (prisons)



Mandatory drug tests

Less than 11.8 per cent

10.3 per cent

Offending behaviour programmes completion (Probation Service)



Offending behaviour programmes (Prisons)



Of which sex offender treatment programmes



Intensive control and change programmes completed



Contributing to Communities and Society

Enhanced community punishment/unpaid work completions



Victim contact

85 per cent

93 per cent

Organising and Supporting Delivery

Staff sickness (public prisons only)

Fewer than 11.5 days/person


Staff sickness (Probation Service)

Fewer than nine days/person


Ethnic-minority staff (public prisons only)

At least 6 per cent

5.73 per cent

Regionally set employment targets for ethnic-minority staff

8.4 per cent

1.9 per cent

Clear proposals in court reports for minority-ethnic offenders

95 per cent

97 per cent

* The Learning and Skills Council has contributed to this target by delivering in three development regions.

Smoking: Smoke-free Provisions

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Public Health (Caroline Flint) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Today the Department of Health publishes a consultation on proposed regulations for smoke-free premises and vehicles to be made under Part 1 of the Health Bill. The medical and scientific evidence of the risks to health from exposure to second-hand smoke is well established and is set out in the 1998 and 2004 reports of the independent Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health, and the 2004 report of the World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer.

A key aspect of the Government's strategy as set out in the White Paper Choosing Health: making healthy choices easier is to shift the balance significantly in favour of smoke-free enclosed public places and workplaces through legislation in order to reduce levels of exposure to second-hand smoke. The smoke-free provisions in the regulations to be made under the Health Bill are a huge step forward for public health by reducing exposure in enclosed public places and workplaces to the hazards of second-hand smoke. The consultation seeks comments on the content of the regulations and their implementation. The consultation period will run for 12 weeks, closing on 2 October 2006. Copies of the consultation document have been placed in the Library.

Taxation: Tax Benefit Reference Manual

My right honourable friend the Paymaster General has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Copies of the 2006-07 edition of the Tax Benefit Reference Manual (TBRM) are today being deposited in the House of Commons Library.

HM Treasury publishes the TBRM annually. It is a technical manual detailing the tax and benefit system, describing both the current and historic regimes. There are also tables of time series covering tax and benefit rates, numbers of taxpayers and benefit claimants, VAT and duty rates and the tax burden on specimen households.

Transport: MoT Fees

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport (Dr Stephen Ladyman) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

The Department for Transport has today issued a consultation document for the attention of stakeholders seeking views on the proposed review of the maximum level of MoT fee due for implementation later this year. The letter proposes an increase in the maximum level of fee for a car (MoT test Class IV) from £44.15 to £50.35 from October 2006. This represents an increase of £6.20. The Government do not intend to increase the maximum price again until April 2008 at the earliest.

The increase in the maximum fee level follows an analysis of how long garages actually spend performing the test, which shows it now takes nearly an hour, on average, to fully MoT a car. This includes a check of up to 26 systems and components, including safety critical ones such as tyres and brakes.

Prescribed MoT fee levels are a maximum—some garages do not charge the full fee. Some garages simply charge less than maximum, some offer free retests and some even make no charge for the test provided it is combined with a full service.

The increase in fees will go to the garages to cover the costs of their time, with a small amount—27p—going to the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency to cover the costs of running the system, which will in turn be passed to the service provider.

A copy of the letter is available in the House Libraries. The proposed new fee levels have already been subject to informal consultation with interested parties so there is a shortened consultation period, which expires on 1 September 2006.

Youth Justice Board

The Youth Justice Board’s annual report and accounts for 2005-06 have been laid before Parliament today. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.