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Written Statements

Volume 687: debated on Thursday 7 December 2006

Written Statements

Thursday 7 December 2006

Anti-social Behaviour Orders

My honourable friend the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Tony McNulty) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am announcing today statistics relating to anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs). Data on the number of ASBOs issued are updated quarterly. New figures for the period up to December 2005 are now available. These figures show that for the period between April 1999 and December 2005 the total number of ASBOs issued (as reported to the Home Office by HMCS) was 9,853. Of those ASBOs issued, 56 per cent were to adults and 41 per cent to juveniles (3 per cent of ASBOs are age unknown). Some 42 per cent were orders on application and 58 per cent were orders on conviction.

The Home Office is notified by all courts of ASBOs issued. As indicated in the Statement on 3 November 2005, Official Report, cols. 52-3WS, a joint exercise between Her Majesty's Courts Service and the Home Office has been undertaken to refine and improve further the collection of these data. We contacted local agencies such as crime and disorder reduction partnerships, the British Transport Police, social housing providers and the courts themselves to cross reference and reconcile the differing sources of data. This exercise showed a degree of under-reporting of some 18 per cent.

The data published today have been amended to reflect the results of the data improvement exercise. It is however clear that these figures are an estimate, and although we believe they are very close to the true figures, we cannot eliminate the possibility of a continued degree of under-reporting using the current data collection system. For this reason, we have worked closely with HMCS to develop an action plan to improve the data collection process, which means that data published from next year will be quality assured to the required level. These data are available on the Crime Reduction website at www.crimereduction.gov.uk/asbos/asbos2.htm.

I am also publishing data about the breach rate for ASBOs. The previous publication, for the period up to December 2003, showed that a breach rate of 42 per cent overall (40 per cent for juveniles and 47 per cent for adults). However, recalculating these figures to make them consistent with current data gives a breach rate of 47 per cent for juveniles and 38 per cent for adults (42 per cent overall). This has itself now changed, for the period to December 2005, to 47 per cent overall (57 per cent for juveniles and 41 per cent for adults).

I have also placed in the Library an account of the data reconciliation exercise, and actions in hand to improve the data collection system. The new data collection system will come on stream next year, possibly as early as the spring. We are looking at moving to national statistics standard with these data.

Armed Forces: War Pensions

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

The new rates of war pensions and allowances proposed from April 2007 are set out in the tables below. The annual uprating of war pensions and allowances for 2007 will take place from the week beginning 9 April.

War Pensions

Rates 2006

Rates 2007

Disablement Pension (100 per cent rates)

officer (£ per annum)

7,034.00

7,290.00

other ranks

134.80

139.70

Age allowances

40 per cent to 50 per cent

9.05

9.40

over 50 per cent but not over 70 per cent

13.85

14.35

over 70 per cent but not over 90 per cent

19.75

20.45

over 90 per cent

27.70

28.70

Disablement gratuity

specified minor injury (min.)

858.00

889.00

specified minor injury (max.)

6,412.00

6,643.00

unspecified minor injury (min.)

354.00

367.00

unspecified minor injury (max.)

8,337.00

8,637.00

Unemployability allowance

Personal

83.35

86.35

adult dependency increase

46.95

48.65

increase for first child

10.90

11.30

increase for subsequent children

12.85

13.30

Invalidity allowance

higher rate

16.50

17.10

middle rate

10.60

11.00

lower rate

5.30

5.50

Constant attendance allowance

exceptional rate

101.80

105.40

intermediate rate

76.35

79.05

full-day rate

50.90

52.70

part-day rate

25.45

26.35

Comforts allowance

higher rate

21.80

22.60

lower rate

10.90

11.30

Mobility supplement

48.55

50.30

Allowance for lowered standard of occupation (maximum)

50.84

52.68

Therapeutic earnings limit

4,212.00

4,472.00

Exceptionally severe disablement allowance

50.90

52.70

Severe disablement occupational allowance

25.45

26.35

Clothing allowance (£ per annum)

174.00

180.00

Education allowance (£ per annum) (max)

120.00

120.00

Widow(er)s—private

102.20

105.90

Widow(er)s (other ranks)

102.20

105.90

Widow(er)—Officer (£ pa max)

6,298.00

6,525.00

Childless widow(er)s u-40 (other ranks)

24.49

25.37

Childless widow(er)s (Officer max. £s pa)

6,298.00

6,525.00

Supplementary Pension

68.42

70.88

Age allowance

(a) age 65 to 69

11.70

12.10

(b) age 70 to 79

22.40

23.20

(c) age 80 and over

33.20

34.40

Children's allowance

Increase for first child

16.05

16.65

Increase for subsequent children

17.95

18.60

Orphan's pension

Increase for first child

18.30

18.95

Increase for subsequent children

20.10

20.80

Unmarried dependant living as spouse (max)

99.85

103.55

Rent allowance (maximum)

38.55

39.95

Adult orphan's pension (maximum)

78.50

81.35

Benefit Fraud Inspectorate Reports

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

On behalf of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the BFI inspection reports on the following councils were published today: Carmarthenshire County Council, Guildford Borough Council, Mid-Devon District Council and Renfrewshire Council. Copies have been placed in the Library.

The BFI reports detail a range of strengths and weaknesses in the housing benefit services provided by councils and make recommendations to improve the security and efficiency of benefit delivery. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is considering the reports and may ask the councils for proposals in response to BFI's findings.

Clinical Trials

My honourable friend the Minister of State, Department of Health (Andy Burnham) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 24 July, I informed the House that the Department of Health had published an interim report from the expert scientific group on phase 1 clinical trials. The expert scientific group was established at the request of the Secretary of State for Health, under the chairmanship of Professor Gordon Duff, with the following terms of reference:

To consider what may be necessary in the transition from pre-clinical to first-in-man phase 1 studies, and in the design of these trials, with specific reference to:

biological molecules with novel mechanisms of action;

new agents with a highly species-specific action; and

new drugs directed towards immune system targets.

To provide advice in the form of a report to the Secretary of State for Health for the future authorisation of such trials with an interim report to be provided within three months.

The expert scientific group submitted their final report to the Secretary of State on 30 November and it is being published today.

The report contains 22 recommendations, which fall into a number of key areas:

additional precautionary measures to apply to the approval and conduct of trials involving high-risk compounds;

the need for scientific advice from independent experts before trials of high-risk substances are approved;

better communication between regulators and drug developers and between regulators and ethics committees;

the skills needed by those conducting clinical trials and how in the future these might be acquired;

the location of trial units and the provision of adequate medical back up in case of problems arising; and

wider availability of information about unpublished clinical trials and adverse reactions occurring in trials.

The Government welcome the recommendations made by the expert scientific group and will give them full consideration. Those recommendations that introduce precautionary measures in the approval and conduct of trials have already been implemented in the UK on an interim basis by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). These interim arrangements will remain until they are replaced by European guidance. We will make every effort to ensure that implementation of these, and other recommendations that require European-level implementation, are given priority.

The MHRA has also put in place procedures for accessing independent scientific advice, and an expert advisory group that will review applications for trials of high risk substances will be established in the new year. Recognising the need for better communication between the main organisations responsible for approval of clinical trials, the MHRA and the UK Ethics Committee Authority (UKECA) jointly published a memorandum of understanding on 30 October 2006, setting out what information should, in the future, be shared between MHRA and research ethics committees.

We will be discussing with the relevant stakeholders, including the pharmaceutical industry and academia, how we can best ensure that the necessary changes are made to training programmes for staff involved in designing and conducting clinical trials, and how to ensure that trial units are appropriately located and equipped.

Some of the expert scientific group's recommendations, such as those proposing greater sharing of information about trials and adverse reactions, have international implications. We will identify appropriate ways of taking these recommendations forward, and ensure that action to implement them is appropriately prioritised.

It is important not to lose sight of the fact that phase 1 studies have an extremely good safety record. The events associated with the TGN 1412 study are extremely rare and were wholly unexpected. The Government are, however, aware of the continuing impact this tragic incident is having on the lives of the volunteers who were involved in this trial, and on their families. The volunteers have received, and will continue to receive, all appropriate NHS care, and we believe that implementing the wide ranging and comprehensive recommendations made in this report will make a significant contribution to the safety of clinical trials of high risk substances in the future.

Finally, I would like to express the Government's grateful thanks to the expert scientific group on phase 1 clinical trials and in particular to its chairman, Professor Gordon Duff, for the work it has undertaken in producing an impressive, authoritative and thorough review of the issues raised by the TGN 1412 clinical trial and in providing a range of soundly based recommendations for the future safety of such trials.

Employment: Dispute Resolution Review

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today announcing an expanded government review of the framework for settling disputes between employers and employees.

The review will be led by Michael Gibbons, a member of the Better Regulation Commission, acting in a personal capacity. It will involve businesses and employee representatives in considering all the options and working out how the Government can best deliver our common aim of faster and better dispute resolution. I have asked Mr Gibbons to make recommendations to me in the spring of 2007.

In March 2006 the Government published Success at Work, an employment law policy statement for this Parliament, in which they undertook to review the scope to reduce the number of cases going to employment tribunals, including a review of the Dispute Resolution Regulations 2004. The initial stages of that work have indicated that it is now appropriate to carry out a wider-ranging assessment of the ways in which the Government can help employers and individuals to resolve employment disputes as quickly as possible. There is evidence that changes to the various components of the current system could produce real benefits for businesses and individuals, by reducing the time, cost and stress involved in settling disputes.

I shall make a further statement to Parliament, reporting on the progress of this review, in due course.

I am also announcing today that Michael Gibbons will chair a new Practitioners' Panel, to help us ensure that the employment law simplification review's outcomes are rigorous and make a real difference for employers and employees. I shall confirm the other members of the panel shortly.

Equality: Disability

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

In July this year I announced my decision to create Equality 2025. This is a new advisory body to help Government understand the needs and wishes of disabled people when developing policies and designing service delivery, recommended in the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit Report Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People. Equality 2025 will:

work with the Government to help them achieve the aim of equality for disabled people by 2025;

provide advice and information from disabled people based upon the values underpinning the work of the network and the views and experiences of disabled people;

advise government departments on how they can engage effectively and meaningfully with disabled people;

assist the Government in raising awareness of disabled people and their rights, improving attitudes towards them and challenging negative stereotypes in the media and the wider community;

help ensure that public bodies are meeting their legal duties under the DDA in relation to the Disability Equality Duty; and

advise Government on the implementation and maintenance of international treaties and conventions within the UK.

Equality 2025 will not replace existing departmental arrangements for involving disabled people in policy-making, but supplement them. It will work closely with other advisory bodies such as the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) and DEAC.

I am delighted to advise the House that the recruitment exercise for membership of this exciting new body is now complete and today I will launch Equality 2025. Initially there will be 21 members who are all disabled people. Between them, they bring a wide range of skills and experiences that will enable them to look at all issues from an equalities view point rather than being representative of any disability or organisation. Equality 2025 will hold its first meeting tomorrow, Friday 8 December, and will aim to produce its first annual work plan in the spring 2007. Members' biographical details are available on the Office for Disability Issues website at www.officefordisability.gov.uk or contact the secretariat at: Equality 2025, Office for Disability Issues Level 6, The Adelphi, 1-11 John Adam St, London, WC2N 6HT.

The advisory group that helped create Equality 2025 has produced a report containing all its recommendations for Equality 2025. I have placed this report and the Government's response in the Libraries of both Houses.

EU: Competitiveness Council

My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Science and Innovation (Malcolm Wicks) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I attended the Competitiveness Council in Brussels on 4 December. Mauri Pekkarinen, Finnish Minister for Trade and Industry, chaired the council. There was a policy debate on the modernised customs code on the basis of the discussion paper produced by the presidency. The discussion focused on the proposals for a single window, centralised customs clearance, and the liberalisation of the customs agent market. I gave broad support for all three proposals and noted in particular the need to ensure that the customs agent market was not bound by new restrictions.

There followed a policy debate on the Lisbon strategy and innovation policy on the basis of the Commission communication, Putting knowledge into practice: a broad-based innovation strategy for Europe for which council conclusions had been prepared. The presidency asked delegates to consider in particular joint technology initiatives, intellectual property rights, and the European Institute of Technology. I supported the text of the council conclusions, noting in particular the importance of rapidly ensuring a patent regime that had the support of industry. The council conclusions were adopted.

At the lunch, I gave a short presentation on the UK Government's response to the Stern review on climate change, focusing on the competitiveness elements, which was then picked up in discussion. It was agreed that the Competitiveness Council would remain active in this area.

There followed a presentation by the presidency on its better regulation progress report, followed by a presentation and exchange of views on the Commission's communication on A Strategic Review of Better Regulation in the European Union. I spoke to offer strong UK support for the communication and in particular for the overall target for reducing administrative burdens.

The council noted the presidency's progress report on the proposal for a revised consumer credit directive, on which substantial disagreement still remained. Delegates spoke to give their assessment of how the proposal should go forward. I expressed my concern over the added value of the directive and urged a thorough evaluation of the benefits of the proposal.

Under “any other business”, the Commission gave presentations on the Pharmaceutical Forum; the European competitiveness report; joint technology initiatives and implementation of Article 169; the review of the consumer acquis; the common frame of reference; the review of the timeshare directive; and the state of play on suspension of import duties on primary aluminium. There were presentations from the presidency on the Commission communication on external aspects of competitiveness, and the EU-US Informal Economic Ministerial Meeting.

EU: Economic and Financial Affairs Council

My honourable friend the Economic Secretary (Ed Balls) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 21 November 2006, I represented the UK at the Budget Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN). Finance Ministers agreed to adopt preliminary draft amending budget No. 6 to the 2006 budget, thus amending the 2006 budget to reflect latest implementation capacity. Finance Ministers agreed to adopt amending letters 2 and 3 to the preliminary draft budget for 2007, which reflected latest information on agricultural prices and other developments. The council reached agreement in second reading on the EU's draft general budget for 2007, subject to formal confirmation at a forthcoming council. It requested the permanent representatives committee to continue negotiations on points that remain open between the Council and the European Parliament following a conciliation meeting with a parliamentary delegation.

EU: Telecoms Council

My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Industry and the Regions has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I will be representing the UK at the Telecoms Council in Brussels on the morning of 11 December 2006. This is the only Telecoms Council under the Finnish presidency of the EU.

The first item on the agenda will be the draft council resolution for a strategy for a secure information society in Europe. This concentrates specifically on trust and security in the ubiquitous information society of tomorrow. It reflects presidency concerns on information security issues and also the conclusions of the i2010 Information Society Conference the presidency hosted in Helsinki on 28 September. I intend to give my endorsement to this resolution, as the actions it outlines for the Commission, member states and stakeholders are all consistent with the accepted need to engender trust, security and confidence in the online transactions we all increasingly carry out.

The presidency will then introduce an exchange of views on the proposal for a regulation on roaming on public mobile networks within the Community. This draft regulation, adopted in July, and on which I recently wrote to the European scrutiny committees, seeks to reduce the level of roaming charges across the Community in a harmonised manner. While there has been a general consensus among member states that regulatory intervention is justified, there has been considerable concern on the detail of the Commission's draft, particularly regarding the imposition of retail price control. Indeed, the UK, along with several other member states believes that the current draft, if adopted, may unintentionally have consequences which might damage some consumer interests. In my intervention, I will warmly endorse the objectives of the Commission but note the shortcomings of their approach, highlighting the UK-tabled amendments including the introduction of a sunrise clause on the imposition of a retail cap.

There will also be a short exchange of views on the proposal for the full accomplishment of the internal market of Community postal services. This will be achieved through the removal or reduction of obstacles that are currently hindering the functioning of the internal market. Given the benefits that will be achieved through the liberalisation of the market such as choice of provider, better service quality and improved value for money, I intend fully to support this proposal.

Finally, under “any other business”, the presidency will provide feedback on its i2010 conference and the Internet Governance Forum which took place in October. The Commission will also do a presentation on the communication that it issued in November entitled Bringing eCall back on track. I do not expect to intervene on any of these items.

Fire and Rescue Service: Festival Fireworks Blaze

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

The House will be aware of the tragic events on Sunday 3 December at the Festival Fireworks Depot, Marlie Farm, Ringmer, near Lewes, which resulted in the deaths of Geoffrey Wicker and Brian Wembridge, two members of East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service, and of the injuries sustained by 12 other people. Among those injured were nine fire-fighters, a police officer and two members of the public.

Mr Wicker and Mr Wembridge were among 60 members of the fire and rescue service in attendance during the initial stages of the incident. The full events leading to the deaths and injuries are as yet unclear and an investigation by the police, Health and Safety Executive and East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service is ongoing.

I fully recognise the contribution that the fire and rescue services make to our communities and the situations they face on a daily basis. I would like to take this opportunity to express my personal sadness at this tragic event. At this time, my thoughts are with the families, friends and colleagues of those who died, and with those who were injured. To all of them, I extend my heart-felt sympathy. Once the investigations have been completed, I will make a further Statement to the House.

Home Office: Autumn Performance Report

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

The Home Office autumn performance report 2006 will be published tomorrow by Command of Her Majesty. Copies of the report will be placed in the House Library. The report will also be available on the Home Office website. The report sets out the progress we have made towards achieving our public service agreement targets.

Ministry of Defence: Project Taranis

My right honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Derek Twigg) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

We are today announcing the award of a £124 million contract to BAE Systems for Project Taranis, a project to develop unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology. BAE systems will lead an industry team including Rolls-Royce, Qinetiq, and Smiths Aerospace.

Project Taranis will explore how cutting-edge technology can be integrated into the UAV to deliver a new front-line capability. Taranis will be one of the world's largest UAV demonstrators, about the size of a Hawk jet, and will integrate stealth technology around an intelligent, autonomous system. It will also test the potential to carry ground-attack weapons.

The project is a key deliverable of the Defence Industrial Strategy, targeting the development and sustainment of key industrial expertise in the aerospace sector. It is an example of the Ministry of Defence and industry jointly funding research and development for mutual benefit and the rapid pull-through of new technologies encouraged in the Defence Technology Strategy. It will adopt an innovative approach with military staff and scientists working alongside industry in a new partnership to deliver better transparency and information-sharing.

Northern Ireland: Monitoring Commission

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Peter Hain) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

I have today published and laid before Parliament my second annual report on the operation of the agreement between the British and Irish Governments which established the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC). This report covers the period 18 September 2004 to 17 September 2005. In line with a commitment made by my predecessor, this report also contains the audited accounts of the IMC for the 15-month period ending 31 March 2005.

I remain grateful to the commissioners of the IMC for their valuable contributions over this period, and for their contribution to promoting the transition to a peaceful society and a stable and inclusive devolved Government in Northern Ireland.

Planning: Flooding

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

To strengthen and clarify the key role of the planning system in managing flood risk and contributing to adapting to the impacts of climate change, we are today publishing:

a new Planning Policy Statement (PPS)25: Development and Flood Risk; and

a flooding direction.

PPS25 replaces the existing PPG25, issued in 2001, and sets out policies for planning authorities to:

ensure flood risk is properly taken into account at all stages in the planning process;

prevent inappropriate development in areas at high risk of flooding; and

direct development away from areas at highest risk.

The flooding direction provides the opportunity for greater scrutiny for major developments proposed in flood-risk areas. Where local authorities intend to approve major applications despite the Environment Agency maintaining its objections, the Secretary of State will be asked to consider whether to call them in for decision. These documents are supported by regulations made on 1 October 2006, which made the Environment Agency a statutory consultee for planning applications in flood-risk areas. This reinforces the implementation of PPS25 by ensuring that the agency is able to advise on all applications where flood risk is an issue.

Flooding from rivers and tidal water is set to increase in frequency and intensity as a result of known climate change. The substantial upgrading from PPG25 in PPS25 is an important climate-change adaptation measure. It forms part of the Government's Making Space for Water strategy and delivers on a project jointly launched by my right honourable friend the Member for Streatham (then Minister for Housing and Planning) and my honourable friend the Member for Scunthorpe (then Minister for Environment and Agri-environment) in March 2005.

PPS25 is therefore a key part of our developing programme of responses to the challenge of climate change. It complements a comprehensive package of planning policy and building standards to be announced shortly that will chart a course towards zero carbon development, and embed carbon reduction principles in future development. PPS25 also strongly supports the strategy for housing set out in PPS3 on 29 November. In our drive for increasing housing supply and in particular by making more use of previously developed land, we need a strong set of tools to assess flood risk. We must avoid those areas where housing development is never going to acceptable. But we must also identify those where, with good design and local mitigation measures, it is possible to manage the risk and still build safely.

Copies of PPS25 and the circular and flooding direction are being made available in the Libraries of both Houses. PPS25 will be available on the Communities and Local Government website at www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1504639 and the circular at www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id =1504645.

Regional Development: One NorthEast and East Midlands Development Agency

My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Industry and the Regions (Margaret Hodge) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I have decided to appoint the new board members listed at annexe A and to reappoint the board member listed at annexe B. The new appointments will all be for a period of three years. The reappointment will be for a period of two years. The new appointments will begin on 14 December 2006 and will expire on 13 December 2009. The reappointment will begin on 14 December 2006 and will expire on 13 December 2008. I have placed further details of the new appointments in the Libraries of both Houses. All of them were made in accordance with the code of practice of the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

Annexe A: New Appointments

All appointments commence on 14 December 2006

RDA

Name

One NorthEast

Ruth Thompson OBE

Paul Callaghan

Annexe B: New Appointments

Re-appointment commences on 14 December 2006

East Midlands Development Agency

Valerie Dwyer