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Written Statements

Volume 688: debated on Thursday 11 January 2007

Written Statements

Thursday, 11 January 2007.

Crime: Assets Recovery Agency

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Vernon Coaker) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Government will be bringing forward proposals to merge the Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) with the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), and to extend to prosecutors the power to launch civil recovery action under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

The Assets Recovery Agency has successfully steered the radical new powers in the Proceeds of Crime Act through every legal challenge it has faced. It is recovering significant amounts of criminally acquired wealth, including a recent settlement worth over £12 million. There are significant synergies in merging the ARA with SOCA, as SOCA builds its understanding of organised crime and widens the toolkit used to tackle it.

In recognition of the high profile, public confidence and success achieved by the ARA in Northern Ireland in tackling organised crime and dealing with organised criminals, SOCA will have a designated officer responsible for asset recovery work in Northern Ireland, and there will be no diminution in the resources available for assets recovery work there.

The ARA’s centre of excellence, which trains and accredits financial investigators, will be moved to the new National Policing Improvement Agency.

Extending the power to launch civil recovery proceedings to prosecutors will enable us to broaden the range of cases where these powers are used, and help us take performance to the next level. The power to launch civil recovery proceedings will be extended to the three main prosecutors in England and Wales; the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the Revenue and Customs Prosecutions Office (RCPO) and the Serious Fraud Office (SFO). It will also be extended to the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland.

Subject to the passing of the necessary legislation, the merger provisions are likely to come into force from April 2008. Both the ARA and SOCA are committed to maintaining their efforts in the recovery of criminal assets during the transition.

Holiday Entitlement

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

On 13 June 2006, I announced the launch of a consultation on proposals to increase the holiday entitlement from four weeks to 5.6 weeks, subject to a maximum entitlement of 28 days, implementing the Government’s manifesto commitment to make paid leave for bank and public holidays additional to the existing statutory entitlement. The consultation attracted considerable attention and a healthy number of responses.

Today I am publishing the Government’s response to that consultation, along with a further consultation on draft regulations. The initial consultation sought views on the phasing of the introduction of the additional holiday entitlement. Based on the views expressed in the consultation and to minimise the administrative costs of introducing the additional holiday, the Government propose that the holiday entitlement will be increased in two equal phases from 1 October 2007 and 1 October 2008.

The consultation also sought views on whether there should be an ability to carry unused holiday entitlement over to the following holiday year, and whether there should be the ability to provide payment in lieu of taking leave. Many businesses already provide the ability to carry leave over and we intend to allow them to continue to offer that flexibility. Enabling payment to be made in lieu of taking holiday, however, is contrary to our overall intention—to enable people to spend more time away from the workplace—and may be open to abuse. We do not therefore intend to allow payment in lieu of taking the additional holiday entitlement except on termination of employment.

To further identify the sectors most likely to be affected by these proposals, we have conducted a detailed research project and the findings are presented in the partial regulatory impact assessment that accompanies the further consultation. While the overall cost burden is around only 0.4 per cent of the total wage bill, we recognise that the impact on individual businesses may be more significant.

The further consultation will run until 13 April and we aim to lay the draft regulations before the House for approval by affirmative resolution in early summer. Copies of the government response to the initial consultation, the further consultation document and the partial regulatory impact assessment have been placed in the Library.

Iran: UN Security Council

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Dr Kim Howells) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 23 December 2006, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1737, on Iran's nuclear programme. The resolution was adopted by consensus, once again underlining that the international community is united and determined to see that Iran does not acquire the means to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran has not met its legal obligation in Security Council Resolution 1696, adopted on 31 July, to suspend all uranium enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, nor has it taken the other steps required by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors. Recent reports by the IAEA director-general, Dr Mohamed El Baradei, show that Iran's co-operation with the agency remains inadequate and that, far from suspending enrichment-related activities, Iran has continued to install and operate new centrifuges at its enrichment plant at Natanz.

Moreover, despite intensive efforts by EU High Representative Javier Solana, Iran has not engaged seriously with the generous and far-reaching proposals made by the E3+3 (France, Germany and the UK plus China, Russia and the US) in June, which could provide the basis for a long-term agreement. These proposals would give Iran everything it needs to develop a modern civil nuclear power programme, and other political and economic benefits, while meeting international concerns.

We have therefore had no choice but to pursue a further Security Council resolution.

Resolution 1737 reaffirms that Iran is required to suspend all uranium enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, and extends this requirement to include all heavy-water-related projects. The resolution also requires Iran to provide the IAEA any access and co-operation the agency requests in order to verify the suspension and resolve outstanding issues.

The resolution imposes sanctions under Article 41 of Chapter VII of the UN charter. These are proportionate and targeted at Iran's sensitive nuclear and missile activities. All states have a legal obligation to comply. The measures include:

a prohibition on supplying certain nuclear and missile-related items to Iran and on providing related assistance;

a prohibition on the export from Iran of such items and their procurement from Iran;

monitoring of the travel of certain individuals engaged in or providing support for Iran's proliferation sensitive activities;

limits on IAEA technical co-operation with Iran;

freezing of the assets of persons and entities designated in the resolution's annexe as well as those subsequently identified by the Security Council or the sanctions committee; and

a call on states to prevent specialised teaching or training of Iranian nationals, which would contribute to Iran's proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities.

The implementation of measures will be suspended if and for as long as Iran suspends uranium enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, as verified by the IAEA.

The resolution asks the IAEA director-general to report on Iranian compliance and affirms that the Security Council will adopt further appropriate measures under Article 41 of the UN charter if the report shows that Iran has not complied.

A copy of the resolution is available on the UN website at 06.htm.

We remain committed to a negotiated solution. The E3+3's proposals remain on the table. I urge Iran to take the positive path on offer by meeting in full the requirements of the Security Council and the IAEA board, and beginning negotiations with the E3+3 on the basis of those proposals. As the adoption of Resolution 1737 demonstrates, that is the clear and united wish of the whole international community.

Local Government: Northern Ireland

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

I am pleased to announce that Richard Mackenzie CB will be appointed as the next District Electoral Areas Commissioner for Northern Ireland. His appointment will have effect from 1 June 2007, following the completion of his work as Local Government Boundaries Commissioner for Northern Ireland. As District Electoral Areas Commissioner, his role will be to group the wards in Northern Ireland into multi-member constituencies for the purposes of elections to local councils.

Ministry of Defence: National Employer Advisory Board

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

Following an open competition, I am pleased to advise the House of the reappointment of two members to the National Employer Advisory Board (NEAB).

They are:

Viscount Brookeborough

Mr Gordon Scott.

They join the other 12 members of the board, which is chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, and which continues to provide appropriate support in conjunction with the SaBRE campaign to reservists and their employers. I take this opportunity to thank the NEAB for its work, which is greatly valued by the Ministry of Defence.

NHS: Pharmaceutical Services

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

In July 2003, the Government responded to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) report, The Control of Entry Regulations and Retail Pharmacy Services in the UK, which had recommended total deregulation, by setting out a balanced package of reform measures to the National Health Service regulatory system known as “control of entry”.

The majority of these reforms were introduced by revising NHS regulations in April 2005. The announcement also committed the Government to review progress in mid-2006 and to publish the findings. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State (Patricia Hewitt) announced that review to the House on 13 June 2006.

I am today publishing the department's report of that review. Copies have been placed in the Library. There are a number of significant findings. While it is still early days, the reforms have had a modest impact, with more than twice as many pharmacies opening in 2005-06 than in any year in the period 1992-93 to 2004-05 and many contractors making use of the new freedoms introduced. On the evidence so far, the balanced package of reform measures has achieved the goal of opening up the market. But the impact has been uneven, with pockets of greatest activity across the country. The report finds that deprived areas are neither significantly worse nor better off, though slightly more pharmacies closed in these areas during 2005-06. Primary care trusts (PCTs) with greater social deprivation also attracted proportionately more applications using the new exemptions. Overall, there is no evidence so far of a detrimental impact on access to pharmaceutical services in deprived areas, nor have the reforms jeopardised the vast majority of the existing pharmacy network or caused widespread upheaval or change.

Nationally, the report found that most people (99 per cent) could get to a pharmacy by car, walking or public transport within 20 minutes, including in deprived areas. While there is no national evidence yet of a return to pharmacies leapfrogging to secure the most advantageous commercial position, individual PCTs say this is happening locally. There are more pharmacies nearer GP surgeries now compared to 2003. There is no noticeable impact so far on the prices of over-the-counter medicines or on the workforce.

There are some favourable patient experiences reported, including better hours, access and quality services. However, this is not uniform, with little change yet seen in rural areas. Patients are concerned about the longer-term impact on accessing services locally. The NHS has found the regulations difficult to administer and exempt applications in particular hamper their efforts to plan strategically and commission more clinical services. Innovatory practice is attributed more to the new contractual framework than these reforms. Business reaction has been mixed. Some reforms have been welcomed, particularly the quicker procedures for administrative decisions, but many were concerned that the exemptions to control of entry could lead to long-term reduction in choice and none reported that business certainty had improved.

The reforms have had a small but uneven impact on promoting more choice and competition, though access has improved where new 100-hour pharmacies open. This impact is, however, somewhat erratic and patchy and it is too early to predict whether these improvements will be long-lasting. While the new legislative regime has delivered benefits in terms of quicker processes for some types of application, this is tempered by the regime being complex, time-consuming and offering no greater certainty and reliability to business.

We will continue to monitor the progress made by these reforms through NHS and central statistical returns, and there are a number of adjustments we wish to make to the regulations to improve the operational effectiveness of the current regime. We will come forward with further proposals in due course. These will include the remaining reforms which required primary legislation (charging for applications and new factors which PCTs will take into account when deciding competing applications) and which are now enacted in the Health Act 2006. We intend to make further announcements about the regulatory changes needed to introduce these shortly. When considering the outcome of this report, it is important also to consider the achievements against the most recent priorities we set out in the White Paper Our Health, Our Care, Our Say, which the Secretary of State launched last year.

While this report shows that the approach we took in 2003 was the right way to proceed, we consider that it is open to further debate whether the “control of entry” system remains a suitable vehicle to enable primary care trusts to meet their new roles and responsibilities for commissioning a patient-led NHS. There remain considerable shortcomings in the current system. The market remains largely provider-led. Primary care trusts have insufficient influence to commission or exercise sufficient control over where services are provided to meet greatest needs. There remain particular concerns about securing adequate access to services in rural areas. All these factors create additional financial pressures on the NHS and prevent best value for money being secured.

Such shortcomings are not consonant with the principles for reform of the public sector and our White Paper ambitions for creating a patient-led NHS. On this basis, we have decided that it would not be prudent to propose further major changes to the current system, in terms of either moving towards greater deregulation or imposing tighter restrictions. Instead, we have concluded that the time is right to consider how we can best shift the focus away from a system which is largely a legacy of the past century, to more modern and reformed contractual arrangements which can better meet the health needs and challenges of this century. In short, instead of “control of entry” being the dominant market force and determinant of service provision, we shall review what action is needed to allow primary care trusts to have more powers to commission as is necessary to secure adequate service provision to meet local health needs, while ensuring that the opportunities to maximise choice and contestability within a reformed system are not lost.

I am therefore pleased to announce today that the department is initiating a series of discussions with interested stakeholders to review these contractual arrangements. I have invited Anne Galbraith, a lawyer and former chair of the Prescription Pricing Authority, to lead and chair these discussions and am delighted she has accepted. Anne also chaired the previous advisory group in 2003, which examined how best we could introduce the “control of entry” reforms. Anne will be inviting representatives from patient and consumer groups, the NHS and professional, representative and trade associations to put forward their views. We have asked Anne to report to the department by March 2007 and the results of her discussions will then inform the next steps, including formal consultation in the spring, that the department needs to take.

The terms of reference for Anne's review are to:

“examine current contractual arrangements for the provision of NHS pharmaceutical services in England, taking account of the existing ‘control of entry’ system and review of progress, competition and consumer choice concerns and the principles of better regulation;

consider the extent to which these arrangements reflect wider developments in health service commissioning and contribute to the aims of the White Paper Our Health, Our Care, Our Say; in particular, securing high quality services which offer greater access and choice, supporting independence, well-being and improving health and providing effective help to those with high levels of need;

inform formal consultation on how best these arrangements should be developed or reformed in order to maximise this contribution and ensure value for money for the NHS and the broader community; and

to report by March 2007”.

This work will help fulfil our commitment in Our Health, Our Care, Our Say to review contractual arrangements in line with the White Paper's ambitions. I very much look forward to the results of Anne's work. I am confident this will prove an important driver for ensuring we bring pharmaceutical services into the mainstream of NHS services, provide a firm basis on which the NHS can invest to secure the improvements in health and well-being we all want to see, and give business the confidence it needs to sustain its commitment to the NHS, patients and consumers alike.

Railways: Regional Planning Assessments

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Tom Harris) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

The Department for Transport has today published the south-eastern and southern regional planning assessments for the railway (RPAs), the latest in the series of 11 RPAs covering England and Wales.

Copies of the documents have been placed in the House Libraries and can also be downloaded from the department’s website,

The south-eastern RPA covers south-east London, Kent and Hastings, and the southern RPA covers south London, Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight and parts of Berkshire.

RPAs provide the link between regional spatial planning (including preparation of regional transport strategies) and planning for the railway by both the Government and the rail industry, and are designed to inform the development of the Government's strategy for the railway. They look at the challenges and options for development of the railway over the next 20 years, in the wider context of forecast change in population, the economy and travel behaviour. The relevant regional spatial strategies for these two RPAs are the London Plan and the draft south-east plan.

Regional planning assessments do not commit the Government to specific proposals. Instead they set out the Government's current thinking on how the railway might best be developed to allow wider planning objectives for a region to be met and identify the priorities for further development work.

It is the Government’s intention to publish the Thames Valley RPA, covering west London, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, later this year.