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Written Statements

Volume 689: debated on Thursday 22 February 2007

Written Statements

Thursday 22 February 2007

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: Caradon District Council, Edinburgh City Council, North Lanarkshire Council, Preston City Council, Sheffield City Council and Watford Borough 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 the BFI’s findings.

Common Agricultural Policy: Single Farm Payment

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (David Miliband) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

In my Oral Statement to the House on 7 November 2006, I announced that, where full payments under the 2006 single payment scheme (SPS) were not possible in the early part of 2007, partial payments for not less than 50 per cent of claim value would start in mid-February for eligible claims above €1,000. The process was expected to take around three weeks.

I can confirm that, after successful testing, full payments began in January 2007, with a total of 40,697 such payments, at a value of £285.85 million, made to date. Last week, partial payments began, and 43,270 partial payments, with a value of £633.28 million, have been made.

The combination of these full and partial payments has resulted in a total of £919.13 million, representing 59 per cent of the estimated total fund of £1.54 billion, going to 83,967 claimants (77 per cent).

In combination with making partial payments to the small number of eligible claimants who have yet to receive one, the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) will now resume full payments and begin top-up payments where a partial payment has been made.

The claims that have yet to receive a full payment tend to be the more complex ones and require greater manual processing by RPA staff. Along with the fact that, in some cases, action on 2005 claims will need to be completed first, this presents continuing challenges for the RPA as it works towards meeting its target of making 96.14 per cent of valid 2006 claims (by value) by 30 June. This means that, while I would expect a steady flow of payments over the coming months, the pace will vary from week to week.

The current position is that some 87 SPS 2005 claims had not received any payment and 92 claimants were awaiting their balance payment, having already received a partial payment. That is roughly equivalent to the position that applied at a similar stage under the old common agricultural policy (CAP) schemes. The RPA continues to try to complete action on these claims and is reviewing the possible need to adjust SPS entitlement details notified to claimants. Adjustments have been made for some 8,000 claimants to date and approximately 25,000 cases are under review. Due to the difficulties experienced during the introduction of the scheme, further cases requiring review continue to come to light, and dedicated teams are taking this work forward. In order to protect the 2006 payment timetable as far as possible, only those adjustments estimated to be above €100 will be actioned before the 2006 payments are made.

Looking ahead, plans are well advanced for the 2007 scheme, with application forms, containing a greater degree of pre-population than in the past two years, expected to be dispatched during March.

I would like to place on record my thanks both for the continued patience of the farming industry as we strive to improve delivery of the SPS and rebuild confidence in the RPA and for the staff of the agency for their hard work and commitment to making sure that this happens. I will continue to keep the House informed of progress.

Courts: Delivery of Justice

Delivering Simple, Speedy, Summary Justice, published in July 2006, set out proposals to improve the speed and effectiveness of the magistrates’ courts in England and Wales.

Our proposals were piloted in magistrates’ courts at Camberwell Green and Thames, in London; Coventry, in the West Midlands; and Whitehaven and Workington, in Cumbria.

Following the success of these pilots in increased early guilty pleas, reduced adjournments and bringing cases to court quicker, I am very pleased to announce plans to implement these proposals in every magistrates’ court in England and Wales by the end of 2007. I am confident that these changes will improve performance of and confidence in the criminal justice system across the country.

A detailed evaluation of the pilots has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Energy: Nuclear Power

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

I would like to make a Statement about the White Paper on energy policy, following the court judgment on 15 February about the consultation process on nuclear energy that preceded the energy review report published on 11 July 2006 (

The court ruled that the consultation exercise that preceded the publication of the energy review report had not been adequate. The Government accept the court's judgment and will not appeal it.

We shall therefore conduct a new consultation, endeavouring to meet the court's requirements. It is now likely that the White Paper and the new consultation will be published in early May; however, if it can be published before Easter, I will do so.

We continue to believe that, subject of course to consultation, there is a case for having new nuclear power stations as one of the options that companies should consider because of their potentially significant contribution to security of supply and reducing carbon emissions. Last week’s court judgment does not undermine that view. The consultation document will bring together the evidence and analysis that we have collected and published since the energy review began in November 2005, so that people can take an informed view on whether nuclear power should continue to be part of our energy mix. That will enable the Government to make a decision in the autumn on nuclear and certain other issues arising from the White Paper. I will keep the House informed.

Forensic Science Service

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

In November 2006, officials and the police service brought to Ministers' attention an issue of which they had just been notified by the Forensic Science Service (FSS) on the use of a specialist DNA analysis technique known as low copy number (LCN), which the FSS has used in a proportion of cases since 2000. The technique is designed to enable a DNA profile to be obtained from much smaller amounts of material than was previously possible.

Within 24 hours of becoming aware of this issue, I agreed that the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) should set up a “Gold Group” to undertake an operational review of current forensic practices involving this technique, take any remedial action and establish whether there are any cases that might need reinvestigation. On operational advice from the police, the initial stage of this operation was kept confidential.

My top priority was to ensure that the methods now in use meet the necessary standards. Chief Constable Tony Lake, the ACPO lead on forensics, was appointed to run the review and put together a team of experts: scientists, police and others with specialist knowledge of the issues, including an independent DNA expert. CC Lake's first priority was to ensure that current processes in use by forensic suppliers were adequate for their purpose. ACPO is close to completing that work and has found no evidence that we should be concerned about procedures being used today.

His second priority is for the police and the FSS to identify cases where there might be benefit in reanalysis. The CC is now moving to this next phase, which is to inform forces and provide them with the information required to assess which should be prioritised; therefore, CC Lake wrote to all chief officers yesterday to explain the next steps in taking forward a co-ordinated programme of reanalysis. It is a complex, scientific process that is time- and labour-intensive and, depending on the number of cases identified, will take months rather than weeks.

We need to establish what lessons can be learnt from the handling of this issue within the FSS. I have asked for a report from the FSS on how this issue arose, how it was handled and the lessons to be learnt for the future operation of the service.

ACPO has kept Ministers regularly updated on progress and will continue to do so. I will keep the House updated on substantive progress.

Maritime and Coastguard Agency: Ministerial Targets 2007-08

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

The ministerial targets for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency for 2007-08 are:

Delivery Targets

In at least 98 per cent of incidents, within five minutes of being alerted, take a decision on the appropriate search-and-rescue response and initiate action if necessary.

Deliver the programme of planned ship inspections, surveys and other related activities, targeted on the basis of UK policy objectives, EU policy and risk-based factors, including death and accident statistics.

Carry out 95 per cent of both mandatory expanded and mandatory inspections as required under EU Directive 95/21/EC.

Work with UK ship-owners so that no more than 3 per cent of UK ships inspected abroad under global port state control arrangements are detained and the UK register maintains a position on the Paris MOU White List which is comparable to registers of a similar size and reputation.

By 31 December 2007, implement EU reporting requirements of the vessel traffic monitoring directive (VTMD) through the Consolidated European Reporting System (CERS).

As a category 1 responder, meet the provisions of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 on behalf of the Secretary of State, in so far as his functions include responsibilities for maritime and coastal emergencies, excluding the investigation of accidents, and demonstrate achievement through an audit process.

Development Targets

Carry out 10 operational standards and training audits of rescue co-ordination centres and establish a baseline of quality performance that can then be developed into a new performance measure from 2008-09.

Review the implementation, effectiveness and impact of maritime safety risk management, using evidence-based information to check the agency's direction in this area, and develop specific targets to be introduced from 2008-09.

Mental Capacity Act 2005: Code of Practice

I have today laid before Parliament the Mental Capacity Act code of practice. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses along with the accompanying Explanatory Memorandum.

The Mental Capacity Act 2005 provides a statutory framework for people who lack the mental capacity to make their own decisions. It sets out who can take decisions, in which situations and how they should go about this. It also enables people to make provision for a time in the future when they may lack capacity to make some decisions.

Section 42 of the Act requires the Lord Chancellor to prepare a code of practice to provide information and guidance on how the Act will work in practice. A draft version of the code was published for full public consultation in 2006. More than 160 individuals and organisations responded, and many of the suggestions and comments received have been incorporated into the final version.

The Act requires a range of people to “have regard” to the code; for example, anyone acting in a professional or paid role in relation to someone who lacks capacity. Everyone who cares for, or makes decisions on behalf of, someone who lacks capacity will need to follow the new law when it comes into force. The code is intended to provide valuable information and guidance to all those covered by the Act and has been written to meet the needs of this wide and varied audience.

Mozambique: Floods

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development has made the following Statement.

Rising flood waters have forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes in the Zambezi valley in Mozambique. In 2001 similar flooding led to the loss of hundreds of lives. This time, prompt action by the Government of Mozambique, with support from the international community, has averted a major catastrophe. Much remains to be done, though, to protect the lives and well-being of those affected and to assist them in returning to normal life when the flood waters recede. We are also very concerned about the possible consequences of the imminent impact in Mozambique of tropical cyclone Favio, bringing potentially hurricane-force winds and heavy rain.

So far, an estimated 121,000 people have been displaced, of whom 71,000 are in emergency camps and the rest in resettlement areas set up by the Government after the 2001 floods. The vast majority of those affected have moved to higher ground, where relief work is under way, though there are still concerns about smaller groups of people in remoter areas. Although water levels upstream have been subsiding in recent days, flood waters remain high downstream and further rainfall is expected.

DfID has been among the first donors to respond, and we are continuing to build up our support to the relief effort as the full extent of needs becomes apparent. Last week we provided Oxfam with £370,000 for the airlift and distribution of essential supplies. This week we have agreed to provide £500,000 in response to a £3.4 million appeal from the International Federation of the Red Cross, to provide shelter, household items, medical supplies, clean water and latrines for up to 100,000 people over the next six months. Our assistance follows a grant of £40,000 made several weeks ago to Save the Children for disaster preparedness work. We are also making arrangements with the Government of Mozambique's National Institute of Disaster Management and the World Food Programme to provide technical help in the co-ordination and logistics of the response. One of our humanitarian specialists arrived in Mozambique last week and is currently in the flood-affected areas, with back-up support provided by our office in Maputo and our humanitarian team in London.

Other donors are also responding, including the European Commission, which has pledged €2 million, of which the UK's share is €340,000. UN relief agencies are fully involved. The major concern now is to ensure that adequate shelter, food, medical supplies, and water and sanitation services are provided to displaced people to prevent ill health and outbreaks of disease. We will be considering further support once we have a clear picture of the overall response and the resources available, including from the UN's Central Emergency Response Fund.

We are also closely monitoring floods reported elsewhere in the region, including along the banks of the Zambezi in Zambia, where we have emergency funds available should they be needed.

Taxation: Income Tax Bill

Section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998 requires the Minister in charge of a Bill in either House of Parliament to make a statement before Second Reading about the compatibility of the provisions of the Bill with the convention rights, as defined in Section 1 of the Act.

I am the Minister in charge of the Income Tax Bill in the House of Lords. On 21 February 2007, I made the following statement, under Section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998:

“In my view, the provisions of the Income Tax Bill are compatible with the convention rights”.

Transport: Renewable Fuel Obligation

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

I have today published a consultation paper setting out the Government's proposals for implementing the renewable transport fuel obligation (RTFO). Copies have been placed in the Libraries of the House. The consultation closes on 17 May 2007.

The RTFO will require that 5 per cent of all UK road transport fuel comes from a renewable source by 2010 in order to help meet our climate change objectives. The energy review and climate change programme review in 2006 committed the Government to consulting on the details of the scheme in early 2007. The consultation seeks views on the following issues:

the detailed design of the scheme and which suppliers will be affected;

how suppliers of renewable fuel would report on the carbon savings and wider impacts of those fuels; and

how the RTFO might develop over time and the nature and level of the obligation after 2010-11.

Further information is available from the departmental website at