Tuesday 13 March 2007
Armed Forces: Pay Review Body
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 have reappointed Mrs Alison Gallico, Professor Derek Leslie and AVM Ian Stewart as members of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body for a second three-year term, commencing in March 2008. All three appointments have been conducted in accordance with the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments guidance on appointments to public bodies.
Criminal Justice: Women
On 28 March 2006 I made a Statement to announce that my noble friend Lady Jean Corston had agreed to undertake a review of women in the criminal justice system with particular vulnerabilities. I am delighted that Baroness Corston's report is being published today and wanted to make a Statement to welcome her report and to give an undertaking that the Government will now give serious and detailed consideration of the issues it raises and the recommendations it makes for change.
The Government invited Baroness Corston to conduct this independent review following the tragic series of deaths of six women at Styal prison in 2002-03. The purpose was to look at the measures in place to ensure that we are doing everything possible for women who come into contact with the criminal justice system who have particular vulnerabilities, such as mental health problems, drug addiction or a history of abuse. The scope of the review was, therefore, very wide and considered the services and interventions available to such women on each occasion they come into contact with the criminal justice system, and to those women at risk of offending.
I thank Baroness Corston for producing such a comprehensive and thought-provoking report and welcome the honesty and directness with which she addressed her remit and the recommendations she makes for more to be done. Her report tackles some of the most difficult, complex and entrenched issues and provides valuable insight into the reality of the problems faced and presented by many women offenders.
I am particularly grateful for the support and assistance that Baroness Corston received from all those who contributed to the review, especially the families sadly bereaved by the deaths at Styal and other prisons, and women offenders themselves, who have spoken so powerfully about their experiences. I also thank the voluntary organisations that gave their valuable time and resources to support the review.
The 43 recommendations are wide-ranging and propose action by a number of government departments and other organisations to address together the complex and multiple needs of women both in the criminal justice system and at risk of offending. The recommendations will be carefully explored with all the departments and agencies concerned, and the Government will develop a detailed response and set out an agreed way forward.
Baroness Corston also makes some overarching recommendations for how the management of women in the CJS should be co-ordinated across government. I agree that, to drive forward this important work, high-level commitment and effective inter-departmental working are needed. We will, therefore, look carefully at what mechanisms and governance arrangements would be possible to achieve this, and I will discuss this with my ministerial colleagues.
Baroness Corston's report also highlights the work and initiatives already being taken forward to tackle issues for women offenders and ensure that their needs are met, in a system that has primarily been developed in response to the majority of male offenders. She refers in particular to the Women's Offending Reduction Programme and the Together Women Programme, which is using an injection of government funding to test out how a more integrated, community-based approach can effectively tackle the multiple needs of women and reduce the use of custody for women who do not present a significant risk and do not need to be held in prison. She also highlights the importance of the gender duty, which comes into force in April 2007, in supporting this agenda.
In developing the detailed response, we will consider how the lessons learnt and recommendations in Baroness Corston's report can be used to build on the work already under way.
I commend this report to anyone with an interest in, or working with, women in the criminal justice system. I know that it will be an invaluable resource in taking forward our agenda to tackle the issues that can lead women into crime and avoid the damaging effects that this can have on women and their families.
EU: Education Meeting
My honourable friend the Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education (Bill Rammell) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I attended the meeting chaired by the German Education and Research Minister, Dr Annette Schavan. The meeting focused on two areas for discussion: the contribution that education policy can make to promote the acceptance and dissemination of shared European values and the theme “Making Lifelong Learning a Reality for All”, which focused on developing pre-primary education and adult learning.
Representatives of about 40 countries attended: the EU-27, the EEA and the western Balkans.
The overall discussion on European values was wide ranging, with a number of member states citing active citizenship, the importance of language learning and mobility as contributions that education can make to Europe, as well as the more general values of freedom, respect and tolerance. I used my intervention to warn against trying to define a set of common European values to be included in a curriculum, as everyone holds different views. I made it clear that education and curriculum are national not EU competencies.
There was general consensus in the discussion on adult learning and early childhood education, with all speakers agreeing that these formed important parts of lifelong learning. I spoke strongly in favour of lifelong learning, referring to the Leitch review of skills, which shows how adults need to be equipped to perform higher skilled jobs. Extra investment is needed not just from the state but from the employer and the individual, too, and investing in skills it is important to respond to the needs of business. The chair did not try to summarise the discussion, which had been very general; however, a final communiqué will be prepared by the presidency and made available to participants.
Health: Modernising Medical Careers
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health (Patricia Hewitt) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
In my Written Ministerial Statement of 7 March (Official Report, Commons, col. 25-26WS), I set out the department’s plan for an immediate review of the first round of the new national recruitment and selection process for doctors in postgraduate training.
As part of the modernising medical careers (MMC) reforms of postgraduate medical training, new specialty training programmes will be introduced in August 2007. To support this, a new national recruitment and selection process was introduced this year, facilitated by the online Medical Training Application Service (MTAS). That process sets out national recruitment and selection criteria, documentation and standards, replacing the countless local appointment processes that had previously been in place.
Our aim, of course, is to ensure that we recruit the right people for the right jobs for the benefit of the National Health Service, its patients and staff. As a result, the new arrangements were developed with the help of the medical royal colleges, trainee doctors and others. We will continue to work with them to ensure that trainee doctors are properly supported and fairly treated and that the NHS is able to train and recruit the best doctors for the future.
Doctors have been applying for their preferred specialty training programme since 22 January 2007, and interviews have already begun. A large number of posts will not be filled in the first round, and we have stressed to those interviewing in round one that they should not consider appointing unless they are absolutely satisfied with the calibre of candidates.
Although the department believes that that will deliver a fair and transparent appointments process, it is clear that there have been concerns about the selection process and that the process as a whole has created a high degree of insecurity among applicants and more widely in the profession. The review was therefore commissioned to analyse what had gone well and what needed to be improved, with a view to establishing greater confidence in the process.
The review is independent, being led by Professor Neil Douglas, vice-president of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Members of the review group include representatives of the royal colleges, the British Medical Association, the four United Kingdom health departments and employers.
The review group met on 7 and 9 March to agree immediate action and will continue its work throughout March. It decided that round one should continue but recommended immediate steps to strengthen the interview process, including allowing applicants to provide CVs and portfolios to support their applications. These steps have been communicated to the deans, and we have written to every applicant. The information is also on the MMC and MTAS websites.
As a result, some junior doctors who have expressed fears that they have been overlooked in the first round will be given the opportunity to have their application form reviewed by a trained medical adviser from a postgraduate deanery. Successful candidates will then be given an interview.
In addition, significant changes will be made to improve selection in the second round. This will include changes to the application form and the scoring system. The revised approach will now be tested with junior doctors, selectors, deanery recruitment teams and employers, and agreed with the medical royal colleges, postgraduate deans, trainee and consultant representatives and employers before it is introduced.
The review group has also recommended that further advice and information should be made available as quickly as possible for applicants. The department has agreed that that will include:
information about competition ratios by specialty, entry level and geography;
the process and timetable for making applications in the second round plus generic guidance about what panels will be looking for;
generic feedback on how applicants can improve their applications for the second round;
information about sources of support for applicants; and
enhanced “frequently asked questions” on the MTAS website, building on feedback from the first round.
This will be done as soon as possible.
I am very grateful to Professor Douglas and his colleagues for their continuing work on the review group. We will publish the group's final report once it is completed.
Maritime Labour Convention
My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (James Plaskitt) has made the following Statement.
The 94th (maritime) session of the International Labour Conference 2006 adopted a new convention, the Maritime Labour Convention.
I have today published and laid a White Paper entitled International Labour Conference, Proposed Action on a Convention Adopted at the 94th (Maritime) Session of the International Labour Conference 2006.
Copies of the White Paper will be available from the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.
Irish Language Bill
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Maria Eagle) has made the following Ministerial Statement.
In the St Andrews agreement, government made a commitment to introduce an Irish language Bill for Northern Ireland, reflecting on the experience of Wales and Ireland and to work with the incoming Executive to enhance and protect the development of the Irish language. My department issued a consultation paper on Irish language legislation on 13 December 2006, with a closing date of 2 March 2007. The consultation attracted a significant number of responses. Of the 668 substantive responses received, 625 supported the introduction of legislation. In addition, 1376 postcards supporting legislation were received by my department, and an advertisement placed in the press by the Irish language group, POBAL, attracted 800 signatures. My department also received a petition from POBAL with 2,500 signatures.
The consultation showed a pronounced divergence of views across the communities in Northern Ireland about the benefits of Irish language legislation. In addition, during the consultation the suggestion was made that the process would be more meaningful if the consultation was based on draft legislation. My ministerial colleagues and I see merit in this proposal and today we are publishing a further consultation on Irish language legislation with draft indicative clauses. The further consultation will last for 12 weeks, closing on 5 June 2007.
My honourable friend the Minister of State for Employment and Welfare Reform (Jim Murphy) has made the following Statement.
On 20 July 2006 the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (John Hutton) announced interim measures to speed up current claims handling for mesothelioma sufferers. He also confirmed that we would put in place a long-term solution.
We committed to having a full dialogue and invited comments from all interested parties. Initial views were sought on ideas for improving support for those with mesothelioma, both by improving the systems for dealing with these claims and by better focusing government support. The process has been very constructive, with many thoughtful responses and helpful ongoing dialogue.
A summary of responses to the consultation was published on 1 March and is available at www.dwp.gov.uk/publications/dwp/2007/iidb/mesothelioma-cases-consultation-report.pdf.
We know that nearly all mesotheliomas occur as a result of occupational or environmental exposure to asbestos, a legacy of our country’s industrial past.
Today I announce that we are committing, subject to legislative approval, to ensure that everyone with mesothelioma, irrespective of their employment history, can claim a payment as those under the Pneumoconiosis etc (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979 (“the 1979 Act”). That will mean that, once mesothelioma is diagnosed, every sufferer should have early access to a substantial payment, normally within six weeks of diagnosis, provided that a claim is made immediately.
We intend to achieve this by:
Continuing payments from the 1979 Act to all those who currently receive payments; these will remain at existing levels.
Introducing a compensation recovery process so that payments under the 1979 Act are recovered if a civil compensation claim is subsequently successful, in order to prevent double provision and continue with the policy line that the “polluter pays”.
Introducing compensation payments similar to those from the 1979 Act to people who do not currently receive payments from the 1979 Act. These will initially be at a rate commensurate with what can be afforded out of projected compensation recovery amounts.
Increasing these latter amounts to match those paid to others under the 1979 Act as funds allow.
We are holding a mesothelioma summit today to begin to make these changes a reality. We are also continuing the essential work that is ongoing to speed up the full compensation payments due to many sufferers and their families through the civil claims process, and I am confident that this, too, is already leading to improvements for sufferers. Furthermore, we will look at the state benefit scheme so that the claims process is streamlined to provide an improved service to our customers.
We will continue to work with our partners to ensure that these outcomes are delivered as soon as possible.
Race Relations Act
My honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport (Stephen Ladyman) has made the following Ministerial Statement.
Currently, UK law permits employers or principals to remunerate seafarers differently on grounds of nationality, if they applied for their employment or were engaged for it outside Great Britain. The European Commission has asked the Government to investigate the legality of this practice under European law.
A consultation on Section 9 of the Race Relations Act 1976 has today been launched. Copies of the consultation document have been placed in the Libraries.