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Written Statements

Volume 690: debated on Tuesday 27 March 2007

Written Statements

Tuesday 27 March 2007

Armed Forces: Chemical Protection Programme

My right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Adam Ingram) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The UK's chemical protection programme is designed to protect against the use of chemical weapons. Such a programme is permitted by the Chemical Weapons Convention, with which the United Kingdom is fully compliant. Under the terms of the convention, we are required to provide information annually to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. In accordance with the Government's commitment to openness, I am placing in the Library of the House a copy of the summary that has been provided to the organisation outlining the UK's chemical protection programme in 2006.

Armed Forces: Defence Medical Services

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

Over the past 12 months the Ministry of Defence has undertaken a thorough review of the Defence Medical Services (DMS) manpower requirement. The aim of this review was to determine the number of uniformed, regular DMS personnel required to support operations consistent with overall defence planning assumptions, provide full healthcare and allow for continued training and the provision of headquarters staff during deployment. The review has now been completed and I am now in a position to inform the House of the new DMS manpower requirement. I am convinced it provides a credible baseline on which the DMS can base its planning and ensure that the excellent level of healthcare which it provides both on operations and, in collaboration with the NHS, in the UK, is sustained into the future.

The last full review of the DMS uniformed regular manpower requirement took place at the time of the Strategic Defence Review (SDR) more than eight years ago, and produced a requirement for a grand total of 8,970 posts (the SDR total). This, however, exceeded the available medical manpower and subsequent experience in support of deployed operations showed that a different balance of medical specialisms was more appropriate. Hence a lower overall figure was adopted as a pragmatic interim basis for funding a different mix of established posts (the established liability). To ensure that the requirement was valid not just in the light of emerging practice on operations since SDR, but also to be consistent with current defence-wide planning assumptions, a formal review was undertaken, starting in January 2006. The review was carried out by the multi-disciplinary Medical Operational Capability (Med Op Cap) project team, drawing on previous studies, lessons learnt work, high-level operational analysis and incorporating military judgment.

The overall result of this work is that the DMS baseline uniformed regular manning requirement (the Med Op Cap requirement) has now been set at 7,573 posts plus an additional manning and training margin of 678, making a grand total of 8,251 posts.

This compares to the previous established liability of 7,741 posts plus a manning and training margin of 543, making a grand total of 8,284 posts.

The SDR grand total of 8,970 posts did not separately specify within it a manning and training margin.

As at 1 January 2007, the uniformed regular manning was 6,497 (namely, the number of people we actually have rather than the number of posts required).

There are also some significant changes within individual medical cadres between the SDR and the Med Op Cap requirement, with some cadres increasing and some decreasing. Some additional potential for civilianisation of up to 320 posts in the Med Op Cap total requirement was identified by the review, which will be investigated further.

I shall place full details of the new requirements against individual cadres in the Library of the House. It is a necessarily complex package, but one which provides an essential building-block for the DMS to focus its efforts on addressing the most critical shortfalls.

The impact of the new requirement on the individual career paths for personnel in the Royal Navy, Army and RAF Medical Services will be small. The review has validated the existing policy of maximising capability from staffing our field hospitals on a collaborative tri-service basis.

The Government are committed to ensuring that the DMS continues to be sufficiently flexible to respond to future operational challenges. The recent review of the DMS uniformed regular manpower requirement is a necessary and positive step to achieving this.

Children: Poverty

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (John Hutton) has made the following Statement.

Today I am publishing Working for Children (Cm 7067) which includes our response to recommendations made in the report Delivering on Child Poverty: what would it take? by Lisa Harker in November 2006. It is only one element of a cross-governmental child poverty strategy and sets out the additional measures the DWP will take to maximise its contribution to the ambitious targets of halving child poverty by 2010 and eradicating it by 2020.

Building on the announcements made in the Budget to take a further 200,000 children out of poverty by increasing tax credits and wider support for parents, Working for Children refocuses £150 million of resources within the Department for Work and Pensions towards greater support for families.

Measures include:

piloting a New Deal for Families approach so more families get access to support that is often available only for lone parents. To do this we will extend support available in the New Deal for Lone Parents Plus pilot areas to all families with children in those areas;

extending the New Deal for Lone Parents Plus scheme to help more lone parents benefit from this service and signalling initial support ahead of a period of consultation for recommendations from David Freud to increase obligations on lone parents with older children to look for work;

providing more support to families, particularly in London where employment rates lag, including widening and improving the in-work credit scheme which provides additional financial support for lone parents as they make the transition to work;

changing Jobcentre Plus systems so parents are properly identified in the benefit system for the first time and record the childcare needs and preferences of all parents—not just lone parents as at present; and

providing advice and support for the partners of parents claiming jobseeker’s allowance, with the introduction of mandatory six-monthly work-focused interviews for this group.

We have made significant progress by lifting 600,000 children out of relative poverty since the Prime Minister set the historic target in 1998 to eradicate child poverty by 2020.

Our success in helping people into work has been key to reducing child poverty. We have seen 2.5 million more people in work than in 1997 and there are now more than one million lone parents in employment. We need to continue to build on this success but recognise there is more to do if we are to reach our goal.

Copies of the report are available from the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

Compensation Act 2006

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

The Compensation Act 2006 received Royal Assent on 25 July 2006. Part 2 of the Act provides the statutory framework for the regulation of claims management services.

In line with the Government's commitment to bring the Act into force as soon as possible, a third commencement order has been made. This brings into force the prohibition and offences sections.

From 23 April 2007 a person providing claims management services without the requisite authorisation (or if exempted or subject to a waiver) will be committing an offence and liable to prosecution and if convicted to a maximum of up to two years’ imprisonment. Those providing claims management services will be required to give consumers clear advice about the validity of their claim, options for funding the costs and provide a complaints mechanism if things go wrong.

This order follows the Compensation Act 2006 (Commencement No. 1) (SI 2006/3005 (C.107)) that came into force on 1 December 2006 allowing regulation to commence. The Compensation Act 2006 (Commencement No. 2) (SI 2007/94 (C.5)) came into force on 23 January 2007 formally establishing the Claims Management Services Tribunal.

Driver, Vehicle and Operator Group: Ministerial Targets

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

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has set a range of high-level targets for the 2007-08 year on behalf of the agencies within the Driver, Vehicle and Operator Group; the Driving Standards Agency, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the Vehicle Certification Agency and the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency and on behalf of the Government Car Despatch Agency. They are included in the agencies’ business plans together with their associated measures. The plans also include a range of management targets, performance indicators and key tasks which are appropriate to the agencies’ businesses. Copies of the business plans will be placed in the Libraries of the House shortly.

The key targets for the Driving Standards Agency are:

Secretary of State Targets

Appointments available within nine weeks at 90 per cent of permanent car driving test centres.

To achieve candidate satisfaction with the overall service received at 90 per cent or above.

Improve standards of new drivers

Deliver 6,000 Arrive Alive presentations to include 10 per cent targeted at special needs groups such as young offenders, older drivers and people with disabilities.

Improve standards of professional drivers

To have 10 training courses accredited as suitable for lorry drivers CPC periodic training and 30 for bus and coach drivers by 31 March 2008.

Contribute to the Government’s motorcycle strategy by:

populating the new post test motorcycle register with qualified and quality assured motorcycle instructors/trainers and make it available to the public by 31 March 2008 so they can make an informed choice of trainer/instructor;

delivering an interactive ultimate biking skills DVD to retail, aimed at improving a resource for qualified motorcyclists to improve riding and safety; and

develop a national network of test centres to enable off-road tests for motorcyclists, with a milestone target for March 2008 of 40 per cent of customers being within 45 minutes/20 miles of such a centre.

To initiate three new pilot projects aimed at improving driver education and training and raising standards of high risk groups such as novice drivers.

To progress to conclusion 250 investigations in relation to impersonation/ID fraud and actively seek prosecutions where applicable.

Electronic take-up—achieve 64 per cent of theory test bookings and 64 per cent of car practical test bookings being made online by 31 March 2008.

Deliver the value for money plan targets for 2007-08 (£6 million).

The key targets for the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency are:

Secretary of State Targets

Maintain or improve customer satisfaction at a rate of 90 per cent.

The annual DVLA customer satisfaction survey.

Maintain or improve on the standard of services to the customer.

Achieve target for at least 16 of the 18 major service deliver measures.

Deliver customer choice for operational services through increasing the number of inbound services available via electronic channels.

Maintain volume of existing inbound services available that could be completed electronically, at 64 per cent of the total inbound service volume by 2008.

Deliver the facility for customers to purchase personalised registration numbers online.

Complete the system build enabling vehicles to be tracked through the motor trade.

Deliver the facility for driving licence holders electronically to:

renew their driving licence at 70;

notify a change of address;

request duplicate licence; and

request a new-style licence.

Gershon efficiency—deliver the benefits agreed in the DVO Value for Money plan:

revenue expenditure gain;

workforce change;

increase in VED collected; and

increase the net income realised from the sale of personalised registration numbers and income from cherished transfers.

The running rate to achieve the final 2007-08 VfM targets are:

a total of £50 million compared to the baseline as at 1 April 2004;

reduce the number of FTE posts by 575 compared with the 1 April 2004 figure;

achieve a level of at least £70 million above the 2002-03 roadside survey result; and

a £5 million increase compared to the baseline as at 1st April 2004.

To deliver a programme of e-service capability across the consumer commercial and business sectors.

Volume of inbound services delivered electronically is at least 30 per cent of the inbound volume available electronically by March 2008.

Accurate records—vehicles register: maintain 97.5 per cent of current vehicle keepers as the level to be successfully traced from the record.

Accuracy survey 2007.

Drivers and vehicles registers—The data sets needed for an intended purpose are accurate.

To achieve complete accuracy in at least 97.5 per cent of vehicle registration documents input.

To achieve complete accuracy in at least 97 per cent of driving applications input.

Enforcement—Reduce VED evasion to 2.5 per cent by December 2007. [This target is subject to review]

The annual roadside survey.

Continue to work with Transport for London in the delivery of the mayor’s air quality strategy.

Support Transport for London in its work to introduce the London low emission zone by its due date.

The key targets for the Vehicle Certification Agency are:

Secretary of State Targets

To provide a class-leading service in type approval and certification.

90 per cent turnaround of system and component type approval certificates within nine working days.

95 per cent of appraisal reports on our technical performance from independent panel members deemed to have no critical defects.

Expand consistency of processes and standards across the global network.

Maintain (or improve) customer satisfaction levels.

Existing customer survey processes to be run in 2007-08 and maintain at least 4/5 score (very good).

To ensure the continued integrity of VCA’s approvals.

Carry out a programme of conformity of production inspections.

Target new emerging manufacturing markets to ensure that products fully meet EU standards

Increase number of certificates issued by VCA in China and India by 10 per cent on 2006-07.

To monitor compliance of safety critical vehicle systems and components in the UK marketplace to meet EU standards.

Complete the test programme to be agreed with TTS/CFU/MIU.

Delivery of recommendations made in the VCA/TTS report on the use of virtual tools.

Delivery in Q1 of final VCA/TTS report.

Identify VCA tools and techniques by December 2007

Formulate forward programme by December 2007.

To carry out and enforce an annual programme of in-service emissions testing.

Complete programme by March 2008.

Improve utilisation year on year.

Increase utilisation by an additional 2 per cent points. (Aim is 65 per cent by 2010-11—2 per cent points is targeted to achieve 60 per cent in 2007-08).

To achieve a surplus on a full cost basis and deliver benefits consistent with the Value for Money plan.

To achieve £50,000 surplus on a full costs basis.

Deliver the benefits consistent in the Value for Money Plan maintaining at least £450,000 of cost savings and efficiency and effectiveness improvements.

Invest £100,000 in professional skills and capability development.

The key targets for the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency are:

Secretary of State Targets

Maintain or improve customer satisfaction.

To improve on the previous year’s achievement, or maintain satisfaction at or above 90 per cent.

Increase range of electronic services available to customers.

Delivered portfolio of information services:

operator compliance risk score reports;

test history maintenance reports; and

vehicle encounter reports.

Online vehicle test bookings service available to commercial customers.

Improve the consistency of vehicle testing services across the country.

1/3rd reduction in the variation of the initial test fail rates from 2006-07 national average while maintaining quality test standards.

Improve the quality and consistency of the private vehicle testing service to the public.

Delivered a risk-based enforcement system to target the serious and serially non-compliant vehicle testing stations (VTS).

Contribute to improved road safety through better targeting on non-compliant vehicles and drivers.

65 per cent improvement in targeting of enforcement action at the roadside compared with 2004-05.

35 per cent increase in the number of dangerous vehicles and drivers being taken off the road compared with 2004-05.

Contribute to more reliable journeys on the strategic road network, improved road safety, minimised congestion.

20 per cent increase in volume of checks nationally on “at risk” goods vehicles on international journeys compared with 2006-07.

Reduce the burden of commercial operation.

Implemented DfT plan for licensing reform.

Delivered DfT plan for graduated fixed penalties and deposits.

Deliver modernised support services to traffic commissioners.

80 per cent of new service level agreement measures with traffic commissioners achieved.

Deliver final year of VOSA’s four-year Value for Money Plan.

Four-year cumulative plan delivered:

£13.3 million cost saving;

469 gross headcount reduction*; and

16 per cent increase in effectiveness.

Increase the take-up of existing electronic services available to customers.

69 per cent overall take-up achieved for existing e-services.

The key targets for the Government Car and Despatch Agency are:

Secretary of State Targets

To break even on an accruals basis

To maintain a high level of customer satisfaction through the following:

to maintain a customer satisfaction index (CSI) score at least at 2005-06 levels of 86.7 per cent; and

to maintain accreditation for ISO 9001

To reduce the environmental impact of the agency

By March 2008 to reduce the average tailpipe emissions of the government fleet by 5 per cent compared with March 2007 levels

To increase the use of alternative engine and fuel technology in GCDA vehicles by 10 per cent by March 2008 against 2006-07 levels

To reduce the administrative charges to customers by 2 per cent against 2006-07

* 109 can be redirected into front-line enforcement activity

Health: Medical Careers

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

In my Statement to the House on 19 March, (Official Report, col. 557-8) I set out the background to the review of the new national recruitment and selection process for doctors in postgraduate training. I outlined the decisions that had been made by the review group up to that date. As the review group continued to meet last week, the purpose of this Statement is to provide a further update on progress.

The review group issued a further statement on 22 March. This said:

Building on last week's announcement, at a minimum, every long-listable applicant who applied through Medical Training Application Service (MTAS) and meets the eligibility criteria for their relevant specialty will be invited for an interview. Under this guaranteed interview scheme, candidates will be able to choose which of their preferences to be interviewed for in light of geographic specialty-specific and specialty training level-specific competition ratios which will be available on the MTAS website. We are in discussion about the implications of this for the timetable.

The recruitment system has worked satisfactorily for general practice and this will continue. In other specialities, there is evidence that the short-listing process was weak and we will therefore eliminate this part of the process immediately. In contrast, the interview process has been working and therefore the revised approach will ensure that all long-listable candidates will be interviewed. The review group believes that this new approach is the most equitable and practical solution available. The group also recognises the enormous effort by the consultants, service and deans that has already taken place to ensure that the interview process has worked. The time and effort required for further interviews is recognised by the service and the time required will be made available. Therefore first choice interviews that have already taken place should not need to be repeated.

In accordance with the advice already issued, we reiterate that all interviews will be informed by the use of CVs and portfolios and probing questions.

In broad terms, this means that all eligible applicants at every stage of their training, whether or not they have already had interviews or interview offers, will be able to review their stated first choice preference and have the opportunity to select the one for which they want to be interviewed. We will be discussing operational details over the next week and these may differ between specialties and between different parts of the UK dependent on local circumstances. We will also consult widely. Exact details of how applicants will be able to do this will be available week commencing 2 April on the MMC website at www.mmc.nhs.uk. In the mean time, interviews will continue and applicants should attend unless they are confident that this will not be their preferred choice.

No job offers will be made until all these interviews have taken place. Discussions are taking place on the implications of this for the filling of general practice training places. We expect that the majority of training places will be filled through these interviews. Unfilled vacancies will be filled through further interviews.

The review group has recommended the development of a programme of career support for applicants at all stages of the process. Further details to support applicants, deans and selectors through this process will be available next week on the MMC website. Future work will explore what the possibilities might be for doctors to change specialties.

This represents a reasonable way forward to meet both the aspirations of junior doctors and the timetable for making appointments for August. I therefore regret the fact that the British Medical Association representatives have withdrawn from the group. Despite this, the important work of the review group will continue and I encourage the British Medical Association representatives to come back to the table to ensure that all stakeholders can work together to take forward a workable solution to these issues.

I am glad to note that the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges supports this revised approach. It believes that with the work of the review group it offers the most equitable and practical solution available.

The timetable for the group's work is very tight and the next two weeks will see important progress. Applicants, consultants, employers and all those with a stake in the process will be anxious to be kept informed of progress. I trust that the House will understand if we continue to issue updates on important developments during the recess.

As ever, 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.

Highways Agency: Business Plan

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

The Highways Agency’s business plan for 2007-08 is published today and contains eight key performance indicators for the agency to deliver against by 31 March 2008. The indicators and associated targets are:

Indicator

07-08 Target

Deliver the PSA target to make journeys more reliable on the strategic road network by 2007-08.

Make journeys more reliable on the strategic road network by ensuring that the average vehicle delay on the 10 per cent slowest journeys is less in 2007-08 than the baseline period

Deliver the programme of improvements to the strategic road network.

Open at least 23 major national and regional schemes between 1 April 2005 and 31 March 2008

Develop a target by 30 September 2007 to measure progress in developing and delivering major schemes, and in the mean time continue to work towards achieving by 31 March 2008, at least 2,666 of 2,806 progress points for delivery of the strategic roads programme

Complete a cumulative total of at least 85 priority action sites at junctions

Deliver improvements to journeys by making information available to influence travel behaviour and inform decisions.

Implement the new driver information services in line with the timetable agreed in the business cases approved by Ministers in 2006-07, and develop further services for Ministerial consideration during 2007-08.

Evaluate the benefits of the voluntary travel plans introduced in 2006-07 and introduce at least 18 travel plans (making a cumulative total of least 26)

Implement high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane at the junction of the M606 and M62.

Deliver the agency’s agreed proportion of the national road casualty reduction target.

By 2010 reduce by a third (ie to 2244) the number of people killed or seriously injured on the core network compared with the 1994-98 average of 3366. Reduce by at least 841 to 2,525 by 31 March 2008.

Maintain the network in a safe and serviceable condition.

Maintain road surface condition index of 100 ± 1 within the renewal of roads budget, and develop a value for money indicator by September 2007

Mitigate the potentially adverse impact of strategic roads and take the opportunities to enhance the environment taking into account value for money.

Achieve an average score of no less than 95 per cent across the five sub-targets:

Deliver the Highways Agency's contribution to the department's joint PSA target for air quality

Air Quality: implement measures to improve the air quality in at least two prioritised air quality management areas—AQMAs (making a cumulative total of six completed improvements in the 32 priority areas)

Biodiversity: achieve at least 7 per cent of the published HA biodiversity action plan, which extends across 15 targets (making a cumulative total of 48 per cent of the HA BAP completed)

Landscape: introduce at least nine planting schemes to enhance the landscape

Noise: treat at least 900 lane km of road surface with lower noise surfacing of which 20 lane km are on concrete roads

Water Quality: treat at least four of the high priority pollution risk water outfall sites

Improve the environmental performance of major schemes by improving the average score for the environmental sub-criteria in the appraisal summary table, in at least five out of the 10 sub-criteria.

Deliver a high level of road user satisfaction.

Improve road user satisfaction by reducing the gap between the 2006-07 targets and total road user satisfaction by 5 per cent across core objectives:

Journey reliability and congestion;

Safety; and

Environment

Deliver the Highways Agency's contribution to the department's efficiency target.

Deliver efficiency improvements in roads procurement through adding value to service delivery of £200 million in 2007-08

Deliver our programme within the allocated administration budget, which requires an efficiency improvement of at least £1 million.

Explanatory notes against each of these indicators are provided in the business plan, copies of which have been placed in the Libraries of the House.

Housing Benefit: Anti-social Behaviour

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

I am pleased to announce the local authorities that have been chosen to pilot a sanction of housing benefit linked to anti-social behaviour. The sanction, contained in the Welfare Reform Bill (Clause 31), is part of the Respect programme and would apply where a household has been evicted for anti-social behaviour and subsequently refuses to engage with rehabilitation services offered. It will give local authorities an additional tool for tackling anti-social behaviour in order to achieve a culture of self-respect, respect for others and respect for community.

The intention is to pilot the scheme for two years (subject to the Bill receiving Royal Assent) in the following local authorities:

Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council;

Blackpool Borough Council;

Dover District Council;

Manchester City Council;

New Forest District Council;

Newham London Borough Council;

South Gloucestershire Council; and

Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council

Iraq: Correction to Oral Answer

On 22 February, during the debate on Iraq, in response to a question by my noble friend Lady Gould of Potternewton, I said: “The review of the constitution is due to end on 15 May 2007, and I assure my noble friend that the removal of Article 41 indeed remains one of our objectives” (Official Report, col. 1260).

I should have said that the Constitutional Review Committee, which was formed on 15 November 2006, is due to present its proposed amendments for the Council of Representatives’ consideration by mid- May 2007, and that while there is no stipulated time frame for the whole review process, Iraq's political party leaders have committed to completing the constitutional review process, including the required referendum, within a year of the review committee forming. We are making clear to the Government of Iraq that Article 41 must be implemented in a way that does not contravene the various human rights provisions in the Iraqi constitution. I apologise to my noble friend and to the House for this inadvertent error.

We are also supporting Iraqi women’s groups with concerns about the impact of the constitution—helping them make their voices heard. We will continue to press the Government of Iraq about the important role of women in society and to develop policies and laws in line with the constitution which states that all people should be treated equally irrespective of gender, race or ethnicity.

Local Government: Future Unitary Structures

My honourable friend the Minister for Local Government has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 30 January I announced that in response to our invitation to councils we had received 26 proposals from local authorities for the creation of unitary local government in their areas.

We have now completed our assessment of these proposals against the five criteria set out in the invitation. These criteria are that change to future unitary structures must be affordable, and be supported by a broad cross-section of partners and stakeholders; and the future structures must provide strong, effective and accountable strategic leadership, deliver genuine opportunities for neighbourhood flexibility and empowerment, and deliver value for money and equity on public services.

On the basis of this assessment, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has decided that the following unitary proposals will proceed to stakeholder consultation.

Councils Submitting Proposals

Proposed Unitary Structure

Bedford Borough Council

A unitary authority for Bedford

Bedfordshire County Council

A unitary authority for Bedfordshire

Cheshire County Council

A unitary authority for Cheshire

Chester City Council

Two unitary authorities for Cheshire

Cornwall County Council

A unitary authority for Cornwall

Cumbria County Council

A unitary authority for Cumbria

Durham County Council

A unitary authority for Durham

Exeter City Council

A unitary authority for Exeter

Ipswich Borough Council

A unitary authority for Ipswich

Northumberland County Council

A unitary authority for Northumberland

The Northumberland District Councils

Two unitary authorities for Northumberland

Norwich City Council

A unitary authority for Norwich on existing boundaries

North Yorkshire County Council

A unitary authority for North Yorkshire

Shropshire County Council

A unitary authority for Shropshire

Somerset County Council

A unitary authority for Somerset

Wiltshire County Council

A unitary authority for Wiltshire

In reaching her decision my right honourable friend has had regard to the submitted proposals, any supplementary material submitted by the proposers themselves, and other available relevant information. Her judgment is that there is at least a reasonable likelihood that these proposals, if implemented, would achieve the outcomes specified by the five criteria.

We are launching this consultation today, seeking the views of partners and stakeholders in the areas affected by the proposals. As the invitation explains, partners and stakeholders include all local authorities, the wider public sector, the business community, and the voluntary and community sector. It is, however, open to anyone to respond to the consultation document that we are issuing today, copies of which are placed in the Library of the House.

We are in particular seeking views on the extent to which consultees believe that the proposals would deliver the outcomes specified by the criteria, and in the case of the alternative proposals for Bedfordshire, Cheshire and Northumberland, which of the alternatives in each case would better deliver those outcomes.

The consultation will run until 22 June 2007.

After the stakeholder consultation, we will consider very carefully all the representations that we have received. Proposals will proceed to implementation if, and only if, when we take our final decisions, we remain satisfied that they meet the criteria, and that the overall use of reserves remains affordable, having regard to the prevailing fiscal position and the risks around the estimated costs of implementation.

As explained in our original invitation, implementation of any proposals involving transitional costs financed by the use of reserves impacts on planned public expenditure totals. Any use of reserves must therefore in aggregate be within the limited envelope available.

It was because of this limited envelope that the invitation stated that the Government think it unlikely that they would be able to implement more than eight proposals, but that this maximum number would not preclude the Government from deciding to implement more if they offered good value for money and were affordable.

If when we take our final decisions there are more proposals that meet the criteria than we can afford to implement, we will prioritise in order to decide which ones to implement. We will consult during our main stakeholder consultation on the proposed means of prioritising restructuring proposals in such circumstances.

If implemented the proposals could, on the basis of current estimates, save up to around £200 million annually.

In those cases where there are alternative proposals, any decision on implementation will necessarily involve a decision as to which option should proceed. If we were to decide that Bedford Borough’s proposal should proceed to implementation we may need to consider the future local government structures in the remaining county area which might no longer be a viable two-tier area.

The legislative provision necessary to implement unitary proposals is contained in the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill which is currently before the House.

Finally, in respect of the following proposals, my right honourable friend has decided that, having regard to the available relevant information, there is not a reasonable likelihood that, if implemented, they would achieve all the outcomes specified in the five criteria, and that accordingly they should not proceed to stakeholder consultation.

Councils Submitting Proposals

Proposed Unitary Structure

Mid & South Bedfordshire District Councils

A unitary authority covering mid and south Bedfordshire

The Cornwall District Councils

A unitary authority for Cornwall

The Durham District Councils

A unitary authority for Durham

Ellesmere Port & Neston Borough Council

Three unitary authorities for Cheshire

East Riding of Yorkshire District Council

A unitary authority covering East Riding and Selby

Lancaster City Council

A unitary authority for Lancaster

Oxford City Council

Three unitary authorities for Oxfordshire

Burnley Borough Council

A unitary authority for Burnley

Preston City Council

A unitary authority for Preston

South Somerset District Council

Two unitary authorities for Somerset

Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) (No. 2) 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 Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) (No.2) Bill in the House of Lords. On 27 March 2007, I made the following statement, under Section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998:

In my view, the provisions of the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) (No.2) Bill are compatible with the convention rights.

Poverty: Households below Average Income

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (John Hutton) has made the following Statement.

I am publishing today Households Below Average Income 1994-95–2005-06.

This is the eighteenth edition of the Households Below Average Income (HBAI) series. This report presents information on potential living standards in the United Kingdom as determined by disposable income in 2005-06 and changes in income patterns over time.