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Written Statements

Volume 692: debated on Wednesday 6 June 2007

Written Statements

Wednesday 6 June 2007

Act of Union Exhibition

An exhibition entitled “Making the Act of Union 1707” will be formally opened on Tuesday 12 June, in the Royal Gallery. The exhibition, which has been jointly funded by the House of Lords, the House of Commons, the Scottish Parliament and the National Archives of Scotland, brings together key documents connected with the Act, including the English and Scottish copies of the Articles of Union, for the first time since 1707.

The exhibition will be on display in the Royal Gallery from 12 June to 24 August 2007. It will subsequently be displayed in the foyer of the Scottish Parliament from 21 September until 18 November 2007.

Members of the public, accompanied by Members or staff of either House, will be able to visit the exhibition while it is on display in the Royal Gallery.

In addition, free guided tours to the exhibition will be available for members of the public from 13 June to the rising of the House on 26 July, on Monday and Tuesday mornings. From 31 July until 24 August guided tours will be provided on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. Tours can be booked by emailing: actofunion@parliament.uk.

At the same time as the exhibition is opened a website devoted to the Act of Union will be launched on the parliamentary website at www.parliament.uk/actofunion. Additional information on how to book tours will also be provided online at this address.

Armed Forces: Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft

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

I am pleased to announce today that the Ministry of Defence has decided to proceed towards financial and contractual close of the future strategic tanker aircraft (FSTA) project PFI deal. The FSTA project is an innovative programme intended to provide future air-to-air refuelling and strategic air transport capability, through a service-based contract funded under the private finance initiative. It will provide the Royal Air Force with a modern capability to replace our VC10 and TriStar aircraft.

In February 2005, the then Secretary of State for Defence announced that the Government intended to enter into preferred bidder negotiations with AirTanker Ltd. Extensive evaluation of the final bid has demonstrated that PFI offers a cost-effective solution to this requirement and we are now proceeding towards financial and contractual close of the deal with AirTanker Ltd. We expect AirTanker Ltd now to begin the fundraising process.

I should stress that FSTA remains a complex and challenging PFI programme. Contract signature is dependent on the outcome of the PFI fundraising process. Nevertheless, I believe this announcement is good news for our Armed Forces, for the taxpayer, for AirTanker, and for UK industry.

EU: Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

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

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council was held on 30 May in Brussels. My honourable friend Anne McGuire, Minister for Disabled People, represented the UK. Health and consumer affairs issues were taken on 31 May.

For the first item, the council endorsed a joint Social Protection Committee and Employment Committee opinion on active ageing. The Employment Committee chair said the aim was to give member states practical guidance reflecting the successful initiatives that were being taken across the EU to boost the employment rates of older people.

The council adopted a resolution on a new EU strategy on health and safety at work. The Commission said that the previous strategy had achieved an increase in productivity and a 17 per cent reduction in accidents in the EU15, but that the current levels of accidents and illness were still too high. The UK said that an important element of achieving a good health and safety record was ensuring that employers and workers were focused on the sensible, practical management of health and safety risks, rather than getting tied up in pointless bureaucracy, and welcomed the clear link between good health and safety management and the achievement of the Lisbon employment agenda.

The council agreed a partial general approach on two chapters of the implementing regulation for Regulation 883/04, providing for the co-ordination of social security systems, which included sickness and health care benefits and the provisions for reimbursing healthcare costs. It agreed an explanatory note, instigated by the UK, saying that final agreement on the border healthcare aspects could not be given until the Commission proposals on health services had been considered. The council also agreed a general approach on the 2006 package of miscellaneous amendments to the regulation.

On the portability of supplementary pensions directive, the Netherlands said that the Dutch Parliament had called for the directive to be re-examined, as it felt that the text no longer met its aim of increasing worker mobility due to the narrowing of its scope and the numerous exemptions. The presidency suggested that the Portuguese might take up the dossier, but the next step was the imminent first reading opinion of the European Parliament.

A lunchtime discussion was held on migration and access to the labour market. After a presentation by Commissioner Frattini on the Commission's recent proposals, a number of Ministers spoke about their own different national situations and problems. All agreed that these were major issues that the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council should return to.

The council adopted conclusions on the importance of family-friendly policies, an Alliance for Families and on the Beijing indicators on education and training. The presidency's Alliance for Families initiative was broadly welcomed, though most, including the UK, said it should not duplicate existing processes.

The Social Protection Committee chair presented the outcomes of the social services of general interest consultation. The social partners wanted a legal framework, though there was broad recognition of the important role that the open method of co-ordination could also play, and the Commission said it would bring forward a communication in November.

Portugal outlined its priorities on employment and social policy for the forthcoming Portuguese presidency starting in July, which would be evaluating the European employment strategy in its 10th anniversary year, renewing the European social model with particular attention to pensions, poverty and social exclusion. It also intended to take stock of the progress made in combating discrimination. For the December council it stated that flexicurity would be a key issue.

Immigration: Law

My honourable friend the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Liam Byrne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Today I have launched a consultation paper on simplifying immigration and citizenship law. The aim of this initial consultation paper is to seek a range of views to inform a fundamental overhaul of the legal framework within which the Border and Immigration Agency operates.

Over recent months we have outlined our plans to reform our immigration system. The object of this paper is to begin the process of simplifying the body of different immigration laws built up over the past few decades.

The new legal framework will be important to the transformation of the Border and Immigration Agency and to the achievement of its strategic objectives.

Copies of the consultation paper have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The document is also available on the Border and Immigration Agency's website at www.bia.homeoffice.gov.uk/lawandpolicy/consultationdocuments/currentconsultations.

NHS: Financial Performance

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

Today, my department is publishing the NHS financial report for the fourth quarter of 2006-07. This report shows that, on the basis of unaudited figures, the NHS as a whole is reporting a net surplus for the year of £510 million, having made very strong progress against each of the financial objectives we set for the financial year.

This is a remarkable transformation from the £547 million audited net deficit in 2005-06 and bears witness to the hard work of NHS staff right across the country in taking the tough decisions needed to deliver savings, increase the efficiency of working practices and reduce deficits, while maintaining patient care and continuing to reduce waiting times.

The introduction of a stronger, fairer and more transparent system, coupled with a renewed emphasis on performance management, has exposed many underlying financial problems in the system, allowing the NHS to end the 2006-07 year with its strongest financial results for many years, and providing a firm and sustainable financial position for 2007-08 and beyond.

The report has been placed in the Library and copies are available to honourable Members from the Vote Office.

Northern Ireland: Oversight Commissioner's Report

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Paul Goggins) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

I have today laid before this House a copy of the Oversight Commissioner's first statutory report for the year 2007, which was published on 31 May 2007, in accordance with Section 68(4)(a) of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000.

This is the final report of the Office of the Oversight Commissioner, the 10th report compiled by Al Hutchinson as Oversight Commissioner and the 19th in the series of oversight reports published since 2001. This final report of the Oversight Commissioner is a comprehensive assessment of the implementation of the Patten recommendations and is a fitting record of the invaluable work of the policing Oversight Commissioner and his team of evaluators.