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Written Statements

Volume 692: debated on Tuesday 12 June 2007

Written Statements

Tuesday 12 June 2007

Armed Forces: Veterans' Health

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

The Government have been considering what more could be done to support veterans suffering from mental health problems which are related to their active service. As a first step to help these veterans, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has decided to extend the scope of the Medical Assessment Programme (MAP), based at St Thomas's Hospital, London, to any veteran suffering mental health problems who has served in operations since 1982. This will include veterans of the Falklands conflict. The MAP will not provide treatment but will offer an assessment by an expert in the mental health problems that arise from military service, including, where appropriate, a recommendation to the individual and their GP for treatment. Veterans who have concerns about their mental health should seek a referral to the MAP by their doctor; the cost of the assessment will be borne by the MoD.

For the longer term, the MoD is working in partnership with four UK health departments and a number of mental health trusts to pilot a new community-based model of mental health service for veterans. The intention is to provide a service for veterans, offering expertise in veterans' mental health problems across the UK. This scheme will be piloted in five or six locations across the UK, with the first expected to be launched in the summer.

The MoD has also decided that personnel, both service and civilian, who have served in this theatre on Operation HERRICK and have wider concerns about the effect of their service on their health can be referred to the MAP for examination; this extends the arrangement already available for veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf conflict and the current Iraq deployment (Operation TELIC). GPs will be informed of the outcome of the medical assessment with recommendations for further action where necessary.

Finally, reflecting the health concerns that have followed major operational deployments in the past, we have agreed a three-year extension to our original Operation TELIC health-monitoring research project being undertaken by the King's Centre for Military Health Research. It will also cover service personnel deployed to Afghanistan.

Buncefield Explosion

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Ruth Kelly) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The House will recall the scale of the fire and explosions that took place at the Buncefield fuel depot on 11 December 2005. On the following day the Deputy Prime Minister made a Statement to the House thanking the emergency services, the voluntary services, local authority staff, government officials and local people for the magnificent way in which they had responded to the event. In response to a recent request (Business Questions, 17 May 2007) from the honourable Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), the Leader of the House asked for a Statement on progress.

Following on from earlier visits made by the Deputy Prime Minister and the then Fire Minister, I visited the area in July last year and met many of those who had been affected directly or had a role to play in facilitating the recovery process. I maintain a close interest in how matters are progressing and I am aware that more remains to be done.

The House will be aware that on 20 December 2005 the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) announced that it had asked the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Environment Agency to investigate the incident at the Buncefield oil depot and to appoint an investigation board with an independent chair. This reflected the commission's view that an independent investigation offered the best prospect of ensuring early identification and sharing of lessons learnt and for these reasons would be in the best interests of health and safety.

The establishment of an independent investigation board, under the chairmanship of the right honourable Lord Newton of Braintree, to oversee detailed investigation into key aspects of the Buncefield incident is ensuring that information is swiftly made available to the public, subject only to legal considerations. The board is conducting its business openly, in close consultation with key stakeholders including members of the affected community. So far, five reports have been issued within a 15-month period, all of which are available from the official investigation website located at www.buncefieldinvestigation.gov.uk.

The board has been working on the four areas of concern it identified last July, and has already begun to issue recommendations. The first set of recommendations, relating to the design and operation of fuel storage sites, were published in March, and a further set on emergency planning, response and recovery is currently in preparation.

I have written direct to the honourable Member.

Discrimination Law Review

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Ruth Kelly) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Government are today publishing their consultation following the discrimination law review. Along with the equalities review and the establishment of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, the discrimination law review is an important part of the Government's agenda for moving forward equality issues.

The task of the discrimination law review has been to undertake a fundamental review of discrimination legislation in Great Britain and bring forward proposals for a clearer and more streamlined equality legislation framework which produces better outcomes for those who experience disadvantage.

The review's three main objectives are to simplify, make more effective and modernise our framework of discrimination law. The consultation puts forward a package of proposals to achieve these objectives. The law needs to work alongside effective social policy measures and strong institutions to promote a culture of fairness, participation for all and respect for each other's rights. It needs to provide a framework of rights and responsibilities which is clearer and more consistent, while recognising that approaches need to be appropriate to the particular experiences of those facing discrimination, and proportionate to the size of the problem.

The response to the consultation will contribute to preparations for a single equality Bill which the Government are committed to introducing during this Parliament.

Copies of the consultation and relevant documents will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

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

My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Health Services (Rosie Winterton) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council was held on 30 and 31 May. The health part was held on 31 May. Anne Lambert, deputy permanent representatvie to Brussels, represented the United Kingdom. The main item on the agenda was an exchange of views on the Commission consultation on smoke-free environments. Also covered was political agreement on a regulation on advanced therapy medicinal products, and general approaches on three food improvement agents regulations. There was adoption of a council resolution on EU consumer policy strategy, a council recommendation on injury prevention and conclusions on health promotion, HIV/AIDS and health services.

The health council coincided with World No Tobacco Day and the ongoing Commission consultation on smoke-free environments. In light of this, there was a lengthy exchange of views. Most member states intervened to give a description of their national measures to limit exposure to environmental tobacco smoke, which vary greatly in terms of scope. The UK stated the importance of a comprehensive ban on smoking in public places, given that there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke. The UK continued that the best way to achieve this was through binding legislation at national level, although a council recommendation at EU level, not a directive, could be a useful way to set out best practice for member states.

On the regulation on advanced therapy medicinal products, political agreement was reached on the proposal as a part of a first reading deal with the European Parliament. The UK was supportive of the compromise text.

On the food improvements agents package, the presidency led a general approach for the latest compromise regulations on food additives, enzymes for use in foods and the establishment of a common authorisation procedure for food improvement agents. The UK was supportive of this. The presidency concluded that further technical discussions were needed on the remaining regulation in the package of measures—a regulation on food flavourings.

The council adopted without significant discussion the recommendation on the prevention of injuries and the promotion of safety.

Council conclusions on health promotion by means of nutrition and physical activity were also adopted.

On health services, the council adopted the conclusions on healthcare across Europe—Community framework on health services. There was a brief discussion and the UK and Finland intervened to draw Ministers' attention to the need for a coherent approach on the social security regulation (883/2004) and European Court of Justice case law on patients seeking treatment abroad. Portugal committed to further discussions on health services during its presidency of the EU.

The council conclusions on tackling HIV/AIDS within the EU and neighbouring countries were adopted. The UK did not intervene but submitted a written statement supporting the conclusions and welcoming the priority the presidency have given to HIV/AIDS. Member states spoke about the need to involve civil society at large and to emphasise preventive work in this area. The presidency mentioned its discussions with the pharmaceutical industry on ensuring that the cost of drugs does not become a barrier to effective treatment.

EU: Energy Council

I represented the UK at the Energy Council in Luxembourg on 6 June.

The main purpose of the council was a discussion on the internal energy market; this focused primarily on the question of unbundling. The Commission, recalling the mandate given by the spring European Council, made the case for full ownership unbundling as the most cost-effective and simplest way to enable a fully functioning internal market to be established. Proposals were expected to be adopted by the end of September. The Commission also outlined intentions to deal with cross-border regulatory issues, facilitation of investment and technical co-operation between operators.

Though some member states' positions were clearer than others, upwards of 16 spoke in favour of full ownership unbundling. Several of those opposed did so with little or no qualification. The smaller member states emphasised the importance of taking into account the special circumstances faced by small or isolated markets, or those with a single energy supplier which meant ownership unbundling would not be an appropriate way forward.

Views were equally divided on whether gas and electricity markets should be treated in the same way. A small minority of member states were in favour of unbundling distribution as well as transmission.

Otherwise there was general support for the Commission approach on the regulatory framework, investment and technical co-operation by transmission system operators. One member state noted that independence of national regulators would not be a crucial issue if a European regulatory system were established.

With very few Ministers in attendance, the presidency seized on differences of view to conclude there was no majority in support of ownership unbundling and the Commission should therefore seek an alternative solution. The Commission argued that although there was no consensus for full ownership unbundling, nor was there one for a different approach.

Earlier, the council had begun with a report on the signing of a memorandum of understanding on regional market integration by the pentalateral energy forum. The Commissioner had also signed the document. During the policy debate, one of the member states in this forum emphasised that pushing forward on regional co-operation was not incompatible with liberalisation measures at EU level.

The council ended with a Commission round-up on international dossiers summarising the state of play on EU relations (with the US, Russia, OPEC, the Energy Community Treaty and Africa).

EU: Structural Funds

My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Industry and the Regions (Margaret Hodge) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

In my Written Statement to Parliament of 23 October 2006 I announced the publication of the UK's national strategic reference framework for structural funds programmes during the 2007-13 period. This document sets out the strategy for future structural funds spending across the UK, the allocations of funding for future programmes, and the administrative arrangements for delivering the programmes.

Prior to acceptance of the national strategic reference framework, the European Commission has requested a further statement of the UK's commitment to the Lisbon and Gothenburg agendas in relation to our future European regional development fund spending. My officials have therefore written to the Commission reaffirming HMG's commitment to these agendas and reiterated our aim that UK structural funds spending on Lisbon and Gothenburg categories, for each programme, will exceed the targets set out in the Structural Funds General Regulation (EC) No 1083/2006. In addition, I have also stated that we expect 2007-13 spending to exceed equivalent spending on Lisbon and Gothenburg categories achieved under the 2000-06 programmes when compared against a commonly agreed baseline.

A copy of this letter will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

EU: Telecoms Council

I represented the UK at the Telecoms Council in Luxembourg on 7 June 2007, which was the only such council under the current German presidency.

The council began by reaching agreement on the Commission proposal for a regulation on roaming on public mobile networks within the Community, which will now be adopted later this month. The Commission thanked all involved for their constructive input and called on the council not to delay implementation. During my intervention I congratulated the presidency, council, European Parliament and the Commission on reaching a swift agreement. I also welcomed an outcome which delivered real benefits to consumers, while at the same time ensuring innovation and competition.

The presidency then discussed the Commission's communication on radio frequency identification (RFID), a microchip-based technology that stores information about products or people, which can be read only by the appropriate scanners. The council was in agreement on the economic benefits RFID can deliver but recognised there were issues relating to privacy that need to be satisfactorily resolved before these benefits were realised. The Commission informed the council that it would be creating a RFID stakeholder group to raise awareness of these technologies and to address these concerns. In response to the council's concerns regarding privacy and personal data, the Commission confirmed that it would amend the e=privacy directive as part of its forthcoming review of the electronic communications framework.

The council conclusions on the Commission's i2010 strategy, which seek to direct the Commission's focus in the ICT policy field, were adopted without substantive comment. The Commission did, however, take the opportunity to remind council of the need to address the broadband gap across Europe in order to improve overall competitiveness. A substantial debate on the i2010 strategy is expected during the Slovenian presidency as part of the i2010 mid-term review.

Under any other business (AOB), the Commission highlighted its communication on the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA). The current mandate of ENISA, designed to assist EU institutions and member states in developing network security strategies, runs up until March 2009. The Commission is undertaking a review of this mandate and used this agenda item to raise this issue with the council. During this agenda item Estonia also took the opportunity to thank NATO and member states for the support it received during the recent cyber-attacks on its government websites.

Following the council, the German presidency hosted a ministerial lunch to discuss postal services. During discussions it became clear there was broad agreement in principle on the full opening of the European postal market. Despite earlier agreement that the market should be fully opened by 2009, consensus was not reached on this date. Also, a number of countries expressed concerns on how a universal service would be funded in an open market. Portugal, which is assuming the presidency in July, is keen to reach agreement on the liberalisation of postal services during its presidency.

Holiday Entitlement

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment Relations and Postal Services, Jim Fitzpatrick, has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 11 January 2007, I announced the launch of a further consultation on draft regulations to increase the holiday entitlement from 20 days to 28 days (pro rata for part-time staff), implementing the Government's manifesto commitment to make paid leave for bank and public holidays additional to the existing statutory entitlement.

The Government propose to implement this change over a two-year period. Today I am publishing the Government's response to the further consultation and laying regulations for the approval of Parliament. Based on views expressed in the responses to the further consultation, we are proposing changes to the earlier draft regulations.

The Government's preferred approach in the January 2007 consultation had been to introduce half of the additional holiday entitlement from October 2007 and the remaining half from October 2008. On further consideration of the cost pressures, in particular for the health and social care sector, the Government intend to delay the second increase in the holiday entitlement from 1 October 2008 until 1 April 2009. The initial increase will come into effect on 1 October 2007, as originally proposed.

We propose to enable payment in lieu of the additional holiday entitlement to continue until 1 April 2009 in order to give those employers that use such measures to ensure staff cover, such as the residential care sector, sufficient time to recruit and train enough staff to cover for the additional holiday periods. We also propose to provide an incentive for early compliance, whereby employers that already comply with the full requirements of the regulations as at 1 October 2007 will be taken outside of the regulations, as long as they continue to meet those requirements. This approach is consistent with our policy of supporting good employers, while protecting vulnerable workers.

Copies of the government response to the further consultation have been placed in the Library.

Northern Ireland: Youth Justice Agency

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

I have placed copies of the Youth Justice Agency's corporate plan for 2007-10 and business plan for 2007-08 in the Libraries of both Houses.

The business plan contains nine key performance targets I have set for the agency for 2007-08. These are:

contribute towards the delivery of the NIO PSA target to reduce the rate of reconviction by 5 per cent compared to the predicted rate by April 2008;

achieve a 20 per cent increase in the public awareness level of the agency as measured by the Northern Ireland omnibus survey;

maintain an offender participation rate of at least 80 per cent and a satisfaction rate of at least 70 per cent in youth conferences;

maintain a victim participation rate of at least 60 per cent and a satisfaction rate of at least 75 per cent in youth conferences;

further develop and test a measurement system in order to establish baseline figures in relation to key outcomes, in line with the OFMDFM 10-Year Strategy for Children and Young People in Northern Ireland;

all new admissions have a risk assessment conducted within 24 hours;

no high-risk escapes from the juvenile justice centre;

at least 90 per cent of young people remanded by the courts to have a bail assessment completed within seven days; and

maintain expenditure within approved budgetary limits.

Territorial Army: 100th Anniversary

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 that the centenary anniversary of the Territorial Army (TA) and the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association (RFCA) will be commemorated in the United Kingdom in 2008. The commemorations, which will be designated “TA100”, will commence from the anniversary on 1 April 2008. The main national level event will take place on Horse Guards Parade on Saturday 21 June 2008, and between April 2008 and Remembrance Day 2008 there will be a number of regional and local activities, with a broad emphasis on TA veterans and members of the TA currently deployed on operations. The Army will be working with the RFCAs, the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency, the National Army Museum, regimental and corps museums and service charities to plan events throughout the United Kingdom. Further details will be made available in due course.

Witness Intermediary Scheme

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

The Government are committed to ensuring that the most vulnerable in our society have access to justice and the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 provides for a number of measures to assist vulnerable or intimidated witnesses give their best evidence in court. Section 29 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 provides for the examination of a witness to be conducted through an intermediary approved by the court to help the witness communicate with the police, legal representatives and the court.

The intermediary provision has been implemented in six pathfinder criminal justice areas—Merseyside, Thames Valley, West Midlands, South Wales, Norfolk and Devon and Cornwall with the aim of establishing a model for national implementation.  Two further areas, Leicestershire and Derbyshire, formalised their use of the scheme in spring 2007.

The operation of the pathfinders has been independently evaluated and the findings show that almost everyone who has encountered the work of intermediaries has been impressed with the service that they provide.  The research also highlights a number of emerging benefits, including the potential to assist in bringing offenders to justice, increased access to justice, and assistance in identifying the needs of vulnerable witnesses.

In view of the successful operation of the intermediary pathfinders, the Government have decided to begin phased national rollout of the provision from September 2007. 

The research findings on the intermediary pathfinder evaluation will be published today. Copies have been made available in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office. Copies are also available from the Ministry of Justice website at www.justice.gov.uk/publications/research.htm.