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Written Statements

Volume 694: debated on Tuesday 24 July 2007

Written Statements

Tuesday 24 July 2007

Iraq: Basra Airport

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Ministry of Defence, through Multi-National Division-South East (MND-SE) personnel, has supported the Iraqi authorities since 2004 in the commercialisation of Basra international airport. Our support to commercial operations at the airport remains vital. The airport is an important element of the infrastructure of southern Iraq and is playing a key part in the economic regeneration of the country and the Basra region in particular.

The nature of our support has been through the provision of the following services:

air traffic control;

communication system support; and

fire and crash rescue.

Our potential contingent liability for this support was first notified to Parliament through a departmental minute dated 2 December 2004. Since then, we have been able to make progress in preparing the Iraqis to take on full responsibility for commercial flight operations. From January this year the Iraqis took responsibility for fire and crash rescue services, and the airport will soon benefit from the new airfield lighting and communication systems that will enable 24-hour commercial flight movements.

MND-SE personnel have, however, recently reassumed air traffic control responsibility for commercial flight services. This, theoretically, increases the Ministry of Defence's exposure to the risk of a third-party claim in the unlikely event of an aviation accident and, thereby, our potential contingent liability. We are confident, however, that the probability of this liability arising is very low given that the use of professional RAF controllers will substantially reduce the likelihood of an incident occurring.

The potential contingent liability is unquantifiable and would be dependent on circumstances. The Ministry of Defence now holds responsibility for this liability. The Treasury will continue to consider any claim against the reserve, made by the department in the usual manner.

Comprehensive Spending Review

My honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is today publishing the final report of the review of the future role of the third sector in social and economic regeneration. This review was announced in Budget 2006 and forms part of the analysis for the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review.

This final report marks the end of the largest consultation the Government have conducted with the third sector and sets out a new framework for the Government’s partnership with the third sector.

The final report of the third sector review signals the Government's commitment to continue to work in partnership with the third sector, particularly in four key areas: enabling voices and campaigning, strengthening communities, transforming public services and encouraging social enterprise. Under these themes, the Government will continue a number of important policies and programmes. These include continuing to strengthen the implementation of the compact, further funding for the youth volunteering charity v, investment in capacity building and further support for organisations involved in the delivery of public services.

However, this strategy also sets out important developments in the Government's approach. In addition to a number of specific measures, such as greater support for grant funding of small organisations, a new skills strategy and a new drive to improve the third sector evidence base, the Government will over the next 10 years develop their partnership with the sector by:

working with a fuller range of organisations and supporting a wider range of activities in the third sector, particularly around community action and campaigning;

a greater emphasis on investing in the long-term sustainability of the third sector's work; and,

a greater focus on local partnership working.

In addition to the publication of this report, the Government are announcing today the creation of a Council on Social Action. The council will generate ideas and develop initiatives to promote social action.

Copies of The Future Role of the Third Sector in Social and Economic Regeneration: Final Report are available in the Printed Paper Office and have been placed in the Library for the reference of noble Lords.

Courts Service: Annual Report and Accounts

My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I have today laid before Parliament the 2006-07 annual report and accounts for Her Majesty's Courts Service.

Her Majesty's Courts Service has been in operation for two years, and during that period it has made huge strides forward in the service it delivers to the public.

The agency has a clear strategic goal, which is that all citizens are entitled to access justice, whether as victims of crime, defendants accused of crimes, consumers in debt, children in need of care or business people in commercial disputes, as quickly as possible. This access should be provided at the lowest cost consistent with open justice so that citizens have confidence in, and respect for, the system of justice.

Over the past year, the courts have seen great change and have achieved much in conjunction with their partners. Significant progress has been made in protecting the vulnerable by tackling domestic violence through both criminal and civil courts, and victims and witnesses protected through better case management and improved safety arrangements. Justice is also being provided in other ways, such as mediation in both civil and family cases so disputes are resolved faster and in less adversarial ways.

During the year, a blueprint for delivering simple, speedy, summary justice in magistrates’ courts was launched to reduce delay and make better use of every hearing. In the pilot areas where this was tested, the impact has been very positive, with a large reduction in the time taken between first hearing and trial and an increase in guilty pleas at first hearing and in those pleading guilty being sentenced at first hearing.

A similar focus on community justice dealing with the specific concerns of local residents has been successful, leading to a decision to introduce it across 11 new areas over the coming year.

The courts have continued with much success to address the challenge of maintaining and improving performance whilst meeting the requirement faced by all government departments to work within tight financial constraints.

The report highlights these and other achievements by the agency and looks to the future to sustain the momentum and pace of change. It has made a public commitment to deliver a palpable step change, a breakthrough in the public's experience of the justice system.

Copies of the report have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. It is also available on the Courts Service website at www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk.

Death Certification

My honourable friend the Minister of State, Department of Health (Ben Bradshaw) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Government have today published a consultation paper setting out proposals for improving the process of death certification in England and Wales.

The consultation paper sets out proposals to address the weaknesses in the current system for certifying death which were identified by the Shipman inquiry. We believe that these proposals represent a proportionate and affordable response that will provide greater protection for the public by identifying and deterring criminal activity or poor practice. The proposals will also improve the quality and accuracy of death certification and remove current inequalities in the way burials and cremations are dealt with.

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

Department for Work and Pensions: Agencies’ Annual Reports and Accounts

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

I am pleased to announce that the Department for Work and Pensions has today laid in the House the 2006-07 annual reports and accounts for its executive agencies: Jobcentre Plus (HC712), the Pension Service (HC721), the Disability and Carers Service (HC805) and the Rent Service (HC684).

Copies are available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. Publication of the annual report and accounts of the Child Support Agency has been delayed until after the Summer Recess.

Disability Rights Commission: Annual Report and Accounts

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Peter Hain) has made the following Statement:

The Disability Rights Commission's annual report and accounts 2006-07 have been published today and laid before Parliament. The annual report demonstrates the DRC’s continuing success in its important work to eliminate discrimination against disabled people, to promote equal opportunities, to encourage good practice and to keep the working of the Disability Discrimination Act and the DRC Act under review.

The Disability Rights Commission’s responsibilities will be taken over by the Commission for Equality and Human Rights when it opens for business in October 2007.

EU: Portuguese Presidency

My honourable friend the Minister for Europe (Jim Murphy) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I will today lay before the House the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Command Paper on prospects for the European Union in 2007. Copies will be placed in the Library of the House. Additional copies can be obtained from the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. A copy will also be available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website at www.fco.gov.uk.

The last White Paper was published in January 2007. It focused primarily on the priorities of the German presidency. The White Paper I am laying before the House today looks at the priorities of the Portuguese presidency for the remainder of 2007.

The Portuguese presidency will concentrate on the EU delivery agenda across a wide range of subjects, building on the positive successes of the German presidency. It will take forward implementation of the climate and energy package agreed at the spring European Council in March, including a unilateral 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. The presidency will also lead preparations for the December conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bali. We will work with our partners to ensure that the EU helps secure agreement on a comprehensive framework to tackle climate change once the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. The Portuguese presidency will also begin discussions on the Commission's proposals for an open, competitive market in gas and electricity.

The Portuguese presidency will lead Council discussion on the Commission's review of the single market, as well as taking forward work on the further liberalisation of postal services, telecommunications and financial services. In addition, the presidency will present a report on the first 10 years of the European employment strategy and prepare a review of the Lisbon agenda.

The Portuguese presidency will take forward the implementation of the global approach to migration, which will intensify partnerships between the EU and third countries of source and transit migration. The Portuguese presidency will also host an EU-Africa summit in Lisbon in December. The Government hope that a new Joint EU-Africa strategy will be agreed with African Union partners, covering co-operation on peace and security, governance and human rights, trade and regional integration, and development issues. The EU will also continue to work with international partners to address the challenges posed by Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East peace process.

In addition, the Portuguese presidency will chair an intergovernmental conference (IGC) to consider the reform treaty for the EU. The Government believe that the IGC mandate secured at the June European Council will make the EU more effective and efficient. This is in the UK's interests. The Government's approach to the IGC is set out in a separate Command Paper, on which I made a Statement in the House yesterday.

Action on climate and energy security, reform of the single market, tackling migration and strengthening support for development, particularly in Africa, are important UK priorities where EU action adds real value. We look forward to working with the Portuguese presidency over an important six months.

Export Controls: Annual Report

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Kim Howells) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The 2006 annual report on strategic export controls will be published at 11 am today as a Command Paper. Copies will be placed in the Libraries of the House. The report describes UK policy and international developments in export control regimes, as well as information on export licensing decisions taken during 2006.

The annual report on strategic export controls is an innovation of this Government. This report, the tenth annual report—the first was published in 1997—builds upon improvements made in last year’s report. Our export licensing system is one of the most rigorous and transparent regimes in the world, and the annual report, in this improved format, symbolises our continued commitment to accountability and transparency by presenting detailed information in a more modern and user-friendly format.

Since 2004, the Government have also produced detailed quarterly reports which are made available on the internet, ensuring that the UK provides some of the most open and timely export licensing information available anywhere in the world. This year the data from the quarterly reports have been consolidated into one document on the CD-ROM that accompanies the annual report, to make it easier to navigate. Information on licence refusals and fuller information on trade control (trafficking and brokering) licences issued during 2006 is also included, as well as details on the EU torture regulation, which is included for the first time. This year we have also included three case-study examples of policy analysis of our decisions on licences for embargoed destinations.

The complete report will be made available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website and will be published through the Stationery Office.

Health: GP Services

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

General practitioners in England are among the best in the world. A recent international survey by the Commonwealth Fund showed that the United Kingdom stands out as a clear leader in providing the right incentives for high-quality care. I know from my conversations with GPs that many are aware of the need to continually improve services in response to rising public expectations.

In some places, however, patients find it difficult to get an appointment with their GP at a convenient time. For some patients, having a GP surgery that is open only when they are at work is a great inconvenience. In other cases, the ease and convenience of booking or gaining repeat prescriptions could be improved. In some areas, particularly the more deprived, there are fewer GPs and GP services than patients could rightfully expect.

These are major challenges for the 21st century National Health Service as it seeks to improve in response to the rising expectations of patients—expectations of both convenience and quality.

The patient survey of GP services, undertaken between January and March 2007, is the largest ever survey of patients regarding the primary care services they receive. Over 2 million responses were received, giving us a major insight into patients’ views of access to GP services. The survey will be used to inform the Government's longer-term primary care strategy.

The survey shows that many patients report a good experience of GP services. This is a testament to the hard work and dedication of GPs, primary care nurses and other practice staff. The survey shows:

86 per cent of people were satisfied that they could get through to their doctor's surgery on the phone;

86 per cent of people who tried to get a quick appointment with a GP were able to do so within 48 hours;

75 per cent of people who wanted to book ahead for an appointment with a doctor reported that they were able to do so;

88 per cent of people who wanted an appointment with a particular doctor at their GP surgery could do this;

84 per cent of people were satisfied with the current opening hours in their practice; and

94 per cent of people who were referred by a GP discussed choice of hospital.

The summary report has been placed in the Library, and the full results of the survey can be found at www.dh.gov.uk/gppatientsurvey2007.

Practices that offer an accessible service that patients are satisfied with will now receive a payment triggered by the survey results; practices with dissatisfied patients will not. Around £100 million in GP income is linked to the survey results, providing a clear incentive for increased responsiveness.

Of those patients not satisfied with the current opening hours in their practice, 46 per cent said they wanted the practice to open on a Saturday and 26 per cent said they wanted the practice to open on a weekday evening.

In addition, people from minority ethnic communities, particularly Bangladeshi and black African groups, were more likely to be dissatisfied with a range of GP services than their white counterparts. There are marked differences in satisfaction between different ethnic groups:

black/black British people and Asian/Asian British people had satisfaction rates around 5 to 10 per cent below white British people; and

people from a Bangladeshi background have lowest levels of satisfaction (around 20 per cent below white British people).

In addition to the concerns raised in the survey, we also know that there is a persistent problem of insufficient doctors in the most deprived areas. For example, last year Barking and Dagenham had 43 GPs per 100,000 population while Northumberland Care Trust had 88; the England average is 61.

The world-class services celebrated in international surveys should be available to all patients in all communities. Good primary care services mean different things to different people therefore services must be sensitive and responsive to patients' needs.

Lord Darzi’s NHS next stages review will look at these issues in detail and make its first, interim report in October 2007, setting out the route by which the NHS of the 21st century will offer a service which meets the needs of modern patients living busy lives. However, in some areas highlighted by the survey, we can make faster progress, and I am announcing five measures today to begin this process:

I will ensure that primary care trusts (PCTs) analyse this rich data and produce robust local action plans to address concerns expressed by patients. These will be made available to the NHS next stages review, in which I am asking PCTs to actively engage. They will show how PCTs can use existing powers to make rapid service improvements in GP services by the end of this year;

patients tell us that they want better information about their own and other GP practices. We will publish new practice data on the NHS choices website, covering practice opening hours and available appointment times, indicators of the quality of care and what extended services the practice offers. This will be an important first step in improving the information available to patients;

I am establishing a national improvement team, led by the national clinical director for primary care, David Colin-Thome, who was a highly respected practising GP for over 35 years. This team of experts will give targeted support to poorly performing PCTs and practices to improve access. Their initial focus will be on the areas with the lowest patient satisfaction and fewest doctors per head;

I have also asked Professor Mayur Lakhani, the chair of the Royal College of GPs and a highly respected practising GP, to look at the complex issue of why primary care services are not currently meeting the needs of people from black and minority ethnic communities. He will work closely with the Darzi review in advance of recommendations to tackle these inequalities later this year; and

the publication of the survey results releases some incentive payments to GPs who are rated very highly for access. To ensure that services continue to improve, I have asked Lord Darzi, through the NHS next stages review, to work with the BMA to review the current incentives for GP services (the QOF). Lord Darzi will consider the potential for GPs to be asked to achieve even better outcomes for their patients in order to earn the same level of incentive. In particular, Lord Darzi will look at how QOF can reward responsiveness to patients’ experience in a more effective way, addressing local issues and concerns.

I expect practices with low satisfaction rates to make substantial improvements as a result of these measures. My department has already agreed a new performance indicator with the Healthcare Commission that uses data from the patient survey. This will ensure that low-scoring PCTs that do not make the improvements that their patients want to see will have their ratings marked down.

Learning and Skills Council: Annual Report and Accounts

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education (Bill Rammell) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I would inform the House that the Learning and Skills Council for England has today published its annual report and accounts for the period to 31 March 2007. Copies will be placed in the House Libraries.

Medical Expert Witnesses

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Ann Keen), has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

A summary of the responses received during a public consultation exercise, based on the report of the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, Bearing Good Witness: Proposals for Reforming the Delivery of Medical Expert Evidence in Family Law Cases, has been placed in the Library and is available on the Department of Health website at www.dh.gov.uk/Consultations/LiveConsultations/fs/en.

The report's key proposal is that protecting vulnerable children should be a public service and that the National Health Service should develop a new resource for the family courts by establishing expert witness teams of specialist doctors and other healthcare professionals.

The consultation attracted responses from a wide spectrum of parties and organisations with interests in the family court system. The results from 135 responses received indicated that over 60 per cent and almost all key stakeholder organisations approved the proposal to introduce NHS expert witness teams and to commission the expert witness service through a public sector organisation.

The responses confirmed that the introduction of NHS teams should not reserve the work to the NHS but should offer an additional source of expertise. Responses also suggested that the activity of these teams should be confined, at least for the present, to public law family cases where joint instructions apply, and be commissioned regionally to ensure the independence of NHS experts from the local authority and staff directly involved in the case.

Consultation responses raised concerns over the ability of the NHS to undertake this work within its resources, a shortage of doctors willing to act as expert witnesses, time constraints for those who chose to do so and possible conflict between a requirement to assist the courts and clinical responsibilities. The availability of trained professionals, particularly those involved in child safeguarding and shortages of consultants in child and adolescent mental health and in paediatric radiology, were among concerns raised over NHS skill levels in some specialised areas.

A substantial number of respondents focused on the deterrent effect of referrals of expert witnesses, particularly paediatricians, to their regulatory body as an unwarranted consequence of their giving expert evidence in court—and regardless of any legitimate cause for complaint. Further measures are envisaged to counter this effect. The Government fully recognise that, in order for health professionals to do their job properly and effectively, they need to be clear about the boundaries of the professional and legal framework in which they work. The issues here go broader than those around expert witnesses, into the wider role of medical professionals in the detection and investigation of child abuse and neglect.

In order to help clarify the situation, I have recently written jointly with my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Kevin Brennan), to relevant organisations with a statement setting out the Government's understanding of the legal position as considered in some recent judgments.

The statement, which outlines professionals' duty of care, the legal framework within which they operate and the basis on which sound professional judgments should be made, has been placed in the Library and is available on the Every Child Matters website: www.everychildmatters.gov.uk/safeguarding/.

The role of doctors and other healthcare professionals in acting as expert witnesses is both fundamental and vital to the safeguarding of children's welfare. Any diminution in this resource would be extremely detrimental, especially to the most vulnerable children and those most at risk of abuse. We shall therefore be supporting the NHS in taking forward the introduction of teams. We envisage that this will be through the introduction of pathfinding teams in the first instance but gradually increasing so that NHS healthcare expert witness services will eventually be available throughout the country.

National School of Government: Annual Report and Accounts

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary at the Cabinet Office is today laying before Parliament the 2006-07 annual report and accounts for the National School of Government. The report will be placed in the Library of the House for the reference of noble Lords, and copies will be made available in the Printed Paper Office.

Saudi Arabia: State Visit

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al Saud of Saudi Arabia, has been invited to pay a state visit to the United Kingdom from 30 October to 1 November 2007. The visit will further strengthen the good relations which exist between the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This visit will build on our shared history of partnership and close ties in culture, sport and education as we work together to tackle the common challenges all countries face in a globalised world.

Security Industry Authority: Annual Report and Accounts

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Crime Reduction (Vernon Coaker) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am pleased to announce that the annual report 2006-07 and accounts of the Security Industry Authority (SIA) will be laid before Parliament on 24 July 2007 and published on that day.

Copies of the report will be available in the House Libraries.

Social Fund and Social Fund Commissioner: Annual Reports

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

I am pleased to announce publication of the annual report on the Social Fund 2006-07 and the Social Fund Commissioner’s annual report.

The annual report on the Social Fund for 2006-07 (Cm 7161) was published today and has been laid before Parliament. Copies are available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

The report records that total gross expenditure in 2006-07, excluding winter fuel payments, was £997 million. This included more than 271,000 non-repayable grants and over 2.3 million interest free loans, together worth over £827 million, and funeral and cold weather payments totalling more than £49 million. In addition, around 237,000 Sure Start maternity grants worth almost £120 million were made, and 8.6 million households benefited from a winter fuel payment at a cost of around £2 billion.

The report also confirms that reforms to the Social Fund loan scheme were introduced from April 2006, with extra net funding of £210 million over the three years 2006-07 to 2008-09 to support the changes.

The Social Fund Commissioner’s report has also been published today, and copies will be available in the Libraries of both Houses.

Tribunals Service: Annual Report and Accounts

My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I have today laid before Parliament the annual report and accounts for the Tribunals Service covering the period of the financial year 2006-07.

Tribunals are a vitally important part of our legal system, providing access to justice for a large community of users across a wide range of issues, from employment disputes and entitlement to benefits to asylum and immigration rights. The Tribunals Service has created a new unified administration for the system, bringing tribunals together as an integrated part of our justice system, with the aim of making them more obviously independent and easier for the citizen to use. This first annual report sets out its progress over the first year of operation in developing plans to thoroughly modernise the way those services are provided.

Copies of the report have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The report is also available on the Tribunals Service website at www.tribunals.gov.uk/publications.htm

Youth Justice Board: Annual Report and Accounts

My right honourable friend the Minister of State (David Hanson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Youth Justice Board's annual report and accounts for 2006-07 have been laid before Parliament today.

Copies of the report are available on the Youth Justice Board website at www.yjb.gov.uk/en-gb/yjb/Howwework/