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Written Statements

Volume 712: debated on Monday 20 July 2009

Written Statements

Monday 20 July 2009

Coastal Erosion

Statement

My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning (John Healey) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today publishing a consultation on proposals for new Planning Policy on Development and Coastal Change, and I am placing copies of the consultation in the Library of the House.

Coastal communities have historically adapted to the changing coastline as sea levels have risen steadily since the end of the last ice-age. However, on the basis of the latest projections provided by UKCP091, climate change is likely to exacerbate erosion and coastal flooding with rising sea levels and a potential increase in the intensity, severity and frequency of coastal storms over the next 100 years

Government are committed to managing the impact of coastal erosion and flooding in a sustainable manner, and this includes ensuring that our spatial planning policies support communities that are resilient to the risks presented by climate change.

Strong planning policy to manage coastal flooding is already in place through Planning Policy Statement 25. However, currently planning decisions in relation to coastal erosion risks are made with reference to Planning Policy Guidance note 20, which adopts a strongly precautionary approach, restricting any development in areas at risk of coastal erosion. This means that even appropriate development that would support the economic and social viability of a coastal town or village is unable to go ahead.

To deal with this, the proposed Development and Coastal Change policy aims to strike a better balance between economic prosperity and the need for further defence of the coastline, alongside reducing the consequences of coastal change on communities.

The draft policy promotes a strategic risk-based approach to managing future physical changes to the coastline, so that long-term adaptation of communities can be planned while allowing necessary development that is appropriate and safe. It will also introduce a more co-ordinated approach to planning and investment at the coast, ensuring that spatial strategies to deliver regeneration and sustainable economic development take proper account of the impact of physical processes affecting the coastline and decisions regarding the planning and management of coastal defences.

This consultation forms part of a wider package of actions being taken forward to deliver the Government’s sustainable flood and coastal risk management approach set out in the “Making Space for Water” strategy. The Coastal Change Policy framework, which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defra announced for consultation on 15 June, provides a package of policy measures to help coastal communities and local authorities manage and adapt to the increasing risk of coastal flooding and erosion.

The proposed changes I am setting out today will play a part in assisting coastal communities in adapting to the impacts of climate change and facilitating economic activity in coastal areas. The consultation closes on 12 October 2009.

1 The UK Climate Projections 2009, published 18 June 2009.

Compact Annual Review

Statement

My right honourable friend the Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Angela E. Smith) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today placing in the Library of both Houses of Parliament copies of the report of the annual meeting held on 2 December 2008 and the action plan 2009-10.

The independent Commissioner for the Compact, Sir Bert Massie, spoke about the state of the relationship between government and the sector and the findings from the debate on the future of the Compact:

to keep a values-based and voluntary Compact;

to update the Compact as a single document that takes account of changes over the 10 years since the Compact was first signed; and

to look at changes to the structure of the Commission for the Compact and options to put it on a statutory footing.

We now have the opportunity to renew the Compact for the 21st century, to ensure it is stronger and capable of delivering for both the public and third sectors in a changing economic environment. Simon Blake, the Chair of Compact Voice, and I, as representatives of the two signatories to the Compact, have asked Sir Bert to begin work engaging both sectors on updating the Compact documents, and in making changes to the commission. This will build on work the commission has already achieved to ensure the Compact is better understood and accepted.

The refresh of the Compact is a major piece or work to be done as part of our joint action plan for the next year. The action plan has been developed by the Commission, Compact Voice, Office of the Third Sector and the Local Government Association—taking account of the discussion at the annual review. Along with the report of the annual review meeting I am also placing copies of the Joint Compact Action Plan 2009-10 in both Houses. The action plan is grouped around four themes:

raising the profile of the Compact;

building our knowledge;

embedding in structures, processes and policy; and

maintaining the relevance of the Compact.

At the annual review meeting my predecessor also announced the baseline for annual reporting on the commitment to three-year funding for the third sector by government departments. The percentage of the value of all government grants that have been reported to OTS that are for three years or more is 85.4 per cent. A baseline will also be set in 2009-10 for performance on contracts and performance by NDPBs and agencies.

Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 2) Bill

Statement

I have made a Statement under Section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998 that, in my view, the provisions of the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 2) Bill are compatible with the convention rights. A copy of the Statement has been placed in the Library of the House.

Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill

Statement

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

“The Government have today published the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill. The Bill includes the following reforms, to:

1) The Civil Service

Place the Civil Service and Civil Service Commissioners on a statutory footing, and enshrine the Civil Service's core values in statute.

2) Treaties

Enshrine in statute the procedure for pre-ratification scrutiny of treaties by Parliament, and give legal effect to a vote against ratification.

3) House of Lords

Phase out the hereditary principle in the House of Lords, by ending by-elections for hereditary Peers; provide for the disqualification from the House of Lords of Peers convicted of a serious crime or subject to a bankruptcy restrictions order; enable the House of Lords to expel or suspend its Members in certain circumstances; and provide for Peers to resign and disclaim their peerages.

4) Demonstrations around Parliament

Repeal Sections 132 to 138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, removing the requirement to give notice of demonstrations around Parliament, as well as the offence of holding a demonstration without the authorisation of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. The Bill will instead enable the police to be given proportionate, alternative powers to maintain access to Parliament.

5) Human Rights—“Somerville

Reconcile the time limit for human rights claims under the Northern Ireland Act 1988 and the Government of Wales Act 2006 with that in the Human Rights Act 1998. Due to the interface between this Bill and parallel provision for Scotland in an Act of the Scottish Parliament which has yet to receive Royal Assent, the same provision for Scotland will be introduced by amendment at the appropriate time.

6) Judicial Appointments

Remove the Prime Minister from the process of making appointments to the new Supreme Court. This complements non-legislative measures ending his involvement in the appointment of other members of the senior judiciary of England and Wales; and remove the provision enabling the Judicial Appointments Commission to assume responsibility for magistrates' appointments.

7) National Audit Office

Provide a modern governance arrangement for the National Audit Office, and change the tenure of the Comptroller and Auditor-General.

8) Transparency in accounting for NDPBs

Align the spending mechanisms of non-departmental public bodies with the existing budgetary treatment.

The Bill follows the proposals in the Governance of Britain Green Paper of July 2007 (CM 7170) and the publication of a draft Bill (published in March 2008, Cm 7342-11).

The issues covered in the draft Bill were the subject of examination by three Select Committees:

the Joint Committee on the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill (report of 31 July 2008, HL Paper 166-I, HC Paper 551-I);

the Justice Committee (report on the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill (provisions relating to the Attorney-General), HC 698); and

the Public Administration Select Committee (report on Constitutional Renewal: draft Bill and White Paper, HC 499).

The Government are very grateful indeed for the work of these committees, and are publishing, today, their response to these reports.

On 3 July 2007, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made a major Statement on the case for constitutional reform. Alongside this, more detail was given in the Governance of Britain Green Paper. A number of subsequent separate consultation papers were published, including on the role of the Attorney-General (CM 7192), judicial appointments (CM 7210), war powers and treaties (CM 7239) and protest around Parliament (CM 7235). The draft Constitutional Renewal Bill was published on 25 March 2008 (CM 73423-2) and a Joint Committee of both Houses set up to consider the draft Bill.

The Government have taken full account of the responses to the consultation and the reports of the Select Committees in finalising the proposals in the Bill.

A fundamental aim of the governance of Britain agenda has been to reduce the power of the Executive, including by ending the use of relevant royal prerogative powers, and to enhance the role of Parliament. The provisions in respect of the Civil Service and treaties mark a major move in that direction. The Government have already announced that they would ensure that the Commons will have a pivotal position in determining whether the United Kingdom goes to war by means of a war powers resolution. Drafts of this have already been published and will go before Parliament in the autumn.

House of Lords

Detailed work on the reform of the Lords had been undertaken in parallel with the governance of Britain agenda. A White Paper was published last July (2008. CM) building on the decisions of the Commons in February 2007 in favour of an 80 per cent or 100 per cent elected House of Lords. No proposals in respect of the Lords were therefore included in the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill.

However, in view of recent events and increased interest in the Lords’ reform agenda, the Government have decided to include in the Bill reforms to:

c) end the hereditary Peers by-elections, thus phasing out the hereditary principle, and

d) provide for the resignation of Peers and powers for their expulsion, suspension and disqualification in certain circumstances.

The Government are fully committed to comprehensive reform of the Lords, based on four principles, all of which were endorsed by the cross-party group—see White Paper, An Elected Second Chamber, July 2008, Cm 7438:

the primacy of the House of Commons, enshrined in the Parliament Acts, and in rules and convention;

independence of Members, supported by their serving a single, non-renewable term of three normal-length Parliaments, and, as set out originally in the 2007 White Paper, The House of Lords. Reform, Cm 7027, by a system of election which prevents a single party gaining an overall majority,

direct election, such that the second Chamber has a democratic mandate underpinning its revising role, but one that is never as a whole more up to date than that of the Commons, and

sensible transitional arrangements in respect of existing Peers.

There remain outstanding questions, which the Government will seek to answer in final proposals after the summer, with draft legislation for pre-legislative scrutiny as soon as possible. The two key issues are the electoral system and the size of the elected element—80 per cent or 100 per cent. The Government are giving careful and active consideration to resolving these questions in such a way as to make best use of a transitional period.

Attorney-General

The draft Constitutional Renewal Bill contained provisions in respect of the office of Attorney-General, following the Governance of Britain Green Paper, which set out the Government's commitment to enhancing public confidence and trust in the office, and the Government said that they would listen to the views of all those with an interest. A consultation paper was subsequently published on 25 July 2007. Of all the matters covered in the draft Bill, this was been the subject of most extensive comment, with bespoke reports from the Justice Committee and the Select Committee on the Constitution and extensive treatment—including minority views, with support from across all three main political parties—from the Joint Committee on the draft Bill.

Those reports disclosed a wide range of views on the direction that reform of the office might take. For example, the Justice Committee favoured separating the Attorney’s legal and political functions; a majority of the Joint Committee disagreed; and the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution noted that “there are a number of different ways in which the post of Attorney might evolve, providing an overview of the different options and arguments.

In the event, the significant, necessary reforms to the role of Attorney-General are being achieved without the need for legislation. For example, the Attorney has reached a new settlement with the Directors of Public Prosecutions, the Serious Fraud Office and Revenue and Customs Prosecutions to improve relationships, guarantee prosecutorial independence while ensuring an appropriate degree of accountability and to improve transparency about the relationship, as reflected in the new protocol setting out the respective responsibilities of the Attorney and the directors. This builds on the Prime Minister's Statement in July 2007, that the Attorney-General has herself decided, except if the law or national security requires it, not to make key prosecution decisions in individual criminal cases. Furthermore, the new protocol makes it clear that the Attorney-General will not be consulted in any case which concerns an MP or Peer or where there is a personal or professional conflict of interest, other than where her decision is required by law. This protocol will be published by the Attorney very shortly. Furthermore, the Attorney-General now only attends Cabinet when matters affecting her responsibilities are on the agenda.

Given that it has been possible to make these reforms to the office of Attorney-General without legislation, the Government have concluded that it is not necessary to include legislative changes in respect of the Attorney-General.”

Counterterrorism

Statement

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

Today, 20 July, the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) changed the UK threat level from international terrorism from severe to substantial. This means that a terrorist attack is a strong possibility.

The change in the threat level to substantial does not mean the overall threat has gone away—there remains a real and serious threat against the United Kingdom and I would ask that the public remain vigilant.

The decision to change the threat level is taken by JTAC independently of Ministers and is based on the very latest intelligence, considering factors such as capability, intent and timescale. Substantial continues to indicate a high level of threat; and that an attack might well occur without further warning. The threat level is kept under constant review.

Discretionary Social Fund

Statement

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Helen Goodman) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Secretary of State’s changes to the discretionary Social Fund, which took effect in the South West region from 27 April 2009 and the East Midlands region from 8 June 2009, will be partially extended to Glasgow from 27 July 2009.

The changes introduce a requirement for most customers to be interviewed at a local Jobcentre Plus office when they make a third or subsequent application for a crisis loan to cover living expenses.

During such an interview customers will be provided with a leaflet that contains details of local and national organisations that can provide money management advice. The leaflet has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses of Parliament and copies are also available in the Vote Office.

EU: Budget

Statement

My honourable friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Ian Pearson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today laying before Parliament, the annual European Community Finances White Paper Statement on the 2009 EC Budget and Measures to Combat Fraud and Financial Mismanagement (Cm 7640). This White Paper is the twenty-ninth in the series. It gives details of revenue and expenditure in the 2009 EC Budget and covers recent developments in EC financial management and measures to counter fraud against the EC Budget. It also includes updated details on the own resources decision, the UK consolidated statement on the use of EU funds in the UK, and new text on the European economic recovery plan.

Fishing: Trawlermen Scheme

Statement

I am pleased to announce that the Government will shortly be launching the new compensation scheme for former trawlermen who fished in Icelandic waters.

Under this scheme, we will calculate the aggregate time served by each trawlerman during the last twenty years of their career on vessels that fished in Icelandic waters, and make additional payments whenever the payment due under this calculation exceeds the total already paid to them under the two previous compensation schemes. Claimants will only be eligible for payments where they can meet a qualifying test which requires two years aggregate service on vessels that fished in Icelandic waters during the four years of the Cod Wars, or the last four years of a trawlerman’s career if he left the industry before 31 December 1976.

This approach will direct additional payments to those people who were disadvantaged under the previous scheme, because they had long Icelandic careers, but received reduced payments or no payments at all as a consequence of the breaks rule, which the Parliamentary Ombudsman criticised in her 2007 Report.

We will consider claims from anyone that applied under the previous schemes, or from anyone that has not applied previously where they can submit good and reliable documentary evidence supporting their claim. We have agreed to add an extra vessel to the original list of Icelandic vessels and will consider the case for adding further vessels, assessing any evidence submitted against criteria based on that used under the previous scheme.

We plan to formally launch the scheme on 31 July. At launch, we will announce the scheme through local newspapers in each of the ports concerned; establish a helpline to deal with queries and issue copies of the application forms and scheme rules; and place this information onto the BIS website. We will also write to everyone that replied to the recent consultation paper. We will allow nine months from launch for people to submit claims. However, no payments will be made until the vessels list has been finalised.

We believe this scheme represents a fair and equitable way forward. It has been designed to meet the concerns raised by the Parliamentary Ombudsman in connection with the previous scheme, and will enable an estimated 1000 former trawlermen to receive additional payments totalling around £5-10 million.

Forced Marriage

Statement

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

Today the Forced Marriage Unit (a joint Home Office/Foreign and Commonwealth Office unit) launches its Forced Marriage Case Handling Guide for MPs and Constituency Offices.

The guide aims to help Members of Parliament and their staff when they are faced with issues related to forced marriage. It offers background on the issue and gives suggestions of best practice for supporting victims and dealing with their families. It gives details of the Forced Marriage Unit and of non-government organisations which can offer help and advice and also gives contact details of UK embassies/high commissions overseas.

The new guide is available from the House Library. The guide can also be accessed on the Forced Marriage Unit’s website at www.fco.gov.uk/forcedmarriage, and further hard copies can be obtained directly from the unit at the following address: Forced Marriage Unit, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Room G58, Old Admiralty Building, London SW1A 2PA.

Haslar Hospital

Statement

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

The Royal Hospital Haslar is an important historical site. It opened to patients in 1754 and formally ceased to be a military hospital in 2007, although it continued treating NHS patients until July this year when clinical facilities and Defence Medical Services personnel were transferred to the Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham, and elsewhere.

The future use of this site, which extends to some 23 hectares and comprises around 75,000 square metres of buildings, 13 of which are grade 2 listed, is clearly an important issue locally and nationally. Accordingly, in 2008, the Ministry of Defence commissioned an enquiry by design led by the Prince’s Regeneration Trust and the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment. The inquiry concluded that alternative uses should include new enabling development and that every effort should be made to retain some medical and healthcare presence on the site.

An expressions of interest campaign was undertaken earlier this year and a number of bids were received by the closing date. I am announcing today that Our Enterprise, a community interest company that brokers and delivers bespoke commercial partnerships between charities, social investors, commercial operators and the public sector to deliver large-scale integrated regeneration projects, has been chosen as our preferred bidder for the site. Our Enterprise has been chosen as our preferred bidder for the site in accordance with government policy on the disposal of historic buildings. We expect to exchange contracts with the purchaser and complete the transfer by the autumn, if not earlier.

Our Enterprise has a vision of promoting the quality of life for both individuals residing on the site and for Gosport as a whole and will continue social and health care on the site by providing a veterans’ village, student accommodation, community healthcare and a commercial centre as well as residential uses.

I believe that the choice of preferred bidder for Haslar is good news for the local community and will preserve the heritage and visual aspects of this important site.

Higher Education

Statement

This Government are committed to expanding higher education.

There are currently record numbers of students in higher education with 300,000 additional students in the system since 1997. Government spending on higher education is over 25 per cent higher in real terms than in 1997. By contrast, funding fell by 36 per cent under the previous Government.

Our expansion of higher education is more important now than ever before, as we continue to invest in developing a highly skilled workforce that is well placed to win the jobs the future economy will offer.

Demand for places this year is unprecedented, demonstrating that people continue to see higher education as a good investment and a valuable route to a good job and rewarding career.

We want to support all those with the aspiration and ability to succeed in higher education. Work with the sector indicates there are institutions able to recruit more students to meet the increased demand without compromising the quality of their offer.

Therefore an extra 10,000 higher education places will be made available to universities this year to support more students in going to higher education this year.

The Government will pay the student support costs for extra places in courses related to the New Industry, New Jobs agenda such as science, technology, engineering and maths—areas which will equip young people with the skills they need for the jobs of the future.

The package will fund the financial support for these students, which includes, for full-time students the fee loans to cover the cost of the tuition fees charged by institutions.

Institutions wishing to take additional students will be able to charge students on full-time courses in England up to £3,225 in tuition fees in 2009-10, the same as for other students. A tuition fee loan is available to eligible students to cover the full cost of the fee.

No additional teaching grant from HEFCE will accompany these additional students. It is for universities to manage their own admissions and we are confident that many will want to offer high quality places to students on this basis.

This is a fiscally neutral change—the costs of supporting the extra students will be met through reprioritising existing budgets and reducing the optional five-year holiday on repayment of student loans to two years.

The repayment holiday on student loans was announced in July 2007. All students starting a higher education course in 2008-09 or later, taking out their first student loan and having a repayment start date of April 2012 or later are entitled to a repayment holiday. The intention is to help borrowers to manage their finances if there are other changes in their lives. Qualifying borrowers will now be offered the choice of putting their student loan repayments on hold for up to two years as opposed to up to five years as announced in July 2007.

The expansion described here is a proposition affordable to the Government and viable for universities in order to meet an important need; helping thousands more people achieve their ambitions.

It is up to individual institutions whether or not or how many places they want to offer on this basis and we will ask HEFCE to oversee the process.

This funding for student support, which will be reprioritised from within existing BIS budgets, is in addition to the extra funding for additional student numbers provided in this year’s HEFCE grant letter. That funding was expected to result in an additional 3,000 full-time entrants in 2009-10 as well as growth in part-time entrants.

As a result of this announcement, we expect that there will be 50,000 more accepted applicants this year than just three years ago.

Housing

Statement

My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning (John Healey) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 2 April 2009, the Government informed Parliament about the review into the extent and impact of housing development on garden land. This explained that the review would be carried out in two stages.

I can today confirm that we received 127 detailed responses from local planning authorities to stage 1 of the review, and that stage 2 is being carried out by Kingston University, London. I have asked them to consider the following:

whether there has been any increase or decrease in development in gardens from 1 April 2003 to 31 March 2008, and the reasons for any change;

the impact of the brownfield definition and brownfield target in Planning Policy Statement 3 on any increase or decrease in development in gardens;

whether development on garden land is widespread, or confined to a handful of authorities or certain areas of the country

the contribution that this type of development makes towards local housing delivery objectives and the impact that any restrictions on development on garden land would have;

the role of the Planning Inspectorate in determining appeals for development on garden land—typified by accusations that they force the hand of local authorities by routinely overturning decisions on garden development;

whether local authorities are developing local policies in line with advice from government and the policy in Planning Policy Statement 3, and in particular whether local policies on brownfield development and trajectories are being developed; and

whether local policies developed in accordance with PPS3 are effective in supporting local authorities decisions on garden development at appeal, and to establish the common reasons for local objections to development on garden land.

Our aim is to conclude the review and make a further announcement and publish summary findings and evidence to Parliament after the Summer Recess.

The purpose of the review is to establish whether there is a clear and genuine problem with the extent of housing development on gardens. And, as we have previously confirmed, the Government are committed to considering action if the evidence confirms a problem, provided that any changes should not have the effect of undermining our objectives on housing.

Insolvency Service

Statement

My honourable friend the Minister for Business, Regulatory Reform and Employment Relations (Ian Lucas) has made the following Statement.

The Insolvency Service is today publishing its first report on the operation of Statement of Insolvency Practice 16 (SIP 16).

SIP 16 sets out required practice for insolvency practitioners who carry out pre-packaged administrations. The Insolvency Service’s report examines practitioners’ compliance with the SIP in its first six months of operation, and the conduct of directors who have engaged in pre-packs. A further report will be issued in early 2010.

Copies have been placed in the Libraries of the House.

The report is available at http://www.insolvency.gov.uk/insolvency professionandlegislation/iparea/iparea.htm.

Intellectual Property Office: Performance Targets

Statement

My right honourable friend the Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property (David Lammy) has made the following Statement.

I have tasked the Intellectual Property Office with managing and shaping an intellectual property system which encourages innovation and creativity, balances the needs of rights holders and the public, provides support to businesses on managing and exploiting their intellectual property, and stimulates economic growth.

I have set the Intellectual Property Office a broad range of targets for 2009-10 based on a balanced scorecard approach. These targets are:

Customers and Stakeholders

a substantive response to an allowable request for accelerated patent examination to be issued within two months of receipt in 90 per cent of searched applications;

give good customer service in processing patent applications in 95 per cent of quality assured cases;

issue 80 per cent of patent searches within four months of request;

the correct decision on registration will be made on at least 98.5 per cent of Trade Mark applications;

90 per cent of Trade Mark applications (to which no substantive objections have been raised or oppositions filed) to be registered within seven months;

95 per cent of correctly filed design applications to be registered within two months;

develop a cross-government international IP strategy which has been agreed by Whitehall ministerial or senior official group by February 2010;

the IPO Intelligence Hub will be seen by industry and enforcement agencies as the lead player in co-ordination and dissemination of IP crime-related intelligence;

industry and law enforcement agencies will give positive feedback on awareness raising and training activities;

to increase the understanding of British business and society about how to make the best use of the IP system, a third venue for the Science Museum exhibition will have been identified and agreement for an exhibition be in place by December 2009;

evaluation of the Science Museum exhibition will demonstrate positive impact and value for money and provide information for future outreach work;

extend our outreach to business through use of our online IP Health Check, and over 66 per cent of respondents will report it as useful; and

to demonstrate we deliver high quality services to our customers we will receive “good” or “satisfactory” ratings in at least 80 per cent of responses to customer surveys.

Finance and Resources

we will demonstrate we are able to maintain a sustainable trading fund by delivering a 4 per cent return on capital employed; and

deliver a 5 per cent cost efficiency with reference to 2008-09 cost outturn (excluding VER/VES scheme and Science Museum IP exhibition sponsorship one-off costs)

Internal Processes

complete 95 per cent of staff performance reviews (to ensure everyone understands how their work contributed to the 2008-09 corporate plan and how they will be expected to perform to enable delivery of the 4 pillars in 2009-10) signed off and returned to HR by 31 May 2009;

to reduce our impact on the environment, increase proportion of waste recycled to 60 per cent;

to reduce our impact on the environment reduce carbon emissions by 10 per cent compared to 2008-09 figures;

promote a healthy environment and reduce numbers of sick absence days per person to 7.0 days; and

to enable business effectiveness through reliable IT systems, achieve 99 per cent of the agreed monthly service levels for key IT systems.

Change and Development

positive feedback from participants of international Forum on the economic value of IP;

a plan will be agreed by SABIP and IPO for commissioning items of research;

two of these SABIP research projects to be completed and reports received;

contracts to be awarded on a further two of these SABIP research projects;

introduce new Trade Mark fees and services in October 2009 to maintain registration in the UK as an attractive option vis-à-vis registration at OHIM;

national and international stakeholders will report increased awareness of our work on copyright strategy;

ensure that the IPO has developed a co-ordinated strategy on mutual recognition and promote that strategy with key international partners. Gain agreement on mutual recognition with Japan by March 2010;

memorandums of understanding on work sharing signed with Korea and China in 2009; and

policy skills audit will be carried out and a targeted training and development programme devised by autumn 2009.

Justice: Collective Actions

Statement

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

Today we are announcing the Government’s response to the Civil Justice Council’s report Collective Actions: Improving Access to Justice through Collective Actions.

The Civil Justice Council published its report on collective actions on 12 December 2008. The report proposed that a general legal right for representative bodies to bring collective actions should be created and that this should be possible either in respect of an identified group of claimants or on behalf of an entire class—that is, for both named and unnamed claimants. Whether to allow a particular collective action to proceed, and whether on an identified group or class basis, would be a matter left to judicial discretion.

The council’s recommendations included:

increasing the types of representative bodies that can bring claims;

making the judiciary the gatekeeper of the procedure;

permitting claims to be brought on an opt-out basis where it is in the best interests of justice; and

changing the law to permit the award of aggregate damages.

The Government are grateful to the Civil Justice Council for carrying out this review and welcome the report and its analysis, identifying where further work or reforms are needed and setting out the case for change. The report has been carefully considered and the Government have concluded that collective actions would be best taken forward on a sector-by-sector basis. We do not believe that the creation of a generic right to collective action would be appropriate.

There are a number of reasons why we have reached these conclusions. A generic right would introduce the possibility of collective actions for any and all types of civil claim in every sector of society and the economy. It would be very difficult to assess impacts across the entire economy and, if the overall benefit was positive, that might fail to highlight individual areas where the impact might be adverse.

In addition, there may be substantive law issues relating to damages. The potential for a shortfall or surplus cuts across the compensatory principle underpinning (most) civil damages and the appropriate approach may vary according to the type of claim involved and, in particular, the type of representative body bringing the action.

Nevertheless, collective actions are potentially a useful way to manage mass legal claims in a number of areas where a large number of people are likely to have related grievances. However, there may be strong arguments both for and against the introduction of collective action in any particular sector and the Government do not think that it would make sense to impose a one-size-fits-all policy across the whole economy.

Each sector will be responsible for deciding whether to introduce a right of action and for developing the required legislation, where there is evidence of need and following an assessment of economic and other impacts. For example, if the consumer sector, having considered alternative approaches and taken account of stakeholder views and economic impacts, decided that collective court actions offered a way forward, it would be able to ask Parliament to give representative bodies the right to bring actions on behalf of consumers.

The Government will work to develop a framework document that will in essence consist of a “toolkit” for legislators. It will identify the key features that legislation granting new rights of action will need to contain. In conjunction with this, the Ministry of Justice will develop rules of court. These will be designed to interface with new rights of action and will be sufficiently flexible to deal with any different approaches taken by sectors in respect of such issues as authorisation of bodies, allocation of damages and whether claims are to be brought on an opt-in or an opt-out basis.

Subject to any sector-specific exceptions, the rules will also include provisions for mandatory use of alternative dispute procedures, certification, security for costs, case management and fairness hearings.

Copies of the government response have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and the response is available on the Ministry of Justice website at www.justice.gov.uk. The Civil Justice Council’s report is available on the Civil Justice Council website at www.civiljusticecouncil.gov.uk.

Legal Aid

Statement

The Government are committed to funding legal aid for family cases, and currently dedicate £582 million each year to family legal aid. In real terms, in the last seven years expenditure on family representation has increased by 25 per cent while the number of people helped has dropped by 11 per cent. For this reason, we have been working to redesign the system to get the best value for the taxpayer and to ensure that our priority of protecting and helping vulnerable children is met.

On 17 December 2008, I announced a consultation paper, Family Legal Aid Funding from 2010, published by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Legal Services Commission (LSC) (Official Report col.WS120) which set out proposals for legal aid payments for family work to apply from 2010. The consultation closed on 3 April 2009, following an extension of the original closing date of 18 March, which was granted following requests from representative bodies.

The consultation paper focused on two new payment schemes:

The Private Law Representation Scheme, which will bring all private family work (excluding advocacy) within a standard fee regime; and

The Family Advocacy scheme, which creates a single graduated fee scheme covering payments to both solicitor advocates and barristers for public and private family law cases.

There is a significant overlap between what solicitors and barristers do, and this consultation proposed that barrister and solicitor advocates would receive the same fees for the same advocacy work and most respondents agreed with this principle.

I remain convinced that it is right to proceed with a harmonised family advocacy scheme and intend to do so.

Since the formal consultation ended, the Legal Services Commission has had a substantial amount of constructive engagement with stakeholders. They have provided a considerable amount of detailed advice on how to improve the structure of both the advocacy and representation schemes—primarily to recognise complexity in cases.

Our original proposals have been substantially revised to reflect many of their suggestions. This has required a considerable amount of reworking of the assumptions that underpin the modelling of the fee schemes. I have concluded that in order to ensure that those models are as accurate as possible, further analysis is required before we publish the final fee schemes.

My officials and the Legal Service Commission will be working on the fee schemes over the summer. They will be finalised and announced in time for the September bid round for new civil contracts in April 2010.

The Legal Services Commission (LSC) is publishing today a response to its consultation, published in March 2009, on best value tendering (BVT) of criminal defence services. The consultation set out plans to pilot BVT in Greater Manchester and Avon and Somerset and, subject to the outcome of the pilot tender process, to roll out BVT more widely during 2010-12.

The LSC has listened carefully to concerns raised by those responding to the consultation and has been persuaded that there is a strong case for delaying the wider implementation of BVT until at least 2013 to enable a full evaluation of the impact in the two pilot areas. The pilot tender will go ahead in October 2009 with pilot contracts going live in July 2010.

The consultation was clear that the introduction of BVT would bring significant change to the way in which criminal defence services in the police station and magistrates’ court are currently funded. However, BVT offers the potential to secure the long-term sustainability of criminal defence work by enabling legal aid providers to offer their services at a sustainable price that reflects the costs of provision in their local area. The proposals have been designed to secure best value for taxpayers’ money and provide opportunities for practitioners to undertake more work where they have the capacity to do so.

The consultation response also details the final BVT model to be implemented in the pilot areas including the adjustments that have been made as a result of the consultation. In particular, the LSC intends to implement a more flexible, localised approach to maximum market share in response to concerns raised by respondents. It also intends to allow firms to undertake a small amount of police station work outside the area in which they have won a contract so that they can continue relationships with established clients.

Copies of Best Value Tendering for CDS Contracts 2010: A Response to Consultation have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. The document can be downloaded from the consultation section of the LSC’s website at www.legalservices.gov.uk.

Marine Environment: Radioactive Discharges

Statement

The OSPAR radioactive substances strategy was agreed by Ministers of all contracting parties in 1998. The objective of the strategy is to prevent pollution of the maritime area covered by the OSPAR Convention (Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic) from ionising radiation through progressive and substantial reductions in radioactive discharges.

It was agreed that contracting parties should report to the OSPAR Commission on progress in achieving the aims of the 1998 strategy.

Today, an updated strategy for radioactive discharges (the first having been published in 2002) was published by the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The UK discharges strategy forms our national report on progress and will be presented at the next OSPAR ministerial meeting in 2010.

The UK strategy is available via the DECC website at www.decc.gov.uk.

Millennium Development Goals

Statement

My honourable friend the Minister of State for International Development (Gareth Thomas) has made the following Statement.

The new White Paper Eliminating World Poverty: Building our Common Future sets out the Government’s vision of a more focused and effective UN that plans, manages and delivers “as one” for the world’s most vulnerable people. The Government’s intention is to put more of our funding through system-wide mechanisms that encourage a joined-up, efficient and effective UN effort.

Today I am confirming a pledge that I made at the 2008 MDG high-level event to provide £40 million (over 2009 to 2011) through the new UN MDG “Delivering as One” Fund. This new facility, developed jointly with Spain, Norway and the Netherlands, will fund UN-led development work in countries where UN agencies have agreed one programme, one budget, shared back-office services and one strong leader. Experience over recent years indicates that this approach leads to a stronger, more effective and efficient UN at country level, better able to support developing countries’ national programmes to meet the MDGs. So far, 12 developing countries have adopted this “one UN” approach and others are expected to follow. UK funding will be closely linked to performance to ensure that the new fund contributes to improved efficiency and effectiveness in the UN’s work.

NHS: Non-UK Residents

Statement

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

Since the publication of the cross-government immigration enforcement strategy Enforcing the Rules: A Strategy to Ensure and Enforce Compliance with our Immigration Laws, the Department of Health and the Home Office have been working together to review the rules on charging non-UK residents for access to National Health Service services in England.

The House will wish to know that the joint review has concluded and the Government are today able to outline their conclusions.

The National Health Service was founded over 60 years ago. Sixty years on, this Government remain committed to its founding principles: a national health service for the benefit of the people of the United Kingdom, free at the point of delivery and funded by general taxation.

However, it is neither feasible to operate the NHS without proper controls over access, nor fair, in an age of mass global travel and movement, to ask the taxpayer to fund unrestricted access to non-UK/EEA nationals. It is the Government’s responsibility to protect NHS resources from exploitation or inappropriate use.

That is why, in concluding the review, the Government are today announcing measures to support a clearer and fairer system of access to NHS services—a transparent system that will maintain the confidence of the public by preventing inappropriate access.

The Government have decided to maintain the current system of charging non-residents for most secondary care (hospital) services. Treatment in an accident and emergency department and treatment for specified infectious diseases that could create a public health risk will remain free to all. The Government also propose limited extensions to the current range of exemptions from charges for hospital treatment for certain non-residents.

Persons seeking refuge or asylum are already exempted from charges for the duration of their application including the full appeal process. The Government have not been persuaded that this full exemption should be extended to all of those whose application has failed but have not yet left the country. It has however recognised the case for those whose claim has been refused but who are being supported by the UK Border Agency because they would otherwise be destitute, have children and/or because it is impossible to return them home through no fault of their own. It is therefore proposed that an exemption from charges is extended to this group.

The Government also propose to exempt from charges all unaccompanied minors, including those in local authority care, while clarifying the principle that the accompanying parent or guardian of a non-resident minor is responsible for the cost of their NHS treatment. Together with the exemption for victims of human trafficking that was introduced from April this year, these changes reinforce the protection and rights to healthcare of the most vulnerable groups, regardless of their residential status.

While maintaining the principle that other visitors or irregular migrants who are not specifically exempted should be charged for their treatment and that, in non-urgent circumstances, treatment will be withheld if the costs are not paid, the Government remain firmly committed to the requirement that immediately necessary and other urgent treatment should never be denied or delayed from those who require it. We are currently engaging with key stakeholders to ensure that guidance to the NHS in this respect is clear and comprehensive.

The principles of providing immediately necessary treatment must always be applied to any maternity care, to ensure that the health of the mother or baby is not put at any risk. Maternity treatment therefore must never be delayed or denied. However, the Government have not been persuaded that charges should be abolished in relation to non-exempt patients for maternity treatment. There is clear case evidence that a small number of visitors enter the United Kingdom specifically to use NHS maternity services.

In relation to HIV treatment, the Government recognise that clinical evidence on treatment, including its role in prevention, is developing constantly. Moreover, HIV is a major global problem, the control of which creates significant financial as well as human costs. We will therefore undertake further analysis of the latest medical and public health evidence together with consideration of how the current policy on treatment aligns with the Government’s wider international aid strategy for HIV. This analysis will inform a future decision on whether the current treatment policy (that only initial diagnosis and counselling are offered free of charge to non-UK residents or individuals who are not otherwise exempt) should be revised.

The Government also propose that the period of absence for current residents that can be disregarded for the purpose of determining continued eligibility for free NHS hospital treatment in England is extended from three to up to six months. This proposed change reflects the increasing tendency towards longer periods of travel overseas for some people and will protect the rights of British citizens who travel abroad while still residing substantively in the United Kingdom.

The Government acknowledge that general practitioners (GPs) are well placed to take account of the healthcare needs of their local communities. GPs also play a pivotal role in the provision of public health services (in which they are currently at the forefront of our response to the threat of pandemic swine flu). Since the inception of the NHS, GPs have had the responsibility of determining whether a particular individual should become a patient of their practice. This applies to all patients and, while the discretion that we give to GPs is limited—for example, decisions must not be discriminatory—we do not believe that any specific changes are required in respect of foreign nationals. Where an individual is refused registration, a GP is able to offer routine treatment on a private fee paying basis, but must provide any immediately necessary treatment free of charge.

A small minority of visitors deliberately seek to enter the UK, legally or illegally, in order to access NHS services without payment, some returning on a number of occasions for additional treatment while their previous debt remains unpaid. We therefore believe that there is a strong justification for practical working level co-operation between the NHS and UK Border Agency to apply immigration sanctions to those seeking leave to enter or remain when they have substantial uncleared debts to the NHS. It is only fair that these individuals are prevented from returning to the United Kingdom, or extending their stay here, until they have cleared their debt. The Government therefore propose to amend the Immigration Rules to provide that non-EEA nationals will normally be refused permission to enter or remain in the United Kingdom if they have significant debts to the NHS.

The Government are also attracted to the principle of visitors who are not covered by EEA or other reciprocal health agreements being required to have personal health insurance provision, as is already the case in some other countries. We intend initially to seek views on the merits and feasibility of such a scheme, which will inform further work to evaluate possible options.

The proposals apply to England only. The Government will, however, consult with devolved Administrations, particularly with regard to the proposals on health tourism and health insurance where there may be benefits in a United Kingdom-wide approach.

The proposed policy changes in this Statement will be put to public consultation in the autumn and full supporting information will be provided at that time. Subject to a positive consultation outcome, revised regulations will then be laid as required to enable changes to take effect.

Northern Ireland: Boundary Commission

Statement

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Shaun Woodward) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

I have today placed a copy of the Boundary Commission’s annual report for the period 2008-09 in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies are also available on the Boundary Commission website at www.boundary commission.org.uk.

Olympic Games 2012

Statement

My right honourable friend the Minister for the Olympics and Paymaster-General (Tessa Jowell) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am publishing today the Government Olympic Executive’s quarterly economic report, London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games Quarterly Economic Report July 2009. This report explains the latest budget position as at 30 June 2009 and outlines some of the many wider economic benefits to the UK.

The Olympic project remains on time and within budget. The overall £9.325 billion public sector funding package for the London 2012 Games remains unchanged and the anticipated final cost of the Olympic Delivery Authority’s (ODA) programme is the same as it was at the end of March 2009 at £7.234 billion.

On the eve of our three-years-to-go celebrations, the ODA continues to make good progress on the Olympic Park, recently announcing that it had hit all of its 10 milestones. Good progress is being made on all of the principal venues and on 16 July the ODA announced that the outer shell roof structure of the Olympic stadium had been completed just 14 months after construction started.

The report also confirms that the London 2012 Games are providing business and employment opportunities around the UK in challenging times. There are now over 4,000 workers on site. Of these, 10 per cent were previously unemployed. To date £3.5 billion-worth of contracts have been directly awarded by the ODA, 98 per cent of these to UK companies.

I would like to commend this report to the Members of both Houses and thank them for their continued interest and support of the London 2012 Games.

Copies of the Quarterly Economic Report July 2009 are available at www.culture.gov.uk and will be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

Parole Board

Statement

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

The role of the Parole Board has changed significantly since its creation in 1968, from an advisory body to a court-like decision-making body. It has evolved in light of legislative changes, court judgments and changing case loads, but its functions, status and resources have not been systematically considered in light of these changes.

I am today therefore announcing a consultation on options for the future of the Parole Board. The consultation period will last from 20 July 2009 until 20 November 2009.

Copies of the consultation paper have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. They are also available at www.justice.gov.uk. The ministry’s website also gives details of how to respond to the consultation exercise.

Regional Spatial Strategy: East of England

Statement

My honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is today publishing the revision to the East of England plan (the revision to the East of England regional spatial strategy) concerning accommodation for Gypsies and Travellers and travelling showpeople, together with the accompanying supporting document, which includes a summary of consultation responses and a sustainability statement. This final, single-issue revision to the East of England plan reflects consideration of responses to the consultation on the Secretary of State's proposed changes, which were made in the light of the recommendations of the independent panel who conducted an examination in public into the draft policy.

This is the completion of an important single-issue revision to the East of England plan, which was published in May 2008. It builds on the foundations of the draft policy, which was prepared by the East of England Regional Assembly and the findings of the independent panel who conducted an examination in public.

The policies that are published today become part of the East of England plan and provide a framework for local planning authorities to prepare relevant policies in their development plan documents, which must be in general conformity with the East of England plan.

The strategy reflected in the final policies aims to guide development of additional accommodation for Gypsies and Travellers and travelling showpeople in the East of England most immediately to 2011, and in the longer term to 2021.

The policies adopt the independent panel's conclusion that the number of pitches in the region should be slightly increased from the total proposed in the draft policy, in recognition of the pressing need for additional accommodation in the East of England. They also reflect the panel's conclusions that the revision should make provision for additional transit sites for temporary use by Gypsies and Travellers and more permanent plots for seasonal use by travelling showpeople. The spatial strategy reflected in the policies provides for meeting the most pressing accommodation needs where they arise coupled with an equitable distribution of additional pitch and plot requirements across the region's local authority areas.

The policies were subject to assessment under the habitats regulations. The sustainability statement concludes that the policies are in accordance with the principles of sustainable development and that they do not give rise to adverse environmental impacts.

The culmination of this single-issue review of the East of England plan represents an important milestone in putting in place a strategic framework for addressing the pressing accommodation needs of the Gypsy and Traveller and travelling showpeople communities. The essential task now is to ensure that the policies are implemented quickly and effectively. We look forward to working with the local authorities and other key partners on their delivery.

The policies resulting from the review, together with the supporting document, have been placed in the Library of the House and have been provided for all of the region's MPs, MEPs and local authorities.

Serious Organised Crime Agency

Statement

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

I am pleased to be able to provide a schedule of costs, which has been prepared exceptionally for 2008-09, following the merger of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) and the Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) on 1 April 2008.

The figures in the schedule show the sum of assets recovered by SOCA in 2008-09 to be in the region of £3.9 million more than the cost of their recovery activities using the powers inherited from ARA. SOCA is tasked with reducing the harm caused to the UK by organised crime, and numbers alone do not tell the full story, but in the first year of SOCA’s use of these new powers it exceeded the Government’s target for civil recovery on its own. The Government believe that SOCA’s performance in this area of activity fully vindicates their decision to merge both agencies.

The figures provide, as far as it is possible to do, an assessment of the costs incurred by the Serious Organised Crime Agency in recovering assets using powers inherited from ARA during the first year following the merger. Assessing the costs associated to a single work stream within SOCA has proved challenging and significantly more complex than the calculations that could be made for ARA, which was focused on a single area of activity. Given that former ARA work is now only part of a larger organisation with much wider aims and objectives and significantly larger and more varied overhead costs, a like-for-like comparison is difficult.

SOCA’s remit is to reduce the harm caused to the UK by serious organised crime. To achieve this SOCA deploys a range of tools. These include: criminal justice interventions (arrests and prosecutions); action to deny criminals access to assets through the use of proceeds of crime legislation and other measures; the disruption of criminal markets and organisations; and the use of ancillary orders such as Serious Crime Prevention Orders. The use of these tools is mainstreamed into the operational activity of the agency. Most operations deploy a number of these tools. It is not possible to identify, in a manner which could be audited, the costs associated with the use of specific tools within any given operation. The identification of costs for powers inherited from ARA is less problematic as civil recovery operations were run as a discrete area of the business in 08-09.

The receipts from SOCA’s asset recovery work are not intended to cover the operating costs of SOCA as a whole.

Summary Analysis of ARA/SOCA Expenditure on Asset Recovery—2003-04 to 2008-09

2003-04

2004-05

2005-06

2006-07

2007-08

2008-09

ARA Actual

ARA Actual

ARA Actual

ARA Actual

ARA Actual

Actuals

£'000

£'000

£'000

£'000

£'000

1

Total Reported ARA Expenditure

10,889

14,085

23,617

24,927

24,598

2

Less

i)

Centre of Excellence Direct Costs

-759

-1,231

-1,625

-1,731

-2,034

ii)

Overheads on C of E Costs (2)

-637

-1,033

-1,363

-1,379

-1,779

3

SOCA Costs

i)

Direct Costs

Staff

6,374

Other Including Receivership Fees

5,910

ii)

Overhead Recharges (Notes 3 & 4)

4,885

4

= Cost of Asset Recovery Activities

9,493

11,821

20,629

21,817

20,785

17,169

5

Adj for Change of VAT Status (Note 5)

-853

6

Comparable Annual Cost Levels

9,493

11,821

20,629

21,817

20,785

16,316

7

Cash Value of Assets Recovered

-2

-4,384

-4,119

-15,912

-9,225

-20,175

8

Net Cost (Surplus) In Year

9,491

7,437

16,510

5,905

11,560

-3,859

9

Cumulative Cost (Surplus)

9,491

16,929

33,439

39,344

50,904

47,044

Notes

1 Overview—This statement compares costs in SOCA of taking forward proceeds of crime activities previously undertaken by ARA. It includes an accumulated cost at the request of NAO as the original remit for ARA was that this work would in the longer term be self-funding. The 2008-09 outturn shows a surplus for the first time, mainly because overhead costs in SOCA are much lower than those in ARA.

2 Centre of Excellence Overheads for 2003-04 to 2005-06 are calculated @ 84 per cent of direct costs based on the average of the 2006-07 and 2007-08 actual costs reported by ARA.

3 Overhead costs in SOCA are c 40 per cent based on full recovery of all SOCA's infrastructure costs (that is, accommodation; security; IT systems etc) across operational activity areas including former ARA services.

4 The overhead savings are represented in practice by the fact that SOCA has been able to reduce accommodation costs in London and also by the ability to release c 50 FTE staff into other SOCA operational activities following the merger.

5 SOCA costs include VAT which ARA was able to recover—VAT is cost neutral in total public purse terms and deducted from SOCA costs to facilitate direct comparison with ARA costs. Even without this adjustment, a surplus would be shown in 2008-09.

SOCA, July 2009

Social Care

Statement

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State, Department of Health (Andy Burnham) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The General Social Care Council (GSCC) is the professional regulatory body for social workers in England and has statutory responsibility for investigating complaints against social workers. In June, the Department of Health became aware that a backlog of conduct referrals had developed at the GSCC and liaised with GSCC to determine the scope and nature of the problem.

On 2 July, Ministers were alerted as the GSCC had identified a backlog in the management of 203 complaints against social workers registered with them. Ministers were very concerned about any risk to the public and met with the chair and chief executive of the GSCC on 6 July to seek reassurances from them. The council reported that there were 21 cases where the allegations, though unproven, suggested that there could have been an ongoing risk of harm to members of the public.

Ministers asked the council to ensure that urgent action was taken to address any potential threat to public safety that could arise if these individuals were continuing to work as social workers, by establishing their whereabouts, to ensure that any who were still in employment were being safely and appropriately managed while the allegations were investigated. GSCC has been working to ensure that any employers of these individuals are aware of the allegations made and to ensure that the individuals concerned have not sought employment elsewhere.

On Friday 17 July, the department received information from the GSCC regarding all 21 cases. The GSCC confirmed that either the individuals concerned are employed as social workers by known employers who are aware of the allegations that have been made and are managing any risks or, as far as the council can ascertain, they are not currently employed as social workers.

In the light of Ministers’ concerns around public safety, my officials facilitated a team to work with GSCC to ensure that all cases in the backlog were reviewed to determine if any were high risk. Following this review, a small number of other cases have been identified which are being investigated. Ministers are seeking urgent further assurances that every possible step has now been taken to ensure that none of these individuals presents a current risk.

In all cases where the GSCC has assessed that there may be a potential ongoing risk, panels are scheduled to have met by Friday 24 July to consider the imposition of an interim suspension order on the individual in question pending the outcome of the GSCC's investigations.

The fact that a backlog of conduct referrals, some of which had not been adequately risk assessed, has built up is a matter of extreme concern. We understand that GSCC has therefore suspended its chief executive while it looks into how the issue arose.

As an interim measure, Paul Philip, currently deputy chief executive at the General Medical Council, is joining GSCC as acting chief executive.

The Department of Health is today commissioning the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence to carry out a wide-ranging review of the governance and performance of the GSCC. The purpose of the review is to establish what further action is needed to ensure that Ministers, Parliament and the public can have confidence that the GSCC is effectively carrying out its statutory duties to promote high standards of conduct and practice in order to protect the public. The GSCC supports the review, which will report to Ministers by the end of September.

Tax Credits

Statement

My right honourable friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Stephen Timms) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Tax credits are delivering guaranteed minimum incomes for working families and families with children, reducing child poverty, and improving work incentives. In these tough economic times they provide support to 20 million people including around 6 million families and 10 million children. Take-up is now higher than for any previous system of income-related financial support for in-work families.

Against this backdrop HMRC has today published its estimate of error and fraud in tax credits for 2007-08. The collection, analysis and publication of these data help inform efforts to strengthen the administration of the programme.

The analysis—based on a sample of 4,100 cases—estimates error and fraud at 8.6 per cent of finalised tax credit entitlements for 2007-08. This comprises error favouring the claimant at 7.8 per cent of finalised entitlements, and fraud at 0.7 per cent. This compares with the 2006-7 central estimate of error and fraud at 7.8 per cent.

The Government are determined to reduce the incidence of error and fraud in tax credits. In July of last year, the Government set HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) a target to reduce the combined levels of error and fraud in tax credits to no more than 5 per cent of finalised entitlement by the end of March 2011. HMRC is committed to delivering to achieve this target.

At the same time HMRC also published a new strategy for reducing error and fraud. By using the department’s improved understanding of risks and of customer needs, it has already introduced additional checks and interventions tailored to help prevent error entering the system while ensuring those who abuse the system are caught. HMRC has also been embedding this deeper understanding of customer behaviour into its entire compliance programme, deploying resources to areas of greatest risk.

By helping customers to get their claim right from the outset, and to keep their award on track, HMRC is reducing the risk of loss and improving customer service. Through the Tax Credits Transformation Programme it is now offering better support to customers—for example, HMRC is helping new customers to make their claim accurately, tailoring the level of extra support to their particular needs. The department is also contacting large numbers of customers to check that their tax credits award remains up to date throughout the year and continues to reflect their current circumstances. Additional assistance is also being provided to some vulnerable customers when they renew their claims. Overall HMRC is contacting over 500,000 customers this year offering additional help.

HMRC has also introduced additional checks of many new claims, making better use of information it already holds to prevent financial loss from some of the most frequent mistakes. It is also contacting certain customers who have not reported changes of circumstances for some time to offer assistance to make sure their award is up to date and correct. HMRC is also expanding its outreach work through children’s centres by providing advice and support to customers.

On fraud, the department has implemented a range of measures designed to restrict the opportunity for abuse of the system. These include tighter control on the issue of claim forms, fraud awareness training for staff, and deploying compliance officers in tax credit call centres. Efforts to target organised fraud have successfully reduced the level of identified losses due to organised fraud from the levels in 2005-06. HMRC prevented incorrect tax credits payments due to organised fraud of £66 million in 2007-08.

HMRC is also getting tougher on individuals who commit fraud. It is increasing its use of data matching, using information from a wide variety of sources, within government and beyond, to identify those who attempt to abuse the system. It is also sharing intelligence with other government agencies and investigating cases jointly with the Department for Work and Pensions. Those who are caught face being charged a penalty and interest in addition to repaying the amount they defrauded, and in the most serious cases, the department can and does prosecute. This approach is consistent with HMRC’s vision about being passionate in helping those who need it and being relentless in pursuing those who bend or break the rules.

HMRC will use the analysis published today to refine its strategy further.

A copy of these statistics has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and is available on the HMRC website.

Workers Memorial Day

Statement

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Yvette Cooper) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 27 July, my department will publish a Command Paper on Workers Memorial Day.