The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): I am announcing today that a new order has been made under section 54 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 so that reservists may continue to be called into service to support operations in Iraq. The new order is effective until 6 January 2006. This replaces the order which expired earlier this month.
During the course of last year some 2,350 reservists were called out and accepted into service to support operations in Iraq. Details of the next tranche of reservists to be called out were announced to the House on 14 December 2004, Official Report, column 121WS. Some 900 army reservists are involved and they will be deployed to theatre from April, where the majority will complete six month tours. We are very appreciative of the continuing support and commitment shown by both reservists, their employers and their families.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): As the House will be aware, our policy is to keep the Brigade of Gurkhas' terms and conditions of service under review, to ensure that they are fair and that any differences from the wider Army are reasonable and justifiable. We are also aware of our historic relationship and understandings with the Governments of Nepal and India, which have enabled Gurkhas to serve in the British Army since 1947.
Gurkha soldiers have spent an increasing proportion of their time in UK since withdrawal from Hong Kong in 1997, and successive amendments to the conditions under which they serve have recognised their changing role, status and personal aspirations. The most recent of these was their inclusion in the new HM forces immigration rule, which took effect from 25 October 2004. This has potentially far-reaching effects on the way we recruit and manage the brigade and care for its serving members, families and veterans. In addition, some public criticism and unease continues about the remaining differences between Gurkhas' terms and conditions and those of the wider Army. We are, therefore, anxious to ensure that such differences are absolutely justifiable as well as fully understood and accepted by our Gurkha soldiers and want to ensure that the MOD's position, both legally and morally, is beyond reproach.
I have therefore directed that the MOD should carry out a wide-ranging review of all Gurkha terms and conditions of service. This will be an extensive piece of work and we will endeavour to take account of the views
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of all those with a legitimate interest. This new review will build on earlier findings, including work to date on the review of Gurkha married accompanied service (MAS), but its scope will be much wider and it is aiming to complete in late autumn 2005.
I am aware that the outcome of the Gurkha MAS review has been keenly anticipated by the Gurkhas themselves and by those concerned about Gurkha welfare. I regret that this work is not yet finally completed but I expect to receive an interim report on the new study, which will enable me to make an announcement on Gurkha MAS, in early summer 2005.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Ms Rosie Winterton): Today we are publishing "Delivering Race Equality in Mental Health Care: An Action Plan for Reform Inside and Outside Services" (DRE), combined in a single document with the Government's response to the independent inquiry into the death of David Bennett.
David Bennett was a 38 year old African-Caribbean patient, who died in October 1998 in a medium secure psychiatric unit after being restrained by staff. The document published today contains the Government's formal response to all the recommendations made in the report of the inquiry into his death. The responses are overwhelmingly positive and, taken together with DRE, comprise a coherent programme of work for achieving equality of access, experience and outcomes for Black and minority ethnic mental health service users.
The programme is based on three "building blocks", first proposed in the consultation version of DRE: more appropriate and responsive services, including the development of a more culturally capable workforce; community engagement, supported by 500 new community development workers; and better information, including a new annual census of mental health patients.
DRE also needs to be set in the context of our wider programme of work tackling inequalities in health and social care. For example, in February 2004 the chief executive of the NHS, Sir Nigel Crisp, launched a ten-point race equality action plan that challenges all NHS leaders to address race equality and the needs of Black and minority ethnic communities in a systematic and professional way. In October 2004 we appointed the first equality and human rights director for the NHS, Surinder Sharma, and one of his priorities will be to promote Sir Nigel's plan.
Racism or discrimination in any form have no place in modern society, and no place in modern health or social care. David Bennett's death will remain a tragic reminder of what can happen if services fail to meet the needs of
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black and minority ethnic communities and individuals. With this document we offer a clear way forward to equity for all in mental health care.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): The Government's response to the Health Committee's Sixth Report of Session 200304 on the provision of allergy services, Cm 6433, has been published today. Copies have been placed in the Library.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): I have today placed in the Library of the House copies of the Government's progress report on implementing the recommendations of Sir Michael Bichard's inquiry into issues surrounding the Soham murders. All 31 recommendations were accepted by the Government when the inquiry reported in June 2004 and we remain fully committed to delivering the necessary programme of change. In June, Sir Michael made clear his intention to reconvene his inquiry and review progress six months after publishing his findings, and in November he formally requested a report to assist him in doing so. This was sent to him on 22 December.
The progress report is made on behalf of the Government and the range of stakeholders who have contributed to implementation. It indicates that significant progress has been made in taking forward the recommendations, which fall into four main areas: the development of a national IT infrastructure to support the handling of police intelligence and other information; the introduction of a statutory code of practice on police information management; improved measures to protect children and vulnerable adults, including a registration scheme for those wishing to work with these groups; and a range of enhancements to existing vetting processes.
The introduction of a national IT system for police information sharing. The IMPACT programme (information management, prioritisation, analysis, co-ordination and tasking) has been established to provide a national information-sharing system and to modernise the central information services available through the police national computer. New information sharing tools will start becoming available to police forces and the Criminal Records Bureau through the police local cross-check system (PLX) from early 2005, and there will be a progressive strengthening of capabilities until completion of the IMPACT programme in 2007;
The production of a statutory code of practice on information management, for the police service. A draft code has already been produced and issued for consultation. It is annexed to the progress report and is due to come into force by May 2005. It will be supported by detailed operational
The development of a registration scheme covering persons considered unsuitable to work with children and vulnerable adults. This is underway and will build on the existing barring lists in providing a comprehensive, centralised, integrated system to prevent unsuitable people from gaining access to vulnerable groups through paid or voluntary work. Final decisions on the detail of the scheme will follow a feasibility study which will report early in 2005;
The enhancement of staff recruitment procedures in education to reflect best practice in safeguarding children. New guidance for schools is under development and an initial on-line training programme will be introduced by spring 2005;
Advice to all social services authorities emphasising the importance of effective information sharing with the police in relation to actual or alleged offences against children has already been issued. In addition, comprehensive new guidance will be developed by December 2005 as part of the wider guidance on local safeguarding children boards;
Significant development and improvements to existing vetting procedures. A quality assurance framework to assist forces in carrying out their roles in the vetting process has been successfully trialled and will be rolled out to all police forces by October 2005.
All these strands of work are being taken forward within a programme structure based on effective joined-up working across the Government Departments and delivery agencies involved. Training arrangements are being put in place to support implementation, together with targeted inspection and performance measurement regimes to ensure compliance with new and improved systems.
It is vital to ensure the same level of protection for all children and other vulnerable people, wherever they are in the United Kingdom. The Scottish Executive, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Office have therefore been closely involved in this programme of work. For some of the recommendations, the route to implementation will differ between jurisdictions, but the objective of effective, integrated systems is the same. The arrangements in different jurisdictions are set out in more detail in the report.
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