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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 30 June 2005


Broadcasting Courts

The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Ms Harriet Harman): My right hon. and noble Friend, the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, has made the following written ministerial statement in the other place today, 30 June 2005:


Information Sharing Databases (Children's Services)

The Minister for Children and Families (Beverley Hughes): I have today placed copies of the Government's response to consultation on recording practitioner details for potentially sensitive services and recording concern about a child or young person in the Libraries of both Houses.

Section 12 of the Children Act 2004 provides for the establishment of information sharing databases (or indexes). The then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, announced at Lords report stage of the Children Bill in July 2004 that the Government would hold a public consultation on three issues related to the operation of the information sharing indexes under section 12 of the Children Act 2004:

The consultation ran from 27 October 2004 to 19 January 2005.


Sustainable Development Indicators

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): Following the Prime Minister's launch of the UK Government sustainable development strategy "Securing the Future" in March this year, we have today published baseline assessments of the indicators with which we will monitor progress. These are contained in the statistical publication "Sustainable Development Indicators in your Pocket 2005".
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This handy, accessible booklet presents 68 indicators through which we can monitor our success in delivering against key priorities within the strategy: Sustainable consumption and production, climate change and energy. Natural resource protection and environmental enhancement, and sustainable communities. Twenty of the indicators are shared with the devolved administrations within our shared framework for sustainable development "One future—different paths".

The UK is already a leader in measuring and communicating its progress to deliver sustainable development. This new set of indicators and new booklet builds further on this. It is hoped that we will reach a wide audience and through the booklet help to promote sustainable development.

Copies of the booklet will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.


Ambulance Services

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Liam Byrne): My noble Friend the Minister of State, Lord Warner, has made the following written ministerial statement.

The report of the strategic review of ambulance services, led by Peter Bradley CBE, national ambulance adviser, is published today. The Department of Health supports the review's conclusions and will now take forward a programme of work to support the national health service in implementing the main recommendations. The Department will consult further on the implementation of some of the recommendations.

Copies of the review have been placed in the Library.


Construction Industry Training Board

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Angela E. Smith): I am pleased to announce the publication of the Construction Industry Training Board annual report and accounts for the 2003–04 financial year. This document is now available in the Library.


Coal Health Compensation Scheme

The Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks): The House will be aware of allegations that have been made in The Times in the last few days about potential fraud in the handling of coal health compensation claims. I wish to make a statement.

These schemes are a major priority for the Government. To date over £2.6 billion has already been paid to former miners, their widows and families. Over 700,000 claims are being processed in what is a major delivery exercise.
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It is also important to understand that the Department is acting in respect of the schemes under the jurisdiction of the High Court. This is because the schemes are the result of group litigation and delivery is overseen by judges who are still in charge of the cases.

The matters which the police are currently investigating arise from discussions which my Department had with the Law Society which in turn led to the discovery of information which the Law Society referred to the South Yorkshire police. A full criminal investigation is now underway and we are in close touch with the Police.

No charges have, however, yet been made.

The House will understand that in the circumstances I am unable to comment on the nature of the police investigations. I do, however, wish to make it very clear that there is nothing in the matters which are being investigated to suggest that there is any fraud against claimants. Nor is it a matter of the UDM having a preferential agreement; they do not. The investigation is focused solely on issues related to the costs of handling claims and not the payment of compensation to claimants.

I have decided, however, to take a number of immediate steps:

I must stress that I regard these as preliminary steps. I am fully prepared to take further actions as necessary. For example I have certainly not ruled out the option of suspending the operation of the UDM contract while the police inquiries continue. I have therefore asked
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officials and our claim handlers to assess what impact such action might have on the schedule for the payment of claims.

I would ask the House, however, to note two points:

first, nothing I do now should inhibit or compromise the need for the police to carry out the inquiries;

secondly, I am very anxious to avoid taking any steps which could compromise the prompt payment of claims to applicants. The schemes are highly complex and it is not easy to make changes in the administrative arrangements without risking the introduction of delays—and we have to recognise that a number of those whose applications are being processed are both elderly and not in the best of health.

I will keep the House informed of developments.


Manchester Metrolink

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Derek Twigg): I have today given conditional approval to a scheme to refurbish Manchester Metrolink.

The scheme put forward by Greater Manchester passenger transport executive includes the renewal of existing tracks on the Bury to Altringham line and the purchase of eight new vehicles to reduce overcrowding on the Metrolink system.

The scheme will bring noticeable improvements in the quality of journeys for existing users of Manchester's Metrolink and offer an attractive alternative to those currently driving into the centre of Manchester.

Conditional approval demonstrates our support for the improvements. Providing costs and other details remain unchanged, we would expect to grant full approval in due course.

I am committing Government funding of up to £58 million towards the costs of the scheme, subject to full approval subsequently being granted. This funding is part of the £520 million which the Government have already pledged for the areas served by the Metrolink phase III proposals.

My officials will work closely with Greater Manchester passenger transport executive over the next few months to finalise details of the scheme.