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Regional Development Agencies

The Minister for Industry and the Regions (Alun Michael): I have today laid before Parliament the annual reports and accounts for 2004–05 for the eight regional development agencies (RDAs) outside London. Copies have been placed in the Library.

The annual report and accounts for the London Development Agency are presented to the Mayor of London rather than Parliament. I shall provide a copy to the House of Commons Library when copies are available.

The Government welcome the contribution that the RDAs have made during this year to driving forward economic development in their respective regions.

Also published today are the RDAs' reported tier 3 outputs for 2004–05. These results are evidence that the RDAs continue to play a valuable role in improving the economic performance of the English regions and, through working with their partners, the RDAs are making a real difference to the individual regional economies concerned. The figures cover the creation and safeguarding of jobs, the amount of brownfield land brought back into use, the number of businesses added to the regional economies, the number of learning opportunities created and the amount of private sector investment attracted benefiting deprived areas, all as a result of RDA activity.

Press releases on the tier 3 outputs have been issued in each region. Copies of the output results have been placed in the Library, and are also available on the DTI website at www.dti.gov.uk/rda/info.

Informal Competitiveness Council

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Alan Johnson): The Informal Competitiveness Council
 
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hosted by the UK presidency took place in Cardiff on 11 to 12 July 2005. Lord Sainsbury of Turville chaired the first day, covering research issues, and I chaired the second day, which considered EU better regulation and the development of the internal market. Over dinner on 11 July, both Research and Economics/Industry Ministers discussed innovation policy.

On the first day, Research Ministers heard presentations from a number of speakers, including Research Commissioner Potocnik and representatives from industry and science.

The Commission stressed the need for the EU to help fulfil Lisbon goals for growth and jobs by committing more money for EU research, both nationally and for the EU's next research framework programme (FP7). Speakers from academia and business gave presentations on how the framework programme could be made simpler and more accessible for business and how the Scientific Council for the proposed European Research Council (ERC) had been chosen.

Ministers then broke up into five small groups for detailed discussions on the structure of the European Research Council (ERC); increasing industry and SME participation in the framework programme; and how to develop the potential of the less research intensive regions. In addition, Ministers were asked to consider the cross-cutting issue of simplification as it related to their areas.

Group rapporteurs reported vigorous and useful discussions. Lord Sainsbury concluded that, while there were still difficult issues to tackle, there was consensus on the need for the ERC to be independent; on the need for effective, practical help for SMEs; that collaborative research should be more user-driven; that help for less research intensive regions had to be focussed; and on the continued importance and need for simplification.

On the second day, the session on EU better regulation opened with presentations from Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry Gunter Verheugen, Alain Perroy, the director general of CEFIC (the European Confederation for the Chemicals Industry) and leading member of the Alliance for a Competitive European Industry, and Jacek Piechota, the Polish Economics Minister.

The Commission's commitment to progressing the better regulation agenda in the EU and the importance of regulatory reform in achieving Lisbon objectives on growth and jobs were stressed. The Commission also outlined recent initiatives that would contribute to the delivery of regulatory reform, including strengthened impact assessment guidelines that would ensure that the effects of proposed legislation on competitiveness were taken into account. A new push to simplify existing EU regulation and screening of proposals that were already on the table for their effects on competitiveness. Alain Perroy gave a business perspective on the need for regulatory reform and Jacek Piechota outlined steps that Poland had taken at a national level to improve policy-making processes.

Ministers then split into four groups to discuss using impact assessments in Council deliberations; maximising the involvement of business in policy-making; simplification; and what member states can do to improve the regulatory framework at a national level.
 
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Ministers reported productive and positive discussions, with a strong consensus on the need to deliver regulatory reform for growth and jobs. In my summary, I welcomed the Commission's clear commitment to change and recent initiatives, and emphasised the need for the Commission and member states to work together to achieve results.

Debate on the internal market began with presentations from Czech Deputy Prime Minister for economic affairs Martin Jahn, who explained how membership of the internal market has benefited the Czech economy, and Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy, who called for greater efforts to ensure effective implementation of the existing acquis and for progress on opening up the market in services.

Subsequent breakout group discussions concluded that the internal market was often taken for granted and should be more vigorously promoted. The perception of enlargement (focused on immigration and social dumping) was at odds with the actual impact (a strengthened global position for the EU, a more varied and flexible EU economy). Ministers also emphasised the need for progress on the services directive as key to the future development of the internal market. In addition, implementation, enforcement and the provision of advice and assistance to businesses and citizens were seen as crucial.

The presidency summary of debate has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and can also be found at www.dti.gov.uk/ewt/compet.htm.

Coal Health Compensation Schemes

The Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks): Following news reports in recent weeks, I made a statement about the coal health compensation schemes to the House on 30 June, outlining a number of immediate steps I was taking to respond to these issues.

I now wish to inform the House that the Secretary of State and I have also decided to initiate an external review of the Department's administration of the former British Coal health schemes so that the Government can be advised whether any further action is necessary in the way in which we are internally managing the schemes.

The draft terms of reference are:

Candidates to lead the review are currently being approached and we hope that the lead of the review will be announced shortly. The precise timing and conduct of the review would be a matter for further discussion with the head of the review, but we would expect that conclusions should be available by the end of September.

The review will not encroach on the ongoing investigations being carried out by the South Yorkshire police into potential fraud under the compensation schemes.
 
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WORK AND PENSIONS

Disability Discrimination Act 2005

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mrs. McGuire): I am today announcing the final implementation timetable for the main duties in the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 and the outcome of consultations on the use of certain regulation-making powers in the Act.

The 2005 Act introduces a wide range of major reforms to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA 1995) and, when taken together with other changes we have made since 1997, represents the most significant package of improvements to disabled people's civil rights ever seen.

Subject to parliamentary approval of implementing secondary legislation, the duties will be commenced as follows:
Commencement date Provision/s
5 December2005Extend the DDA 1995 to cover, effectively from the point of diagnosis, people with HIV infection, cancer or multiple sclerosis. End the requirement that a mental illness must be "clinically well-recognised" before it can be regarded as an impairment under the DDA 1995. Make third party publishers (e.g. newspapers) liable for publishing discriminatory advertisements. Amend the way that the DDA 1995 applies to group insurance to clarify the responsibilities of those concerned with its provisions. Introduce for Part 3 of the DDA 1995 (i.e. access to goods and services, public authorities, private clubs and premises) a Questions Procedure similar to that which already exists in Part 2 (i.e. employment and occupation). Make it unlawful for private clubs with 25 or more members to treat disabled people less favourably. Make it unlawful for local authorities and the Greater London Authority to treat their disabled members less favourably. Clarify where liability falls if police officers discriminate under Part 3 of the DDA 1995.
4 December2006Duty on public authorities to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people. Functions of public authorities not already covered by the DDA 1995 to be brought within its scope. Land based public transport vehicles to be brought within scope of Part 3 of the DDA 1995. Provide for all rail vehicles to comply with rail vehicle accessibility regulations by 1 January 2020, apply accessibility regulations to refurbishment of rail vehicles and introduce certification and enforcement provisions. Subject to consultation, formalise recognition of disabled persons' parking badges issued by other countries. Extend the duty of reasonable adjustment, other than in respect of physical features, to those who let or manage rented premises, and to commonhold premises. Ensure landlords cannot unreasonably withhold consent for a disability-related improvement to certain rented dwelling houses. Extend duties of reasonable adjustment to private clubs with 25 or more members. Extend duties of reasonable adjustment to local authorities and the Greater London Authority in respect of their disabled members.

 
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The 2005 Act also covers general qualifications bodies awarding general qualifications, such as A-levels and GCSEs. This new duty was introduced following a recommendation made by the pre-legislative Scrutiny Committee in May 2004. During passage of the Bill, we made clear that we would need to consult with all interested parties before finalising the detail of the duty. That consultation is ongoing and we will announce the commencement date of the duty later this year.

I am also placing in the Library the outcome of the consultation exercise the Department completed earlier this year on our proposals for using regulation making powers under the 2005 Act's provisions on private clubs, premises, the definition of disability and the Part 3 Questions Procedure. In general, respondents agreed with our proposed approach and we will be bringing forward draft Regulations accordingly.

However, in the light of consultation, and following a review of evidence of the extent of discrimination faced by people with more minor forms of cancer, we have decided not to exercise the 2005 Act's regulation-making power which would allow us to exclude certain types of cancer from automatic coverage by the DDA 1995.

We have concluded that it is not possible to distinguish effectively between those people whose cancers are likely to go on to require substantial treatment and those whose cancers are not and that, if we were to attempt to do so, we would introduce uncertainty and complexity into the definition of disability. This would lead to unfair and unequal outcomes for disabled people, and make it difficult for employers and others with responsibilities under the Act to understand and comply with their duties. Treating all people who have cancer as disabled people ensures a straightforward approach, which will provide equity of outcome, while having minimal consequences for employers and service providers by reducing red tape.

Finally, our 2004 consultation document, "Delivering equality for disabled people" (CM 6255) covered the bodies that would be subject to 'specific duties' to assist them in complying with the new general public sector duty to promote equality for disabled people. As a result of that consultation, we have decided that the following additional bodies will be subject to the specific duties:


 
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The former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend for Kingston upon Hull, West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) confirmed on 23 March that schools would also be subject to specific duties. I will make a further statement in due course.