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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): The 1999 Protocol to abate acidification, eutrophication and ground-level ozoneknown as the Gothenburg Protocolwas adopted under the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution. The UK signed the Protocol in 1999. The Protocol came into effect in May 2005 and has now been ratified by 18 Parties.
The Government placed an Explanatory Memorandum on the Protocol before both Houses of Parliament in September 2002. At that time it was thought that additional legislation would be required to allow the UK to ratify the Protocol.
However, further analysis of the provisions of the Protocol has allowed us to establish that further legislation will not be required. I have tabled a revised Explanatory Memorandum indicating that we propose to ratify the Protocol forthwith. I intend that the instrument of ratification will be deposited with the United Nations in the course of December 2005.
The UK will ratify the Protocol subject to a reservation. The new Explanatory Memorandum sets out the reservation that the UK will make. It relates to a provision on a type of gas engine where the UK considers that it is not technically feasible to meet the limit values required by the Protocol.
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As the Government take these urgent steps to ratify, we are conscious that Parliament will have less time than convention normally allows to consider the revised Memorandum. However, we believe this to be a special case on the ground that the earlier Memorandum on the Protocol has been available to both Houses since 2002. In these circumstances, the Government consider that a shortening of the normal scrutiny period is reasonable.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Ms Rosie Winterton): The next meeting of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council will be on 89 December. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will chair the meeting and I will attend for the United Kingdom. Items on the agenda relating to health will be covered on 9 December. Items for discussion are: Human health aspects of pandemic flu; proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on medicinal products for paediatric use; and the European Commission's Green Paper: "Improving the mental health of the population, Towards a strategy on mental health for the European Union".
Health Ministers will have a policy debate on human health aspects of pandemic flu and Ministers will be asked to adopt Council Conclusions on this topic. The Presidency then hopes to reach political agreement on the regulation on medicinal products for paediatric use.
Under any other business, the Presidency and the Commission will provide information on: Proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a Programme of Community action in the field of public health and consumer protection; health inequalities and patient safety; a co-ordinated approach to the fight against HIV/AIDS in the European Union and the neighbouring countries; Council Public Health Working Party meeting at senior level; Commission High Level Group on Health Services and Medical Care; Framework Convention on Tobacco Control; and International Health Regulations.
The Secretary of State for Health (Ms Patricia Hewitt): Today I announce the publication of the Department of Health's 2005 Autumn Performance Report (Cm 6704). A copy of this has been placed in the Library. It shows the progress my Department has made towards achieving its public service agreement targets.
Further details of the performance of the National Health Service can be found in the latest copy of the Chief Executive's Report to the NHS; this has also been placed in the Library.
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The Autumn Performance Report shows that there have been further improvements in access to services. The number of NHS patients waiting longer than three months for an outpatient appointment has fallen from 77,500 to 39,800 over the past year. In addition, the number of people waiting more than six months for an inpatient appointment fell from 69,900 to 24,800. We are on course to meet our maximum three month wait for outpatients and six month wait for inpatients by December 2005.
In addition to improving access we are also introducing choice. By the end of the year all eligible patients will be offered the choice of at least four providers at the point of general practitioner referral to consultant-led first outpatient appointments. Some patients are already benefiting from choice of hospital; since January 2005, cataract patients have been offered the choice of two or more providers at the point of referral. From April 2005, patients needing cardiac surgery have been given the choice of two or more providers at the point of referral by the cardiologist.
We are also improving health. Death rates from heart disease among people under 75 have fallen by 31 per cent., since the baseline of 199597; deaths from cancer have fallen by 14 per cent., over the same period. We have also seen a 6.6 per cent., fall in suicides against the 199597 baseline.
These are just some of the achievements of the NHS over the past year. These improvements have been made in a demanding year through the hard work, skills and passion of hundreds of thousands of staff, the increased funding the government is investing in heath and social care, and new and better ways of engaging services.
Finally, the Department has today published a report, "Accounting for Quality Change", which discusses the way the output of the NHS is measured. The Department considers it important to make the new figures public and encourage discussions, and ideas for further development.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart): I am laying before the House today a command paper on services for victims of crime: "Rebuilding Lives: supporting victims of crime" (Cm 6705). It is part of the Government's ongoing reforms which have improved services for victims of crime and their families.
In it we make proposals for reform of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme which will enable us to increase awards to the most seriously injured victims of crime, and to offer more immediate practical help to the vast majority. We are consulting on a range of options to deliver better support to victims through our manifesto commitment to introduce Victim Care Units. We will consult widely and the consultation period runs until 27 February 2006. A summary of the consultation responses will be published and placed in the House Library. Copies of the consultation paper will be placed in the House Library.
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): Today I will be laying before Parliament the Royal Patriotic Fund (Transfer of Property, Rights and Liabilities) Order 2005.
The Order provides for the transfer of the property, rights and liabilities of the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation (a body corporate established under the Patriotic Fund Reorganisation Act 1903) to the RPFC, a company registered under the Charities Act 1993, and for the dissolution of the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation. The RPFC has been established for the benefit of the persons specified in section 6 of the Armed Forces (Pensions and Compensation) Act 2004. Schedule 2 to that Act makes further provision in relation to the transfer of employees to the RPFC.
The object of the new body will remain the same as that of the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation, namely to provide (by way of grants and allowances) assistance to the widows and other dependants of members of the Armed Forces. But the new constitution will enable it to carry out its functions more efficiently. The transfer will take effect from 1 January 2006.
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