The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Bridget Prentice): My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Baroness Ashton, has made the following written ministerial statement:
"The Department for Constitutional Affairs will publish a consultation paper on the forms and guidance to be used when making a Lasting Power of Attorney tomorrow. The Act provides a statutory framework to empower people to make decisions for themselves as far as possible and protect vulnerable people who are not able to make their own decisions. It enables people to plan ahead for a time when they may lack capacity. A key element of this is the new Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA). The Department is seeking views on the content of the prescribed forms, the prescribed information and the draft guidance to accompany the forms. Copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses".
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Jane Kennedy): The Office of Communications (Ofcom) published its investigation into the price of telephone calls to hospital patients yesterday. A copy has been placed in the Library.
In response, the Department will set up a review group, as originally intended and as recommended by Ofcom, to explore how communication services can be offered to hospital patients without charging as high a price for incoming calls. The group will consist of Department of Health officials, the providers of bedside communications and entertainment services and representation from National Health Service trusts.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke):
The Government have been working hard over a number of years to ensure that those who have either been convicted of sexual offences or who are believed to have been engaged in them are not permitted to work with children.
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We set up the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) in 2002, which has significantly improved the vetting of people working with children and vulnerable adults. It has carried out 8 million disclosures since its inception and in 2005 over 20,000 people in total were refused employment as the result of a CRB check. Since September 1997, we have required individuals convicted of or cautioned for certain sexual offences to notify the police of their personal details and to update them regularly, placing them on what is commonly known as the sex offenders register. That has ensured the police know of their whereabouts. In 2003, we revised these requirements and overhauled the legislation covering sexual offending and last year we launched the violent and sex offenders register, which now contains information on around 50,000 people, of whom the vast majority are convicted offenders.
Sir Michael Bichard produced his report on the Soham murders in June 2004. Since then, we have been driving forward a complex and ambitious programme of work to implement all of his 31 recommendations. So far, 13 have been implemented in full or in part and work is progressing on giving effect to the rest, as set out in the progress report I gave to the House on 7 November 2005. For example, we are taking forward a substantial programme to enhance information management handling capabilities across the police service. This includes:
improving police information management nationally by bringing a new statutory code of practice into effect in November 2005. That will ensure best practice and consistency of standards across England and Wales and implementation will be underpinned by detailed operational guidance, which will come into effect this spring;
improving the quality of data on the police national computer, as Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary have embedded the monitoring of the timely input and quality of all forces' data into their baseline assessments.
In the light of recent events, the Home Office has discussed with the Association of Chief Police Officers what more might be done to ensure the Department for Education and Skills are informed as soon as information linking an individual to a sexual offence comes to light, if that individual is thought to be working with children. I am writing today to all chief constables, to the Prison and Probation Services and to the Youth Justice Board, to restate how the current system works, the way in which it is changing and the priority the Government attach to the protection of children.
However, the key to avoiding the risk of recruiting unsuitable individuals to work with children lies in the employer undertaking the appropriate checks through the CRB, whose disclosure service will reveal any criminal conviction, caution or reprimand which has led to the person being made subject to sex offenders registration. It will also allow chief constables the opportunity to disclose that someone is on the sex offenders register in appropriate cases. That is why my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills is today announcing that those checks will in future be a mandatory requirement.
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The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): The Government have received and welcomed the fifth report from the Justice Oversight Commissioner, the right hon. Lord Clyde, on the progress achieved in implementing the recommendations of the Review of the Criminal Justice System in Northern Ireland. Consistent with his terms of reference, the report was submitted to the Attorney-General and as in the Secretary of State's statement.
Lord Clyde concludes that the last six months has been a period of consolidation and general steady progress. He acknowledges that progress has continued on a number of fronts with some important developments including: the signing of an Intergovernmental Agreement on co-operation on criminal justice matters; the bringing of 17-year-olds within the ambit of the youth court; the introduction of a criminal justice module as part of the post primary school citizenship agenda; and the launch of the Probation Board's Victims' Information Scheme. He concludes that the implementation of the recommendations is now generally far advanced. The Government warmly endorse these conclusions.