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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 26 April 2006



The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): The Informal Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) took place in Vienna on 7 and 8 April 2006. I represented the United Kingdom.

The informal council discussed globalisation, with the participation of chief executive officers of three international companies. This focused on how to preserve and further strengthen Europe's attractiveness as a business location and for foreign investment, on completing the single market, and on how to ensure a more equal distribution of benefits among citizens.

The informal council also discussed the working methods of ECOFIN; the present economic situation and prospects for the global economy; the preparation of the spring meetings of the Bretton Woods institutions; and taxation.


BBC Funding

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (James Purnell): An independent report into the future funding needs of the BBC has been published today by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The Department commissioned PKF to carry out a financial review of the BBC's value for money plans, its bid for the next licence fee settlement and its commercial services. The report, which is available for viewing at http://www.bbccharterreview.org.uk, concludes that it

but acknowledges that there are a number of areas where figures can only be finalised following policy decisions by Government. The work is part of a wider review to determine the level of the licence fee from April 2007, which also includes a public seminar with industry representation—to be held at the Department on 5 May—and willingness to pay research which will provide information on the public's views.


Defence Medical Information Capability Programme

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Don Touhig): I am pleased to be able to announce that a contract has been placed today with Logica CMG for the implementation of the information system component of DMICP. DMICP will for the first
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time provide a completely automated, integrated health record for all members of the armed forces. It will bring better access to patient records, and improve the management of patients under treatment, leading to more successful treatment, higher health standards and more personnel fit for task. It will also enable the Ministry of Defence to improve its understanding of the health status of the armed forces and generate more comprehensive force readiness information. It will enable the defence medical services to meet planned statutory clinical governance standards. The system will be fully compatible with the NHS connecting for health programme, and will therefore lead to much better communications between the defence medical services and the NHS, which is the secondary care provider to the armed forces in the UK. The system will be introduced progressively between now and 2010; all armed forces medical and dental centres in the UK and in our permanent overseas bases should be equipped with the system by early 2008.

I regard DMICP as the most important single component of the defence health change programme, and believe it will bring a step change in the effectiveness of the defence medical services. The improved links with the NHS will significantly improve the way the two organisations work with each other, and bring significant benefits to patients.


Information Sharing Index (Sensitive Services)

The Minister for Children and Families (Beverley Hughes): I am today announcing the Government's decisions on how the details of practitioners providing sensitive services should be recorded on the information sharing index.

Section 12 of the Children Act 2004 provides for the establishment of an information sharing index. The Government announced, during the passage of the Children Bill, that there would be a public consultation on three issues relating to the operation of the index

The consultation ran from 27 October 2004 to 19 January 2005. There were some strongly expressed concerns in response to the consultation that recording details of sensitive services, such as mental and sexual health and drug abuse, may deter children and young people from accessing those services.

The Government's response to the consultation was issued in a written ministerial statement on 30 June 2005. In the light of the views expressed, the response set out decisions to implement a differentiated approach to recording details where for a limited number of services, restricted to targeted and specialist health services, consent would be required to record practitioner details on the index. The response committed my Department to further work, with the Department of Health, to define those services that would, for the purposes of the information sharing index, be considered sensitive.
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The Government have decided that services related to sexual health, mental health and substance abuse should be the broad categories defined as sensitive. The following, specific service areas are those where practitioner details will be included only with consent:

Currently, there are regulations covering disclosure of information about sexually transmitted infections which would not permit practitioners providing services in this area to include their details on the index even with explicit consent. The Department of Health plans to consult on regulatory change, well before the index is implemented in 2008, which would then, subject to the will of Parliament, permit, with explicit consent, the inclusion of these details on the index.

The Government's response to the consultation stated that there would be a facility to over-ride lack of consent to record practitioner details in sensitive services on the index, but to restrict it to carefully specified circumstances, in line with existing law, such as where there are genuine child protection concerns.

Where consent is given to record practitioner details for the sensitive service on the index, the child's index record will indicate to other practitioners that an unspecified, sensitive service is working with the child. On-line access to the sensitive service practitioner's name and contact details will be restricted to index management teams. A practitioner who wanted to contact the specialist service about the child would make a case to the index management team who would, as appropriate, broker contact with the sensitive services practitioner.

The Government announced on 8 December 2005 that the information sharing index will be implemented across all 150 local authorities in England by the end of 2008. We will seek Parliament's agreement in autumn 2006 to the main Regulations to govern the operation of the index. We will consult publicly on draft regulations in the summer of 2006.



The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): Following nearly three weeks of strikes and demonstrations across Nepal in which at least 14 people died, on 21 April King Gyanendra announced that he would hand over executive power to the Seven Party Alliance and invite them to appoint a Prime Minister. On 24 April, King Gyanendra went further and reaffirmed that the "sovereignty of the kingdom of Nepal is inherent in the people of Nepal" and reinstated
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the Parliament of Nepal which he had suspended in 2002. The first session of Parliament is planned for Friday, 28 April.

On 21 and 25 April I issued statements welcoming these developments, which are a victory for the democratic aspirations of the people of Nepal. The UK has worked closely with the wider international community, over many months in support of these aspirations.

But there is much still to be done to secure a fully functioning democracy and peace in Nepal. In the first instance, we hope that calm will return to the streets of Nepal, and that the security forces will exercise the restraint that has been absent from much of their behaviour of in recent weeks and months. In my statement of 21 April I condemned the loss of life that resulted from the excessive use of force by the security forces.

We further hope that an early result of the recall of Parliament will be a transfer of the Royal Nepalese Army and security forces to full civilian authority, and that these forces will work under a democratic Government as soon as it is formed. We would hope to see a ceasefire by both sides to accompany these changes, as a step towards a peace process.

In November 2005 the Maoists announced an understanding with the Seven Party Alliance which opened up the possibility of reintegrating the Maoists into a democratic political process. A comprehensive peace process, to underpin the political process, remains a key objective. The Maoists must commit to an end to violence. They must commit to democracy by entering into a peace process with the new government, beginning with a ceasefire.

The role of the King in a future multi-party democracy is for the people of Nepal to determine. He should understand that there can be no rowing back from the transfer of full executive power to a government representing the will of the people.

A paramount concern for the UK Government throughout the current crisis has been the safety of British citizens and staff in Nepal. We continue to advise against non-essential travel to Nepal while the situation remains unstable. We will continue to keep this under daily review.

The UK stands ready, with international partners, to work with the new government and the people of Nepal in this new context. We are looking closely at what practical assistance might be appropriate, in the form of development and other support.

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