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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 18 May 2006

Constitutional Affairs

Child Care Proceedings Review

The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Ms Harriet Harman): The review of the Child Care Proceedings System in England and Wales is published today. It was commissioned in “A Fairer Deal for Legal Aid” in July 2005 as a joint piece of work between the Department for Education and Skills and the Department for Constitutional Affairs. Its recommendations aim to deliver improvements in the outcome of proceedings, particularly for children, and to ensure that all resources in the system are used in the most timely, effective way.

Recommendations for improvement fall into five main areas: helping families (ensuring families and children understand proceedings); better informed resolution (ensuring applications are only made after all safe, appropriate alternatives to court have been explored); preparation for proceedings (improving the quality and consistency of section 31 applications); during proceedings (improving the quality of case management); and inter-agency working (encouraging closer professional relationships).

The full and timely implementation of the recommendations made is critical. To ensure this takes place, I will be chairing a ministerial delivery group, which will include DfES and Welsh Assembly Ministers. The purpose of this group will be to ensure a high accountability for progress on the implementation of the review and reduction in delay generally in handling care applications. There will also be a delivery board of senior officials, which will deal with more detailed implementation issues.


NHS Dentistry

The Minister of State, Department of Health(Ms Rosie Winterton): I am pleased to announce that we are making £100 million of capital investment funding available to the NHS to take forward infrastructure improvements for NHS primary dental care services. This builds on the four year £80 million capital investment programme already committed to supporting a 25 per cent. expansion in the number of training places for dentists. NHS dental practices and their patients will benefit from a programme of capital investment of £100 million over the two years 2006-07 and 2007-08. This will:

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The £100 million of capital investment will be made available to the NHS, through SHAs, over the next two years to take forward infrastructure improvements for NHS primary dental care services.

Cabinet Office

Cabinet Office Departmental Report

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Hilary Armstrong): I have today, with my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, laid before Parliament the “Cabinet Office Departmental Report 2006”(Cm 6833).

The departmental report describes the work of the Cabinet Office and includes a performance report for each of our public service agreement targets. The report contains information on the achievements and successes of the Cabinet Office, outlines the priorities ahead and also includes a set of tables showing past outturn and future expenditure plans.

Copies are available in the Vote Office and in the Library.

Northern Ireland

Parliamentary Boundary Commission

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland(Mr. Peter Hain): The Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland has today published the “Revised Recommendations for Parliamentary Constituencies in Northern Ireland” prepared by the Northern Ireland Parliamentary Boundary Commission.

The Revised Recommendations follow three public local inquiries which were held into the Commission's Provisional Recommendations (published on 29 April 2004). In reaching decisions on the Revised Recommendations the Commission has accepted, wherever practicable to do so, the recommendations of the Independent Assistant Commissioners who conducted these inquiries.

The Revised Recommendations continue to provide for 18 constituencies and revise the boundaries of 12 constituencies.

The Commission must consider all representations on the Revised Recommendations received within one month of their publication.

I will, of course, report back to Parliament once the Commission has submitted its final recommendations to me.

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Criminal Justice Inspection (Avoidable Delay)

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office(Mr. David Hanson): The Government have received a thematic inspection report from the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland, Mr. Kit Chivers. The report, “Avoidable Delay: A thematic inspection of delay in the processing of criminal cases in Northern Ireland”, has today been published.

The Government accept the core findings of the report that cases are taking too long. The timeliness with which the 'criminal justice system dispenses justice is an important element in its effectiveness and efficiency and in maintaining and raising public confidence. I therefore welcome this report and its findings.

In line with the findings in the report, we have setup a dedicated inter-agency team to develop a new strategy to deliver improvements to case processing times.

Copies of the chief inspector's report have been placed in the Library.

Trade and Industry

Royal Mail

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry(Mr. Alistair Darling): I have today proposed the basis of the financial framework for Royal Mail that the Government as shareholder have, in principle, agreed with the company. This will fulfil our commitment to see a publicly owned Royal Mail restored to good health and providing customers with an excellent service and its employees with rewarding employment. It will give Royal Mail the freedom it needs to use its financial resources as it sees fit so that it can invest to succeed in a fully competitive and tightly regulated market.

The Government intend to exercise their powers under section 72 of the Postal Services Act 2000 to release £850 million of reserves that Royal Mail has built up through past profitable performance so those funds can be transferred to a special account, the pension escrow account, upon which the pension fund trustees could draw, should Royal Mail fail as a business. When the pension fund deficit has been recovered and Royal Mail's balance sheet strengthened by successful operation, it is expected that the escrow
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fund will be released and surplus cash may be returned to the Government as shareholder. This arrangement provides confidence to pensioners and a sustainable financial framework for Royal Mail.

Government have agreed in principle to extend the existing debt package such that £900 million is available for use by the Royal Mail. This will allow the company to embark on an investment programme so that itcan transform its effectiveness, secure the efficiency improvements required under the regulatory settlement and successfully compete in a newly liberalised market.

As part of the overall financing arrangements for Royal Mail, Social Network Payments of £150 million per annum for the next two years and any further support for the post office network for the period from 2008 will be met from voted expenditure. The level of any support after 2008 will depend on decisions on the future of the Post Office network and we will be consulting about this.

I am confident that these proposals will enable Royal Mail to implement its ambitious transformation plans to secure a successful future in a competitive market under the regulatory regime.


London Underground

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Gillian Merron): I am pleased to announce that Chris Bolt has been re-appointed as PPP Arbiter until December 2010. Mr. Bolt was originally appointed as Arbiter on 31 December 2002 for a four-year term, and this appointment has now been extended for a further four years. This extension will provide continuity in the lead up to, and during, the PPP periodic review that must be completed by October 2010. The periodic review will enable London Underground and the PPP companies to determine the outcomes and prices paid under the PPP contract for the next seven and a half years after 2010.

The PPP Arbiter appointment is made by the Secretary of State under sections 225 to 226 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999. The Arbiter's principal role is to ensure that any differences between the PPP parties, particularly during a PPP review, about the price to be paid to the PPP companies or about economy and efficiency can be resolved independently, swiftly and with certainty.

Chris Bolt was appointed as Chairman of the Office of Rail Regulation on 5 July 2004 for a five-year term.

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