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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 6 July 2006



The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): Items on the agenda are as follows:

Presidency Work Programme

The Finnish Presidency will give a presentation on its major priorities for the next six months.

Implementation of the Stability and Growth Pact

ECOFIN will be invited to adopt a 104(12) Decision on Cyprus and Council Conclusions on Portugal.

Adoption of the Euro

Council will be invited to adopt a Council Decision abrogating Slovenia's derogation from 1 January 2007 for fulfilling the necessary conditions for Economic and Monetary Union Membership.

Public Finances in EMU 2006

ECOFIN will be invited to adopt Conclusions regarding the first year of the revised Stability and Growth Pact.

EIB External Lending Mandates

Council will discuss the renewal of the EIB's external lending mandates, which will set the amounts and strategic priorities of the EIB's operations outside the EU.

Dialogue with third countries

ECOFIN will discuss the follow up to the EU-US Summit and the economic, financial and regulatory aspects of dialogues with third countries..

Funding of the International Accounting Standards Board

Council will be invited to adopt Conclusions on a Commission proposal for the funding of the International Accounting Standards Board.


Meat Hygiene Service

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Caroline Flint): The 2005-06 annual report and accounts for the Meat Hygiene Service were laid before Parliament today. Copies have been placed in the Library. Formal publication will follow on 28 July.

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Learning Disability Services (Cornwall Partnerships NHS Trust)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Ivan Lewis): The Healthcare Commission and the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI) have published a report of their investigation into abuse at Cornwall Partnerships NHS Trust. The investigation uncovered systematic abuse of people in a number of the trust’s learning disability services. Such abuse is totally unacceptable and a source of both anger and concern.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has written to Anna Walker, chief executive of the Healthcare Commission fully to accept the conclusions of the report and agree that the special measures proposed should be applied to the trust under the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Act 2003. The Department will work closely with the trust, the strategic health authority and the local primary care trusts in addressing all the recommendations and implementing the special measures. We also would expect to see immediate action on national recommendations at a local level.

In addition, the Department is supporting the Healthcare Commission to audit facilities for people with learning disabilities to ensure that this kind of situation is not happening elsewhere. This will ask all organisations in England providing learning disability services to the NHS to undergo a review to assess them against specified criteria. The audit will identify services that are not registered and identify people who have been placed inappropriately. The analysis of this work will determine what further action the regulatory bodies take.

One of the key national recommendations is for the Department to strengthen the process for safeguarding vulnerable adults. The Department is taking forward a series of policies to ensure additional safeguards for the protection of vulnerable adults. These include the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill and the implementation of the Mental Capacity Act 2005. The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill is currently going through Parliament. It will ensure that unsuitable people are not employed by the NHS in future. In addition, proposals to amend the Mental Capacity Act will close the Bournewood gap. Together these will provide more robust protection for all vulnerable groups, including adults with learning disabilities such as those in Cornwall. We will be responding to further national recommendations in the report and ensuring that we learn from this grave situation. We will keep the House informed.

With the help of an external team appointed by the Department and the SHA, the local NHS and county council have already taken steps to safeguard vulnerable adults. They have also provided support to people with learning disabilities and their families. The regulators have referred 40 people to Cornwall county council protection of vulnerable adults scheme and these will be thoroughly investigated. Investigations will be carried out by the police where necessary.

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International Development


The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): Sudan remains a priority for the UK Government. The Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are jointly supporting the Government of Sudan to implement the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) signed on 5 May, and to deliver development in Sudan.

Together with our international partners, we call on the Government of Sudan and the Sudan Liberation Movement / Minni Minnawi to implement the agreement without delay. We are providing support for immediate implementation needs including assistance for the African Union (AU) to publicise the DPA and its benefits on the ground. The UK is also engaged with the Darfur Joint Assessment Mission on recovery and development. We are disappointed that the SLM/A Abdel Wahid faction and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) have not signed the DPA.

The African Union (AU) troops continue to do an important and much-needed job in seeking to ease the suffering of the people of Darfur, but they need to be replaced by a UN peacekeeping operation. The Sudanese Government have not yet agreed to this. Kofi Annan is explicit that he wants a UN force in Darfur; the Security Council has taken a strong line; the African Union wants one and so do many leading African countries. We will continue to press the Government of Sudan to accept it and call on others to do the same.

Lord Triesman, the Minister for Africa, attended the AU Summit on 1 and 2 July in Banjul to push for faster progress in implementing the DPA and for an early handover from AMIS to the UN.

The UK will be represented at an AU donors' conference on 18 July in Brussels. We are encouraging the AU and other participants to use the conference to address how the AU and the international community can help take forward the Darfur Peace Agreement.

On Friday 23 June, the Government of Sudan publicly began disarming a small group of Janjaweed in South Darfur witnessed by UK and US Embassy representatives. We welcome this step, and will call on the Government to continue this work and to present a plan for neutralising and disarming the Janjaweed/armed militias, which they are required to do under the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA).

On 25 June, the Sudanese Government suspended all UN activity in Darfur apart from humanitarian assistance from the World Food Programme (WFP) and UNICEF. They lifted the suspension the following day. This had some impact on the UN's humanitarian work in West Darfur, but minimal disruption elsewhere. This was a provocative act by the Sudanese Government in response to the UN helping a prominent Darfur rebel. The Government of Sudan should allow UN humanitarian agencies and NGOs unimpeded access in Darfur.

Some 3.6 million people are affected by the conflict, of whom 2 million are internally displaced persons
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(IDPs). The UK is the second biggest bilateral humanitarian donor to the Darfur crisis (after the US), contributing over £126 million since September 2003. On 9 May, I announced a further £9 million to the multi donor Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF), bringing our total allocation to £49 million this year. The UK is now providing more to the UN Workplan in 2006 than in 2005.

We are concerned about the IDPs in Darfur and the temporary cutting of rations by the World Food Programme. The WFP was forced to halve its rations in Darfur in May due to lack of funding. But rations have now been improved to 84 per cent. as a result of recent US and Government of Sudan contributions (20,000 metric tonnes of cereals).

We welcome this announcement, as it comes at a critical time in the year with the rainy season starting in Darfur. The full ration will be restored by October, and we are working with the UN and the largest food aid donors (EU and US) to ensure shortfalls are prevented in the future. The UK is also funding nutritional safety net programmes to mitigate the impact of reduced rations on the most vulnerable in Darfur.

We condemn the continuing cross-border attacks from Darfur into Eastern Chad that have led to the displacement of 50,000 Chadians within Chad and further numbers fleeing across the border into Darfur. Eastern Chad now hosts 200,000 refugees from Darfur, and there are 45,000 from the Central African Republic in the South. Further insecurity in Eastern Chad would have very serious humanitarian implications. The UK is providing £4 million in humanitarian assistance in 2006 to Chad.

We are pressing both Governments to fulfil their obligations under the Tripoli agreement and for the Government of Sudan to disarm and expel these Chadian groups as soon as possible, which they are required to do under the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA).

In terms of international co-operation, the UK has stated that it is willing to chair a group of donors to look at the restructuring of Sudan's external debt. This is, however, conditional on real progress by the Government of Sudan in resolving the Darfur conflict.

Trade and Industry

Sunday Trading Review

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Alistair Darling): In November 2005, my predecessor asked DTI officials to look at the impact of relaxing the current restrictions on Sunday shopping hours.

At present, large shops over 280 square metres or 3,000 square feet are permitted to open for six continuous hours between 10am and 6pm on a Sunday. These shops are not permitted to open on Easter Sunday. The current Sunday trading rules have been in place for many years now and it is important that from time to time we look at whether regulations like these are still appropriate.

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As part of the review, the DTI commissioned an independent economic cost benefit analysis from Indepen Consulting Ltd., which is now available on the DTI website. The headline conclusion of the cost benefit analysis is that the net economic benefit of full liberalisation is worth £20.3 billion over 20 years or £1.4 billion per annum. The report also states that the net benefit of allowing large shops to open on Easter Sunday would be £1.03 billion over 20 years.

At the same time (January 2006 to April 2006) the Department sought a wide range of views on all aspects of this issue. Consumers, religious groups, employees and businesses of all sizes have given us their views. We received nearly 1,000 responses to the informal consultation. A summary of these responses has been published on the DTI website today and copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. We also held a small business focus group in February, and a stakeholder conference in May attended by a wide range of interested parties. Write-ups of both these events are also available on the DTI website and in the Libraries of both Houses. In addition, we asked the Office for National Statistics to ask some survey questions on our behalf, and the analysis of this data has also been published today.

We considered all aspects of the impact of changes to Sunday trading. It is clear that there is no substantial demand for change to the present regime. Most respondents believe the current situation strikes the right balance between all the interests involved. After considering all the evidence received, we have concluded that this is not the right time to make any changes to the Sunday trading laws.


Regional Funding Allocations

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Douglas Alexander): Last July we sought advice from English regions on their priorities for major transport projects up to 2015-16. I am today responding to that advice.

The Government have, for the first time, given regions a say in decision-making about transport schemes that affect them at the regional and local levels. It has been the first opportunity for the RDA, regional assembly, their local authority partners and other key interests to consider together their transport programmes against the region’s high level objectives, and to develop a realistic, prioritised and affordable programme which offers the best overall contribution to meeting those objectives. They have worked together to identify which of the many proposals before them should go forward, and in what timescale. They have without exception devoted considerable care and effort to developing their advice, and to securing a consensus on what needs to be done. I applaud the considerable progress which has been made.

I intend to seek views widely on how the process might be further enhanced. Taking those views into account, I expect to seek further formal advice on transport priorities within the next two years.

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This current advice has been provided against a background of increased and sustained investment in transport under this Government. We have increased spending on regional and local major transport schemes by around 50 per cent. (in real terms) since 2001-02, and the indicative budgets on which the regional advice is based sustain this record level of investment over the 10-year period.

As a result of this increased provision, a large number of schemes are currently underway across the country. These include, outside London, 35 local authority major schemes (generally costing over £5 million) as well as 12 Highways Agency schemes on routes of regional importance. In addition, in the light of the regions confirming their priority, I am today giving final approval to a further five local authority schemes, allowing them to proceed to construction or implementation in the next few months.

The regions have also advised on schemes at earlier stages following initial Government approval. Reflecting that advice, I expect to fund 78 of these schemes in future years, subject to the schemes securing powers, continuing to deliver good value for money and controlling their costs.

The regions have also recommended some new schemes that had not been previously approved. I am today approving 17 of these for entry to the regional programmes, following our assessment of their business cases. This is an important first step for these schemes, which in many cases will now need to seek statutory powers. Other recommended new schemes need further work and assessment, but subject to that being completed satisfactorily, we would expect at least a further 90 schemes to be added to the programmes over the next 10 years. Further priorities may emerge in later years.

Given that the regions have looked at priorities across their region and against wider objectives for the first time, it is not surprising that they have concluded that, in some cases, schemes that had previously been approved are not their highest priority. I am accepting their recommendations that six schemes in the Highways Agency's targeted programme of improvements and nine local authority schemes should not be funded in the RFA period. All other schemes previously approved are expected to progress, though in eight cases, reflecting the regions’ priorities, they will proceed to a significantly different timescale than had previously been planned.

I am today writing to each region responding to their advice and giving details of the schemes that we expect to fund. I am placing copies in the Libraries of both Houses.

Work and Pensions

President of Appeal Tribunals (Annual Report)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt): My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath has made the following statement:

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“I am pleased to publish today the sixth report by the president of appeal tribunals on the standard of decisions made on behalf of the Secretary of State in cases which come before appeal tribunals. The major reasons given for appeal tribunals overturning or amending decisions were because new evidence was produced at the hearing or the tribunal took a different view of the same evidence.

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