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Written Ministerial Statements

The following statements were received between Thursday 14 September and Monday 18 September 2006

Cabinet Office

Sickness Absence (Civil Service)

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Pat McFadden): The report “Analysis of Sickness Absence in the Home Civil Service 2005” prepared for my Department by RED Scientific Limited shows that the headline figure for the average level of sickness absence was 9.8 days per staff year. The report contains a comprehensive analysis of the 2005 figures by Department/Agency.

The Cabinet Office is continuing to work with other Departments and agencies as they work to reduce sickness absence and progress with their implementation of the recommendations of the “Managing Attendance in the Public Sector” report published by the Ministerial Task Force on Health, Safety and Productivity.

The increase in the number of working days lost was primarily due to a change in the methodology used for analysing data. If the 2004 methodology had been used for the 2005 report, the adjusted average working days lost figure would have been 8.8 days per staff year, a drop of 0.3 days.

Communities and Local Government

Housing Employment Mobility Services (moveUK)

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): The Government have decided to terminate their agreement with Scout Solutions Projects Limited to deliver mobility services for social tenants.

The new services to be provided under the contract were a new website providing access to existing schemes such as LAWN and Seaside and Country Homes, and a link to the Jobcentre Plus Internet Job Bank. The cost for the development of the new software and IT infrastructure was £1.2 million and the Department has paid £1.06 million to date.

The Department has decided to terminate this agreement in the interests of the public and the taxpayer because of serious concerns about the performance and fitness for purpose of the software developed by SSPL to provide those services. The software was delivered by the contractor in final form more than a year behind schedule; and independent final testing which replicated SSPL's own test criteria discovered an unacceptable level of faults. Departmental officials worked with the company
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throughout the contract to address shortcomings, but came to the conclusion that this strong course of action was the only one available. This decision was communicated to SSPL on 20 July 2006. The Department will be seeking to recoup the £1.06 million spent on the development of the new software as well as the associated costs.

Scout Solutions Projects Limited have also been providing existing mobility services alongside the development of the new services. They will continue to be paid to provide these services under the terms of the contract for a transitional period. The funding for these existing services which were delivered has been £9.7 million. Mobility services are important to tenants, and the Department will be seeking to put alternative provision in place building on the success of choice-based letting schemes.

Throughout this period, social housing applicants and tenants have continued to use direct methods to move within social housing. For example in 2004-05 alone over 15,500 LA tenants completed mutual exchanges.

The matter is now the subject of discussions between DCLG and the contractor.


Naval Base Review

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): The Defence Industrial Strategy published in December 2005 set out a challenge to the UK maritime industry to reduce its overheads and invest in the facilities and skills needed to meet the demands of the Royal Navy's future warship programme. The same challenges apply to the naval bases as we look to the future. The naval bases exist to support the Royal Navy's front line. They are complex and expensive organisations. We need to ensure that their capacity is no more and no less than we need to support the needs of the fleet now and in the years to come. I wish to announce therefore our intention to conduct an in-depth review of naval base infrastructure requirements. The aim of the review is to ensure that we have the right naval base infrastructure to meet the needs of the future fleet. The review will assess future requirements and examine a range of options, including some that could lead to radical reductions in overheads and naval base capacity. The recommendations from the review, which will be undertaken by the Defence Logistics Organisation, are expected to be finalised in spring 2007.

The trade unions have been consulted on the terms of reference for the review and, while it is too early to predict the impact on jobs, the Department will continue to engage with them and other stakeholders as the review is taken forward. Final decisions on the recommendations from the review will be subject to full trade union consultation.

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World War 1 Veterans (Pardons)

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): On 16 August I announced that the Government plan to seek parliamentary approval for a statutory pardon for service personnel executed for a range of disciplinary offences during the First World War. I am now taking this opportunity to confirm these plans to the House and to provide some further information on our intentions.

I have reviewed carefully the case for granting pardons and concluded that although this is a difficult issue it is right to recognise the exceptional circumstances that gave rise to these executions and to show compassion to the families who have had to live with the associated stigma over the years.

Given the paucity of records for the courts martial of those executed, I have taken the view that it would not be appropriate or fair to consider individual pardons under the Royal Prerogative but that a statutory pardon for all members of the group should be introduced. This approach removes the risk of individual cases failing to meet the criteria for a pardon under the Prerogative simply because of lack of evidence.

It is the Government's intention to introduce an amendment to the current Armed Forces Bill during the Lord's Committee Stage to give effect to this. Rather than naming individuals, the amendment will pardon all those executed following conviction by court martial for a range of offences likely to have been strongly influenced by the stresses associated with this terrible war; this will include desertion, cowardice, mutiny and comparable offences committed during the period of hostilities from 4 August 1914 to 11 November 1918. Over 300 individuals from the UK, her dominions and colonies were executed under the 1881 Army Act. We will also seek pardons for those similarly executed under the provisions of the 1911 Indian Army Act, records of whose identities we have not been able to locate. We consider that it would not be appropriate to include in the pardon all capital offences and specifically the offences of murder and treason will be excluded.

In each case, the effect of the pardon will be to recognise that execution was not a fate that the individual deserved but resulted from the particular discipline and penalties considered to be necessary at the time for the successful prosecution of the war. We intend that the amendment should so far as possible remove the particular dishonour that execution brought to the individuals and their families. However, the pardon should not be seen as casting doubt on either the procedures and processes of the time or the judgment of those who took these very difficult decisions.

The pardon would apply to those sentences of execution confirmed and carried out but convictions would not be quashed. The amendment will not create any right to compensation and the Royal Prerogative of Mercy will remain unaffected.

As the amendment would affect the cases of personnel who were serving in the armed forces of a number of dominions and colonies, we are consulting with the Governments of those states or their
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successors on our plans. We are expecting to receive their responses shortly but I can confirm that our decision has already been welcomed by one of those principally affected. I anticipate the Government's proposal will also be warmly welcomed by the public at large and particularly by the families concerned.

Harrier GR7a Deployment (Afghanistan)

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): Both the International Security Assistance Force and coalition forces in Afghanistan are experiencing a surge in their requirement for air support. To help meet that need, I have decided temporarily to deploy a seventh Harrier GR7a aircraft and a small number of additional personnel to Kandahar Airfield. As with any operational commitment, the duration of this deployment will be kept under constant review.


National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Andy Burnham): The Department has consulted on proposed changes to the process for the selection of topics for the work programme of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).

Some responses were received from a wide variety of organisations, including patient and professional groups, healthcare professionals, industry and the NHS. An analysis of the responses has been undertaken and we have reached the following decisions: the administration of the early stages of the topic selection process will be the responsibility of NICE. Responsibility for the administration of the later stages of the process will remain with the Department; the criteria used in the selection of topics will be revised, with a single set of criteria used for the selection of both clinical and public health topics; there will be wider and better representation of the NHS and public health throughout the process, to help ensure that the topics being proposed represent the needs of professionals and their patients. This representation will be secured via the new panels which will replace the Advisory Committee for the Selection of Topics (ACTS); and finally the timelines for the selection of topics will be reduced. This will mean that clinical topics which are a priority issue for the NHS will be referred to NICE sooner.

Full details of the consultation responses and the analysis of the comments has been placed in the Library and is available on the Department's website at http://www.dh.gov.uk/Consultations/ResponsesToConsultations/ResponsesToConsult ationsDocumentSummary/fs/en?CONTENT_ID=4139043&chk-5Sr3mH

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A new programme of work is being established by NICE to help the NHS identify and stop ineffective interventions. This will potentially allow the NHS to reinvest millions of pounds on drugs and other treatments that improve patient care.

The three products that NICE will be developing are: commissioning guides: these will help NHS commissioners to make the case for moving to concordance with NICE guidance and shift resources away from ineffective care; recommendation reminders: these will highlight recommendations from published NICE guidance which reduce ineffective practice; and specific guidance aimed at reducing ineffective practice: this guidance will use existing methodologies to give advice on the use of technologies or approaches to care currently employed by the NHS where evidence of effectiveness that exists suggests that it is a poor use of resources.

NICE expects to issue the first commissioning guides and recommendation reminders in autumn 2006 and the first guidance on ineffective treatments in 2007.

Children's Palliative Care Services

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Ivan Lewis): I am announcing a review of the longer term funding arrangements for palliative care services for children and young people who have a life limiting or life threatening condition.

On 5 June I was pleased to announce new funding of £27 million spread over three years for children's hospice services. We have drawn up eligibility criteria for the grants in consultation with key stakeholders and I am delighted to say that applications for the Children's Hospice and Children's Hospice at Home Grant are now being made. The application form can be found on the Department of Health website at

http://www.dh.gov.uk/PublicationsAndStatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidanceArticle/fs/en?CONTENT_ID=4138727&c hk=91DtzU.

The closing date for applications is 20 September 2006.

At the same time I also announced a review of children's hospice services and their funding arrangements. Children's hospices provide a valuable service for children and young people but they represent only one part of the range of palliative care services. I have therefore decided that the review should be extended to cover palliative care services for children and young people more generally. I expect the review to commence in the autumn.

We are drawing up the terms of reference for the review, in consultation with key stakeholders, and will publish these and announce the name of the person who will undertake the review when we can.

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Home Department


The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Liam Byrne): The Home Secretary has today published the Government response to the Home Affairs Committee's Report into Immigration Control, copies of which have been deposited in the Libraries of the House and are also available from the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

Lambert Report

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): On 16 September 2004, my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins), the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary with responsibility for correctional services, announced the appointment of David Lambert, a former Assistant Chief Inspector of Social Services, to examine the operational issues raised by the tragic death of Joseph Scholes at Stoke Heath Young Offender Institution in 2002.

David Lambert completed his report in October 2005. The Government have considered it and responded to its recommendations. I am placing copies of the report and of the Government's response in the Library of the House. Both documents can also be accessed at

http://press.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/lambert-report-180906 and http://press.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/lambert-report-govt-response.

As well as identifying procedures and practices that require further development, the report notes the positive steps that have been taken since Joseph's death to improve assessment, placement and safeguarding of young people in custody.

Work and Pensions

DWP Office Support Services

The Minister for Pensions Reform (James Purnell): After completing a detailed commercial and tendering exercise, I wish to announce that Haden Building Management are to be awarded a seven year contract for the delivery of a suite of office services to the Department for Work and Pensions.

In January 2005, following a wide-ranging review of support services, senior officials in my Department, with the support of Ministers, concluded that bids for the future provision of all our office support services should be invited from specialist external suppliers in the private sector. Inviting bids for a single national contract for the supply of office services from the private sector would allow us to harness the benefits afforded by new technology, organisational efficiencies and the agility to respond to our changing needs as the Department is modernised and reformed.

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These office support services, which include post opening and despatch, messengerial work, switchboard operations, typing and secretarial services, are currently delivered through a range of external suppliers and in-house teams as well as forming part of the tasks of staff who serve the public directly. These arrangements have served us well in the past, but the review concluded that these methods of delivery no longer provided best value for money and that, in their current state, would not provide the best service in the future.

Since the review, officials have been undertaking a competitive tendering exercise, in accordance with EU procurement rules, to select a supplier who can provide the services we require and offer best value for money. Following a rigorous evaluation of bids, the contract has been awarded to Haden Building Management with the new supply arrangements expected to commence on 1 March 2007.

This decision will mean that some jobs currently undertaken by DWP staff and our existing external providers will transfer to the new supplier. In total around 700 DWP staff nationally may transfer. Greatest numbers of DWP staff affected are based in Scotland, Wales and north-west England with other smaller groups in London and the north-east. We recognise that some staff may not wish to transfer and
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for these we will, where possible, offer the opportunity to re-deploy within DWP or other Government Departments although we cannot guarantee this. Given the general unavailability of suitable alternative posts however, the likelihood is that many staff engaged in support services will transfer to the new contractor under the protection of TUPE.

Proposals put forward by Haden provide more efficient ways of working and take account of the Departmental modernisation programme. This is likely to result in a reduction of staff required to deliver office service contract arrangements over a period of time.

Officials have been meeting with trade unions, and keeping staff affected by these changes informed of progress on an ongoing basis. Over the coming months they will continue to consult with trade unions and work with managers and HR advisors on all matters relating to the transfer of staff.

I will keep Members with significant numbers of affected constituents updated on our progress over the next few months. I am confident that these plans, for the future delivery of office services, will help support our overall goal of moving to a leaner and fitter organisation delivering world-class services to our customers.

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