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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 17 October 2006

Constitutional Affairs

Supreme Court

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Bridget Prentice): My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor has made the following written ministerial statement:


Defence Technology Strategy

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The Ministry of Defence has today launched the Defence Technology Strategy (DTS) setting out the technologies that are most important to the future provision of military capability for our Armed Forces. The DTS builds on the Defence Industrial Strategy White Paper published in December last year and has been developed in close collaboration with industry and academia. It outlines the research and development priorities on which we must work together to encourage innovation in support of the UK’s front line forces.

This strategy will help MOD and Industry plan future investment in research and development (R&D). It identifies clear R&D priorities, including those areas in which we believe it is important to maintain sovereign control. It highlights opportunities for collaboration and addresses long-term support to the UK’s science and technology skill base.

Included in the strategy are several initiatives to support and encourage innovation and the science and engineering skill base in the UK. These include a competition of ideas, which will provide rapid funding for innovative research proposals from industry and academia in areas of particular importance to defence, and a grand challenge to produce an autonomous or semi autonomous system designed to detect, identify, monitor and report a comprehensive range of physical threats in a complex urban environment. Both have been designed to stimulate free-ranging innovation from the widest possible science and technology base.

The Defence Technology Strategy sets clear direction for the future and is the foundation for a vibrant and innovative research and development relationship between MOD, industry and academia. It will ensure that the UK Armed Forces continue to benefit from the highest level of technological research and innovation.

Copies of the Defence Technology Strategy have been placed in the Library of the House and can be found on the MOD website at: www.mod.uk.

Far East Prisoners of War (Ex-gratia Payments)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Derek Twigg): The Ministry of Defence (MOD) welcomes the court’s judgment that the scheme’s criteria do not directly discriminate on the grounds of race and that it was legitimate to limit payments to those with a close link to the United Kingdom.

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The MOD accepts the court’s finding that the way the Government chose to define that close link—introducing the ‘birthlink’ criteria—involved unjustified indirect discrimination against those of non-United Kingdom national origins. We will not be seeking leave to appeal.

The purpose of the birthlink criteria was to provide an administratively manageable way of paying more British subjects, not fewer. It was never the MOD’s intention to discriminate against Mrs. Elias or anyone else on grounds of race. Nonetheless, in the light of the court’s judgment, which the MOD accepts, the Department recognises the hurt unintentionally caused to Mrs. Elias personally and will pay her the compensation that the court ordered, plus interest. Mrs. Elias had already received an ex-gratia payment of £10,000 under the scheme pursuant to changes to the scheme’s eligibility criteria that were announced in March of this year. Those changes meant that those who have resided in the UK for at least 20 years between the end of the second world war and November 2000, when the scheme was introduced, qualify for a payment.

Civilian claims submitted after the High Court judgment on 7 July 2005 have been, and will continue to be, decided only on the basis of the other, residence-based, criteria, based either on normal residence in the United Kingdom before the war and return to United Kingdom shortly afterwards, or at least 20 years’ residence in the United Kingdom between 1945 and November 2000.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Gibraltar Trilateral Forum

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I wish to make a statement to the House on the Gibraltar trilateral forum, following the successful ministerial meeting in Cordoba, Spain on 18 September 2006.

In consultation with the Government of Gibraltar the trilateral forum was established in December 2004 by the former Foreign Secretary my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), and Spanish Foreign Minister Señor Miguel Ángel Moratinos. It was hailed at the time as a major breakthrough for relations between the UK, Spain and Gibraltar. It gave rise to genuine optimism that we could set our historic differences aside and discuss practical issues that affect the people of Spain and Gibraltar.

I am delighted that, after almost two years of intense negotiations, the trilateral forum has borne fruit. For the first time the UK, Spain and Gibraltar have negotiated together a three-way package of agreements. These demonstrate that we can work together to make a real difference to the quality of lives of people in the region despite our well-known differences on the question of sovereignty.

A key feature in the forum is the full and equal role the Government of Gibraltar plays. Chief Minister
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Peter Caruana has shown considerable leadership and vision and has shaped the direction of the talks and negotiated constructively throughout, including on issues that were particularly sensitive for Gibraltar. It would also be remiss of me not to pay a particular tribute to Señor Moratinos and the Spanish Government. He and Prime Minister Zapatero have, I believe, shown courage and foresight in pursuing a more constructive policy towards Gibraltar.

The substance of the agreements we have reached in September is ground breaking. They will deliver practical benefits to the people of Gibraltar and the surrounding region in the short term.

The airport agreement will benefit the people and businesses of Gibraltar. Gibraltar’s exclusion from EU aviation legislation is to be lifted and Spanish airspace restrictions will end; there will be a new terminal; and a greater choice of flights from Gibraltar, including to Spain and other European destinations. This will be a huge economic boost to Gibraltar. All sides are agreed that the arrangements on the airport have no implications for sovereignty, jurisdiction, or control.

On the border crossing the introduction of red and green channels into Spain and two-lane access into Gibraltar should improve pedestrian and traffic flows. This is potentially a key development for the many people who cross the frontier for work, business and leisure reasons.

On telecoms, Spain’s recognition of Gibraltar’s international dialling code +350 will improve cross- border communications. And Gibraltarian mobile phone users will shortly be able to use their mobiles to dial home when travelling in Spain.

Finally, a settlement to the long-running question of pensions payments for former Spanish workers in Gibraltar will, I believe, bring to an end a dispute which has been a priority for the current Spanish Government. As part of this settlement Spain has agreed not to charge the pensioners’ healthcare costs to the UK (as they were entitled to do under EC directives). This agreement therefore represents good value for money to the UK taxpayer.

The next step is of course to make the trilateral agreement work. The full and timely implementation of the agreement is vital as people will not judge the forum by its statements, but by what happens on the ground. I can promise that the UK Government will spare no effort to deliver the agreements we have reached. I am entirely confident that the Governments of Spain and Gibraltar will also implement the Cordoba agreements. They are a package and all sides are agreed that they must be implemented as a whole; there can be no cherry-picking.

We will now look to build on these agreements to explore future areas of practical cooperation. With continued commitment from all sides, I believe we can make the tensions that have for far too long characterised cross-border relations a thing of the past.

I am placing copies of the “Cordoba Ministerial Trilateral Forum Communiqué”, and the annexes on the “Airport agreement” and the “Pensions Statement” in the Library of the House.

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Foreign Affairs Committee Report (East Asia)

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Ian McCartney): The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Command Paper response to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee Report on East Asia (Seventh Report of Session 2005-06) was published today. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House. A copy of the report is also available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website at: www.fco.gov.uk.

The Command Paper reflects the careful consideration of the FCO and other Departments. I commend it to the House.


Health Select Committee Report (NHS Changes)

The Secretary of State for Health (Ms Patricia Hewitt): The Government have today laid before Parliament their response to the Health Select Committee Report on NHS Charges (Cm 6922).

The Government are responding to the 22 recommendations made by the Committee on areas such as prescription charges, car parking charges, dental charges, on eligibility for NHS sight tests and on the hospital travel costs scheme.

As part of the response, the Government are committing to an internal review of prescription charges and a further statement will be made to the House following the review prior to the summer recess next year.

Further details on this review can be found in the Government’s response. Copies of the response have been placed in the Library.

Home Department

UK - China Graduate Work Experience Programme

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Liam Byrne): I have made an authorisation under section 19D of the Race Relations Act 1976 as amended, to enable immigration officers and entry clearance officers to grant leave to enter or entry clearance in a form which permits the holder to work in the United Kingdom to participate in the UK-China Graduate Work Experience Programme otherwise than in accordance with the immigration rules.

The UK-China Graduate Work Experience Programme will enable Chinese graduates up to the age of 30 to experience and develop a greater understanding of the UK during a working stay.

Developing relationships with the likely future leaders of Chinese business will be to the benefit of the UK. China is the fastest growing major economy in the world and is therefore a critically important country in terms of the global economy and consequently to the UK’s future position in the global economy. It is in the
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UK’s interest to do everything possible now to develop links with the Chinese economy.

I am placing copies of the authorisation in the Libraries of both Houses of Parliament.

Work and Pensions

Opportunity for All (Eighth Annual Report 2006)

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. John Hutton): I am publishing today the “Opportunity for All—Eighth Annual Report 2006” (CM 6915-i and CM 6915-ii) of the Department for Work and Pensions. It will provide a progress update on the Department’s seventh annual report published in October 2005 (Cm 6673). The report sets out our strategy for tackling poverty and social exclusion, and reports on the indicators used to monitor progress. Copies have been placed in the Library.

We are committed to achieving a fairer, more inclusive society where nobody is held back by disadvantage or lack of opportunity. I am pleased to report significant and sustained progress has been made on a range of our indicators. forty of our 59 indicators now show an improving trend over time.

Overall, there are now 700,000 fewer children living in relative low income than in 1998-99 (before housing costs) and around 440,000 fewer children in households where no one works. There are 2.5 million more people in work, with unemployment the lowest for 30 years. Ethnic minority groups and disabled people have seen improvements in their employment rates since last year.

One million fewer people of state pension age are in relative low income and more than 2 million fewer are in absolute low income compared with 1997.

This year’s “Opportunity for All” report consists of two documents—Our Strategy and the Indicators document. The strategy document presents an overview in the ‘life-cycle’ approach, clearly setting out our progress to date. It draws on relevant departmental five year strategies and other key documents, setting out how we will achieve both our short and longer term targets. A chapter on child poverty sets out the cross-Government strategy which will deliver on our aim to halve and eradicate child poverty and to ensure all children have the best start in life. It outlines how many, and which, children experience poverty, and its consequences. It describes the progress that has been made so far to address child poverty.

The Indicators document provides an important annual audit that monitors the progress of the Government’s strategy to tackle poverty and social exclusion. These reflect the multidimensional nature of poverty and social exclusion at different stages in people’s lives, including health, education, housing, income and financial well-being.

There is, of course, still more to do. Poverty and social exclusion are deep-rooted problems that have built up over many years. Tackling the root causes of poverty takes time as well as commitment and investment. It also requires a partnership across all sectors of society which recognises that rights and responsibilities go hand in
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hand. However, this report shows that we are now starting to see real signs of equally deep-rooted and lasting change that will help individuals and communities take control of their lives and break the intergenerational cycle of poverty and deprivation.

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