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The figures listed refer to FCO and FCO Services members of staff on temporary contract whose salary is paid from the FCO pay bill. Officers paid from project or departmental funds have been excluded. Information prior to 2003 has not been included; the research required to collect these data would incur disproportionate costs.

The FCO does not have a central record of the numbers of staff under contract from agencies. To obtain such figures would incur disproportionate costs.

We do not maintain central records of staff working in the FCO on inward secondment. Individual Directorates within the FCO have the authority to recruit and deploy staff on inward secondment to fill knowledge and skills gaps within the organisation.

The FCO considers inward secondments to be loans from organisations other than Government Departments or agencies. Loans from other Government Departments or agencies are known as interchange.


Tattoo Removal

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Ms Rosie Winterton): On 18 October 2006 in a written answer to the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) Official Report, column 1331W, I stated that 187,086 tattoos were removed by the NHS between April 2004 and March 2005. I regret that this figure was incorrect.

A variety of procedures are used to remove tattoos, which are also used in the treatment of other skin conditions. NHS information systems do not record sufficient detail to allow distinction between procedures to remove tattoos and procedures to treat other skin conditions. The answer was based on a mistaken attempt to estimate the number of tattoos from the information on the wider grouping of skin procedures. That attempt was intended to be helpful, but ended up being misleading because it is not possible from the existing data sets to say with any precision how many tattoos are removed by the NHS each year, and secondly, because clinical advice is that it is likely to be a far smaller number than the figure given.

I have received a formal apology from the Information Centre, who accept full responsibility for providing an incorrect response to the parliamentary question.

The Information Centre and the Department of Health place the highest importance on the integrity of information and I have been assured by the chief executive of the Information Centre and the permanent secretary at the Department of Health that appropriate steps are being taken to ensure that a similar situation does not recur.

I apologise to the House for the error.

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Home Department

Highly Skilled Migrant Programme

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Liam Byrne): I am today announcing changes which the Home Office is making to the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme.

We believe that properly managed migration is in the interests of the UK and that we should aim to attract the brightest and the best from around the globe. The Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP), which was launched in 2002, has played a crucial role in ensuring that we do this. It allows individuals with exceptional skills to come to the United Kingdom to seek work or opportunities for self-employment. Highly skilled migrants contribute to the economy and help to create opportunities for UK workers. The UK has benefited from the contribution which they make and it is important that we continue to do so.

That is why we are making changes to the programme today, which will build on its past success to make it more effective in attracting the most highly skilled migrants to the UK. We will do this by introducing more objective and transparent criteria which lead to the award of points under the scheme. Some of the current points scoring criteria are subjective, and so are difficult for prospective applicants to measure themselves against and for caseworkers to judge. We are replacing them with a set of more objective attributes, which will award points for previous academic and professional qualifications, previous earnings, and age, as well as bonus points for previous work (or study, in some cases) in the UK. Holders of MBA degrees from certain institutions will still be able to receive all of the points necessary to be approved, for having that qualification. We are also introducing a mandatory English language requirement, outside the points structure, for both initial and extension applications under HSMP. It is right that those who come to work in highly skilled jobs should be able to speak English, which is integral to labour market success.

We are also making a change to the requirements for those who have already been granted leave under HSMP and who apply to extend it. The current extension test is that applicants should have taken all reasonable steps to become lawfully economically active in the UK. We are replacing this with a points test and a mandatory English language requirement, similar to those faced by applicants applying to the programme for the first time. These tests will make it easier to curtail abuse within the scheme and will ensure that applicants who are granted further leave under the HSMP have demonstrated their ability to make a contribution to our economy.

I am also announcing new rules relating to the verification of documents submitted in HSMP applications. This will give entry clearance officers and caseworkers three key new powers:

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These policies will not disadvantage genuine applicants, but will help to ensure that the scheme is both robust against abuse and targeted towards those who will benefit the UK.

We will make sure that the amended programme is kept under review.

As of tomorrow, the current HSMP rules will be deleted and the programme will then be suspended for 27 days. We are taking these steps to avoid a rush of speculative applications by people who would wish their applications to be considered under the old rules, which is what happened after the publication of the Command Paper on the points-based system. The suspension will enable us to make the transition effectively to the new rules and ensure that current levels of customer service are maintained when the new arrangements are introduced. In the interests of good customer service, we have made sure that this will not disadvantage applicants substantively. Applications made for leave to remain under HSMP during the suspension period will not be returned; they will be accepted as valid and will be considered against the new rules after the suspension period. This means that nobody’s leave will expire because of the suspension, provided that they make in-time applications. Migrants in this situation will also be given the chance to submit new evidence to show that they meet the new rules. Guidance on the new arrangements will be published tomorrow.

We also recognise that there will be people who are currently working or self-employed in the UK, but who may not be able to meet the new test for extending their leave. Many of these people will have been of real benefit to the UK, and we do not want to lose their contribution. We are therefore introducing specific transitional arrangements for people who have been self-employed or working as an independent contractor, but who will not be able to extend their leave under the new test. For people who have been employed, but cannot extend their leave under HSMP, we will make it easier for them to switch into work permit employment.

These changes are good for applicants, because they will make the application process easier, clearer and more objective. They are good for the UK, because they will keep us competitive in attracting skilled workers who will be successful in the labour market. And they are good for employers, who will be more able to recruit highly skilled migrants. They will therefore bring HSMP closer in line with the Government’s aims for migration, including supporting an objective set by the IND Review to ‘boost Britain’s economy by bringing the right skills here from around the world’. These changes will ensure that the HSMP remains one of our flagship immigration schemes. And I am confident that they will help us to maintain public confidence in our immigration system, and to make the case for managed migration where it is in the interests of the UK.

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A Statement of Changes in the Immigration Rules, and Amendments to the Immigration (Leave to Remain) (Prescribed Forms and Procedures) Regulations 2006, are being laid before Parliament today to give effect to these changes.

Northern Ireland

North/South Implementation Bodies and Tourism Ireland Ltd

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): I have today placed in the Libraries of the House papers relating to decisions that have been taken during the period 13 June to 13 October 2006 which relate to the North/South Implementation Bodies and Tourism Ireland Ltd. under the terms of the Exchange of Notes of 19 November 2002 (Cmnd 5708).

Parliamentary Boundary Commission

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): The Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, as amended by the Boundary Commissions Act 1992, requires that the Parliamentary Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland undertake periodical reviews of constituencies in Northern Ireland. The Boundary Commission announced their revised
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recommendations on 18 May 2006 and are due to submit their final report by June 2007.

I am pleased to announce that Richard Mackenzie CB has been reappointed as a Member of the Northern Ireland Parliamentary Boundary Commission. His warrant of appointment will run until 31 October 2008.

Work and Pensions

Social Security (National Insurance Numbers) Amendment Regulations 2006

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt): I announced on 18 July 2006 that the DWP would bring forward amendments to regulation 9 of the Social Security (Crediting and Treatment of Contributions and National Insurance Numbers) to make explicit the evidence which must be produced to demonstrate the "right to work" condition has been satisfied. These amendments will be laid before Parliament today and copies will be made available from the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office from 2.30 pm onwards.

The amendment regulations also incorporate a change which will require students who qualify for a student loan to apply for a national insurance number if they do not already have one. This change will mirror changes in forthcoming Department for Education and Skills regulations which will be made in early 2007. These changes will facilitate the improved collection of student loans.

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