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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 11 December 2006

Cabinet Office

Departmental Simplification Plans

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Pat McFadden): The Government will today publish Simplification Plans for 18 Departments and Government agencies. The Health and Safety Executive published its plan in October, taking the total number of plans published this autumn to 19.

The plans set out more than 500 initiatives which, when delivered, will result in a reduction in administrative burdens and policy costs for the UK economy as a whole. The plans commit departments to cutting administrative burdens for business, voluntary and charitable organisations by at least 25 per cent. by 2010, with estimated savings of £2 billion already identified in the plans.

This ground-breaking initiative marks the start of a rolling programme of simplification. These plans will make individual departments accountable for the burdens they impose. Departments will update plans annually in order to ensure on-going year-on-year reductions in the burdens they impose.

Alongside the package of simplification plans, the Government will also commit to several important supporting measures. These include an upgrading of the web portal through which simplification ideas can be submitted, a campaign to identify regulations which conflict or overlap, and benefits of the flow of regulation, and annual updates on progress against the simplification agenda.

Copies of all 19 Simplification Plans, and relevant supporting documents, have been placed in the Library for the reference of Members and are available in the Vote Office.


Royal Navy and Royal Marine Personnel

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Derek Twigg): Recent media reports have alleged, incorrectly, that Royal Navy and Royal Marine personnel have had a cut in their allowances. I wish to advise the House of the current situation.

Due to an inaccurate Royal Navy Information Campaign, up to 4,260 Royal Navy and Royal Marine personnel were led to believe that on transition to Joint Personnel Administration on 1 November 2006 they would receive higher rates of Longer Separation
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Allowance than they were entitled to. Personnel wrongly assumed that their unpaid qualifying service for Longer Service at Sea Bonus would count towards their new rate of separation allowance from 1 November. This was identified by the Royal Navy in October 2006 and has been carefully considered by the Services and Ministers. It was agreed that the decisions taken in 2003 to target better Service allowances were correct, and that it was imperative that Royal Navy and Royal Marine personnel were treated fairly in comparison to their Army and Royal Air Force colleagues once they were eligible for the new allowances package. Therefore, on 1 November the Second Sea Lord wrote to all Royal Navy and Royal Marine Commanding Officers advising them that this oversight was regrettable, but did not justify a change in policy. Commanding Officers were asked to remind all of their personnel that none would see a cut in their separation allowances as a result of this decision and that the new allowances package was aimed directly at benefiting most those personnel who experience frequent periods of separation.

The new allowances package, for which all Royal Navy and Royal Marine personnel currently serving in Afghanistan are eligible, benefits all three Services. Under this new policy, personnel are entitled to Longer Separation Allowance that has 14 levels of payment, many higher than previously existed when there was only three levels of separation allowance.

The House has already noted that in order to recognise further the work of our Armed Services, we have introduced the new Operational Allowance of some £2,240 for a six month tour of duty and this is alongside a much improved Operational Welfare Package. In addition to these positive changes, I also announced on 3 December that the Initial Qualifying Period of 100 days for separation allowance will be abolished from 1 April 2007. This is all positive action taken by Her Majesty's Government to appreciate even more the excellent work of our Armed Services.


Autumn Performance Report

The Secretary of State for Health (Ms Patricia Hewitt): The Department of Health's 2006 autumn performance report (Cm. 6985) has today been laid before Parliament. Copies have been placed in the Library. It shows the progress my Department has made towards achieving its public service agreement targets.

The document shows that there have been further improvements in access to services. Patients can now expect to wait no more than three months for an outpatient appointment and six months for an inpatient appointment. By the end of 2008 patients will wait no more than 18 weeks from general practitioner referral to start of treatment.

We are also providing care to those most in need. We are supporting more older people to live in their own homes, improving the care of those with long term conditions, providing better mental health services for children and adolescents and treating increased numbers of those with drug problems.

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We are also improving health. Death rates from heart disease among people under 75 have fallen by 36 per cent. since the baseline of 1995-97; deaths from cancer have fallen by 16 per cent. over the same period. These are significant achievements.

These are just some of the successes of the NHS over the past year. These improvements have been made in a demanding year through the hard work, skills and passion of hundreds of thousands of staff, and new and better ways of delivering services.

The Department has also today published ‘The NHS in England: the operating framework 2007-08’. Copies have been placed in the Library.

The document is designed to help local NHS staff shape services around the needs of their local communities. It explains why there is a need to continue embedding reform in 2007/08, signalling a farther shift towards building a self-improving system driven by local priorities.

Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Caroline Flint): The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met on 30 November to 1 December. The health issues were taken on 30 November, where my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for health services represented the United Kingdom. Items on the main agenda were the amended proposal for a decision of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a second programme of community action in the field of health (2007-2013); health in all policies; the EU strategy to reduce alcohol related harm; international health regulations; and the work of the Commission's high level group on health services and medical care.

Political agreement was reached on the amended proposal for a decision of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a second programme of community action in the field of health (2007-2013).

Council conclusions were adopted on health in all policies. These focus on the importance of addressing the health impact of policies developed by other sectors.

Council conclusions were also adopted on the EU strategy to reduce alcohol related harm. This was followed by a policy debate on the strategy. The UK joined widespread support for the approach it outlines, and described how the Government, industry and stakeholders are working together in the UK, including through the social responsibility standards on the production and sale of alcohol.

There was a lunchtime discussion on the international health regulations (IHR), where Ministers supported a note prepared by the presidency on the Commission's recent communication on the Community's role in the implementation of the IHR. The note underlined the need for further discussion and clarification before agreement to a Community role. Ministers also supported a further note produced by the presidency, underlining the importance of the non-legislative collaboration between EU health systems taken forward by the Commission's high level group on health services and medical care.

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Under any other business, the Council heard a progress report from the presidency on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on advanced therapy medicinal products and amending Directive 2001/83/EC and Regulation (EC) No 726/2004. This will continue to be taken forward by the Council Pharmaceutical Working Group during the German presidency.

On the eve of the Council, the Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, Markos Kyprianou, hosted an initial exchange of views with health Ministers (which my right hon. Friend attended) on the communication from the Commission regarding Community action on health services.

Home Department

Control Order Powers

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (John Reid): Section 14(1) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (the 2005 Act) requires me to report to Parliament as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of every relevant three-month period on the exercise of the control order powers during that period.

On 18 October I asked Lord Carlile to consider whether any improvements could be made to the quarterly report. I am today placing a copy of Lord Carlile's report on this matter, together with a copy of this statement (being my formal response to his recommendations), in the Library of the House. It will also be available on the Home Office web site at:


Lord Carlile makes a number of sensible recommendations to increase the information that can be safely placed in the public domain through the quarterly written ministerial statement. I am happy to accept them, with the caveat that we need to avoid publishing any information that could lead to the identification of an individual who is subject to an anonymity order.

The format of this and future quarterly reports has been revised in the light of Lord Carlile's review so as to include some additional information. The level of information provided will, however, always be subject to slight variations based on the operational advice of the police.

Control orders continue to be an essential tool to protect the public from terrorism, particularly where it is not possible to prosecute individuals for terrorist-related activity and, in the case of foreign nationals, where they cannot be removed from the UK.

During the period 11 September to 10 December 2006, one order was made and, on 21 November 2006, served on a British citizen with the permission of the court under section 3(l)(a) of the 2005 Act.

Three further orders were made but have not yet been served, two of which were in respect of British citizens. Orders may be made but not served because they were made on a contingency basis, and the
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individual has been either charged and remanded in custody, or convicted and sentenced to prison, or deported. Alternatively, there may be police operational reasons for not serving an order.

Two control orders already in force at the beginning of this reporting period were revoked and new orders made and, on 12 September 2006, served in their place.

This followed a review of the obligations in these control orders as a result of the Court of Appeal's judgement of 1 August in the case of Secretary of State for the Home Department v JJ. KK, GG, HH, NN and LL [2006] EWCA Civ 1141.

No control orders have expired since the last report.

In total, therefore, there are 16 control orders currently in force, seven of which are in respect of British citizens. Eight of the individuals live in the Metropolitan police area; the rest fall within other police force areas.

Fifteen modifications of control order obligations were made, and four requests to modify a control order obligation were refused during the period. A right of appeal exists in section 10(3) of the 2005 Act against a decision by the Secretary of State not to modify an obligation contained in a control order. This has not yet been exercised in respect of these refusals.

Control order obligations are tailored to the individual concerned, and are based on the risk he or she poses. Each control order is kept under review to ensure their continuance and obligations remain necessary and proportionate. Specifically, as Lord Carlile recommended in his February 2006 report on the operation of the control order system, the Home Office has established a review group, with representation from law enforcement and intelligence agencies, to keep the obligations in every control order under regular (quarterly), formal and audited review.

Breaches of control orders could arise from any obligation, and could include arriving home after commencement of curfew period or breaking geographical boundary restrictions on movement. During this period, two individuals were charged with breach of control order obligations. Both were charged
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with failure to comply with a daily reporting requirement; one was also charged with failure to notify the Home Office of a change of residence.

As Parliament will be aware, one individual subject to a control order has absconded. Another individual absconded after a control order was made (i.e. signed) against that individual, but before the order had been served. This order is therefore not in operation. Finding these individuals is an operational matter for the police, and investigations are ongoing. Anonymity orders are in place for both individuals. The anonymity order is imposed by the court and can only be lifted by the court. For operational reasons, the Government are not currently seeking to overturn the anonymity orders.

On Thursday 26 October a hearing took place in the administrative court to consider overturning the anonymity orders in place for the individuals who absconded. On police advice the Home Office resisted this application and the judge upheld the anonymity orders for the two individuals.

One control order review started on 23 November in the High Court and final written submissions are being served. These proceedings are pursuant to section 3(10) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005. We await the outcome.

Work and Pensions

Benefit Uprating

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. John Hutton): The proposed rates of benefit for 2007 are set out in the following table. The annual uprating of benefits will take place for state pension and most other benefits in the first full week of the tax year. In 2007, this will be the week beginning 9 April. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland proposes to introduce similar changes for Northern Ireland.

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