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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 21 February 2007

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Environment Council 20 February 2007

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (David Miliband): I and Ian Pearson, Minister for Climate Change and Environment will represent the UK at the Environment Council in Brussels on 20 February.

At this Council, which is an important stepping-stone on the road to the Spring European Council, the German Presidency will be seeking to adopt three sets of Council Conclusions; on EU objectives for the further development of the international climate regime beyond 2012, on the Environment Council's contribution to the Spring Council and on the Thematic Strategy for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides.

The Council Conclusions on climate change are aimed at further developing the medium and long-term EU strategy to combat global climate change and will serve as a response to the Commission Communication “Limiting Global Climate Change to 2 degrees Celsius—the way ahead for 2020 and beyond”. The UK considers that the EU and other developed nations need to show leadership if we are to reach an international agreement on climate change, and we will be calling for the EU to commit to a 30 per cent. reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, as part of an international agreement. In the meantime, we support the Commission's proposal for the EU to commit unilaterally to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 per cent. by 2020—as a springboard to catalyse the more ambitious international action necessary to avoid dangerous climate change.

The Environment Council's contribution to Spring Council will draw on the climate change Conclusions, linking the Commission Communication to the Strategic Energy Review, eco-innovation and better regulation. The UK very much welcomes the recognition that the EU needs mutually supportive climate change and energy strategies if we are to tackle the problem of global climate change. We recognise the contribution that appropriate measures taken on, for instance, energy efficiency, renewables and the development of biofuels can make to growth, jobs and sustainable development. The UK supports the importance of promoting eco-innovations if we are to move towards a low-carbon economy and the application of better regulation principles in order to ensure that we achieve our environmental goals in the most cost-efficient, transparent way.

The Thematic Strategy on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides contains two main legislative elements; a proposal for a regulation to replace the current Pesticides Authorisations Directive (91/414/EEC) and a proposed new Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides. This is one of seven thematic strategies under the 6th EU Environment Action Programme, and aims to minimise the risk to health and the environment from the use of pesticides.
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The UK's overall objective is to negotiate a proportionate and balanced package of measures which strengthens protection of human health and the environment across the EU as a whole. Many of the proposed measures in the sustainable use directive are already in place in the UK on either a statutory or voluntary basis.

The Council will hold three policy debates; on the inclusion of aviation emissions in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), on the Commission's CO2 emissions from cars strategy and on the Soils Thematic Strategy and proposed Directive.

On the inclusion of aviation emissions into the EU ETS, Ministers will be asked to consider the geographical scope of the proposal, the allocation methodology to be considered in setting caps, whether there is a need to consider regional variations in implementing the proposal and whether the scheme should consider non-CO2 effects. The UK has consistently called for the inclusion of aviation in the ETS and we very much welcome that the Commission has issued its proposal. On geographical scope, we support a model under which all departing flights are covered and we are considering in detail the Commission's proposal for all arriving flights. The UK is, at this stage, content for aviation in EU ETS to exclude non-CO2 impacts.

The Council will discuss the Commission's Communication on a Community Strategy to reduce CO2 emissions from cars. The UK will stress the importance of a robust policy instrument to follow the current CO2 voluntary agreements for new cars to really drive down new car CO2. We believe it is vital to maintain a clear, measurable and accountable fuel efficiency target for automotive manufacturers. The UK would also like to see a long-term strategy that sets out a challenging but achievable target for improving new car fuel efficiency beyond 2012. If other measures (such as eco-driving) are to be taken by other stakeholders under the banner of the Integrated approach', these should be separate measures outside of the fuel efficiency target.

The Council will also be asked to adopt a proposed Decision concerning the provisional prohibition of the use and sale of a genetically modified strain of maize by one of the EU's member states. The UK will vote in favour of the proposed Council Decision based on the opinions of various scientific bodies (including the European Food Safety Authority and the UK's Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment) which have concluded that there is no new relevant scientific evidence in support of the safeguard action.

The Council will also be asked to adopt a proposed Decision concerning the placing on the market of a carnation that is genetically modified for flower colour. The UK will vote in favour based on the available scientific evidence.

Under 'Any Other Business', the Commission and the Presidency will update Council on adaptation to Climate Change including on the “Symposium on Climate Change and the European Water Dimension, Vulnerability - Impacts -Adaptation”, the Presidency will update Council on the preparations of the Ninth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Commission will update Council on the next meeting of the International Whaling Commission. Business and
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biodiversity and the First Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians have been requested by member states.


New Deal for Carers

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Ivan Lewis): We have today launched the New Deal for Carers first signalled in the White Paper “Our health, our care, our say”.

The New Deal for Carers comprises four key elements. First, there will be a thorough review of the 1999 national strategy “Caring for Carers”. This pan-Government review will provide the opportunity to set a new vision for the future, building on the foundations of the successes of the past ten years which have included the right for carers to request flexible working, and the introduction of the carers grant. To support this, we have today announced the most far-reaching national consultation ever on the future of carers and in the coming months will invite carers’ groups and the voluntary sector to help us design a modern vision for caring.

Underpinning the development of the new strategic vision will be a series of practical measures, based on what carers themselves have said will be the next steps forward in meeting their support needs.

The Government will be launching an expert carers programme. This programme will equip carers with advocacy skills and provide practical training such as first aid, and moving and handling. The Government are working closely with the leading organisations representing carers to ensure that the content of the expert carers programme reflects carers’ own needs.

The Government will also be launching a help line for carers. The 1999 strategy emphasised the importance of good information for carers and the helpline will now provide a single telephone number, to provide comprehensive information, ranging from national rights and entitlements through to what is available in an individual’s own locality.

Finally, the Government are making an additional £25 million available to local authorities in England to enhance the provision of short-term, home-based respite care. There is considerable evidence that the lack of proper planned alternative care provision in the event of something untoward happening is one of the most important factors in limiting a carer’s freedom to have a life of their own. The Government are working with stakeholders to develop guidelines to local authorities on the provision of such emergency respite care. This guidance will be published this summer and £25 million will be made available to English local authorities from October 2007.

Professional Regulation White Paper

The Secretary of State for Health (Ms Patricia Hewitt): The Government have today laid before Parliament a White Paper on professional regulation (Cm 7013), together with our response to the Fifth Report of the Shipman inquiry and the related inquiries into Richard Neale,
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Clifford Ayling, Michael Haslam and William Kerr (Cm 7015). The Government are also publishing today a report which brings together all the action that the Government have taken in response to the six reports that the inquiry published (Cm 7014). Copies have been placed in the Library.

The Government are very grateful to the chairs of the four inquiries—Lady Justice Smith, Dame Anna Pauffley, Suzan Matthews, and Nigel Fleming—and to all those who contributed to their painstaking and thorough deliberations.

Their findings were shocking to patients, the public and professionals themselves. The case of Harold Shipman, the trusted GP who murdered as many as 250 of his patients, is well known. Ayling, Kerr and Haslam sexually abused patients with impunity over many years. Neale’s incompetent surgery continued in the United Kingdom although he had already been struck off in Canada.

Even so, people still rightly hold the health professions in the very highest regard and take it for granted that they deliver excellent care as a matter of routine. It is therefore all the more bewildering when that trust is betrayed.

The documents set out a programme of action on two fronts to ensure that public and professional confidence is sustained. The White Paper sets out measures to strengthen professional regulation. The response to the Shipman inquiry proposes a series of measures to strengthen clinical governance.

The White Paper will ensure that the regulators command the full confidence of both the public and the professions. In future members of the regulatory councils will be independently appointed, rather than elected; professional members will no longer form a majority on councils; and the accountability of councils to Parliament will be enhanced.

To ensure that all health professionals are safe to practise with their patients, new revalidation arrangements will require them to demonstrate periodically that they have kept up to date. We will introduce in England a system of regional GMC affiliates who will provide support to local employers in acting on concerns about doctors and ensure that their revalidation is carried out rigorously. The arrangements will be piloted, in consultation with the professions and employers, to avoid bureaucracy and ensure that they are proportionate.

In adjudicating on fitness to practise cases, all regulators will adopt the civil standard of proof, with a sliding scale. The adjudication function of the GMC will be made fully independent, to provide further assurance to patients and professionals. Other professions will continue to conduct adjudication panels, but members of those panels will be independently appointed.

As the pharmacy profession undergoes a revolution in its capacity to treat patients, my Department will work with the pharmacy profession to establish a General Pharmaceutical Council to regulate pharmacy and agree effective arrangements for the clinical leadership of the profession.

As the Shipman inquiry acknowledged, the NHS has made much progress since the inquiries were established. In particular, new structures and processes to ensure the quality of care, known as “clinical governance”, have
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put in place systems which will help prevent such abuses from continuing undetected again. Further safeguards are needed. This will mean improved support for patients who want to register concerns and measures to ensure they are taken seriously; making more systematic use of information about the clinical outcomes of individual practitioners and teams; ensuring information from different sources is brought together so that a fuller picture about professionals is properly considered and robust action is taken; ensuring more rigorous checks on references and qualifications when health professionals are recruited; providing comprehensive guidance on preventing transgressions of professional boundaries and sexual behaviour with patients; and requiring all primary care organisations to adopt best practice in investigating and acting on concerns.

The Department will consult shortly on proposals for a radical overhaul of the processes for death certification. These will ensure a unified system of death certification that provides more effective scrutiny and stronger safeguards for the public. I am also publishing today a report which brings together all the action that the Government have taken in response to the six reports that the inquiry published.

In consultation, all the regulators have acknowledged the need for further reform. The GMC in particular is to be commended for its thoughtful and progressive stance and I congratulate Sir Graeme Catto and the Council for the leadership they have shown.

The proposals offer the opportunity for a lasting settlement in the relationship between society and the health professions. Many aspects will require legislation, which we will bring forward as soon as possible.

Home Department

Police Pay Review

The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Mr. Tony McNulty): On 16 November last year I announced that I had established a review of police pay arrangements and that I had asked Sir Clive Booth to undertake part one of this review, focusing on the arrangements for determining police officer pay for 2007 and reporting early in the new year. I have now received Sir Clive Booth’s report entitled “Fair Pay for Police Officers”.

I am grateful to Sir Clive for undertaking this work. Effective pay arrangements for police officers are essential for a modern police service which delivers high standards of community safety and security to the public. The report makes a number of recommendations and I shall be considering them very carefully and consulting with policing stakeholders on them. The method for determining police officer pay for 2007 will then be progressed through the Police Negotiating Board, before the Home Secretary takes his final decision.

I have today placed a copy of Sir Clive Booth’s report in the House of Commons Library.

The second part of the review will begin shortly. This part of the review will review the effectiveness of the negotiating machinery for the police and make recommendations for how police pay and other conditions of service should be determined. This will include consideration of the option of a pay review body and the impact of any
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proposal for determining police officer pay on the negotiation machinery. I have asked Sir Clive Booth to undertake this part of the review also and am pleased to announce that he has accepted. Sir Clive will report to me in the autumn of this year.

Trade and Industry

EU Energy Council, Brussels 15 February 2007

The Minister for Science and Innovation (Malcolm Wicks): Lord Truscott represented the UK at the Extraordinary Energy Council in Brussels on 15 February, at which Energy Ministers agreed Conclusions on a contribution to the Spring European Council on 8-9 March. Alastair Darling represented the UK at the pre-Council dinner that had established the basis for the agreed Conclusions.

Discussion at the Council focused on effective unbundling of gas and electricity network operators, in the context of the development of the single gas and electricity market; and on targets for renewable energy and biofuels.

On unbundling, Commissioners Piebalgs and Kroes set out the case for full ownership unbundling. For the UK, Lord Truscott underlined that effective separation of networks from supply activities would be crucial in creating a functioning single market that provided incentives for new investment.

Following a debate, Ministers agreed Council conclusions that gave the Commission a mandate to bring forward proposals for effective separation of supply and production activities from network operations, based on independent and adequately regulated network operation systems and on equal and open access to infrastructure. This was a good outcome for the UK.

On renewable energy, the Commission pressed for a mandatory target for renewable energy (electricity generation, heating and cooling, and biofuels) and the Presidency for a binding target for biofuels. However, there was strong opposition to binding targets from many member states. For the UK, Lord Truscott, in emphasising the importance of the overall strategic objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, noted that all low-carbon technologies—including renewables, carbon capture and storage, and nuclear energy—could contribute to this objective. Member states should have flexibility to develop and deploy them in a way suited to their national circumstances. The UK underlined the need to ensure that the target agreed was credible and realistic, and would lead to sustainable production, as well as being affordable and technically feasible. The Conclusions reflected the majority of member states’ opposition to binding targets. The text endorsed a 20 per. cent target of renewable energies in overall EU energy consumption by 2020 without specifying if the target should be binding. Differentiated national targets were to be derived from this EU target, taking into consideration individual circumstances, starting points and potentials. A 10 per cent. binding minimum target to be achieved by all member states for the share of biofuels in overall EU transport petrol and diesel consumption by 2020 was agreed, with the binding element being subject to production being sustainable, second generation
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biofuels becoming commercially available and adequate levels of blending being possible. The Commission, having argued strongly for a binding renewable energy target, explicitly reserved its position on the lack of this commitment in the Conclusions.

In discussion of the Commission's forthcoming Strategic Energy Technology Plan, many member states took the opportunity to draw attention to technologies of particular interest to them.

The Conclusions go forward to the Spring European Council with agreement on most of the energy elements clearly settled. The Presidency will use the Conclusions to draw up the Energy Action Plan, which will be attached to the European Council conclusions. The Environment Council on 20 February will have considered the greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets not dealt with in the energy text as well as other energy relevant issues that were.

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A copy of the full Conclusions is in the Libraries of both Houses.

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