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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 24 July 2007

Cabinet Office

National School of Government

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Gillian Merron): The 2006-07 annual report and accounts for the National School of Government was laid before Parliament today. The report will be placed in the Library of the House for the reference of Members and copies will be made available in the Vote Office.

“The Future Role of the Third Sector in Social and Economic Regeneration: Final Report”

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Edward Miliband): The Government are today publishing the final report of the review of the future role of the third sector in social and economic regeneration. This review was announced in Budget 2006 and forms part of the analysis for the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review.

This final report marks the end of the largest consultation the Government has conducted with the third sector and sets out a new framework for the Government's partnership with the third sector.

The final report of the third sector review signals the Government's commitment to continue to work in partnership with the third sector, particularly in four key areas - enabling voice and campaigning, strengthening communities, transforming public services and encouraging social enterprise. Under these themes, the Government will continue a number of important policies and programmes. These include continuing to strengthen the implementation of the Compact, further funding for the youth volunteering charity, v, investment in capacity building and further support for organisations involved in the delivery of public services.

However, this strategy also sets out important developments in the Government's approach. In addition to a number of specific measures, such as greater support for grant funding of small organisations, a new skills strategy and a new drive to improve the third sector evidence base, the Government will over the next 10 years develop their partnership with the sector by:

In addition to the publication of this report, the Government are announcing today the creation of a Council on Social Action. The Council will generate ideas and develop initiatives to promote social action.

Copies of “The future role of the third sector in social and economic regeneration: final report” have been placed in the Library for the reference of Members and will be available in the Vote Office.

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Basra International Airport

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): The Ministry of Defence, through Multi-National Division - South East (MND-SE) personnel, has supported the Iraqi authorities since 2004 in the commercialisation of Basra International Airport. Our support to commercial operations at the airport remains vital. The airport is an important element of the infrastructure of southern Iraq and is playing a key part in the economic regeneration of the country and the Basra region in particular.

The nature of our support has been through the provision of the following services:

Our potential contingent liability for this support was first notified to Parliament through a departmental minute dated 2 December 2004. Since then we have been able to make progress in preparing the Iraqis to take on full responsibility for commercial flight operations. From January this year the Iraqis took responsibility for Fire and Crash Rescue services, and the airport will soon benefit from the new airfield lighting and communication systems that will enable 24-hour commercial flight movements.

MND-SE personnel have, however, recently reassumed Air Traffic Control responsibility for commercial flight services. This, theoretically, increases the Ministry of Defence's exposure to the risk of a third party claim in the unlikely event of an aviation accident and, thereby, our potential contingent liability. We are confident, however, that the probability of this liability arising is very low given that the use of professional RAF controllers will substantially reduce the likelihood of an incident occurring.

The potential contingent liability is unquantifiable and would be dependent on circumstances. The Ministry of Defence now holds responsibility for this liability. The Treasury will continue to consider any claim against the Reserve, made by the Department in the usual manner.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (State Visit)

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al Saud of Saudi Arabia, has been invited to pay a State Visit to the United Kingdom from 30 October to 1 November 2007. The visit will further strengthen the good relations which exist between the United Kingdom and The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This visit will build on our shared history of partnership, and close ties in culture, sport and education, as we work together to tackle the common challenges all countries face in a globalised world.

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Strategic Arms Controls

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): The 2006 Annual Report on Strategic Export Controls will be published at 11.00 today as a Command Paper. Copies will be placed in both Libraries of the House. The Report describes UK policy and international developments in export control regimes, as well as information on export licensing decisions taken during 2006.

The Annual Report on Strategic Export Controls is an innovation of this Government. This report, the 10th Annual Report (the first report was published in 1997) builds upon improvements made in last year's report. Our export licensing system is one of the most rigorous and transparent regimes in the world and the Annual Report—in this improved format—symbolises our continued commitment to accountability and transparency by presenting detailed information in a more modern and user-friendly format.

Since 2004 the Government have also produced detailed Quarterly Reports which are made available on the Internet—ensuring that the UK provides some of the most open and timely export licensing information available anywhere in the world. This year, the data from the Quarterly Reports have been consolidated into one document on the CD-ROM that accompanies the Annual Report, to make it easier to navigate. Information on licence refusals and fuller information on trade control (trafficking and brokering) licences issued during 2006 is also included, as well as details on the EU Torture Regulation which is included for the first time. This year we have also included three case-study examples of policy analysis of our decisions on licences for embargoed destinations.

The complete Report will be made available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website and will be published through the Stationery Office.

Prospects for the European Union

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): I will today lay before the House the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Command Paper on Prospects for the European Union in 2007. Copies will be placed in the Library of the House. Additional copies can also be obtained from the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. A copy will also be available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website www.fco.gov.uk

The last White Paper was published in January 2007. It focused primarily on the priorities of the German Presidency. The White Paper I am laying before the House today looks at the priorities of the Portuguese Presidency for the remainder of 2007.

The Portuguese Presidency will concentrate on the EU delivery agenda across a wide range of subjects, building on the positive successes of the German Presidency. It will take forward implementation of the climate and energy package agreed at the Spring European Council in March, including a unilateral 20 per cent. reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. The Presidency will also lead preparations for the December conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bali. We will work with our partners to ensure that the EU helps secure agreement on a
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comprehensive framework to tackle climate change once the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. The Portuguese Presidency will also begin discussions on the Commission's proposals for an open, competitive market in gas and electricity.

The Portuguese Presidency will lead Council discussion on the Commission's review of the Single Market, as well as taking forward work on the further liberalisation of postal services, telecommunications and financial services. In addition, the Presidency will present a report on the first 10 years of the European Employment Strategy, and prepare a review of the Lisbon Agenda.

The Portuguese Presidency will take forward the implementation of the Global Approach to Migration, which will intensify partnerships between the EU and third countries of source and transit migration. The Portuguese Presidency will also host an EU-Africa summit in Lisbon in December. The Government hope that a new Joint EU-Africa Strategy will be agreed with African Union partners, covering co-operation on peace and security, governance and human rights, trade and regional integration, and development issues. The EU will also continue to work with international partners to address the challenges posed by Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East Peace Process.

In addition, the Portuguese Presidency will chair an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) to consider the Reform Treaty for the EU. The Government believe that the IGC mandate secured at the June European Council will make the EU more effective and efficient. This is in the UK's interests. The Government's approach to the IGC is set out in a separate Command Paper, on which I made a statement in the House yesterday.

Action on climate and energy security, reform of the single market, tackling migration and strengthening support for development, particularly in Africa, are important UK priorities where EU action adds real value. We look forward to working with the Portuguese Presidency over an important six months.


GP Services (Better Access)

The Secretary of State for Health (Alan Johnson): General practitioners in England are among the best in the world. A recent international survey by the Commonwealth Fund showed that the United Kingdom stands out as a clear leader in providing the right incentives for high quality care. I know from my conversations with GPs that many are aware of the need to continually improve services in response to rising public expectations.

In some places, however, patients find it difficult to get an appointment with their GP at a convenient time. For some patients, having a GP surgery that is only open when they are at work is a great inconvenience. In other cases, the ease and convenience of booking or gaining repeat prescriptions could be improved. In some areas, particularly the more deprived, there are fewer GPs and GP services than patients could rightfully expect.

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These are major challenges for the 21st century National Health Service as it seeks to improve in response to the rising expectations of patients; expectations for both convenience and quality.

The patient survey of GP services, undertaken between January and March 2007, is the largest ever survey of patients regarding the primary care services they receive. Over 2 million responses were received, giving us a major insight into patients' views of access to GP services. The survey will be used to inform the Government's longer term primary care strategy.

The survey shows that many patients report a good experience of GP services. This is a testament to the hard work and dedication of GPs, primary care nurses and other practice staff. The survey shows:

The summary report has been placed in the Library and the full results of the survey can be found at: http://www.dh.gov.uk/gppatientsurvey2007.

Practices that offer an accessible service that patients are satisfied with will now receive a payment triggered by the survey results; practices with dissatisfied patients will not. Around £100 million in GP income is linked to the survey results, providing a clear incentive for increased responsiveness.

Of those patients not satisfied with the current opening hours in their practice, 46 per cent. said they wanted the practice to open on a Saturday and 26 per cent. said they wanted the practice to open on a weekday evening.

In addition, people from minority ethnic communities, particularly Bangladeshi and black African groups, were more likely to be dissatisfied with a range of GP services than their white counterparts. There are marked differences in satisfaction between different ethnic groups:

In addition to the concerns raised in the survey, we also know that there is a persistent problem of insufficient doctors in the most deprived areas. For example, last year Barking and Dagenham had 43 GPs per 100,000 population while Northumberland Care Trust had 88; the England average is 61.

The world-class services celebrated in international surveys should be available to all patients in all communities. Good primary care services mean different things to different people and therefore services must be sensitive and responsive to patients' needs.

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Lord Darzi's NHS Next Stages Review will look at these issues in detail and make its first, interim report in October 2007, setting out the route by which the NHS of the 21st century will offer a service which meets the needs of modern patients living busy lives. However, in some areas highlighted by the survey, we can make faster progress and I am announcing five measures today to begin this process:

I expect practices with low satisfaction rates to make substantial improvements as a result of these measures. My Department has already agreed a new performance indicator with the Healthcare Commission that uses data from the patient survey. This will ensure that low-scoring PCTs who do not make the improvements that their patients want to see will have their ratings marked down.

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