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Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Travel Advice

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Meg Munn): Travel Advice is one of the most important public services which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office delivers. We provide Travel Advice notices for 218 countries and territories based on the most accurate and up-to-date information available to us. With the constant growth in international travel, more people are using FCO Travel Advice. In 2006, the FCO Travel Advice website received, on average, 150,000 visitors a week and our call centre handled 62,700 telephone enquiries over the course of the year.

Travel Advice is designed to help British travellers to make informed decisions about travelling abroad and it is therefore kept under regular review to ensure that the information it provides remains of the highest quality.

Following feedback from British travellers and tour operators about Travel Advice, we have identified areas where we could improve the language we use to explain the nature of the terrorist threat. The principles of FCO Travel Advice, as agreed in the 2004 Review (Command Paper 6158), in relation to the threat from terrorism, remain unchanged. It will continue to draw on intelligence assessments, open source and media reporting, the local knowledge of our overseas posts and their diplomatic reporting. We are now introducing four generic threat descriptors, intended to clarify the scale of the terrorist threat to the travelling public. Drawing from our experience of what our customers need from Travel Advice, we consider that these descriptions are the most helpful to the travelling public given the innate difficulty of describing the threat from terrorism. The descriptors, as agreed with the travel industry and other stakeholders, are:

Our Travel Advice will continue to reflect the best judgements we can make at the time, though, as we have seen in the UK, it is possible for attacks to take place without prior warning. I believe that these changes will improve our Travel Advice to give effective information to help British travellers make informed decisions about their travel plans and personal security overseas.

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VFS Online (Independent Investigation)

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): The report of the independent investigation into the breach of data security in the VFS online UK visa application facility, operated through VFS websites in India, Nigeria and Russia has been laid before Parliament today, together with the Government's response. It is also available on UKvisas' website at

I record my appreciation for the independent investigator's prompt, full and thorough investigation. I am satisfied that the facts have been correctly established and that the conclusions are sound. Our priority has been to understand what happened in this case so that UKvisas and their partners can learn important lessons. The report enables them to do so. I can accept all the recommendations.

I note the independent investigator's finding that, despite vulnerabilities in the commercial partner's online application facilities from their launch in 2005 until they were closed in May 2007, there is no evidence that data from VFS websites in India, Nigeria and Russia has been misused or visas wrongly issued. The websites in question will remain closed.

I am publishing with the report my response to the investigator's recommendations. The investigator has found that since May 2007 VFS and UKvisas have taken the issue seriously and applied significant resources to identifying weaknesses and putting into place improved skills and oversight. I shall ensure a continuation of this joint effort in line with the investigator's findings.

I welcome the investigator's finding that the global contracts recently concluded with two commercial partners have improved consistency in the partnership programme and are more detailed in their scope. They provide a sound basis for full implementation of the Investigator's recommendations. UKvisas will take all necessary steps to ensure the new contracts are implemented rigorously in partnership with VFS and CSC, to the benefit of the effectiveness and efficiency of the visa process.

Home Department

Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): I am today laying before Parliament, with the Comptroller and Auditor General, the annual report and accounts for 2006-07 for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. It is being laid before the Scottish Parliament by the Scottish Ministers simultaneously.

The annual report and accounts describes the activities of the authority in paying financial compensation to victims of violent crime, under the terms of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Act 1995.

The accounts estimate the final settlement value of cases in progress and the predicted value of applications which have not yet been received in respect of crimes
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that have already occurred. As a result, the balance sheet at 31 March 2007 shows net liabilities of £1,187 million.

In 2006-07 the authority received 60,861 applications for compensation and resolved 59,096. The number of cases outstanding at 31 March 2007 was 87,543. The proportion of cases decided within 12 months was 62.9 per cent.

Independent Police Complaints Commission

The Minister of State, Home Department (Mr. Liam Byrne): I wish to inform the House that I am publishing today a consultation document on the implementation of measures in the Police and Justice Act 2006 extending the Independent Police Complaints Commission’s jurisdiction to cover the Border and Immigration Agency’s enforcement functions. Copies of this consultation document have been placed in the House Library.

We have embarked upon an ambitious programme of reform of the Border and Immigration Agency to improve the effectiveness of our immigration controls. Change in three key areas will make a substantial difference to the organisation’s performance. Establishing the Border and Immigration Agency as an executive agency will provide greater autonomy to deliver effective immigration controls within a policy framework agreed by Ministers. The new regional structure, more responsive to local communities, will keep the public in touch with how the agency is performing in their particular region. The introduction of tougher, independent oversight and accountability to Parliament and the public will ensure we build confidence in the new system moving forward. All are of equal importance in helping us secure the objectives of the immigration enforcement strategy published in March.

The IPCC will support these reforms by providing independent oversight of the most serious incidents and complaints and an assurance that agency staff will be held accountable to an independent organisation. This oversight will be in line with that which the IPCC provides for the police and other law enforcement bodies. While the new chief inspector created by the UK Borders Bill will monitor the effectiveness of the agency as a whole, the IPCC will provide expert, independent oversight on the actions of enforcement staff in individual cases. The consultation paper sets out the proposed content of the regulations detailing the exact remit of the IPCC and invites comments which will inform the final version.

The consultation period ends on 17 October 2007. We will then report on the results of the consultation and our proposed course of action.


The Minister of State, Home Department (Mr. Liam Byrne): The UKvisas annual report for 2006-207 will be published on 8 August and I will place copies in the Libraries of both Houses. The report will also be made available on the UKvisas website.

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Child Care Proceedings System

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): In agreement with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Children, Schools and Families, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan), and the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services in the Welsh Assembly Government (Gwenda Thomas), I am pleased to be able to inform the House of the progress we are making towards improving the child care proceedings system in England and Wales.

The Government set out the strategy for all children in England in the consultation paper “Every Child Matters: Change for Children”, published in September 2003. In this paper, we identified five key outcomes for children, which are universal ambitions for all children, whatever their background or circumstances. Our aim is for every child to be healthy; to stay safe; to enjoy and achieve; to make a positive contribution; and, to achieve economic well-being. In Wales, “Rights to Action”, published in April 2004, set out policies within the framework of seven outcome based aims founded on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. We believe that the outcomes set out in these policies are particularly important in the case of children that are the subject of care proceedings.

We know that more can and must be done to improve the child care proceedings system, and contribute to better and more positive outcomes for children. Currently, a care or supervision application takes an average of 51 weeks in Care Centres and 42 weeks in Family Proceedings Courts from the time of application to the point of disposal. Many cases take much longer. We believe that there is much that can be done to reduce this period of uncertainty in the lives of these children and their families.

Recognising this, the former Department for Constitutional Affairs and the former Department for Education and Skills, with input from the Welsh Assembly Government and a wide range of stakeholders, jointly undertook a review of child care proceedings and the findings were published in May 2006. The Review of the child care proceedings system in England and Wales set out a number of proposals to improve the child care proceedings system. Implementing the immediate recommendations of the Review is a key priority for both our Departments and I am pleased to announce a detailed timetable relating to two of the key recommendations of the Review.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families in England and the Welsh Assembly Government in Wales are consulting on proposals to issue revised statutory guidance to local authorities under section 7 of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970. The consultation commenced in England on 29 June 2007 and will last for 13 weeks. The revised statutory guidance will be published in England in November 2007. In Wales, the guidance will be issued to all local authorities shortly for consultation to broadly similar timescales. The revision to the guidance will put greater emphasis on the work undertaken by local authorities before care proceedings
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can be commenced. In particular, they will be required to notify parents of their intention to make an application to the court and to set out the basis of their concerns and an outline of their future plans for the child. On receipt of this, parents will be able to have immediate access to publicly funded legal help from a solicitor, funded by the Legal Services Commission.

In conjunction with the Judicial Office for England and Wales, the Ministry of Justice is consulting stakeholders during summer 2007 on a revision of the Protocol for Judicial Case Management in Public Law Children Act Cases, to be entitled the Public Law Outline. Testing of the Outline in 10 centres from June 2007 will be followed by implementation in England and Wales from April 2008. The Outline will underpin the revised statutory guidance by promoting compliance with the pre-proceedings requirements. It will be contained in a Practice Direction from the President of the Family Division, to be issued with the concurrence of the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor. The Practice Direction will prescribe and timetable the steps to be taken by parties, and the directions to be made by the court for the timely disposal of care applications.

Juvenile Secure Settings ( Restraint Methods)

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. David Hanson): I announced a review of restraint in juvenile secure settings to the House on 12 July 2007, Official Report, column 1714 - 1722. The Ministry of Justice and the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) have joint responsibility for the review. My right hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Beverley Hughes) will be the lead Minister for DCSF.

My right hon. Friend and I are in the process of appointing an independent Chair to lead the review and a further announcement in relation to this will be made as soon as possible.

The broad terms of reference for the review are as follows:

It will review and make recommendations to Ministers upon:

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Cabinet Office

Civil Service Pension Reform

The Minister for the East Midlands (Gillian Merron): I am today laying before Parliament, under the provisions of the Superannuation Act 1972, two amendment schemes. The civil service unions have been involved throughout and confirm their agreement to the scheme amendments. The first of these amends the rules of the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme (PCSPS) and introduces new provisions for those joining the pension scheme on or after 30 July 2007. The second amendment scheme makes consequential changes to the civil service compensation scheme. These amendments are the first step in implementing a major package of reform which builds on earlier changes modernising the civil service pension arrangements and announced by the then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, South (Mr. Alexander) on 22 July 2002, Official Report, column 728W. I will bring forward further amendments in due course to complete the implementation of these reforms.

The package of reform that I am announcing today is in line with the agreement reached between the Government and the public sector unions in the Public Services Forum (“PSF”) in October 2005. The Government's aim is to continue to provide their staff—both existing and new—with good quality, defined benefit, index-linked pension provision delivered in a sustainable way. The Government seek to achieve this by delivering a range of measures intended to both reduce civil service pension costs by £2.1 billion over 50 years, on the basis of the assumptions made at the time of the PSF, and control unplanned cost growth.

New entrants

Pension terms for new entrants from 30 July 2007 will undergo radical change, with pensions calculated by reference to pensionable earnings throughout the career rather than “final salary”. We believe that this change will produce a fairer outcome for the workforce generally, particularly for those who have relatively short or broken civil service careers and for those who wish to move to less demanding employment as part of their transition from work to retirement. This new whole career option will be known as the nuvos scheme and, in common with the existing premium scheme, will have a member contribution rate of 3.5 per cent, of pensionable pay. Members will be able to retire and draw benefits at any age from 55 to 75, with benefits drawn before age 65 reduced for early payment and those drawn after 65 increased for late payment. Members will have access to options to help them tailor
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the scheme to meet their personal requirements. These include the ability for members to purchase added pension for self or for self plus dependants, to give up pension in exchange for a lump sum and to give up pension in exchange for additional benefits for dependants. The nuvos scheme will also offer a range of other benefits including ill-health retirement pensions and benefits for dependants following the member's death. To facilitate mobility among the public services the PCSPS belongs to the Public Sector Transfer Club; the future service of staff transferring in from public service schemes continuing to operate final salary pension schemes will be pensioned on the whole career basis but the service transferred will continue to provide benefits on a final salary basis. A similar approach will apply to the frozen final salary benefits of civil servants returning after resigning to broaden their careers.

New entrants who prefer a stakeholder pension with an employer contribution will continue to have the option of a partnership pension account.

Current staff

The Government recognise the importance that current staff place on retaining their existing pension scheme. Current staff (including many of those who resign and return to work after a break of no more than five years) will therefore continue to have pensions calculated on a “final salary” basis and will be able to draw an unreduced pension on retirement at or after age 60. These terms will continue broadly as now, subject to the following changes:

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