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Animal (Scientific Procedures) Inspectorate

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Meg Hillier): I am pleased to inform the House that I have today placed in the Library the annual report of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Inspectorate for the year 2006. This is the third annual report published by the Inspectorate.

Publication of the report honours a commitment given by the Government in response to a recommendation of the House of Lords Select Committee on Animals in Scientific Procedures in July 2002 that more information should be made available about the work of inspectorate.

The inspectorate’s third annual report published today explains what the inspectors do and how they do it, and provides details of the inspectorate’s staffing and structure, ways of working, professional background and skills, and training and development.

The report explains the inspectorate’s role in assessing, and advising Home Office Ministers and officials on, applications for personal and project licences and certificates of designation under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. It also provides details of the inspection system, through which compliance with licence authorities granted under the 1986 Act is monitored and about visiting patterns and practice and the number of visits carried out during the year.

The report explains the important role of inspectors in gathering and transmitting information on good practice and provides examples of the many events and initiatives to which the inspectorate made significant contributions during the year. In addition, this year’s report contains special features on scientific work conducted outside the laboratory setting and on poultry and also contains a report on a survey of local ethical review processes.

I commend the report to the attention of Members.

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Advisory Committee on Civil Costs

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): In September I announced that I was establishing an Advisory Committee on Civil Costs and that its chair would be Professor Stephen Nickell. I undertook to make a further announcement on the membership of the Committee and its programme of work.

The members of the Committee are Steve Brooker (National Consumer Council), Dominic Claydon (representing Association of British Insurers), Senior Costs Judge Peter Hurst, Professor Simon Roberts, District Judge Monty Trent and Fraser Whitehead (representing the Law Society). Additional members may be co-opted on to the Committee for specific issues, if appropriate. The Committee will commission research, collect data and receive submissions as required from a wide range of stakeholders to ensure that recommendations are evidence based and underpinned by economic analysis.

The first thing that I have asked the Committee to do is to provide advice to the Master of the Rolls on the guideline hourly rates for solicitors for the summary assessment of costs. The Committee will then consider any fixed recoverable costs proposed following our consultation: “The case track limits and the claims process for personal injury claims”. It will subsequently review the fast track trial costs. I will then make further decisions on the future programme of work. The Ministry of Justice will fund the Committee and provide the secretariat.

Young Black People in the Criminal Justice System

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): I am today announcing the publication of detailed operating proposals to deliver the commitments made in the Government response to the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into young black people and the criminal justice system. Details of these arrangements are contained in an action plan, copies of which have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office. The details will also be published on the Ministry of Justice website.

The Government responded to the Committee’s report on 18 October 2007 (Cm 7214), and committed to publishing detailed operating proposals for delivery of the commitments made in the main response. This statement summarises the governance structure and reporting arrangements that will drive and support delivery and enable Government to monitor and report progress on reducing the over-representation of young black people in the criminal justice system.

Ministerial Champion

I will act as the ministerial champion for this work.

Ministerial Leadership

The National Criminal Justice Board (NCJB) will provide ministerial stewardship and oversight of delivery of the action plan, reporting to the domestic affairs sub-committee on justice and crime as appropriate. Delivery of the commitments made and the associated
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work programme will be monitored, driven and reported through the Public Service Agreement (PSA) framework and existing departmental reporting arrangements. There will also be additional annual progress reports.

Official Leadership

The chief executive of the Office for Criminal Justice Reform is nominated the senior responsible owner for this work programme. Oversight at a senior official level will be provided by existing cross-Government groups with a specific focus on race issues.

External Advisory Function

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission will provide independent scrutiny and challenge functions for this work programme. In addition, a series of structured engagement events involving key commentators and community workers will be undertaken on a quarterly basis to draw on the knowledge and expertise of a wider group of individuals and organisations.

Freedom of Information Act

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. Michael Wills): Today I have deposited copies of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 - Statistics on Implementation in Central Government. Q3 - July - September 2007 in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

This is the quarterly monitoring statistics report analysing the performance of central Government in the third full year of Freedom of Information.

Preventing Deaths in Custody

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Maria Eagle): Earlier this year, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe), outlined the Government’s intention to review the forum for preventing deaths in custody as one aspect of its continued commitment to bring about real changes and improvements to reduce deaths of people being held in our custodial care, and to report on progress to the house within six months (Official Report, 16 May 2007, Column 662).

I am pleased to report that the Government’s review of the forum is nearing its conclusion. A person entirely independent of the forum—Robert Fulton, a former Home Office director—is conducting the review and Ministers anticipate that he will deliver conclusions and recommendations by the end of the year. A further announcement will be made as soon as is practicable once Ministers—including those in the Home Office and Health with responsibilities for the custodial sector beyond prisons—have considered and decided upon these recommendations. The review has broad terms of reference and is taking account of other relevant organisational models; the forum’s independence from Government; its interaction with Ministers through the ministerial round table on suicide (which I chair); its membership, powers, resources and capacity; and the forum’s collective and individual accountabilities.

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The review is making good progress. Mr Fulton, whose conclusions and recommendations will be made publicly available, has already seen a wide range of people with a close interest in this subject area and researched other relevant organisational models. I understand that he is likely to recommend substantial changes to the current arrangements with respect both to the forum and to the ministerial round table on suicide. Ministers will look at Mr Fulton’s recommendations quickly and sympathetically, with a view to strengthening the current arrangements within available resources.


Scottish Parliament (Elections)

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Des Browne): I am launching today a consultation exercise on proposals and recommendations arising from the Electoral Commission review, led by the independent expert Mr. Ron Gould, into the conduct of elections to the Scottish Parliament in May 2007. In my oral statement to the House on 23 October, when Mr. Gould published his report, I accepted immediately the five core recommendations which taken together will have a direct beneficial impact on the experience of voters at future elections to the Scottish Parliament.

I confirmed to the House in my October statement that a number of other recommendations in the report would require wide ranging consultation with outside interests, including those responsible for the administrative conduct of elections in Scotland. At the same time, I stressed the importance of engaging with voters in these matters and will be seeking through the consultation exercise to reach as many as possible by both formal and informal means.

The paper is being sent direct to all MPs with Scottish constituencies and copies have been placed in the Library of both Houses. I hope as many hon. Members as possible will take the opportunity to let me have views on the points raised for consultation as well as any other relevant comment on ways of improving, particularly for the voter, these elections.

The consultation exercise will run to early March 2008 and I hope to publish a formal response to the Gould report, taking full account of views submitted during the consultation process, shortly thereafter.

The Gould report made also a number of proposals relevant to the conduct of local authority elections in Scotland. These are a matter for the Scottish Executive to determine.

Work and Pensions

Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt): The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council was held on 5 December in Brussels. I represented the UK, except for the items on the working time directive and the agency workers directive where the UK was
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represented by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. Health, and consumer affairs issues were taken on 6 December.

The Council failed to reach an agreement on the worker mobility directive on supplementary pensions. The area of concern for other delegations was the maximum length of the period before a worker’s pension rights become unconditional. This will be taken forward by a future presidency.

There was also no agreement on the working time or temporary workers directives. The prospects for moving forward on these were discussed over lunch. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said the current working time text was a significant improvement on previous versions and whilst the UK still had some reservations, he believed that agreement was close. On agency workers, the presidency concluded—and member states agreed—that the text needed more work. The UK made it clear that it stood ready to support the presidency in future work to address outstanding issues.

The European Commission said it would consider withdrawing both directives but this suggestion was opposed by most member states including the UK. The presidency concluded that progress had been made but further in-depth discussion was needed on both directives, with the aim of an early and broad consensus.

Agreement was reached on parts of an implementing regulation for social security co-ordination Regulation 883/04, specifically on the chapters covering administration of unemployment and family benefits and the corresponding parts of an annex to the regulation.

The Council had a policy debate based on the recent Commission communication on services of general interest. I stressed, as did the majority of others that social services were important, both to individuals and more widely, and that quality was crucial. I also emphasised the need for subsidiarity and local and flexible delivery. While there was some common ground, the debate identified great diversity of situation and approach within and between member states and Ministers stressed the need for subsidiarity and exchange of experience and best practice. It was concluded that further work was needed in this area.

The Council adopted conclusions on flexicurity and endorsed a joint opinion of the Employment and Social Protection Committees on the subject. The Council also adopted conclusions and endorsed an Employment Committee opinion on future prospects for the European employment strategy in the context of the new cycle of the Lisbon strategy. The Council also adopted conclusions on active inclusion of people furthest from the labour market, women and poverty as part of the Beijing platform and on balanced roles for women and men as well as a resolution on follow-up to this year’s European Year of Equal Opportunities for All.

Slovenia outlined their priorities on employment and social policy for their forthcoming presidency starting in January, which will include “Employment of the Young”, “Equal Opportunities” and “Demography” as their three key presidency themes.

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Disability Benefits (European Court of Justice)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mrs. Anne McGuire): I notified the House on 23 October that the European Court of Justice has decided that for the purposes of European Law, three benefits—Disability Living Allowance (care component), Attendance Allowance and Carer’s Allowance—are incorrectly classified as special non-contributory benefits.

As a result of the judgment, these benefits are, in certain circumstances, exportable within the European Economic Area (EAA) and Switzerland. Customers will, of course, have to meet existing entitlement criteria to receive the benefits. Department officials met recently with officials from the European Commission to clarify the extent of the Government’s responsibilities following this judgment and discussions are continuing on this complex area of European legislation.

The Disability and Carers Service is currently preparing new guidance for staff and making arrangements to handle cases from abroad. In particular proper controls must be put in place to gather medical evidence from abroad to ensure that UK decision-makers are properly able to assess claims. We expect to provide full details on eligibility criteria on: by 5 April 2008. We anticipate that first payments could be made to eligible claimants shortly afterwards.

Ready for Work

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Peter Hain): Today I am publishing “Ready for work: full employment in our generation”, the Government’s response to the Green Paper on welfare reform published in July 2007.

“Ready for work” sets out the strategy to create a society in which as many people as possible can share in the rewards of work—rewards that go far beyond financial independence, important as that is, because work is inherently good for people of all ages: good for their health, good for families and good for communities.

Today Britain is recognised by the international community as a leader in promoting employment and tackling disadvantage in the labour market. However, there are still too many people living on benefits who could work if they were given the right support.

Our response will be to move to a new system of active rather than passive benefits.

We want to see an employment rate of 80 per cent., up from the current baseline of 74.5 per cent., putting full employment at the heart of our anti-poverty strategy and enabling Britain to seize the opportunities afforded by a dynamic global economy.

In a new and radical approach, we will therefore increasingly look to move people from being spectators on the margins isolated at home—as recipients of passive benefits—to becoming participants, actively seeking and preparing for work with access to training and job-focused activity.

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And we want to ensure that benefit claimants can train and improve their skills so that they are not only helped into jobs but also helped to stay and progress in work.

Currently benefit rules prevent JSA customers from studying full time for more than 16 hours per week, for more than two weeks per year. We will reform this. As I announced in November we will put in place the funding arrangements to ensure that JSA customers who would benefit from longer term, full time intensive and employment focused training would have the opportunity to do so by moving to a training allowance.

We will also remove the ‘16-hour rule’ in housing benefit completely for short-term recipients of incapacity benefit so that they, like long-term claimants, will always be able to take up training to enable them to return to work.

Lone parents who can work will be required to actively seek work once their youngest child is 12 or over from October 2008, 10 or over from 2009 and seven or over from 2010, supported by a flexible system of pre-work preparation and in-work support, and by the £21 billion we have invested in childcare since 1997.

Incapacity benefits for new claimants will go, replaced by employment and support allowance with the emphasis on what a person with a physical or mental health condition can do rather than cannot.

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