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In addition, the Commission will provide a written update on avian influenza and will ask Council for the swift adoption of the EU/Mauritania fisheries agreement.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Sanctions Regimes

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): The Government is committed to informing Parliament annually of the sanctions regimes which the United Kingdom implements. Currently the United Kingdom implements United Nations sanctions in relation to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, Cote d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan and terrorism.

The UK also implements sanctions regimes imposed autonomously by the EU in relation to Belarus, Burma, China, the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (in connection with individuals indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia or responsible for certain acts of violence at Mostar), the Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe.

In accordance with a decision of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the United Kingdom implements arms embargoes on Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Government also takes full account of the Economic Community of West African States moratorium on certain exports of small arms and light weapons to Economic Community of West African States members.

A full list of sanctions regimes and restrictive measures implemented by the UK is published on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website at:

Following a request from the noble Lord the right hon. Lord Wakeham during the 12 October debate on the impact of economic sanctions in another place, this document now includes objectives and lift criteria for each regime.

Presidential Visit

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): I am pleased to announce that Her Majesty the Queen has invited the President of the French Republic Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy to pay a state visit to the United Kingdom from Wednesday 26 March to Friday 28 March 2008. The visit will further reinforce the close relations which exist between the United Kingdom and the Republic of France. The annual UK-France summit will take place during the state visit.

Health

Community Hospitals

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): “Our Health, Our Care, Our Community” published in July 2006 set out our ambition for community hospitals. It announced the setting up of a £750 million capital investment programme over five years from 2006-07 to develop a new generation of community hospitals and services.


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I am announcing today funding for a further nine schemes, which are supported locally by a broad cross-section of partners and other stakeholders:

Approval is subject to clearance through the formal business case process.

The total value of these schemes is equivalent to approximately £132 million, of which £95 million will be funded from the community hospitals and services programme. Today’s announcement means that 23 schemes have now been approved which have a total value of roughly £272 million, bringing the investment from the community hospitals programme up to £190 million.

These schemes will change the face of the local NHS. They offer genuine opportunities to deliver better and more flexible primary care and community health services to local communities providing better access and integrated services closer to home.

NHS Pension Scheme Valuation

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ann Keen): The report by the Government Actuary of the valuation of the NHS pension scheme at 2004 is published today. I am placing a copy of this report in the Library of the House.

The principal purposes of the valuation are to assess the level of liability in respect of the benefits due under the NHSPS regulations, taking into account the demographic experience of the scheme since the previous valuation, and to recommend the contribution rate to be paid by the employers who participate in the scheme. This will be implemented from 1 April 2008.

The report shows that as a result of the changes to the NHS pension scheme being implemented from 1 April 2008, the recommended employer contribution rate has reduced from 15.3 per cent. of pensionable pay (that would have been required) to 14 per cent. of pensionable pay (the current contribution rate). This represents a saving of around £430 million in contributions.

Home Department

Visitors

The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Liam Byrne): I am today publishing a consultation paper on proposals to reform the visitor routes into the UK.
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This consultation fulfils the promise made in our strategy “Securing the UK Border” published in March 2007 to consult on four main categories of visitor: tourist, business, short-term student and family. Copies of the consultation document have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Over the next 12 months there will be sweeping changes to the immigration system. The points-based system will ensure that only those the UK needs will be able to come here to work, study or train and we are currently consulting on new arrangements for marriage visas, including whether to introduce an English language requirement. The time is now right to look at short-term routes into the UK.

Our visit visa system for those people wishing to travel to the UK is already changing—by next spring we will be taking everyone’s biometrics so that only the people we are sure of can come to Britain. We now want to make sure that the visitor system is robust against abuse while maintaining the UK’s position as a destination of choice for tourists.

The consultation contains a number of options to ensure that the system is fit for the 21st century. These include reducing the maximum leave available to tourists from six to three months; introducing a UK-based sponsor for visitors travelling to see family in the UK, requiring this sponsor to put up a financial deposit to guarantee that their family member will leave the UK at the end of their stay and reforming appeal rights for these visitors.

The consultation period will run for 12 weeks and the final date for responses is 7 March 2008. Once the process has concluded, and views considered, we will report on the results of the consultation and any proposed changes to the immigration rules relating to visitors.

Innovation, Universities and Skills

Skills Pledge: Management Information

The Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Mr. John Denham): I am drawing the attention of the House to a factual error of reporting in relation to the number of employers who have voluntarily made the skills pledge to support the upskilling of their employees.

On 12 December 2007 the House was informed by the Minister for Skills within Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), that the number of employees covered by the voluntary pledge was 3.1 million, based on information from the Learning and Skills Council (LSC). Incorrect figures were used in a small number of other instances in reply to Members’ questions and in another place. However, I was informed on Friday 14 December by the LSC that the correct figure is 2.3 million and that the mistake was due to a computer programming error which has now been detected and rectified. The LSC has confirmed that the number of employers making the skills pledge (630) was correct. I apologise to the House unreservedly for this inadvertent error. I am also writing to Members who were given the incorrect figure.

The LSC’s internal quality assurance processes identified this programming error. However, I have asked the LSC
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chief executive to ensure through a rigorous review of his organisation’s information and reporting systems that there is no recurrence of this problem. This review will report to me in January 2008 as part of my ongoing considerations on the future leadership and management of the skills pledge and its contribution to making the skills of the workforce world class.

Northern Ireland

Adult Male Prison Estate

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): I am publishing today a report entitled the “Options Appraisal Relating to the Long-term Accommodation Needs in the Adult Male Estate for the Northern Ireland Prison Service”.

Following a review of the Northern Ireland Prison Service efficiency programme in June 2005, the Government asked the Northern Ireland Prison Service to prepare a strategic development plan aimed at drawing up a blueprint for the long-term development of the Prison Service. The estate strategy is a fundamental part of that process and in February of this year as part of this review I commissioned the “Options Appraisal”.

I am proposing to retain the two current sites, Maghaberry and Magilligan, with an option for a third site should the prison population continue to rise.

I have decided that we will proceed with an 800-bed replacement prison for Magilligan delivered on a phased basis. The Northern Ireland Prison Service will recruit a programme manager and design team to take forward this work.

As the further detailed business case is worked up, the timing and phasing of the redevelopment at Magilligan will be informed by the availability of funding through the next spending round.

Over the next three years we will provide additional prison places in order to reduce doubling and meet shorter term population pressures. Specifically we will redevelop Mourne House at Maghaberry Prison as a 300-bed unit (240 new places), work on which has already commenced. There will be up to an additional 170 places at Magilligan including the recently opened Alpha Unit.

I have placed copies of the “Options Appraisal” in the Library of the House.

Prime Minister

Council of Europe and Western European Union

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) has been appointed as a substitute member of the United Kingdom Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Assembly of Western European Union in place of my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice).


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