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Copies of the Office of the Public Guardian framework document and business plan will be available in the Libraries of both Houses and from the website of the OPG (www.publicguardian.gov.uk) from 6 May 2008.

Transport

Draft Marine Navigation Bill

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): I am today publishing a draft Marine Navigation Bill, for public consultation and parliamentary pre-legislative scrutiny. The draft Bill contains legislative proposals to help to improve safety at sea and in our ports, to deal with wrecks if they do occur and to update the powers of the bodies responsible for maritime safety. Copies of the draft Bill, a consultation paper and other accompanying documents are available in the Libraries of both Houses and the Vote Office.

The issues dealt with in this Bill have been identified in a number of reviews, accident reports and the IMO international convention on the removal of wrecks 2007. In bringing forward this draft Bill I hope to address these issues as far as can reasonably be done.
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Any statutory safety measures need to offer a balance between excessive controls and prudent management. The changes that I am proposing in this draft Bill are not fundamental but they do represent a considered approach to the issues that have been identified and they will provide the responsible authorities with useful enhancements to their powers where necessary.

There are also measures in the draft Bill that will help to reduce costs to the shipping industry through the better management of the general lighthouse fund. When the IMO convention comes into force there will be significant improvements in our ability to recoup the costs of dealing with pollution and the aftermath of maritime accidents as it will introduce a strict liability regime and compulsory insurance for shipping operators, meaning that these costs will no longer be picked up by the authorities responsible for safety and the environment which can now happen when the operators or owners of the ship fail to accept responsibility.

The draft Bill sets out our legislative proposals to:

Publication of the draft Bill provides an important opportunity to ensure we get our proposals right through public consultation, and for Parliament to scrutinise the legislation in draft. We need to learn from and build on the diversity of experience of professionals in the ports and shipping industries and all who are concerned about the safety of shipping and the protection of the marine and coastal environment, so I encourage all interested parties to participate in the consultation process.

Work and Pensions

UN Convention on Disability Rights

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mrs. Anne McGuire): Today the Government have responded to the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its report “A Life Like Any Other? Human Rights of Adults with Learning Disabilities”, that the Government should ratify the UN convention on disability rights and the optional protocol without further delay or provide clear unambiguous details of any specific impediments to immediate ratification.


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The response makes it clear that the UK does not ratify any international treaty until it is in a position to ensure that it can implement the provisions and therefore comply with its obligations. In addition, the European Community is, for the first time, a party to an international human rights convention and this will inevitably affect the ratification timetable. Given the duty on member states to co-operate with the Community, the UK would wish to take into account the European Commission’s proposal for Community conclusion of the convention, which is still awaited.

Article 33 of the convention on disability rights is an unusual provision in UN human rights conventions. Article 33 requires states party to the convention to establish national monitoring arrangements, and the Government have wished to properly consult the equality and human rights commission and the devolved Administrations about these arrangements. These consultations are continuing.

Ratification will be in respect of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Part of this process has required the devolved Administrations and Government Departments to check their legislation, policies, practices and procedures against the convention’s provisions. This has inevitably taken some time. However, this phase of the work is now over and we are considering carefully the emerging findings. Our aim remains to ratify the convention by the end of this year.

The current position is that the Ministry of Defence has indicated that there is a need to enter a reservation in respect of service in the armed forces, consistent with the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 as amended (DDA) and Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation. Service in any of the naval, military or air forces of the Crown are excluded from the DDA’s employment provisions to preserve their combat effectiveness. The Department for Children, Schools and Families has indicated that there is a need to recognise that the general education system in the UK includes a range of provision, including mainstream and special schools which will require an interpretative declaration, and that there will also need to be a reservation in respect of disabled children whose needs are best met through specialist provision, which may be some way from their home. The Home Office has indicated that there may be a need to enter one or more reservations or declarations in respect of immigration, nationality and citizenship.

There are also a number of areas where we are continuing to explore whether there are any compatibility issues which may result in the need for an interpretative declaration or reservation. These are: measures relating to the exercise of legal capacity; aspects of mental health legislation; choice of place of residence; and cultural services (interpretive measures).

With regard to the optional protocol, the Government are aware of the importance that many disabled people and the Committee attach to this issue. The Government is carefully considering its position as part of the convention ratification process in the light of the ongoing review by the Ministry of Justice of a similar optional protocol relating to the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.


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