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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 25 February 2010

Business, Innovation and Skills

EU Competitiveness Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Ian Lucas): The EU Competitiveness Council will take place in Brussels on 1 and 2 March and this statement covers the business to be taken at the Council. I shall represent the UK on internal market and industry issues on 1 March and Andy Lebrecht, the UK's Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU, will represent the UK on research issues on 2 March.

The main industry and internal market items on the agenda are: Council conclusions on future EU industrial policy; discussion of the Commission's Europe 2020 strategy for growth and jobs; a Council resolution on EU intellectual property rights policy; and a ministerial lunchtime discussion with Mario Monti to discuss his preliminary report on the re-launch of the EU single market.

The main research items on the agenda are: a joint Baltic sea research and development programme; a regulation on the European earth observation programme (GMES) and its initial operations 2011-13; a Council resolution on the governance of the European research area, including a new mandate for the scientific and technical research committee (CREST); Council conclusions on the European Research Council and on researcher mobility and careers issues; and discussion of the Commission's Europe 2020 strategy for growth and jobs.

The any other business items are set out below:

AOB items

a. Information from the Commission on the results of the Copenhagen conference. Implications for European industry;

b. Information from the presidency on the results of the informal Competitiveness Council on 8 and 9 February (San Sebasti√°n);

c. Information from the presidency and the Commission on standardisation activities, within and outside the EU, relating to electric vehicles;

d. Possible information from the Commission on internal market scoreboard no.20;

e. Presentation by the Commission on functioning of the internal market: implementation of the internal market information system;

f. Information from the Commission-services directive-state of play of transposition information from the Commission-ITER;

g. Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee
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of the Regions: "Mobilising private and public investment for recovery and long term structural change: developing Public Private Partnerships"-Information from the Commission: 16586/09 COMPET 496 ECOFIN 836 IND 173 MI 447 RECH 434 TRANS 469 ENER 411 ENV 836

h. Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: "A public-private partnership on the Future Internet"-Information from the Commission: 15279/09 TELECOM 227 RECH 372 IND 144 ENER 359 ENV 747 SAN 291 TRANS 432

i. Communication from the Commission-European Institute of Innovation and Technology: Update on progress

j. Information from the presidency-high-level event on information and communication technologies for energy efficiency (ICT4EE) towards a sustainable society (Brussels 23 and 24 February 2010).

The Government's main aims will be:

Children, Schools and Families

EU Education Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Mr. Iain Wright): My right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin) has made the following written ministerial statement:


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Health

Nutrition Action Plan Delivery Board

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Phil Hope): I am publishing the independent Nutrition Action Plan Delivery Board's (NAPDB) end of year report on progress by health and social care organisations in implementing the nutrition action plan to improve the nutritional care of older people in hospital and those living in care homes. I have placed copies of the report and our response to the NAPDB's findings in the Library and copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office. I am grateful to the Chair and members of the NAPDB for their work in overseeing the first year implementation of the nutrition action plan.

In completing their task, I congratulate the board on their work to raise awareness of the links between nutrition and good health, and the risks to vulnerable groups within the population, such as older people living alone. The NAPDB report adds to the evidence base to help us address the complex factors that determine malnutrition-for example, loss of appetite associated with age and/or illness, including absorption problems or the need for assistance in eating and drinking. Many of the report's conclusions and recommendations align with our policy on nutrition and programmes underway to improve health and social care services.

Home Department

Identity Commissioner

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Alan Johnson): We successfully launched the National Identity Service in Manchester on 30 November. So far over 5,000 people have been issued with identity cards and the number is continually growing. These people are already starting to see the advantages of having an identity card - using it to prove and protect their identity and for travel to Europe.


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The Identity Commissioner provides independent oversight of the National Identity Service and has already begun to look closely at the way the service is delivered. I am pleased to lay before Parliament the first annual report of the Identity Commissioner. His early impression, that the Identity and Passport Service are "doing a pretty good job", is welcome. But the Identity Commissioner is not complacent; neither am I. I endorse his priorities for scrutiny in the coming year: data-sharing; exploiting the benefit of identity cards; and the security and integrity of the technology of the National Identity Service. I look forward to seeing the result of his work in the coming months.

Since the beginning of the year, roll out of identity cards has continued to grow. On 4 January we extended eligibility to people across the North-West and since 8 February, young people aged 16 to 24 living in London have also been able to apply for an identity card. Furthermore, over 21,000 people throughout the UK have registered an interest in applying for an identity card and I have made a commitment that anyone who registers their interest through the Directgov website before 30 June will be able to apply for an identity card. Identity cards are a convenient and universal proof of age as well as a credit-card sized alternative to the passport when travelling in Europe.

Copies of the Identity Commissioner's report will be available in the Vote Office.

Justice

Parole Board Chair

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): I have reappointed Sir David Latham as chairman of the Parole Board from 25 February 2010 for a period of 12 months or until the future status of the Parole Board has been resolved following the consultation "The Future of the Parole Board".

Office for Judicial Complaints

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): With the concurrence of the Lord Chief Justice, I have published today the annual report of the Office for Judicial Complaints (OJC). The OJC provides support to the Lord Chief Justice and myself in our joint responsibility for the system of judicial complaints and discipline.

I welcome the publication of this report, the third produced by the OJC, which details the work undertaken by the OJC in the past year, and the complaints with which it has dealt.

The OJC's 2006-2007 report marked the first occasion on which comprehensive details of complaints received about judicial office holders had been made available to the public. I am pleased to note that the OJC continues to build on this foundation and believe that this report highlights the continued progress made by the OJC in delivering a high quality, effective and transparent service to all its complainants.


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The Lord Chief Justice and I are keen to ensure that the disciplinary process for judicial office holders is both transparent and accountable. As we announced in April 2009, we have agreed that, where a judicial office holder has been removed from office following disciplinary procedures, there should now be a presumption that both the identity of that judicial office holder, and the reason for their removal, should be made public. While mindful of this presumption, we will none the less continue to make decisions about disclosure on a case-by-case basis.

Where a judicial office holder has been subject to a lesser sanction than removal, this presumption does not apply, however, we will continue to give consideration to the disclosure of relevant information in cases that have attracted a high degree of interest from the public and media.

Copies of the report are available in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. Copies of the report are also available on the internet at: http://www.judicialcomplaints.gov.uk/publications/publications.htm.

Pleural Plaques

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): This ministerial statement sets out the Government's decision on the question of compensation for pleural plaques, following their consultation on the issue. A full summary of the submissions we received during that consultation will be published shortly.

On 17 October 2007 the Law Lords upheld a Court of Appeal decision that the existence of pleural plaques-small localised areas of fibrosis caused by exposure to asbestos fibres, found within the pleura of the lung-does not constitute actionable or compensatable damage. Prior to that, people had been able to bring claims for compensation for pleural plaques since the 1980s

In the light of representations made by individuals and organisations who strongly disagreed with the Law Lords' decision, and in recognition of the concerns that existed, the Government published a consultation paper on the issue which sought views on a number of options in response to the ruling, including whether to overturn the House of Lords' judgment and legislate so that pleural plaques would again be compensatable under civil law.

In total the Government received 224 responses to its consultation paper. In addition, reports were received from the chief medical officer (CMO) for England and Wales and the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) reviewing the medical evidence on pleural plaques. Very helpful further discussions have also taken place with key medical experts in relation to the medical evidence.

This has confirmed that the presence of pleural plaques is an indicator that a person has been exposed to asbestos. Given that exposure to asbestos increases the risk of developing a serious illness, a diagnosis of pleural plaques can give rise to an understandable sense of anxiety and unease. However, while the exposure to asbestos has resulted in an anatomical change, in the great majority of cases pleural plaques do not in themselves produce any significant physiological change or loss of
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lung function, and only very rarely give rise to physical symptoms. In such rare cases it is still possible for individuals to bring a civil claim for damages.

There is no available medical evidence to show that pleural plaques become malignant or lead to mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases. Current evidence indicates that it is a person's exposure to asbestos that produces any increased risk of developing a serious asbestos-related disease rather than the pleural plaques themselves.

The chief medical officer has invited the British Lung Foundation and the British Thoracic Society to develop information materials for health care professionals, and an information leaflet for people diagnosed with pleural plaques, to ensure that consistent and accurate information is provided about the condition to help allay concerns as far as possible.

On the basis of medical evidence received during the course of this review, including authoritative reports from the CMO and the IIAC, we are unable to conclude that the Law Lords' decision should be overturned at this time or that an open-ended no-fault compensation scheme should be set up. While the current medical evidence is clear that pleural plaques are a marker of exposure to asbestos, and that exposure to asbestos significantly increases the risk of asbestos-related disease, any increased risk of a person with pleural plaques developing an asbestos-related disease arises because of that person's exposure to asbestos rather than because of the plaques themselves. However, if new medical or other significant evidence were to emerge, the Government would obviously reassess the situation.

While we cannot, for the reasons outlined above, restore the previous position, we do acknowledge the unique position of those individuals who had already begun, but not resolved, a legal claim for compensation for pleural plaques at the time of the Law Lords' ruling in October 2007. Such people would have had an understandable expectation that their claim would result in compensation and many had made plans accordingly.

The Government have decided to make payments of £5,000 to individuals in this limited category under an extra-statutory scheme. The payment broadly reflects the level of compensation likely to have been received if pleural plaques had continued to be compensatable. Detailed arrangements relating to the operation of this extra-statutory scheme will be announced shortly. The scheme will apply to England and Wales, where the Ministry of Justice has responsibility for civil law. An information telephone line will be available by the end of the week and the number will be published at: www.justice.gov.uk/about/pleural-plaques.htm. The Government regard this as a unique situation and as not setting any precedent for any other circumstances where litigants may be disappointed.

A significant consequence of the House of Lords' decision has been that people diagnosed with plaques can no longer bring proceedings to establish liability for negligent exposure to asbestos. This was useful for some individuals later diagnosed with mesothelioma, as prior establishment of liability expedited their new compensation claim. This is of particular importance where conditions like mesothelioma are concerned, as patients frequently die very soon after diagnosis, leaving little time to trace records and obtain compensation. The Government believe it is imperative that steps are taken to improve the speed of payment for compensation claims for mesothelioma and other serious asbestos-related diseases.


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