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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Business, Innovation and Skills

Agency Workers Regulations 2010

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Edward Davey): The Agency Workers Regulations 2010, implementing the European Agency Workers Directive, were made by the previous Administration in January 2010 and are due to come into force in October 2011. The Government are aware of the different points of view that have been expressed by various stakeholders about certain aspects of these regulations and have been considering the way forward.

The directive sets out the principle of equal treatment-that

The default position in the directive is that this principle should apply from day one of an agency worker's assignment. However, the directive also allows member states some flexibility as to how this principle is applied, including the possibility of a qualifying period before the right to equal treatment arises, as long as this is based on an agreement reached by "national level" social partners. Such an agreement was reached by the CBI and TUC, with the support of the previous Administration, in May 2008 and provides the legal basis for the legislation subsequently put in place, including its provision for a qualifying period of 12 weeks.

Since the formation of the coalition, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and I have discussed the way forward on this issue with a wide range of stakeholders. Employers and their representatives have expressed a range of concerns regarding the regulations, arguing for amendments before their entry into force that might reduce the burden they place on business. The Secretary of State and I have both had considerable sympathy for some of the arguments we have heard, particularly proposals to simplify the definition of "pay" under the regulations (especially as far as the administration of performance-related bonuses are concerned) and the administrative requirements around the application of the qualifying period to patterns of infrequent, short-term assignments.

However, the Government's ability to make changes to address such matters is constrained by the fact that the regulations are based to a significant degree on the agreement brokered by the previous Administration between the CBI and TUC. Due to this unique legal situation, any amendments proposed to the regulations touching upon the subject matter of the CBI and TUC agreement, which did not have the agreement of those parties, would face the risk of being set aside in the courts in the event of a legal challenge.

Were that to happen, the effect could be to call into question the very foundation for the fundamentals of
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the implementing legislation, crucially including the 12-week qualifying period itself.

The Secretary of State and I have therefore discussed this matter on a number of occasions with both the CBI and the TUC, seeking agreement on changes that we consider would have improved the implementation regime, to the potential benefit of both employers and agency workers. Unfortunately it has not been possible to find a way forward that would be acceptable to both parties.

This outcome is clearly disappointing. However, the Government have taken the view that the absolute priority must be not to take any steps that could put at risk the 12-week qualifying period, which significantly mitigates the burdens the legislation will place on employers. The Government will not therefore be proceeding with any amendment of the regulations themselves. We will instead now use the time that is still available before the regulations' entry into force to develop the best possible guidance to help employers comply with their new obligations.


Defence Training

The Secretary of State for Defence (Dr Liam Fox): The defence training rationalisation project (DTR) was designed to collocate technical training on a single site at MOD St Athan in south Wales, thereby providing improved, more efficient services' aeronautical, electro-mechanical and communication and information systems specialist training and to deliver it from new facilities.

The Metrix consortium was appointed as preferred bidder in January 2007 subject to it developing an affordable and value-for-money contract proposal. Given the significance of this project and the opportunity to provide a world-class training facility, the Ministry of Defence has worked tirelessly to deliver this project. However, it is now clear that Metrix cannot deliver an affordable, commercially robust proposal within the prescribed period and it has therefore been necessary to terminate the DTR procurement and Metrix's appointment as preferred bidder.

Technical training, collocated on as few sites as possible, remains in our view the best solution for our armed forces. Equally, St Athan was previously chosen as the best location on which to collocate that training for good reasons, and we still hope to base our future defence training solution there. We will however now carry out some work before finalising the best way ahead; including to confirm both our training and estates requirement, and the best way to structure the solution that will meet them.

To ensure momentum is not lost, work on the alternative options will begin as soon as possible and we hope to be able to announce our future plans in the spring.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Veterinary Products Committee

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): I have received the annual report of the Veterinary Products Committee and its sub-committees 2009, which has been published today.

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Copies of the report have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

I am pleased to acknowledge the valuable work done by the distinguished members of the Veterinary Products Committee and its sub-committees and thank them for the time and effort dedicated in the public interest to this important work.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Court of Justice of the European Union (Greek Judge)

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): At a conference of representatives of Governments of member states on 20 October 2010 the appointment of a Greek judge to the General Court is to be considered.

The nomination is in respect of Dimitrios Gratsias.

Having consulted with the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice and the Attorney-General, I agree to the appointment.


NHS Organ Donor Register

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr Andrew Lansley): I am today publishing the report of an independent review of the NHS organ donor register (ODR) by Professor Sir Gordon Duff. The review, announced on 11 April, was prompted by an error in the recording of the donation wishes of a number of registrants.

I am extremely grateful to Sir Gordon for establishing so clearly the circumstances surrounding this serious error, for his recommendations on how to ensure it does not happen again, and for his wider review of the ODR.

Organ donation relies on the generosity of people who are willing to donate organs after their death to help change or save the lives of others. If organ donation is to help the many people in need of a transplant, it is essential that people who join the ODR have confidence that their wishes are accurately recorded. It is extremely
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regrettable that as a result of this error donation decisions were influenced by incorrect information in 25 cases. NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) has rightly apologised to the affected families. I would like to offer my condolences to the families concerned for their loss and to express gratitude to their late relative for agreeing to be a donor.

Sir Gordon's review found that the error originated in 1999 when faulty data conversion software was used by UK Transplant (now part of NHSBT) to upload data on individuals' organ donation wishes from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, when moving to a new computer system. These individuals had elected, when completing their driving licence application form, to donate some, but not all of their organs. In 25 cases the decision by the donor's relatives to agree to the donation of a particular organ was made using inaccurate information about the donor's wishes as a result of the error. Sir Gordon concluded that the error was avoidable if systematic data verification procedures had been in place in 1999.

The report provides a detailed explanation of how the error occurred, how it came to light, and why it was not uncovered sooner. It also outlines the remedial action taken by NHSBT and the actions taken to prevent a recurrence. Sir Gordon concludes that once the error was identified and brought to the attention of NHSBT's senior managers it was handled efficiently and sensitively.

Sir Gordon has also concluded that the ODR is now expected to fulfil functions for which it was not originally designed. He believes that a new interactive ODR based on 21st century technology would help to reduce the scope for human error inherent in the current system. He recommends that a new ODR should be designed and commissioned as soon as resources allow. We will discuss this recommendation with NHSBT, once it has completed its planned scoping and costing of a future operating model.

Sir Gordon has made a number of other recommendations addressed to NHSBT which are designed to ensure that the register reflects more clearly the wishes of those registered, and that confidence in the system is maintained. We look to NHSBT to consider those recommendations carefully and to respond accordingly.

Sir Gordon's report has been placed in the Library and copies are available for hon. Members in the Vote Office.

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