13 Jan 2011 : Column 21WS

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 13 January 2011

Business, Innovation and Skills

Default Retirement Age

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Edward Davey): The Government confirm that they will remove the default retirement age (DRA) so that people have more choice when to stop working. Currently the DRA enables employers to make staff retire at 65 regardless of their circumstances, but we believe that the rules must change as people are living longer, healthier lives.

Ministers have decided to proceed with the plan, set out in their consultation document published on 29 July, to phase out the DRA between 6 April and 1 October 2011. The Government's written response to the consultation on the issue is being published today, alongside new guidance to help businesses adapt.

The Government will help employers adapt to the change. Steps we are taking include:

Transitional arrangements are being put in place so that, from 6 April 2011, employers will not be able to issue any notifications for compulsory retirement using the DRA procedure. Between 6 April and 1 October, only people who were notified before 6 April, and whose retirement date is before 1 October can be compulsorily retired using the DRA. After 1 October, employers will not be able to use the DRA to compulsorily retire employees.

Although we are removing the DRA, it will still be possible for individual employers to operate a compulsory retirement age, provided that they can objectively justify it.

The measure is one of the steps we are taking to help encourage people to work for longer against the backdrop of demographic change. Others include raising the state pension age to 66 faster than currently scheduled and re-establishing the link between earnings and the basic state pension.

13 Jan 2011 : Column 22WS

Communities and Local Government

Fire and Rescue Control Services (England)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Robert Neill): Today the Government are publishing a consultation on the future of fire and rescue control services in England. This follows the closure of the FiReControl project, announced in my statement to the House of 20 December 2010, Official Report, columns 141-42WS.

Local fire and rescue authorities have a statutory duty to answer emergency calls and mobilise resources. They have continued to fulfil this duty, and have been funded to do so, during the lifetime of the project and, consequently, the closure of the project poses no risk to public safety.

This Government believe that the fire and rescue community is best placed to decide the future of their control services. No solution will be imposed. The consultation reviews the legacy assets from the project, as well as lessons learnt, and encourages the sector to make best use of these in their future plans, for the benefit of both the taxpayer and local communities.

The consultation discusses whether the original aims of the project-improving efficiency, national resilience and the technology available to fire and rescue services-are still valid and, if so, how they might be achieved now. It also considers the principles on which available funding should be distributed. The role of central government, if any, is also considered.

A copy of the consultation document is available on the Department for Communities and Local Government website. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Responses are requested by 8 April 2011.

Home Department

Forensic Science Regulator

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Brokenshire): I am today announcing the arrangements I have put in place to continue the post of forensic science regulator. The post was first announced in July 2007 following which Mr Andrew Rennison was appointed in February 2008 on a three-year term. His role is to advise Government and the criminal justice system on quality standards in the provision of forensic science. This involves identifying the requirement for new or improved quality standards; providing advice and guidance so that providers, including commercial laboratories and the police, will be able to demonstrate compliance with common standards; and ensuring that satisfactory arrangements exist to provide assurance and monitoring of the standards.

I am pleased to say that Andrew Rennison has agreed to a second term as the forensic science regulator, assisting us in our commitment to the continued provision of effective forensic science services. He has plans to work with stakeholders to develop and maintain the quality of forensic science services across all forensic processes from the supply of equipment used at crime scenes, the examination of scenes, the collection and storage of exhibits, the sampling from and analysis of exhibits, and the reporting of forensic science evidence.

13 Jan 2011 : Column 23WS

An important aspect of this work is to ensure that quality standards for forensic science continue to be regulated and that the forensic science regulator plays a central and independent role in co-ordinated work with the Home Office, the police and other stakeholders.


Prison Capacity Management

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Kenneth Clarke): We are continuing to expand the prison estate and construction of new prisons is under way at Belmarsh West and Featherstone 2. The prison population has been growing but has not grown as fast as previously projected. As a result there is scope to reduce overall capacity. We are committed to accommodate all those sentenced to custody by the courts and the decisions of the courts will determine the future level of the prison population and capacity.

I am therefore announcing plans to close two prisons and change the use of a third to an immigration removal centre holding immigration detainees on behalf of the UK Border Agency (UKBA).

The conditions at HMP Lancaster Castle and HMP Ashwell are well known. HMP Lancaster Castle is housed in a medieval castle and while staff at the establishment have done an admirable job and must be commended, the building places severe limitations and restrictions on their ability to deliver the requirements of a modern prison service. Two thirds of the accommodation at HMP Ashwell is out of use, and the estimated refurbishment costs mean that it would not be financially viable to rebuild the site to the standards required.

HMP Lancaster Castle and HMP Ashwell will therefore close. A range of options for staff at these sites is being developed, including redeployment to neighbouring establishments and a voluntary exit scheme. Prisoners will be moved to other establishments appropriate to their security category

A third prison, HMP Morton Hall, will close and then reopen as an immigration removal centre, holding immigration detainees on behalf of UKBA. The prison will continue to be managed by the National Offender Management Service but under the terms of a service level agreement with UKBA. The women who are currently held in HMP Morton Hall will be moved to other sites within the estate. These moves will be managed carefully by NOMS to ensure that they are completed safely.

Work to effect these changes will start immediately.

The changes outlined in this statement will reduce our current capacity by 849 places. This can be safely managed within existing operational capacity, while maintaining our ability to cope with any increase in population. On Friday 7 January the prison population stood at 82,991 with useable operational capacity at 87,936.

We remain committed to hold those offenders sentenced to custody by the courts but we cannot afford to maintain inefficient and costly places that are not actually required given the capacity now available within the prison estate as a whole. These changes are an important step in our
13 Jan 2011 : Column 24WS
strategy to provide a secure and modern, fit for purpose prison estate, while improving efficiency and value for money.

Leader of the House

Parliament (Joint Departments) Act 2007

The Leader of the House of Commons (Sir George Young): I am today publishing Cm 7998 "Post-Legislative Assessment of the Parliament (Joint Departments) Act 2007" as part of the post-legislative scrutiny process detailed in the document "Post-legislative Scrutiny-The Government's Approach" (Cm 7320).

The Parliament (Joint Department) Act 2007 was intended to create a framework for the employment of staff in Joint Departments of both Houses of Parliament, bearing in mind that neither the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978 nor the Parliamentary Corporate Bodies Act 1992 made such provision.

The legislation was designed to facilitate the creation of PICT (Parliamentary Information and Communications Technology) as the first such Joint Department, but also to put in place an enabling mechanism for the future. There was no specific intention that there should be more Joint Departments, but the issue remains under review while the Administration of both Houses consider ways in which resources might be used more economically.

Having consulted officials in both Houses and Parliamentary Counsel, I have assessed that the Act has worked well to date and no difficulties have arisen that were not anticipated and dealt with in the drafting.


Part 3 of the Equality Act (Ships and Hovercraft)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mike Penning): I am today publishing a consultation document which sets out the Government's proposals for implementing part 3 of the Equality Act 2010 in respect of ships and hovercraft.

Part 3 of the Equality Act 2010 deals with discrimination, victimisation and harassment in the provision of services and the exercise of public functions. Bringing clarity and uniformity to anti-discrimination legislation as it applies to transporting people by ship or hovercraft and a service provided on such vessels is necessary as the scope and the territorial application of such legislation is far from clear. People receiving services onboard ships and hovercraft should, as far as it is reasonable to do so, have the same protection as they would on land.

Nevertheless, discrimination onboard ships and hovercraft is not reported as being a significant problem. So the intended policy approach is to maintain, as far as it is reasonable to do so, the protection which already exists against both direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation but to make the scope and extent of the legislation much simpler and clearer. Anti-discrimination legislation, in respect of the protected characteristic of disability, will however be strengthened in relation to ships and hovercraft when the EU regulation on the rights of passengers travelling by sea and inland waterway comes into force in the UK.

13 Jan 2011 : Column 25WS

This consultation will assist Government in determining how part 3 is to apply to ships and hovercraft in relation to the actual service of transporting people and the provision of services onboard such vessels as well as those matters relating to performance of a public function in so far as it relates to disability discrimination.

The Government seek interested parties' views on the proposals. The consultation document and the impact assessment are available on the Department for Transport's website. Copies of these documents have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Work and Pensions

Child Maintenance

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Miller): I am pleased to announce today the publication of "Strengthening families, promoting parental responsibility: the future of child maintenance". This Green Paper sets out our vision to empower and enable parents to take responsibility for the welfare of their children through reform of the child maintenance system. We recognise that for families, parental separation is an emotional time. The existing system, courts and maintenance, can lead to entrenched division at a time when parents, more than ever, need to come together to put the welfare of their children first. The present system can make it difficult to come to agreements on
13 Jan 2011 : Column 26WS
some of the practical and important issues such as financial support for children. This reform is focused on better support for families to enable them to more easily reach their own family-based arrangements.

It can be difficult for separating families to navigate the support available to them during and after separation. There is no obvious path for families to follow especially around issues of money. We will work with other Government Departments and service providers to put in place a more integrated path.

We believe families should be supported to come to their own arrangements and feel empowered to make fully informed choices. The Green Paper sets out our proposed reform of the statutory system based on these principles and building on the reforms outlined in the Henshaw report.

The proposed reform continues the plan to introduce a new, more efficient, statutory child maintenance system, develops the ideas in the Henshaw review and the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008 to charge for the services provided by the future statutory service after it is introduced and also includes implementation of a gateway to access the statutory system. The reforms recognise that the most vulnerable parents will need special support and consideration, particularly those who have suffered domestic violence.

We believe our proposals can deliver major benefits though supporting parents to come to their own family-based arrangements or for those who choose the new statutory system.

I welcome your contribution to this important piece of reform to the child maintenance system.

    Index Home Page