4 Mar 2011 : Column 47WS

4 Mar 2011 : Column 47WS

Written Ministerial Statements

Friday 4 March 2011

Deputy Prime Minister

Political and Constitutional Reform Committee's Report (Government Response)

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Mark Harper): The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee published its report on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill on 7 October 2010. I am pleased to inform the House that I have today laid the Government’s response to the Committee’s report as a Command Paper (Cm 7997). Copies are available in the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Single Payment Scheme

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): In my statement of 16 December, Official Report, column 120-21 WS, I promised to keep the House informed of the Rural Payments Agency’s (RPA) progress towards its 2010 single payment scheme (SPS) payment targets set by the previous Government.

The first target, to make payments to 85% of eligible claimants by the end of December 2010, was met with 85.5% of the eligible population paid at that date. The second target is to pay 95% of the total value of eligible payments by the end of March 2011. As I made clear in my earlier statements, this target is particularly challenging given the legacy of system and data problems that need to be corrected before accurate payments can be made.

The previous years’ achievement of targets has been at the expense of accuracy resulting in EU fines (disallowance) and a massive backlog of cases where it is believed overpayments or underpayments have been made.

The RPA oversight board which I chair decided that this state of affairs could not continue. It therefore decided to ensure the RPA makes full use of all options open to us to reduce the backlog of error cases by not pursuing those where the farmer could not reasonably have been expected to identify an error. Nevertheless there remains a substantial backlog of cases which need to be reviewed for potential errors. The board also set a priority to ensure that this year’s payments are accurate so that a line can be drawn under past failures and farmers will know their precise entitlements going forward.

Given the complexity of the existing systems and the inadequacy of the IT systems, speeding up payments is not simply a matter of increasing resources. In the last

4 Mar 2011 : Column 48WS

six months some 140 “fixes” have been made to the IT system which now allows us to be more confident in the accuracy, but does not significantly speed up the process.

The consequence of that, I regret to inform the House, is that the RPA will not achieve the target of paying 95% of claims by value by 31 March 2011. The estimated figure will be nearer to 90%.

We are therefore looking at the possibility of making manually validated payments to those who would otherwise be unlikely to be paid on the system before 30 June. However we need first to ensure that such payments would meet the required standard of accuracy in order to avoid further EU fines (disallowance).

I am very conscious that for many, if not all, farmers the further potential delays could involve considerable hardship or costs. We already make manual payments to hardship cases referred to us by farming charities and representative bodies. However if the RPA is finally to put the legacy of chaos, errors and disallowances behind it we need to ensure that payments made this year are based on accurate data so that we can move forward.

I met with the RPA chief executive and farming industry representatives to discuss this earlier this week. The representatives were told of the situation and have asked us to give urgent consideration to making partial payments to those farmers who are not likely to be paid soon. I have undertaken to examine this option and will continue to keep the House informed.

Health

Learning Disabilities (Government Support)

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Paul Burstow): I am today making a number of announcements confirming continued Government support to help improve the health and lives of people with learning disabilities.

The Department has today decided to extend its existing contract with the University of Bristol Norah Fry research centre (Norah Fry) for a further two years to March 2013 to carry out a time-limited confidential inquiry into premature and avoidable deaths of people with learning disabilities.

In parallel, I can confirm the Department has decided to continue to support for a further two years to March 2013 the provision of a time-limited public health observatory (PHO) service in relation to the health and health care needs of people with learning disabilities. This service is currently hosted by the North-East Public Health Observatory (NEPHO).

I am writing separately to the project teams at Norah Fry and NEPHO to confirm the extension of their work with the Department, and the funding arrangements going forward, so they can plan accordingly.

I can also confirm I wrote separately on Monday 21 February 2011 to the chairs of the National Forum of People with Learning Difficulties, and the National Valuing Families Forum, to confirm continued funding by the Department for their work in 2011-12.

In addition, I can advise that the Department published on 1 March 2011 an updated version of its handbook “Positive Practice Positive Outcomes: A Handbook for

4 Mar 2011 : Column 49WS

Professionals in the Criminal Justice System working with Learning Disabled Offenders”. The handbook originally dates from 2007 and now reflects recent developments in the field. The handbook has been placed in the Library. Copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.

The Department is also preparing publication later this month of a suite of practical tools and materials that will help local authorities and other partners drive employment for people with learning disabilities.

All of this demonstrates the Government’s ongoing commitment to maintain momentum in delivering improved life outcomes for people with learning disabilities.

My announcements today on the inquiry and PHO service follow an open competitive procurement process in 2009-10 that resulted in contracts being awarded on 23 March 2010 to Norah Fry to run the inquiry; and NEPHO, leading a partnership involving the Centre for Disability Research at Lancaster University, and the National Development Team for Inclusion, to provide the PHO service.

Both these contracts were originally awarded for an initial period of 12 months, with the intention to extend them for a further two years until March 2013, subject to satisfactory evaluation of the work carried out in the first year and availability of funds. They took forward the Department’s commitment to implement the recommendations in the report of the independent inquiry headed by Sir Jonathan Michael into access to health care for people with learning disabilities “Healthcare for All” to establish a learning disabilities inquiry and PHO.

National Health Service Charges

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr Simon Burns): Regulations have been laid before Parliament to increase certain national health service charges in England from 1 April 2011.

There will be an increase in the prescription charge of 20p from £7.20 to £7.40 for each quantity of a drug or appliance dispensed.

The cost of a prescription prepayment certificate (PPC) will rise to £29.10 for a three-month certificate. The cost of the annual certificate will remain at £104. PPCs offer savings for those needing four or more items in three months or more than 14 items in one year.

Regulations have also been laid to increase NHS dental charges from 1 April 2011. The dental charge payable for a band 1 course of treatment will increase by 50p from £16.50 to £17. The dental charge for a band 2 course of treatment will increase by £1.40 from £45.60 to £47. The charge for a band 3 course of treatment will increase by £6 from £198 to £204.

Dental charges represent an important contribution to the overall cost of dental services. The exact amount raised will be dependent upon the level and type of primary dental care services commissioned by primary care trusts and the proportion of charge-paying patients who attend dentists and the level of treatment they require.

Charges for elastic stockings and tights, wigs and fabric supports supplied by hospitals will be also be increased.

4 Mar 2011 : Column 50WS

The range of NHS optical vouchers available to children, people on low incomes and individuals with complex sight problems to help with the purchase of glasses remains unchanged in 2011-12.

Details of the revised charges are as follows:

NHS Charges - England

New Charge (£)

Prescription charges

Single item

7.40

3-month PPC

29.10

12-month PPC

104.00

 

Wigs and Fabric Supports

Surgical brassiere

25.10

Abdominal or spinal support

37.90

Stock modacrylic wig

61.85

Partial human hair wig

163.80

Full bespoke human hair wig

239.65

   

Dental Charges

 

Band 1 course of treatment

17.00

Band 2 course of treatment

47.00

Band 3 course of treatment

204.00

Voucher values continue at the rates effective since 1 April 2009, which are:

Optical voucher values from 1 April 2011
Type of optical appliance Value

A. Glasses with single vision lenses: spherical power of ≤ 6 dioptres, cylindrical power of ≤ 2 dioptres.

£36.20

B. Glasses with single vision lenses: spherical power of > 6 dioptres but < 10 dioptres, cylindrical power of ≤ 6 dioptres; spherical power of < 10 dioptres, cylindrical power of > 2 dioptres but ≤ 6 dioptres.

£55.10

C. Glasses with single vision lenses: spherical power of ≥ 10 dioptres but ≤ 14 dioptres, cylindrical power of ≤ 6 dioptres.

£80.60

D. Glasses with single vision lenses: spherical power of > 14 dioptres with any cylindrical power; cylindrical power of > 6 dioptres with any spherical power.

£182.00

E. Glasses with bifocal lenses: spherical power of ≤ 6 dioptres, cylindrical power of ≤ 2 dioptres.

£62.70

F. Glasses with bifocal lenses: spherical power of > 6 dioptres but < 10 dioptres, cylindrical power of < 6 dioptres; spherical power of < 10 dioptres, cylindrical power of > 2 dioptres but ≤ 6 dioptres.

£79.70

G. Glasses with bifocal lenses: spherical power of ≥ 10 dioptres but ≤ 14 dioptres, cylindrical power of ≤ 6 dioptres.

£103.30

H. Glasses with prism-controlled bifocal lenses of any power or with bifocal lenses: spherical power of > 14 dioptres with any cylindrical power; cylindrical power of > 6 dioptres with any spherical power.

£200.10

I. (HES) Glasses not falling within any of paragraphs A to H above for which a prescription is given in consequence of a testing of sight by an NHS Trust.

£186.40

Scotland

Scotland Bill (Scottish Parliament Committee Report)

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Michael Moore): On behalf of the Government I welcome the publication on Thursday 3 March 2011 of the report of the Scotland Bill Committee in the Scottish Parliament.

4 Mar 2011 : Column 51WS

The Committee was established by the Scottish Parliament in December 2010 to review the Scotland Bill, introduced in this Parliament on 30 November 2010.

The Scotland Bill delivers the Government’s coalition commitment to implement the recommendations of the Commission on Scottish Devolution. The commission was originally established by the Scottish Parliament and supported by the then UK Government with its remit as:

“To review the provisions of the Scotland Act 1998 in the light of experience and to recommend any changes to the present constitutional arrangements that would enable the Scottish Parliament to serve the people of Scotland better, improve the financial accountability of the Scottish Parliament, and continue to secure the position of Scotland within the United Kingdom.”

The Commission, under the chairmanship of Professor Sir Kenneth Calman, produced a detailed and well-evidenced report, which was welcomed by the main UK-wide parties and those who contributed, cross-party groups, unions, businesses and civil society. This Government made an early commitment to deliver the commission’s recommendations in the Queen’s Speech after the 2010 general election.

The Scotland Bill and the Command Paper “Strengthening Scotland’s Future” (Cm 7973) published alongside the Bill, provided the Government’s response to the commission’s recommendations. The package of measures included in the Bill build on the success of

4 Mar 2011 : Column 52WS

Scottish devolution since 1999, strengthen the settlement, empower the members of the Scottish Parliament and in particular increase the financial accountability of this institution.

Under the terms of the Sewel convention—the convention established since devolution that the UK Parliament will not normally legislate on devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament—the Scottish Parliament established a committee to review the measures within the Bill. This committee, under its convenor Wendy Alexander, has thoroughly assessed the Bill, drawing upon expertise from witnesses covering the whole range of topics included within the Bill.

I am delighted that today the committee in the Scottish Parliament has published their report on the Bill. The Government warmly welcome this report, copies of which have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. The first and main conclusion of the committee is that the Scottish Parliament should support the Scotland Bill. We welcome this clear endorsement of the Bill and will now take the opportunity to consider carefully the recommendations included in the report.

We will respond to the views expressed by the Scottish Parliament, as well as the views of both Houses of Parliament, as we take the Scotland Bill through its remaining stages. I look forward to the plenary vote in the Scottish Parliament on the Scotland Bill next week.