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The biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) took place in Kampala, from 23 to 25 November. Her Majesty the Queen attended the meeting in her role as head of the Commonwealth. This was Her Majesty the Queens 18th CHOGM, and Ilike my fellow Commonwealth leaderspay tribute to her dedication and commitment to the Commonwealth.
The meeting came at a critical moment: in the midst of the democratic crisis in Pakistan; one week before the Bali climate change conference with only 10 to 15 years to turn the tide on global warming; half way to the millennium development goals which the world is in danger of not meeting; with months left to agree a global trade deal; and with no room for complacency in the fight against extremism.
Commonwealth leaders met in the aftermath of President Musharrafs decision on 3 November to declare a state of emergency. On 12 November the Commonwealth Ministers Action Group (CMAG) set out five conditions for Pakistan to fulfil in order to avoid suspension from the Commonwealth: lifting the state of emergency; the president giving up his job as chief of staff of the army; holding free and fair elections; releasing political detainees incarcerated during the emergency; and removing restrictions on the freedom of the press. Meeting in Kampala on the eve of CHOGM, CMAG concluded that whilst progress had been madenot least the commitment to an election that has been announced for 8 Januarythe five conditions had not been met and, crucially, the state of emergency was still in place. Therefore Pakistan was suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth.
CHOGM also endorsed the analysis by the Commission on Respect and Understanding led by Nobel prize-winner Amartya Sen on how to promote respect and understanding among different ethnic and faith groups. The meeting recognised that all countries must work together to tackle the causes of radicalisation and noted that the diversity of its members gives the Commonwealth a unique perspective on these issues. Heads of Government committed to developing concrete activities to give practical effect to the Commissions recommendations.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Lord Adonis): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Young People and Families (Kevin Brennan) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
We have also provided indicative funding allocations to local authorities for future years: £27 million in 2009-10 and £15 million in 2010-11. My officials will write to local authorities and national partners today to inform local authorities and other partners about this funding.
ContactPoint is a key element of the Every Child Matters programme to transform children's services by supporting more effective prevention and early intervention. Its goal is to improve outcomes and the experience of public services for all children, young people and families. ContactPoint will provide a tool to support better communication among practitioners across education, health, social care and youth offending. It will provide a quick way for those practitioners to find out who else is working with the same child or young person.
Over the past few months we have been considering the substantial stakeholder feedback we have received and looked at the implications that the resulting proposed changes could have on the system. It is clear from the considerable work we have done so far that we will need more time than we originally planned to address the changes to ContactPoint which potential system users suggested.
The change to the timetable will mean that deployment of ContactPoint to the Early Adopters local authorities and national partners will be in September or October 2008. It will be deployed to all other local authorities and national partners in 2009, between January and May, depending on final deployment slots. The additional time available presents a number of opportunities to do more work in the period prior to ContactPoint deployment, which will help to realise some benefits earlier. The fundamental design of ContactPoint will not change; the alterations will make sure the system works even more effectively for users and improves the ability of local authority ContactPoint teams to manage user access.
The news on Tuesday 20 November of the loss of large volumes of child benefit data from HMRC has raised questions about the safety of large-scale personal data in other Government systems, including ContactPoint. ContactPoint will not contain any financial information (such as bank details) or case information (such as case notes, assessments, medical records, exam results or subjective observations).
On Tuesday 20 November, the department conducted an assessment of how personal data are stored and protected in the department. As a result of that assessment, I am confident that we have very robust procedures in place. On Wednesday 21 November, the Prime Minister confirmed this approach when he asked all departments to check their procedures for the storage and use of data. In light of the security breach at the HMRC, we are continuing to check our procedures to ensure standards are as high as they can be. To this end, on 20 November, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families decided to commission an independent assessment of its security procedures. This will be undertaken by Deloitte. Delaying the implementation of ContactPoint will enable the independent assessment of security procedures to take place as well as address the changes to ContactPoint that potential system users have told us they need.
Delivery partners will receive further information early in the new year. In the mean time, progress will be reported to local project managers regularly through their ContactPoint implementation co-ordinators. They will work with individual authorities and national partners to agree new deployment slots as soon as it is possible to do so.
The Attorney-General (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): I am today announcing that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will be rolling out pre-trial witness interviews (PTWIs) throughout England and Wales. The rollout will be completed by April 2008.
The use of PTWIs was proposed by the then Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith in the report Pre-trial Interviews by Prosecutors published in December 2004. The report proposed that prosecutors should be permitted to speak to witnesses about their evidence in order to assess the reliability of the evidence or to clarify complex evidence.
In January 2006, the CPS introduced a pilot scheme in the CPS areas of Lancashire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester and Cumbria. The pilot scheme has been evaluated carefully and it has been decided that PTWIs will be implemented throughout England and Wales. As of 26 November 2007, 88 PTWIs had been conducted by Crown prosecutors in the pilot CPS areas.
The decision to conduct a PTWI is at the discretion of the prosecutor having regard to the circumstances of the case. However, it has been found from the pilot scheme that prosecutors welcome the ability to conduct a PTWI with a witness if appropriate, as it allows the prosecutor to make better-informed prosecution decisions.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My right honourable friend the Minister of State (David Hanson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I am today announcing the publication of a consultation document to inform the strategic plan for reducing reoffending from 2008-11. The consultation period runs from today to 18 February 2008, and the strategic plan will be published next spring. Copies of the consultation document have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office and on the internet at www.noms.justice.gov.uk/news-publications- events/publications/consultations/RRSP_2008-2011.
Reoffending causes real harm to individuals, to communities and to the economy. The costs of reoffending by ex-prisoners alone are significant. The Government have undertaken a successful programme of work to tackle reoffending since 1997. The latest results show that we have reduced proven adult reoffending by 5.8 per cent since 2000 against the predicted rate. Tackling reoffending is ongoing work and there is still more work to do to examine what other measures need to be in place to support offender management. The consultation paper seeks views from professionals working in the field on how the Government can capitalise on the successes to date, and continue to reduce reoffending rates.
From April 2008, a number of new public service agreement (PSA) targets will be introduced. The Make Communities Safer PSA includes a specific measure for reducing reoffending which focuses on the volume and seriousness of reoffending, thereby allowing us to monitor the success of our interventions with priority offender groups more closely, and reflect the impact that reducing reoffending has on overall crime rates. Other PSAs are also criticalspecifically Drugs and Alcohol, Socially Excluded Adults, and Young People: A Path to Success. Each of these national agreements will act as levers to further embed the reducing reoffending agenda across government and at regional levels to support effective local delivery by partners.
The National Offender Management Service is today holding a national launch to promote the consultation. In recognition of the fact that co-operation between
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Peter Hain) made the following Statement.
Mental health conditions are now the single biggest cause of both absence from work and people claiming incapacity benefits. Around 40 per cent of people currently receiving incapacity benefits are doing so because of mental ill-health, ranging from more common problems such as stress, anxiety and depression, to more serious conditions. But the more common mental health conditions can be relatively easily treated and with the right support need not significantly affect peoples lives.
We know that being in work is usually good for people with all types of mental health problems and so there is a clear need to support people with mental health conditions to overcome or manage their problems, helping them to find or remain in work. I am therefore announcing, in partnership with the Secretary of State for Health, our intention to develop a national strategy for mental health and work, to ensure a co-ordinated response across government to the challenges faced by people of working age with mental health conditions and improve their employment chances.
The strategy will look at issues such as stigma and discrimination that often prevent people with mental health problems from seeking help in the first place, let alone trying to find employment. The strategy will be overseen by a high-level group from business, the medical profession, academia, the third sector and stakeholder groups, chaired by the national director for health and work, Dame Carol Black, and including Lord Richard Layard.
To support the strategy I am today also announcing a number of measures to ensure that mental health and employment support is delivered in a more holistic way and, that we provide more advice and support to healthcare professionals and employers and improve the communication between these two key groups:we will ensure that, wherever possible as they are rolled out across the country, the pathways to work and improving access to psychological therapies programmes are linked up, allowing customers to take up the full range of support available and experience their back-to-work and healthcare support as part of a seamless package;
All this work will contribute to improving the health and employment prospects of people of working age, which is the subject of the review currently being undertaken by Dame Carol Black, which will report to Ministers early in 2008. This will build on the substantial progress that has been made in this area since 1997.
We have been transforming the support that we give to Jobcentre Plus customers with health conditions or disabilities, moving away from a system that abandons people to a life on benefits to one that helps them to realise their potential. The introduction of employment and support allowance, which will replace incapacity benefit next autumn, along with the expansion of Pathways to Work across the country by April of next year will create a more positive system, built on rights and responsibilities and offering tailored support to help people back into work.
The new medical test for the allowancethe work capability assessmentwill be fairer, more accurate and more robust than the current personal capability assessment. Importantly, the mental capacity element of the assessment has been fundamentally improved and will be better able to assess the challenges faced by people with mental health conditions and learning disabilities.
Alongside employment support, the Government have been working to make more treatments and health interventions available to people with mental
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