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Written Statements

Tuesday 27 November 2007

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting: Uganda

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My right honourable friend the Prime Minister (Mr Gordon Brown) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

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 Queen’s 18th CHOGM, and I—like my fellow Commonwealth leaders—pay 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.

And as a unique partnership of rich and poor countries, the Commonwealth has a critical role to play in meeting these challenges.

Commonwealth leaders met in the aftermath of President Musharraf’s 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 made—not least the commitment to an election that has been announced for 8 January—the 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.

The CHOGM and the UK made it clear that we hope to see Pakistan restored to the Commonwealth as soon as possible and will revisit the suspension in January once the election has taken place.

The Commonwealth has sent the strongest signal that, above all, it stands for democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

The meeting also agreed with the need to act collectively to:

redouble its efforts to deliver education for all, with a particular focus on enrolling the 30 million primary-school-aged children out of school across the Commonwealth; eliminating gender disparity in education; and strengthening education systems in countries affected by conflict. At Britain’s initiative, heads also undertook to put in place, by

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the end of 2008, at least 20 long-term education plans of the type endorsed by the education for all fast-track initiative, and to focus on measuring and improving the quality of education;achieve a successful conclusion to the WTO’s negotiations, in light of the fundamental contribution of international trade to global prosperity, sustainable development and to the elimination of poverty;establish a small group of Commonwealth heads to campaign for reform of international institutions, in order to achieve an architecture which reflects today’s global challenges and is more effective and more representative;meet the millennium development goals—the responsibility of all countries rich and poor—and called for a UN meeting next year to re-energise global efforts; and,achieve a declaration on climate change, as we move towards the Bali summit, by calling for a long-term global goal for emissions reduction to which all countries must contribute—a comprehensive post-2012 global agreement that strengthens, broadens and deepens current arrangements and leads to reduced emissions of global greenhouse gases. We agreed on the need for all Commonwealth members to assess the implications of climate change for their societies, and offered new technical assistance through the Commonwealth to help achieve this.

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 Commission’s recommendations.

We also applauded the work of Don McKinnon, outgoing Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, who has led the organisation with energy and creativity and welcomed his successor, Mr Sharma.

I am confident that, following the Kampala CHOGM, the Commonwealth can continue to play a vital role in international affairs.

Copies of the concluding communiqué have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.


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.

I am announcing today levels of funding to local authorities to support the implementation of ContactPoint and providing an update on the implementation timetable.

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Some £40 million will be made available to support local implementation until March 2009, made up of the following elements:

£27 million to local authorities in England, from April 2008 to March 2009, to support implementation;£1 million from April 2008 to March 2009 to support national partners' ContactPoint implementation projects; anda further £12 million from January 2008, made available to lead organisations to support modifications to case management systems. This will enable the main existing systems to provide data to ContactPoint and/or for authorised users to be able to have one-way access to ContactPoint via those systems.

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.

ContactPoint will be a simple basic online tool containing:

minimal identifying information for each child; name, address, date of birth, gender, and contact details for parents or carers. Each child will also have a unique identifying number;contact details for the child's educational setting and GP practice and for other practitioners or services working with them; andan indication as to whether a service or practitioner holds an assessment under the common assessment framework or whether they are a lead professional for that child.

No case information will be held on ContactPoint.

ContactPoint is being developed with extensive input from a wide range of stakeholders. These include:

delivery partners—local authorities and national partners (for example, voluntary and community sector organisations);practitioners and managers from across children's services, and bodies that represent them; andchildren, young people and parents and carers.

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.

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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.

Crime: Pre-trial Witness Interviews

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.

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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.

Crime: Reoffending

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 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.

Public Service Agreements (PSAs)

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 critical—specifically 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.

Supporting Events

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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agencies is essential in successfully tackling reoffending alone, this event will also be used to launch the Department of Health’s consultation,Improving Health; Supporting Justice and a NOMS third sector action plan to build the contribution of the sector to work to reduce reoffending. Consultation events for partners in regions and Wales will follow in December and January.

Employment: Mental Health

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 people’s 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;

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alongside this, we will establish a mental health forum to bring together all those involved in delivering pathways to work support, to share evidence and experiences in relation to support for people with mental health conditions;we will pilot an advice and support service for employers, especially smaller businesses, to help them to manage and support people with mental health conditions to remain in or return to work. We will explore the possibility of this service also providing support and advice for GPs as part of our efforts to more closely align employment and healthcare services;we will build on the strong partnerships already created with GPs through our pathways advisory services pilots, which test placing Jobcentre Plus advisers in GP surgeries, by expanding those pilots to treble the capacity. The enlarged pilots will have a particular focus on supporting people with mental health conditions and will be supported by a roll-out of our educational programme for GPs on health and work issues, focusing specifically on mental health and employment; and we will also explore ways to improve communications between GPs and employers to improve the likelihood of people working. As part of this we will ensure that the process for GPs to issue medical certificates that we are currently developing with employers, healthcare professionals and their representative bodies will allow them to be more positive—moving to a “fit note” instead of a “sick note”—and will make it easier for GPs to provide more helpful advice to patients and their employers about their fitness for work, especially for those with mental health conditions.

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 allowance—the work capability assessment—will 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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health problems and there has been a significant increase in mental health expenditure since 1997. Only last month, the Secretary of State for Health announced the very welcome expansion of the improving access to psychological therapies programme. The service will ensure that, over the next three years, 3,600 new therapists will be trained and 900,000 more people will be treated for depression and anxiety. This will have a major impact on those of working age suffering from mental health conditions.

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