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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): The table below shows the Defence Medical Services' current requirement for personnel (including a manning and training margin, MTM) and the numbers of personnel on the trained strength or in training in January 2007 and January 2008. The trained strength has increased by 153 personnel over this period.
|January 2007||January 2008|
|Source: DMSD Quarterly Manning Returns|
|1. The requirement was announced to Parliament in April 2007.|
We accept that manpower shortfalls remain in some key specialties, including some medical consultant cadres and specialist nurses. These shortfalls have never resulted in the Defence Medical Services being unable to meet operational commitments. We manage medical deployments on a tri-service basis, allowing the workload to be shared more evenly and maximising capabilities. In addition we make use of reserves and civilian agency contractors and work closely with allies to ensure appropriate medical support is in place.
The department pays golden hellos and retention bonuses to recruit or retain personnel in certain specialities where there are the most significant shortfalls. In addition, the single services' medical directorates have their own locally driven policies to improve recruitment.
What consideration they have given to the research findings in the National Autistic Society's recently published report, I Exist; what response they will be making to its conclusion; and what action they will take on this matter.[HL2448]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Darzi of Denham): The department will be taking forward discussions with autism stakeholder organisations on the options for, and benefits of, future research.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: The relevant tests for tier 1 level 2 boatmasters licence examinations must currently be arranged through the local Maritime and Coastguard Agency marine office. The marine office will guide the candidates as to how and when the tests may be conducted. Currently, the examinations will be assessed orally either on board a vessel or at the local marine office. The practical tests can be done only on board a vessel.
What information is available to them regarding the increases in costs of operating local bus services as a consequence of wage increases, fuel costs, insurance and vehicle provision and maintenance. [HL2484]
Lord Bassam of Brighton: The Department for Transport estimates that bus operating costs per vehicle kilometre in England have risen by 29.8 per cent in real terms over the past 10 years, with an increase of 6.7 per cent comparing 2006-07 with the previous year.
The department publishes estimates of changes in real terms in overall local bus service operating costs, derived from its annual survey of bus operators. The latest estimates were published in Table 1.1 of Public Transport Statistics Bulletin GB: 2007 Edition Supplement.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): As with all IT systems, an ongoing programme of upgrades ensures that, in addition to any remedial work, changes to the operating model are fully supported by the agency's computer system. The problems with the agency's IT have been well rehearsed, and since March 2005 the agency has successfully introduced eight IT upgrades, which primarily rectified many of the much publicised defects in the system as well as introducing enhancements to improve client service.
For the next IT upgrade, the agency chose Easter 2008 as the planning date for implementation, with a clear commitment to its people that the upgrade would not be released until such time as the agency was ready to introduce the changes and the organisation was sufficiently prepared to take full advantage of the benefits.
The agency has made good progress in preparing for this upgrade. The development phase is now complete and testing is well advanced. However, being mindful of history, it has decided to undertake another round of testing and to further look at its approach to training to give the sort of assurance we all want that both the IT application and the agency are ready to go live. Following this further testing, the agency will agree a new date for the implementation of the upgrade.
It is important to remember that this upgrade is primarily designed to support new ways of working already in place within the agency. These changes have already delivered substantial improvements to the service that the agency provides. Client service is better than it has ever been: the agency is collecting and arranging more maintenance, continuing to reduce the number of uncleared applications and dealing with new cases more quickly than before.
Future IT upgrades are planned to support the repeal of Section 6 and the introduction of the information and support service as well as the launch of the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission. In addition, the agency is planning a range of enhancements to the current system to support a continuation in improvements in the performance of the agency.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: The Child Support Agency's operational improvement plan, announced in February 2006, sets out the performance improvement expected across all aspects of the agency's operations by March 2009.
The agency's performance has already significantly improved since March 2006 and it is on course to deliver the objectives of the operational improvement plan. The agency now clears more applications than it receives per month and uncleared new scheme applications are at their lowest since October 2003. Over half of all new applications are now cleared within six weeks.
However, the real test is the difference made for children by collecting or arranging maintenance. Nearly 675,000 children now benefit from £975 million in maintenance, an increase of around 78,000 children and £140 million in maintenance since March 2006 and significant progress towards the March 2009 commitment of 790,000 children benefiting from £1,080 million in maintenance.
What arrangements they have made with EDS to ensure that the child support computer system which supports old cases will continue beyond the original contract date of April 2008; and whether extra costs will be incurred. [HL2462]
Further to the Written Answer by Lord Darzi of Denham on 22 January (WA 28) regarding the culture of embryos for more than 14 days in vitro, how it has been proven that the zona pellicida is absolutely required for embryonic development; and whether peer-reviewed literature supports the view that no embryo allowed to outgrow after attaching to the surface of a culture dish would ever develop in a mammal, and therefore would not be classed as an embryo by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. [HL2353]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Darzi of Denham): The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority's (HFEA) decision, based on the available evidence, is that outgrowing embryos have ceased to be human embryos. This conclusion was reached in part because an outgrown embryo no longer has the organisational structure of a viable embryo, including signs representative of primitive streak formation and there is no longer a relationship between the trophectoderm and the inner cell mass. The embryo outgrowth is therefore not considered an embryo by the HFEA as it is potential-less and would not be able to develop if implanted in a woman.
Further to the Written Answer by Baroness Andrews on 28 February (WA 132-3), what is the basis for their interpretation of the European Union race directive as not covering discrimination on the ground of colour.[HL2269]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): Article 1 of Council directive 2000/43/EC (the race directive) states that the purpose of the directive is to lay down a framework for combating discrimination on grounds of racial or ethnic origin. It does not mention colour. Furthermore, the legal basis for the directive is Article 13 of the treaty of Amsterdam, which does not refer to colour.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): Work is under way to revise the existing guidance for professionals in light of the provisions of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007. We aim to reissue this guidance on a statutory footing in the autumn.
What staff reductions are planned in the Child Support Agency and the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission over the next three years as a result of the department's Gershon efficiency targets. [HL2391]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): Everyone working in the Child Support Agency will move to the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission in 2008, alongside the transfer of child support functions.
Baroness Crawley: The Department for International Development (DfID) recently commissioned a report on the global state of palliative care in relation to HIV and AIDS. This report pointed out weaknesses in the international system, especially the lack of access to strong analgesics such as oral morphine for palliative care.
DfID has commissioned work looking at barriers to improving access to strong analgesics such as oral morphine. We have discussed initial findings from this work with the INCB, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). This work will continue during 2008.
What discussions took place in each of the last five years between Arnand Sharma of Reckitt Benckiser Healthcare and officials at the Department of Health at which generic substitutes for Gaviscon were discussed; and [HL2457]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Darzi of Denham): The department would be concerned if any manufacturer of branded medicines sought to protect their patent-expired products in the manner alleged. However, we have received no proof that Reckitt Benckiser Healthcare has done so. The National Health Service counter-fraud service would be happy to receive any information related to this matter.
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