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What steps they are taking to ensure that departments follow the practice of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills in making consultation papers available to third parties in machine-readable form. [HL6306]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting (Lord Carter of Barnes): The new code of practice on consultation came into force on 1 November 2008, and guidance is being developed to support implementation. The Better Regulation Executive (BRE) in BERR, as owner of consultation policy, keeps the guidance up-to-date in co-operation with the network of departmental consultation co-ordinators. As part of this programme, the BRE will work with DIUS and other interested parties in government on the development of guidance for officials on machine-readable formats.
For the latest version of this guidance see www. berr.gov.uk/whatwedo/bre/consultation-guidance/page44420.html.
Lord Carter of Barnes: The new code of practice on consultation came into force on 1 November 2008, and guidance is being developed to support implementation. The Better Regulation Executive (BRE) in BERR, as owner of consultation policy, keeps the guidance up-to-date in co-operation with the network of departmental consultation co-ordinators. As part of this programme, the BRE will work with the Office of the Third Sector in the Cabinet Office and other interested parties around government on this issue.
Lord Carter of Barnes: There are several systems in place to aid compliance with the code of practice on consultation. Consultation co-ordinators in departments work with policy officials to help them run consultations that are in line with the code. Officials in the Better Regulation Executive in BERR also work with departments on the development of many policies and are therefore often sighted on draft consultation documents where any potential deviations from the code might be spotted.
Transparency also plays a significant role in aiding compliance. In accordance with the code (criterion 6.6), consultation documents cite the criteria of the code and give the contact details of the departmental consultation coordinator so that he or she can be contacted by anyone who feels that the exercise is not in line with the code. Moreover, departments are required, in the better regulation chapter of their annual reports, to describe their consultation activity over the year and the compliance of their consultation activities with the code.
How many consultation exercises have been undertaken by government departments since October 2007; and how many of them lasted or are due to last for the recommended period of at least 12 weeks. [HL6309]
Lord Carter of Barnes: The Government no longer collate data on this. However, the information is put into the public domain each year, as departments are required, in the better regulation chapter of their annual reports, to describe their consultation activity over the year and the compliance of their consultation activities with the code.
Lord Carter of Barnes: Criterion 4.4 of the new code of practice on consultation, which came into force on 1 November 2008, refers to alternative formats (for example, Welsh and other language versions, Braille, audio and so on). The online guidance which supports implementation of the code of practice also provides information on alternative formats stating:
What is their response to the Valencian Government's decision to withdraw free health care for British residents who have retired there and are too young to receive a state pension or cannot take out private health care owing to existing health problems or both; and [HL6311]
What assessment they have made of the extent to which the Valencian Government's decision to withdraw free health care for British residents who have retired there complies with the concept of European Union citizenship and of a Europe without frontiers. [HL6312]
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): Each EU member state has the right to define its own healthcare arrangements. The healthcare concession in Valencia was an exception in Spain, and its withdrawal brings Valencia into line with the rest of Spain. The new arrangements are compliant with EU law.
When withdrawal of free healthcare was announced in June 2008 by the Valencian authorities, our embassy in Madrid intervened to ensure British citizens did not suddenly find themselves without cover. As a result, existing arrangements were extended until 15 January 2009.
British citizens in receipt of a UK state pension or certain other benefits or who pay British or Spanish national insurance will not be affected by the change and will continue to have access to free state healthcare. The new, contributory Valencia scheme, due to come into effect in 2009, is open to all (including early retirees) and will accept individuals with pre-existing conditions.
How many representations they have received since the passing of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 about the presence of Law Lords in the House of Lords; and from which individuals or organisations. [HL6260]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): Ministers have received two letters and one Parliamentary Question from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, answered by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath on 29 September 2008 (Official Report, col. WA 416) specifically about the presence of Law Lords in the House of Lords since the passing of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): The Government set out in their proposals for establishing a separate Supreme Court the importance that they attached to a visible and institutional separation between the judiciary and the executive and the legislature.
However, the UK has never been governed under a system of the pure separation of powers. In a parliamentary democracy, where the executive are directly dependent on and constituted from the legislature, it is appropriate that the executive should be directly represented in both Houses of the legislature.
Further to the remarks by Lord McKenzie of Luton on 10 November (Official Report, col. 521), what guidance they have issued to local authorities on monitoring applications to back-date housing and council tax benefit for periods of between three and six months; and [HL6323]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): The department receives data from local authority computer systems which include information on whether a claim is back-dated and for what period, broken down by client group (ie older people and working-age customers). By the end of 2009, we expect to have enough data from local authorities to inform our review of the new policy.
In addition, authorities are requested to submit additional data by completing questions in the local authority omnibus survey, which is sent to all authorities in Great Britain every six months. The next survey includes questions about the new back-dating rules.
The department provided funding to local authorities to support the shift towards the new method of collecting data, enabling local authorities to send information direct from their computer systems to the department, as part of the programme to reduce the data collection burden on local authorities.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: We always give very careful consideration to the representations made by all key stakeholders, including Citizens Advice and Shelter. These organisations, among others, made representations in response to the proposed changes to the back-dating rules, and as a result the Government were able to agree to an amendment to the original proposal. We have now introduced a six-month back-dating provision for working-age customers, and we will review these arrangements at the end of 2009.
The views of organisations such as Citizens Advice and Shelter have to be looked at alongside the views of other stakeholders, including our customers, local authorities and their representative associations. We also have to give due weight to the costs and benefits of any policy proposal, making sure the interests of the taxpayer are reflected in any final decision.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): The costs of the Homes and Communities Agency are set out in the Housing and Regeneration Bill impact assessment. This states that the one-off cost of setting up the Homes and Communities Agency will be £20 million over three years.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): Our missions in Baghdad and Erbil meet regularly with leading members of the Christian community. They have received no requests for temporary visas or emergency accommodation. Any applications would be assessed in line with the Immigration Rules.
We have raised our concerns at the recent events in Mosul with the Iraqi Government. They have since taken action to ensure better security in the city. Recent reports from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees indicate that this has permitted many families to return to their home.
What assessment they and the quartet have made of the legal status of Israel's restrictions on land access to Gaza and its not allowing supplies and access by sea; and what is their assessment of the two visits this year to Gaza by the SS Dignity, which delivered humanitarian aid. [HL6058]
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): Israel has an obligation to adhere to the international humanitarian law. It may take reasonable measures for the protection of its own security and that of the population of the Occupied Territories, but such measures must be proportionate, taking account of an assessment of the threat and of the impact on the civilian population.
The only sustainable way to reduce suffering is for the relaxation on humanitarian imports into Gaza, and we will continue to call on the Government of Israel to take this action. The quartet has also reiterated its concerns, most recently during the UN General Assembly on 26 September.
We strongly advise British nationals against all travel to Gaza. We believe that terrorist groups continue to maintain the intent and capability to kidnap foreigners and that the level of consular assistance we can provide would be very limited. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice has recently been updated advising that any attempt to enter Gaza by sea would be breaching the restrictions imposed by the Israeli navy, which has repeatedly stated that it will consider taking action to prevent any vessel from reaching Gaza.
Further to the Written Answer by Lord Bach on 6 November (WA 8082), whether English courts may refuse to give effect to a consent order embodying the terms of an agreement reached by the parties to a family dispute in a Sharia council, rabbinical court or other religious body, on grounds of public policy; and [HL6239]
Further to the Written Answer by Lord Bach on 6 November (WA 8081), whether they will consider requiring applicants seeking to enforce a consent order under the Arbitration Act 1996 to inform the court where the order has been made under the auspices of a Sharia council or other religious body. [HL6240]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): I refer the noble Lord to my Answer to Lord Avebury on 6 November (Official Report, col. WA 81), which explained that it is the function of the court to question any order which appears unfair irrespective of the process through which the parties to a family dispute reached that agreement and, if appropriate, to refuse to make the order requested. The Answer made it clear that this applies to agreements reached by parties having gone through religious councils as well as any other process.
The Government have no plans to amend the provisions of the Arbitration Act 1996. Arbitration is not a system of dispute resolution that may be used in family cases. The issue of enforcement of an arbitrated decision only arises in civil disputes.
The Government are considering changes to applications for consent orders in ancillary relief proceedings so that the statements of information indicate the means by which agreements were reached. Any proposed changes will be included in the family procedure rules consultation process.
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