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Written Statements

Thursday 22 October 2009

Armed Forces: Compensation Scheme


The Minister for International Defence and Security (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State and Minister for Veterans (Kevan Jones) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Ministry of Defence is entering the next stage of the review of the Armed Forces compensation scheme that was brought forward from 2010, as announced by the Defence Secretary in July of this year.

The terms of reference for the review are as follows:

to examine whether the fundamental principles of the scheme remain valid;to evaluate how successfully the scheme in its current form gives effect to these principles; and having regard to fairness, feasibility, sustainability and ease of administration, to make recommendations on any modifications that are required to ensure that the scheme is fit for purpose.

The review will be undertaken by the Ministry of Defence under the leadership of an independent chairman, Admiral the Lord Boyce, who will determine the review recommendations. It will report to the Defence Secretary and be published by him, with an indication of the steps which he intends to take as a result of the review.

An independent scrutiny group has been established with representatives of service and ex-service organisations, service families' representatives, and medical, academic and legal experts, from whom the independent chairman and the department will take advice as the review progresses. It has already held its first meeting.

The aim is for the review to report within a few months. The review will look at a range of issues including (but not limited to):the fundamental principles underlying the compensation scheme;the overall level of compensation, including for dependants;what the compensation is for and its relationship with other state benefits;comparisons with other compensation in the UK and internationally;issues raised by the court of appeal judgment;the circumstances of injury, illness or death;the claims and adjudication process; the burden and onus of proof;the time limit on claims and the treatment of deterioration;the compensation paid for mental illness; and the compensation paid to individuals with multiple injuries.

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The membership of the review's independent scrutiny group is as follows:

Admiral the Lord Boyce GCB OBE DL

Former Chief of the Defence Staff

Major General Sir Evelyn Webb-Carter, KCVO OBE DL

Controller, Army Benevolent Fund

Jerome Church

General Secretary, BLESMA

Chris Simpkins

Director General, Royal British Legion

David Richmond

AFCS Beneficiary

Kim Richardson

Chair of the Navy Families Federation

Gill Grigg MBE

Chair of War Widows Association of Great Britain

Professor David Bonner

Professor of Law, University of Leicester

Simon Levene


Professor Sir Anthony Newman Taylor, CBE FMedsci

Deputy Principal of the Faculty of Medicine, Professor of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Imperial College, Consultant Physician at Royal Brompton Hospital

Dr David Snashall, MSc FRCP FFOM LLM

Clinical Director and Senior Lecturer in the Occupational Health Department atSt Thomas's Hospital

Professor David Alexander, MA (Hons) C.Psychol PhD FBPS FRSM (Hon) FRCPSych

Director of the Aberdeen Centre for Trauma Research and Professor of Mental Health in the Faculty of Health and Social Care

Armed Forces: Defence Estate


The Minister for International Defence and Security (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State and Minister for Veterans (Kevan Jones) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The stewardship report on the defence estate 2008-09 will be published today. The publication of the report implements the commitment in "The Defence Estate Strategy 2006-In Trust & On Trust" to report annual performance across a range of estate-related strategic aims, and to demonstrate that the department is discharging its obligations properly and acting responsibly in meeting the needs of the Armed Forces. The report attempts to balance:

the substantial investment made in the estate, the successes over the year, the steps being taken to improve the effectiveness of management and the achievement of value for money; andthe commitment to provide an account of our stewardship to external stakeholders.

The report continues to set out the progress against the aims and objectives in the defence estate strategy 2006 and demonstrates how the estate is changing as a result. The report is published online and can be found at andEnvironmentPublications/DefenceEstates/.

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Benefits: Winter Fuel Allowance


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Helen Goodman) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am pleased to announce that, following advice from the Meteorological Office, the annual review of the cold weather payments scheme has now been completed. Amending regulations were laid on 5 October and will come into force on 1 November 2009, in time for the beginning of the winter period.

For winter 2009-10 nine new weather stations will be included as part of the scheme. Consequently, some postcodes from existing weather stations for winter 2008-09 will be redistributed and assigned to the following weather stations: Fylingdales, Gravesend, Leek, Little Rissington, North Wyke, Sheffield, St Bees Head, Stonyhurst, and Strathallan.

The alternative weather stations have been chosen to provide weather station-to-postcode linkages that are at least as representative as the previous arrangements-the changes are expected to have either a neutral effect or indeed provide a more accurate assessment for those eligible.

I am writing separately to each Member whose constituency will be affected by these changes. I am also writing to each Member who made representations last winter to inform them of the advice from the Meteorological Office.

The amending regulations also provide for the rate of a cold weather payment to remain at £25 for winter of 2009-10.

Cold weather payments are separate from, and in addition to, winter fuel payments which are paid to eligible people from age 60.

Courts: Magistrates' Courts


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Bridget Prentice) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Local authorities use the magistrates' courts to enforce non-payment of council tax. This process begins with an application (called a complaint) for the court to issue a summons informing the individual that the local authority is seeking unpaid council tax and asking the individual to attend court if they wish to challenge the court making a liability order for that amount. The issue of a summons for non-payment of council tax or non-domestic rates must be authorised by a justice of the peace or legal adviser with delegated powers from a justices' clerk. Fees are chargeable and the decision of the court at the hearing must be recorded in a court register.

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Investigations by HMCS staff have identified examples of a small number of magistrates' courts failing to follow the correct procedures. In particular HMCS has identified examples of fees not being charged to local authorities for issuing proceedings and some examples of a failure at Salford magistrates' court to enter the results of applications for liability orders on the court register. More seriously, two magistrates' courts, Rochdale and Salford, permitted the local authorities to issue summonses requiring attendance at court without the authorisation of the court.

This was a clear procedural failing and was immediately stopped when it came to light. Individuals and the magistrates concerned in subsequently hearing cases would not have been aware of this irregularity.

In all such cases, individuals would have had ample opportunity to attend court if they wished to challenge the liability to have the non-payment enforced against them. However, they would not have been aware that the summons had not been properly issued. Had the summonses been correctly issued, there is no reason to think the consequences would have been any different in practice. Individuals should pay their council tax and this House would expect non-payment to be properly enforced.

Given the paucity of information available, it is not practicable to identify the individuals concerned. The issues identified in Rochdale and Salford have been fully investigated and I am satisfied that correct procedures are now in place. A national check was carried out that revealed no similar practices and all courts have been reminded of the importance of following the correct procedures.

Equality: Health and Social Care


Baroness Thornton: My honourable friend the Minister of State, Department of Health (Phil Hope) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

In April 2009, the Secretary of State for Health asked Sir Ian Carruthers, chief executive of NHS South West, and Jan Ormondroyd, chief executive of Bristol City Council, to undertake a review of age discrimination and age equality in the health and social care sector, as announced in a Written Statement on 27 April 2009 (Official Report, col. 35WS).

The review was asked to consider what health and social care organisations should do to meet the age provisions of the Equality Bill, currently before Parliament. The Bill outlaws age discrimination against people aged 18 and over by those providing services and exercising public functions. The Bill also creates a new public sector equality duty which applies in relation to age as well as to seven other protected characteristics.

The review was supported by the National Advisory Group on Age Discrimination, chaired by John Dixon, deputy chief executive and director of social services at West Sussex County Council. The review has undertaken a comprehensive engagement process in the south-west with local authorities, the NHS, public groups and third sector organisations, focusing on the practical implementation of the Bill.

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The review's leaders published their report, Achieving Age Equality in Health and Social Care-a report to the Secretary of State for Health on 22 October 2009. The report sets out the review's recommendations and conclusions on what actions health and social care organisations need to take to tackle age discrimination and advance age equality. It includes a recommendation to implement the Equality Bill's age discrimination ban in health and social care at the same time as in other sectors.

The Government are minded to accept the review's recommendation on the timing of implementation. The department intends to consult on its response to the report in December of this year. This will take place in parallel with the further development of a resource pack designed to support implementation.

The report has been placed in the Library and copies are available to honourable Members from the Vote Office.

EU: Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council


Baroness Thornton: My honourable friend the Minister of State, Department of Health (Gillian Merron) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

European Union Health Ministers met in Luxembourg for the EPSCO (Health) Council on 12 October 2009. Andy Lebrecht (Deputy Permanent Representative, UKRep) represented the UK.

EU Health Commissioner Vassiliou opened the meeting by announcing the latest information from the ongoing clinical trials on the vaccines for H1N1. It was looking increasingly likely that only one dose would be enough to ensure immunity, rather than two as previously thought. As requested by the council conclusions, the Commission would propose a mechanism whereby member states with surpluses of vaccines could make those vaccines available to other member states.

The Commissioner then noted that the joint procurement exercise for those member states without agreements with the pharmaceutical industry (Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Malta) was ongoing and might be extended to EU neighbourhood or candidate countries. She finished by remarking that had the EU had a common procurement agreement for vaccines, rather than differing national arrangements, then all countries could have had the right amount of vaccines at a lower price.

Commissioner Vassiliou praised the willingness to work together that member states had shown throughout the pandemic, but noted that there was room for improvement, particularly in the field of communication. She complained that the Commission and other member states had often heard about important announcements through the media, rather than beforehand from the member state(s) concerned.

The ministerial discussion focused on three main issues: communications with the public; work with developing countries; and cross-cutting multisectoral preparedness.

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Most member states agreed that communications should be co-ordinated wherever possible, but noted that they would always have to be tailored to local circumstances. When policies or messages differed, it was important that authorities could explain to the public why this was. This was particularly true for the vaccination campaigns which will be launched in the near future. The UK, and other countries, emphasised the key role that the Health Security Communicator's Network, which provides a forum for officials dealing with communications to liaise with each other, has to play here. The UK also noted that it would be important for any EU-level communications initiative to support member state initiatives.

There was also a clear consensus that work with developing countries should be led by the UN system, and the WHO in particular. Many member states noted that the question of aid was wider than only the supply of vaccines: the EU should consider how healthcare systems more generally could be strengthened. The UK encouraged other member states and the Commission to provide as much support as possible to the UN's urgent needs identification and prioritisation process for developing countries, and looked forward to the discussions on this envisaged by the council conclusions.

The presidency received clear support for the work it had initiated on multisectoral issues in the Friends of the Presidency Group. In addition to transport, telecommunications, and energy, member states thought that business continuity in banking and food and water supplies should be considered. The UK said that it thought that this multisectoral work was essential and suggested two specific tasks this group could set itself:

in the short term, a report summarising the business planning assumptions each member state is using; andin the long term, a piece of work examining the kind of flexibility that might be needed in Community legislation in the event of a crisis.

The presidency welcomed these suggestions and said that the group would indeed take forward the work suggested by the UK.

EU: General Affairs and External Relations Council


The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead): My honourable friend the Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 26 and 27 October in Luxembourg. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and I will represent the UK.

The agenda items are as follows:

General Affairs

Preparation of the 29 and 30 October European Council

The GAERC will discuss the presidency's agenda for the October European Council, which will be dominated by three main topics: institutional issues,

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climate change and the economic and financial crisis. On institutional issues, the focus will be on how to follow up Czech President Klaus's questions in relation to the Lisbon treaty. The presidency will look to make progress where it can on implementation of the Lisbon treaty. It is possible that this may include detailed discussion on the shape of the Commission.

Preparations for the Copenhagen summit on climate change will be a priority as the October European Council offers the last realistic opportunity for the EU to agree a mandate in advance of Copenhagen. The presidency has also scheduled a discussion of the Commission's Larosiere proposals on European financial supervision and regulation, focusing on Commission proposals for the creation of a new European systemic risk body (ESRB). The other agenda items are illegal migration, the Baltic Sea strategy and external relations.

The Government broadly support the presidency's agenda and look forward to a firm EU commitment on climate change ahead of Copenhagen.

Baltic Sea Strategy

There will be a short discussion of the EU strategy for the Baltic Sea region. Ministers are expected to agree conclusions on the strategy before it is formally adopted at the October European Council. The strategy aims to make the Baltic Sea region an environmentally sustainable, prosperous, accessible, and secure place, by bringing together a range of existing and planned measures into an integrated overall approach. The Government welcome the strategy as a means of delivering joined-up regional approaches to the issues facing Europe and will be interested to observe the development of actions and the lessons this may have for the management of regional seas.

AOB: Climate change

Following the launch of the Four Degree Map on 22 October, which involved senior scientists from the Met Office Hadley Centre, we will be interested to hear partners' views. The map shows the most likely outcome from business-as-usual emissions and underlines the risk of a four degree rise to security and prosperity, and the need for a deal at Copenhagen that will keep warming to a maximum of two degrees. Ministers will also discuss the forthcoming EU summits with the US, India, Russia and China, where we want climate change to be a key agenda item.

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