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Under any other business, the Austrian delegation will provide information on the OECD ministerial meeting in February.

Health: Bilateral Agreements

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Thornton): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health (Andy Burnham) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I would like to inform the House that, following further discussions between the department and the Isle of Man Government, it has been agreed to defer the termination of the bilateral healthcare agreement between the UK and the Isle of Man by six months.

We have also agreed that the current 2009-10 financial allocation of £2.8 million given by the UK Government to the Isle of Man Government for elective treatment will be the last payment of this kind. From 2010-11, no such payment will be made and no public money will change hands between the respective Governments. This new arrangement will bring the Isle of Man into line with other agreements that the UK has with a number of non-European Economic Area countries.

Both Governments have agreed to keep the situation under review with the expectation that it can form the basis of a new reciprocal healthcare agreement that would come into place in the autumn, if the new arrangement is working for both parties.

We believe that we have arrived at a position that not only provides the UK taxpayer with an agreement that represents value for money, but also ensures arrangements for travellers on temporary visits remain the same as they are today.



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Learning Disability: Adult Social Care

Statement

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

I am today announcing the organisations that the department has selected, following an open competitive procurement process, to:

carry out a time-limited confidential inquiry into premature and avoidable deaths of people with learning disabilities; and provide a time-limited public health observatory service to help commissioners better understand the health and healthcare needs of people with learning disabilities in their local populations.

Contracts have been awarded to:

University of Bristol Norah Fry Research Centre (Bristol), to run the confidential inquiry; andNorth East Public Health Observatory (NEPHO) in partnership with the Centre for Disability Research at Lancaster University, to provide the public health observatory service.

Both these contracts have been awarded for an initial period of 12 months from March 2010, with the intention to extend them for a further two years until March 2013 subject to evaluation of the work carried out in the first year and availability of funds.

These contract awards follow recommendations made in Healthcare for All, the report of the independent inquiry headed by Sir Jonathan Michael into access to healthcare for people with learning disabilities. The inquiry recommended that the department establish a confidential inquiry to improve evidence for health and care professionals and a public health observatory to improve data and information to support commissioning. As part of the Valuing People Now strategy for people with learning disabilities published last year, the department gave a commitment to implement both these recommendations. These contract awards take forward that commitment.

These projects have an important part to play in delivering the improvements in health and healthcare for people with learning disabilities to which the Government are committed.

Libel

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Jack Straw) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today publishing the Government's views on reform of the law on libel in the light of the conclusions of the Libel Working Group established by the Ministry of Justice; the recommendations of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in its recent report on its

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inquiry on press standards, privacy and libel; and the responses to our recent consultation paper Defamation and the Internet: The Multiple Publication Rule.

As I announced in a Written Ministerial Statement on 27 January, the Libel Working Group was set up in response to concerns about the possibility that our libel laws were having a chilling effect on freedom of expression. Members of the working group reflected a range of interests and expertise, including organisations campaigning for free speech, claimant and defendant lawyers, media organisations, newspaper editors, and the academic and scientific communities.

The working group's terms of reference were "to consider whether the law of libel, including the law relating to libel tourism, in England and Wales needs reform, and if so to make recommendations as to solutions". The group focused on identifying key priorities relating to libel law in England and Wales, but did not consider issues relating to costs in defamation proceedings, where work is already under way.

The Government have taken a number of steps to control costs in defamation-related proceedings, ensuring that, where after-the-event insurance is taken out, defendants are notified as early as possible, and given the opportunity to reach a settlement without being liable for the insurance premiums. Defamation proceedings are now part of a mandatory costs budgeting pilot, with judges scrutinising costs as cases progress to ensure that they are proportionate and within the agreed budget. In addition, the Government are seeking to reduce the maximum success fee in conditional fee agreements in defamation-related proceedings to 10 per cent as an interim measure so that the specific concerns around high costs in these cases can be addressed as quickly as possible.

The working group's report was submitted to me last week, and will be published on the Ministry of Justice website today, together with the Government's response to the consultation on the multiple publication rule, and copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. I would like to express my gratitude to all the members of the working group for contributing their knowledge and expertise and for the considerable amount of time and effort that they have put into considering these important issues and producing their analysis and options for reform within such a tight timetable.

On the basis of all the views that have been submitted, the Government are convinced that reform of the law on libel is needed, and that action should be taken on a number of aspects of the current law and procedures. We will take steps to implement the necessary changes on as timely a basis as possible. However, in some instances primary legislation may be necessary. Where this is the case, we propose to develop our thinking further and come forward with detailed proposals to include a draft Bill for introduction as soon as parliamentary time allows in the new Parliament.

In particular we will actively be considering:

a single publication rule-the introduction of a single publication rule whereby a defamation claim will have to be brought within one year from the date of the original publication, subject to judicial discretion to extend this period as necessary;

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a new statutory defence-consideration of whether a statutory defence relating to the public interest and responsible journalism can be developed in a way which reconciles the competing interests in relation to reputation and the right to freedom of expression;libel tourism-procedural changes as proposed by the Libel Working Group to address problems relating to the issue of libel tourism. These focus on a tightening, and so a more rigorous application, of the rules and practice in relation to service of defamation claims out of England and Wales where the court's permission is required, in order to head off inappropriate claims at the earliest possible stage. We believe that the working group's proposals in this area will provide effective practical benefits, and intend to raise them with the Civil Procedure Rule Committee and encourage the committee to consider them as soon as possible; and other procedural issues that have been raised in the Libel Working Group report and elsewhere, for example relating to changes to procedures to strengthen the defamation protocol governing pre-action behaviour and to resolve difficulties relating to decisions on the meaning of allegedly defamatory material at an early stage.

The Government believe that the programme of work which they intend to take forward represents an effective and practical way to ensure that our libel laws achieve a fair and just balance which enables people to protect their reputations against defamatory allegations without having a harmful effect on freedom of expression.

Pensions

Statement

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 Minister of State for Pensions and the Ageing Society (Angela Eagle) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Today we shall publish the government response to the consultation "The Use of Default Options in Workplace Personal Pensions and the Use of Group Self Invested Personal Pensions for Automatic Enrolment".

Safeguarding Children

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Children, Young People and Families (Dawn Primarolo) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today publishing two consultation documents as part of reviews of elements of the vetting and barring scheme as recommended by Sir Roger Singleton,

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the Government's chief adviser on the safety of children, in his recent report Drawing the Line.

The first seeks views on a review of the statutory requirements, and the Government's advice, for Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) disclosures for safeguarding purposes on those who work with vulnerable groups, when they are already registered with the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA).

The second seeks views on a review of whether there is a continuing need for the separate class of work with different requirements, defined in the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 as "controlled activity".

I am also today publishing for consultation a revised version of the guidance Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education. This is the key safeguarding guidance for schools, and has been revised largely to take account of the implementation of the vetting and barring scheme under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006. Changes are also included in response to Keeping our School Safe, Sir Roger Singleton's review of safeguarding arrangements in independent schools, non-maintained special schools and boarding schools in England. The consultation also seeks views from the education sector on whether CRB checks should be required or recommended where an individual is registered with the ISA.

These consultations are available to download from www.dcsf.gov.uk/consultations. Views are sought by 15 June 2010.

UK Space Agency

Statement

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Ministry of Defence (Lord Drayson): I am pleased to announce that it is intended to establish the UK Space Agency as an executive agency of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

From 1 April 2010, it is intended that the UK Space Agency will operate as a shadow executive agency prior to being established as a full executive agency.

The new agency is being created following the Space Innovation Growth Team report sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and a public consultation, which ran from July to October 2009, on how to fund and organise the civil space sector so that it can meet the challenges of the future and deliver the greatest benefits to the country. The agency will replace the British National Space Centre and bring together for the first time a range of UK space activities under one single management to enhance efficiencies and improve strategic decision-making.

The agency's responsibilities will include scoping and delivering the UK Government's space requirements, strengthening the UK's relationship with the European Space Agency; agreeing with UK industry how to maximise the benefits of space technologies; and working with the scientific community to provide a clear voice on decisions that affect the sector.



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During the transition to a full executive agency, the shadow agency will begin to take over responsibility for BIS policy and key government budgets for space. This will start with the ESA subscriptions currently funded by NERC, STFC and TSB and subsequently managing UK interests in EU projects including the space component of GMES and Galileo. These are currently the responsibility of Defra and DfT respectively. Further policy transfers may be agreed. It has also been agreed in principle that the agency will manage the UK's financial interest in the EU Satellite Centre, which is currently the responsibility of the MoD, subject to further work. The shadow agency will also

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begin to take responsibility for space funding for technology and instruments currently carried out by the research councils and TSB. It will also negotiate on the UK's behalf on international bodies. The exact date for the creation of the full executive agency and the timescales for the shadow agency's assumption of the above responsibilities will be confirmed over the coming months.

The new agency will allow the UK to exploit fully its competitive advantage in satellites, robotics and related technologies and to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by a world increasingly dependent on advances in space innovations and science.


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