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14 Oct 2010 : Column WS35

Written Statements

Thursday 14 October 2010

Afghanistan: Training

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Liam Fox) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Over the past few months, the UK and our coalition partners in Afghanistan have carried out a rebalancing of forces within the area of operations covered by Regional Command (South West). In a counterinsurgency campaign, the people are the prize. It is hugely important that we strike the right balance between the numbers of the civilian population and the size of the security forces available to protect them. Over the summer, the UK has transferred security responsibility for Kajaki, Musa Qala and Sangin to our US allies in order to concentrate British forces in the key terrain of central Helmand where they are making steady progress in countering the threat from insurgents and nurturing the conditions necessary for secure and stable development in the region.

As a result of this rebalancing of our forces, we plan to increase by a total of over 320 the number of troops directly involved in the institutional training and development of the Afghan National Security Forces. This is in line with the coalition's intent to increase the number of troops directly involved in enhancing the capability of Afghan forces so that the Afghans, in time, can take the lead for security in their country. Of these additional troops, around 170 will be formally accredited on the NATO Combined Joint Statement of Requirement as agreed at the recent NATO Force Generation Conference, while some 150 will take on additional roles that we have identified as a priority in central Helmand. A significant proportion of these troops will be involved in training the Afghan National Police.

The uplift in the number of those involved in institutional training and development will not result in a change to the UK's established and enduring conventional force level of 9,500 personnel.

Civil Society Organisations

Statement

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My honourable friend the Minister for Civil Society (Nick Hurd) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today publishing a strategy for voluntary and community groups, charities and social enterprises. The document sets out the scale and nature of the opportunities being made available to civil society organisations as part of the Government's wider reform agenda, and spells out some of the practical measures that the Government are taking to support this vital sector.



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I am also today publishing a Cabinet Office consultation document, asking for views on how infrastructure support for front-line civil society organisations can be improved.

I have placed copies of both documents in the Libraries of the House. The documents are also available on the Cabinet Office website at www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk.

Coroner System

Statement

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Jonathan Djanogly) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I wish to make a Statement to announce plans for changes to the coroner system in England and Wales.

We believe the proposals I am putting forward today will bring improvements to the system, and address current inconsistencies and inefficiencies in the delivery of services to bereaved families.

We need to create minimum national standards and issue improved guidance on important procedures such as the commissioning of post-mortem examinations, while supporting the local management and delivery of the service.

To that end, we plan to bring forward some of the measures from Part 1 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.

Our aims are to:

improve the coroner system so that inquests are timely and bereaved people are provided with sufficient information and support throughout the process;improve the effectiveness of inquests, so cases are conducted in the most appropriate district, information is better shared between coroners and other agencies and investigations are better informed by medical advice; andsupport local service management and delivery to ensure coroners and their officers have the skills to carry out their jobs and best practice is shared between coroner districts and between the local authorities which fund them.

We will achieve this by:

commencing provisions enabling operational problems facing coroners to be addressed;reviewing and updating the Coroners Rules;issuing and monitoring best practice guidance, including a national charter for bereaved families;maintaining and improving training for coroners and their officers; andencouraging the further establishment of support services provided by the voluntary sector to those attending inquests.

We will make it simpler for coroners to transfer cases between each other, for the convenience of bereaved families and to reduce delays. We will also make it possible for post-mortem and related examinations to

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take place at the most appropriate specialist centre, by removing the geographical restrictions of the Coroners Act 1988.

We aim to commence these measures in line with the original deadline of April 2012. Some may be brought in earlier than that.

We will continue to work across government to identify whether and how we can implement other measures in the 2009 Act. We will continue to work closely with Health Ministers to implement proposed new death certification measures so causes of death are recorded more accurately, public health measures are improved, and any improper practices by doctors are detected. In doing so, we will take account of the responses to the consultation paper Reform of the Coroner System Next Stage: Preparing for Implementation. I have today published the Government's response to that paper, and have placed a copy in the Library of both Houses.

However, after careful consideration, we have decided that in the current economic climate we cannot go ahead with plans to implement national leadership from a Chief Coroner, an appeals system, or a medical adviser. We have proposed that the abolition of the office of the Chief Coroner should be included in the public bodies Bill, which was announced earlier today and we are further considering the transfer of some of the Chief Coroner's functions to suitable alternative bodies.

His Honour Judge Peter Thornton QC, a senior circuit judge at the Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey), was appointed by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, to the post of Chief Coroner under Section 35 and Schedule 8 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 after those provisions came into force on 1 February 2010 but had not yet taken up his duties. In light of our intention to abolish the post he will now not do so but I wish to express my gratitude to Judge Thornton for his considerable patience, and advice to the department, during the period of this policy review.

We will continue to work collaboratively with coroners, local government and police authorities to deliver service improvements. We will also explore with voluntary sector organisations how we can work together better, so as to provide further support for people when they suffer a sudden or unexpected bereavement.

We believe that our proposals will deliver an improved and more flexible service to bereaved families and also to coroners, their staff and others who work within or have an interest in the coronial system. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to their dedication and hard work and to recognise the enormous value of the service they provide.

Correction to Commons Written Answer

Statement

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Neville-Jones): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Crime Prevention (James Brokenshire) has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement.



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I regret to inform the House that there were inaccuracies in an Answer to Parliamentary Questions 15306, 15307, 15308, 15309, 15310 and 15391 (linked) on 15 September 2010 (Official Report, col. 1077-1078W).

The response contained inaccurate statistics and referred to measures which are not the responsibility of the Home Office and which are therefore outside the scope of the question.

I can confirm that the Answer should have read as follows.

The tables placed in the Libraries of the House set out measures for which the Home Secretary is responsible which have been presented to the Council pursuant to Title IV of the Treaty establishing the European Community ("TEC pre-Lisbon measures") and Title V of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union ("TFEU post-Lisbon measures" from 1 December 2009) attracting the UK opt-in.

They also set out measures presented following the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty pursuant to those elements of the Schengen acquis in which the UK participates (the police and criminal justice elements) and, pre-Lisbon those measures building on Schengen from which the UK was excluded.

The Lisbon treaty introduced a right for the UK to opt out of Schengen building measures where we were automatically bound prior to its entry into force.

There is one "mixed" measure currently under negotiation which includes provisions which build on those elements of the Schengen acquis to which we are bound: a Council regulation to establish an agency for the purposes of managing existing IT systems in the area of Justice and Home Affairs. The deadline by which the UK had to notify its decision to opt out of that measure was 21 June 2010; the UK made no such notification. The regulation also includes ex-Title IV TEC (now Title V TFEU) provisions to which the UK opted in on 23 September 2009.

Following the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty, excluding the IT agency, there have been 14 measures for which the Home Office has responsibility to which the Title v TFEU opt-in has applied. The UK has opted in to nine and out of three, and is considering a further two published proposals where the Government will take a decision within three months. There have been three measures to which the Schengen opt-out applied (excluding the IT Agency). The UK is participating in all three.

Additional information on the dates when all these measures were presented, when the UK signalled its acceptance at the council, when they were adopted and entered into force are not held centrally and could only be obtained at disproportionate cost. However, all decisions to opt into or out of JHA measures are notified to Parliament at the time they are made. The first annual report will be presented to Parliament in December providing retrospective information on the UK's application of the opt-in protocol from 1 December 2009-1 December 2010, a year since the Lisbon treaty came into force.

Table 1 and table 2 referred to in the corrected Answer will be placed in the House Libraries.



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Courts Service: Key Performance Indicators

Statement

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Jonathan Djanogly) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

In March 2010 a list of key performance indicators was published for Her Majesty's Courts Service for 2010-11. One of these indicators was "to maintain the very satisfied element of the HMCS court user satisfaction survey at or above the 2007-08 baseline of 41 per cent". The data to measure this indicator are usually captured using an independent survey of court users.

In April 2011 HMCS and the Tribunals Service will come together to form a new integrated agency. Commissioning new surveys for 2010-11 would not represent good value for money as the results would be of limited value and would not be available until after the creation of the new agency. I have, therefore, decided that the survey used to report against this performance indicator should not go ahead.

HMCS remains committed to providing good customer service to all court users across England and Wales. User satisfaction remains strong with 82 per cent of court users satisfied overall, with 40 per cent of those being very satisfied. The new integrated courts and tribunals service will continue to deliver improvements in the services provided for courts and tribunal users.

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

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My honourable friend the Minister of State for Employment (Chris Grayling) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council will be held on 21 October 2010 in Luxembourg. Andy Lebrecht, UK Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU, will represent the United Kingdom.

The main item on the agenda will be Europe 2020, including two separate discussions on the employment and social dimensions. On employment governance, Council will adopt conclusions and hold an orientation debate. The UK will stress that what the December council finally endorses for assessment and monitoring must adhere to the relevant treaty basis. On social protection, Council will adopt the Social Protection Committee opinion and hold another orientation debate, in which the UK will stress the need to respect subsidiarity and focus on the outcomes of poverty reduction through exchange of experience, rather than the Commission monitoring the situation in member states.

The Commission will provide information on the employment aspects of its flagship initiative, youth on the move. The UK welcomes the focus on supporting young people's access to the job market through better education, training and mobility.



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The Council will adopt the employment guidelines which were politically endorsed by the June European Council (JEC) before the European Parliament (EP) consultation required by the treaty ended. In response to the EP report, the presidency only proposed amendments to the recitals so the JEC agreement stands. Council will also adopt the Employment Committee opinion on active and positive transitions. The opinion is about making work pay and has focused on a life cycle approach covering movement either from unemployment to employment or between jobs, giving more attention than previously to activation, skills and flexible working.

The Belgian presidency will provide information on the preparation for the tripartite social summit, which will discuss how to encourage more jobs as we come out of the recession.

Under any other business, there will be information from the Commission on the Green Paper on pensions and the presidency will provide an update on the work being done at European level to promote the inclusion of the Roma. There will also be information on various conferences including the round table on poverty and the conference on child poverty and child well-being.

EU: Justice and Home Affairs Council

Statement

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): The Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council was held on 7 and 8 October in Luxembourg. My honourable friend, the Minister of State for Immigration (Damian Green) and my right honourable friend, the Secretary of State for Justice (Kenneth Clarke) attended on behalf of the United Kingdom. The following issues were discussed at the Council.

The first measure on the roadmap, the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings, was adopted by the council as an "A" point. The directive sets minimum standards as regards interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings throughout the European Union. The aim of the proposal is to ensure that, if suspects and defendants do not understand or speak the language used, they are entitled to interpretation from the time they are made aware that they are suspected or accused until the proceedings reach their conclusion, including any appeal. Suspected or accused persons will also be entitled to have some essential documents translated, so they can fully understand the case against them.

The interior session began with the Commission introducing two legal migration proposals: (i) a directive establishing the conditions of entry and residence of third country nationals entering the EU through an intra-company transfer and (ii) a directive on the conditions of entry and residence of third country nationals for the purposes of seasonal employment. The directives were intended to respond to labour market needs, boost EU competitiveness and tackle illegal immigration. Neither directive created a right to admission. The presidency stated that negotiations would continue in working groups on both directives

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to find solutions to member states' concerns. The UK will decide whether to opt into the proposals by 15 October.

Following this there was a political discussion on the Common European asylum system (CEAS) where the presidency reminded member states that the 2012 deadline was approaching. The presidency was committed to moving forward on the Dublin and Eurodac regulations and long-term residents and qualification directives. The UK stated that it did not favour further legislation and preferred a focus on practical co-operation, and confirmed that it was committed to work at a practical level to spread best practice and ensure solidarity. The UK was already involved in capacity-building for asylum decision-making in member states, and was prepared to do more. The UK highlighted that the time was right for the Commission to demonstrate strong leadership to co-ordinate these efforts, to ensure an effective delivery mechanism whilst undertaking more work with countries of origin. The Commission confirmed that the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) would be able to start work in January and that the work programme and the budget were being developed.

During the Interior Ministers lunch, Ministers discussed the recent travel advice issued by the United States. Jane Lute, Assistant Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, attended. She stated that the recent advice on travel to Europe was issued in order for the US public to be more vigilant. She explained that in the US they increasingly shared information with the public and private sector.

Following Jane Lute's departure Ministers discussed EU threat alerts. There was a widespread view that member states would be responsible for their own assessments, but there was a broad view that member states should give pre-notification of changes to EU colleagues.

After lunch the Council in mixed committee with Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland (non-EU Schengen states) received an update from the Commission that the EU visa information system (VIS) would not be ready in time for the planned go-live date of December 2010. Member states had agreed it would now be rolled out in June 2011. The delay had been caused by problems with the contractor and in member states' preparations. The UK does not participate in VIS as it builds on an area of the Schengen acquis in which the UK does not participate.

Next there was a discussion on visa reciprocity in the context of the Canadian decision to reintroduce visas for Czech nationals. The Commission stated that further discussion should wait until after it issued a report on visa reciprocity, due by the end of the year.

The Commission presented a progress report and an updated comprehensive global schedule and budgetary estimate for the second generation of the Schengen Information System (SIS II), during which it reiterated some of the reasons for the delay including the change in specification by the Council. On the issue of increased national costs, the Commission stated that it was still consulting internally on the use of the external border fund.

After mixed committee the council held an orientation debate on the negotiation of passenger name record (PNR) agreements with the US, Canada and Australia.

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The Commission explained that the PNR package aimed to establish a coherent framework for the exchange of data with third countries and proposed that negotiations with all three countries should start at the same time. The UK supported this approach and welcomed the Commission's recognition that PNR was a crucial tool in the fight against terrorism and organised crime and was looking forward to seeing the EU PNR directive appear in January 2011. The UK stated that it strongly believed that early publication of an instrument which covered intra-EU flights was vital to the safety and security of EU citizens. The Commission said it would propose the new EU PNR directive early next year.

The Commission presented its communication on EU counterterrorism (CT) policy: main achievements and future challenges, which provided a summary of EU activity since the launch of the EU CT strategy in 2005. One finding was that the threat from terrorism was still live. The EU had not had a major terrorist attack since 2005, not because no attempt had been made, but because those responsible for our security had done a very good job.

The Commission also presented its communication on information management and stated the purpose of the exercise was to provide overview of the various important information systems which existed, such as the terrorist finance tracking programme and the data retention directive.

During AOB, the Commission provided details of the Memorandum of Understanding signed with Libya and there was a discussion on the framework agreement with that country. The UK underlined the importance of consulting and involving member states in this kind of initiative.

The justice session began with a debate about the criminal law articles (Articles 1-13, except Article 10) in the draft directive on combating sexual abuse and exploitation of children and child pornography. This directive seeks to ensure that criminal activities to sexually exploit children, including misuse of the internet, are more fully covered than in the existing framework decision (2004). The UK maintained its parliamentary scrutiny reserve on the text but gave its general support for the proposal. The Commission noted that the European Parliament had not yet indicated its position, so it would defend its proposal but would engage constructively in negotiations. The presidency confirmed that negotiations on the remaining articles would continue with a view to agreeing a general approach on the entire text at the December JHA Council.

The Commission then gave a presentation on the draft directive on the right to information in criminal proceedings. This proposal is the second measure in the road map to strengthen procedural rights in criminal proceedings. It aims to set common minimum standards and improve the rights of suspects and accused persons by ensuring that they receive information about their rights. The UK supported the concept of a letter of rights and agreed that it was essential for suspects and defendants to be made aware of their rights. The UK has yet to confirm whether it will be opting into this draft directive.

Next, the presidency provided an update on progress in the European Parliament on the European protection order, a measure designed to protect victims moving

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from one member state to another. The European Parliament had an orientation vote in committee which indicated support for a broad scope covering civil as well as criminal measures. It would seek to make progress in the council on this complex proposal.

The presidency then provided an information point on negotiations on the proposed regulation implementing enhanced co-operation in the field of law applicable to divorce-Rome III. The UK is not participating in this measure and noted the update.

During lunch, Ministers held an exchange of views about the judicial dimension of the fight against terrorism. The Commission stressed the importance of devoting sufficient funding to measures to combat terrorism.

EU: Transport Council

Statement

Earl Attlee: My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport (Philip Hammond) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

The first Transport Council of the Belgian presidency will take place in Luxembourg on 15 October.

The council will be asked to reach a political agreement on the directive amending Directive 1999/62 on charging of heavy goods vehicles (the Eurovignette directive). The directive governs the taxation of lorries, including rules for the charging of access to road infrastructure where member states choose to do this. The proposed amendments include the removal of references to mandatory hypothecation of revenues and proposals to allow charges to be set flexibly within the overall cap to reflect externalities in areas and at times when there is congestion. We strongly support the former and believe the latter represents an acceptable approach to dealing with congestion. The amendments will also include proposals to allow member states discretion not to include goods vehicles weighing less than 12 tonnes in charging schemes-reflecting the fact that few such vehicles are involved in international traffic-and some limitation of the Commission's powers to propose amendments to minimum and maximum rates using delegated acts. In particular the Commission's power to increase the minimum rates of lorry circulation taxes, such as goods vehicle VED, has been removed. We support both of these proposals.

We remain concerned that this directive, which impacts on national charging regimes and hence on tax, rests on a transport legal base and will continue to press our position that these issues should be agreed by unanimity. We will also continue to press the case for increasing maximum daily rates for time-based charging.

There will be an exchange of views on strategy and the future of transport 2010-2020. This will give Ministers an opportunity to set out their position on issues expected to be covered in the European Commission's forthcoming White Paper on transport policy, prior to the more detailed analysis which will follow publication. I will reiterate the UK's commitment to climate change mitigation measures in transport and to better regulation across the board.



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The council will be asked to adopt a mandate authorising the Commission to open negotiations with Brazil on a comprehensive air transport agreement. The Government support the opening of negotiations on such an agreement.

Under AOB the Commission will present its recent legislative proposal to recast the first rail package. There will be no substantive discussion.

Among items for adoption without debate ("A" points) the council is expected to adopt conclusions on applications of the European global navigation satellite systems.

Health: Contaminated Blood Products

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My honourable friend the Parliamentary-Under Secretary of State, Department of Health (Anne Milton) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 16 April 2010 judgment was handed down on a judicial review of a decision made by the previous Government not to accept a recommendation made in the report of Lord Archer of Sandwell's independent inquiry into infections transmitted some decades ago through contaminated blood products. The recommendation in question, 6(h), which concerned payments to those affected by this tragedy, stated that:

"We suggest that payments should be at least the equivalent of those payable under the Scheme which applies at any time in [the Republic of] Ireland".

The judgment found against the Government, therefore I am now required to look again at this recommendation, and decide whether or not to accept it.

Having carefully compared the circumstances pertaining here and in the Republic of Ireland during the period when most of the infections occurred, and having taken account of the fact that this tragedy similarly affected many other countries, I do not consider there is a case for accepting Lord Archer's recommendation 6(h) that levels of payment here should match those made in Ireland. Every country must make its own decisions on financial support for those affected, taking account of its own particular circumstances, and affordability. The scheme in Ireland was set up on that basis, and has not been replicated in any other country, as far as we know. However, our ex-gratia payment schemes for HIV compare well with those of other countries.

In addition, it is estimated that implementing a similar scheme to Ireland's here in the UK, would cost in excess of £3 billion.

I recognise that this decision will disappoint those who are living with serious health problems as a result of their infections, as well as their families and the families of those who have already died. During the summer I met representatives of those affected, and heard first hand about the hardships that they have to face on a daily basis.

I believe that to a large extent the recommendations are already in place. The previous Government increased the level of payments to those affected with HIV to a

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minimum of £12,800 per annum, and have increased the discretionary funding available to their dependants. I do not intend to revisit that decision, but I am persuaded that there are some aspects of Lord Archer's recommendations that should be looked at afresh. These include:

the level of ex-gratia payments made to those affected by hepatitis C, including financial support for their spouses and dependants, and taking account of the level of payments made to those infected with HIV in the UK and via schemes in other countries;the mechanisms by which all ex-gratia payments are made;access to insurance;prescription charges; andaccess to nursing and other care services in the community.

I am initiating a review of the issues raised by these recommendations, which will take place in the context of the current financial climate and results of the spending review. Terms of reference have been placed in the Library. I expect to be able to report the outcome of this work and my intentions by the end of 2010. I will be speaking to the other UK Health Ministers to seek their confirmation whether they wish to participate in reviewing the UK-wide aspects within this timescale or whether I will proceed on an England-only basis.

Health: Generic Substitution of Medicines

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My honourable friend the Minister of State, Department of Health (Simon Burns) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today publishing the Government's response to the consultation on the proposals to implement generic substitution of medicines in primary care. Alongside it a report of the analysis of responses is also published.

The Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme 2009 committed to the introduction of generic substitution in primary care in the National Health Service, subject to discussion with affected parties. Further to discussions with, and views expressed by, stakeholders during 2009, the department undertook a public consultation on proposals to implement generic substitution in primary care between 5 January and 30 March 2010, consulting on three options, including non-implementation.

In total, 423 organisations and individuals submitted written responses. In addition, 107 delegates attended Department of Health listening events, and their comments were recorded as part of the consultation.

Greenstreet Berman, an independent social research company, was appointed to analyse the responses on behalf of the department following a competitive tender process run by the Central Office of Information.

The analysis of responses showed no clear consensus with regards to a preferred option going forward. Three key points were apparent:



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there was a strongly held perception by respondents that generic substitution posed a threat to patient safety. If the proposals were to be implemented, these concerns would arise in the front-line delivery of NHS services, impacting on the workload of healthcare professionals; the position on the cost-effectiveness of generic substitution implementation is inconclusive. There is a strong sense that the effort involved in implementing a formal generic substitution scheme was simply too great for the potential gain; andother, less nationally prescriptive mechanisms for further supporting the use of generic medicines can be explored.

The coalition Government intend to stand by the 2009 PPRS agreement, which expires at the end of 2013. However, in the light of the public consultation findings, the department will not be progressing any further the implementation of generic substitution. Instead, the department will be looking at further ways to support the use of generic medicines in a way that is acceptable to patients, recognising that there are still some savings that can potentially be delivered in this area.

Further details can be found at: http://www.dh. gov.uk/en/Consultations/Responsestoconsultations/DH_120431.

Copies of both the Government response to the consultation and the analysis of responses report have been placed in the Library and copies are available for honourable Members from the Vote Office.

Higher Education: Funding

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Wilcox): My honourable friend the Minister of State for Skills and Lifelong Learning, has today made the following Statement.

On Wednesday 13 October the Office for National Statistics (ONS) announced that it has now chosen to reclassify general further education colleges as part of central government; this decision results from powers provided in the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. General further education colleges had previously been classified as part of the private sector.

This decision will have implications for the way that colleges are treated for national accounts purposes and therefore may impact on the collection and monitoring of financial information from institutions. However, we do not expect it will have any direct impact on colleges for the remainder of the financial year.

I have already written to the governing bodies of further education colleges reiterating the Government's commitment to reduce unnecessary administrative burdens on colleges, thereby giving them the freedom to make their own judgments and decisions about how they work with partners, and how best to manage their internal affairs for the benefit of learners, employers and wider communities.



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As part of this work the department for Business Innovation and Skills is exploring options to bring forward legislation that will seek to repeal the requirement on further education colleges to secure the consent of the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency before borrowing money. The department will also review all the conditions in the financial memorandum between colleges and the Skills Funding Agency as part of the wider assessment of freedoms.

I will continue to keep the House informed as our plans are further developed and refined.

Learning Disability

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My honourable friend the Minister of State, Department of Health (Paul Burstow) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am pleased to announce that I have today published the Department of Health's progress report in response to the recommendations of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and Local Government Ombudsman in their March 2009 report Six Lives: The Provision of Public Services to People with Learning Disabilities.

The report provides an assessment of progress made in health and social care services to fulfil the recommendations of Six Lives and improve health care and treatment for people with learning disabilities. This follows a series of reports that highlighted failures in adequately meeting the needs of this group of people. The report has been placed in the Library and copies are available to honourable Members in the Vote Office. The report is also available at http://www. dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/DH_120251.

Mental Health and Learning Disabilities

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My honourable friend the Minister of State, Department of Health (Paul Burstow) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today laying before Parliament the 14th report prepared pursuant to Section 11 of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986 as amended by the Health and Social Care Act 2001. The report sets out the main developments in mental health and learning disabilities services that have taken place since the 13th report in 2003. It also provides the statistical data required under Section 11(1) (b) of the Act.

A report under Section 11 has not been published since 2003. We have published information about service and policy developments, but this information has not been laid before Parliament. The department apologises unreservedly to Parliament for this oversight by the previous Government.



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Development of services for people with learning disabilities or mental illness in England-14th report is in the Library and copies are available to honourable Members from the Vote Office.

Pensions

Statement

The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): My honourable friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mark Hoban) has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Government provide generous tax relief to save for a pension, to encourage individuals to take responsibility for retirement planning and to recognise that pensions are less flexible than other forms of saving. The cost of tax relief net of income tax paid on pensions paid doubled under the last Government to around £19 billion per annum by 2008-09.

To ensure that pensions tax relief remains fair and affordable, the Government confirmed in the June Budget that they would proceed with the previous Government's goal to reduce the cost of pensions tax relief by about £4 billion per annum. It was clear, however, that the previous Government's approach to achieving this introduced significant complexity into the tax system, undermined pension saving and damaged UK businesses and competitiveness.

We announced in the June Budget that we would seek an alternative approach that limited the amount of tax relief that those who make the highest pension contribution receive, while ensuring generous incentives and flexibility for the vast majority of pension savers. We believed that such a system would be fairer, preserve incentives to save and would lessen the impact on the ability of UK businesses to attract and retain talent. This view has been confirmed by the response to the informal consultation we held over the summer.

So today, the Government are announcing that, from April 2011, the annual allowance (AA) for tax-privileged pension saving will be reduced from £255,000 to £50,000 and that from April 2012 the lifetime allowance (LTA) will be reduced from £1.8million to £1.5million. These changes will generate around £4 billion annual revenue in the steady state, protecting public finances.

Because we want a system that balances the needs of those in defined benefit (DB) and defined contribution (DC) schemes, the reduced AA applies to both types of schemes. Further, the deemed contributions to DB schemes will be calculated via a simple "flat factor" method. Reflecting the Government Actuary's advice, the level of the factor will be set at 16. Again, this achieves a fair balance between DB and DC schemes. The Government Actuary's report is publicly available on the HM Treasury website from today.

More detail on the policy specification and impacts can be found in a summary of responses to the July discussion document, and draft clauses for the AA regime (including transitional arrangements), also available on the website from today.

The Government anticipate that most individuals and employers will look to adapt their pension saving behaviour and remuneration terms to ensure that their

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pension contributions remain below the AA. However, we recognise that for traditional DB schemes this will be more difficult because changes in circumstances can lead to one-off spikes in pension accruals. We have sought to mitigate the impact of this through a more generous AA than we originally proposed. Further, where the pension tax charge exceeds the AA, we have proposed that unused allowance from up to the three previous years will be carried forward to offset against the excess contribution. In the interests of fairness, this will be available for DB and DC schemes. This will provide protection for the vast majority of people on moderate incomes. In the exceptional cases where this mitigation is not sufficient, we will introduce further measures to ensure that individuals will not have to pay large charges from their current income. We will consult on options to give individuals and schemes more flexibility over the payment of these charges in November 2010.

Public Bodies

Statement

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My right honourable friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office (Francis Maude) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The coalition Government are committed to review public bodies, with the aim of increasing accountability for actions carried out on behalf of the state. Today I am placing in the Library of the House my proposals for the reform of public bodies, which summarises previous announcements and adds further proposals. Copies will also be available in the Vote Office. In addition, I will make an Oral Statement to the House today.

The landscape for public bodies needs radical reform to increase transparency and accountability, to cut out duplication of activity, and to discontinue activities which are simply no longer needed.

This public expect Ministers to take responsibility for what the Government do, and not leave this to people or bodies that are unelected. In the past, too many public bodies have been established without proper thought, and allowed to remain when their mission has long been accomplished. This has meant that elected politicians have been able to avoid making difficult and tough decisions. This is a direct challenge to accountability and is contrary to openness and transparency in public services that this Government seek to achieve.

So the Government's presumption is that state activity, if needed at all, should be undertaken by bodies that are democratically accountable at either national or local level. A body should only exist as a quango if it meets one of three tests, to which my review has subjected all existing public bodies. These tests are:

does it perform a technical function?;

do its activities require political impartiality?; and

does it need to act independently to establish facts?

This is a work in progress. A number of changes have already been announced. A number of bodies remain under consideration, with reviews still under way. All remaining public bodies will be subject to a

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rigorous triennial review to ensure that the previous pattern of public bodies often outliving the purpose for which they were established is not repeated.

All the changes proposed here will be delivered within departments' spending review settlements. Those bodies whose status is being retained may be subject to further reforms following the spending review, in the same way as all other parts of the public sector.

My review process has covered 679 HM Government's non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs), as well as 222 other statutory bodies such as some non-ministerial departments and some public corporations. Substantial reforms are proposed for over half of these bodies-481. The Government propose that 192 will cease to be public bodies. Where it is clear that a public body has accomplished its mission and no longer needs to exist, it will be abolished. This will be through moving it within a government department, where a Minister will be accountable for its activities, into local government, or into the charity or private sectors, or ceasing their work altogether. One hundred and eighteen would be merged down into 57 bodies, removing wasteful and complicating duplication of effort. One hundred and seventy-one are proposed for substantial reform while retaining their current status.

Many public bodies will be retained and will remain at arm's length from government. They will be expected to become more open, accountable and efficient. Non-departmental bodies which are being retained will be subject to a new framework and triennial review process, on which I will bring forward proposals in the new year.

I want to acknowledge the dedication and hard work of those who work in public bodies. We are committed to working with chairs and chief executives of these bodies to ensure that change is conducted as fairly and smoothly as possible.

To enable these proposed changes, the Government will shortly introduce a public bodies Bill, which will give Ministers power to make changes to named statutory bodies. Other forthcoming legislation, such as the education Bill and the localism Bill will also be used to make changes directly.

I believe that these reforms will increase accountability in public life, while making savings and driving out inefficiency and waste.

Zimbabwe

Statement

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Neville-Jones): My honourable friend the Minister for Immigration (Damian Green) has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am announcing today our intention to end the current suspension of enforced returns of failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe. There are some Zimbabweans who continue to have a well founded fear of persecution; we continue to grant protection to those people. As with any other nationality, every case is considered on its individual merits and against the background of the latest available country information from a wide range of reliable sources including international organisations, non-governmental organisations and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.



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The courts have found that not all Zimbabweans are in need of international protection and, given the improved situation on the ground in Zimbabwe since the formation of the inclusive Government in 2009, the time is now right to bring our policy on returns of failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers into line with that in every other country. This will mean that failed asylum seekers from Zimbabwe will from now on be treated in exactly the same way as failed asylum seekers of all other countries when it comes to enforcing returns.

Those found not to be in need of protection have always been expected to return home. We prefer these individuals to return voluntarily and many hundreds have done so. It is in everyone's interest for people to return to Zimbabwe and use their skills to support themselves and help rebuild the country. The Government support this process and are in active dialogue with Zimbabweans to explore how this process can be further assisted.

It remains open to Zimbabweans to return home voluntarily under one of the assisted voluntary return (AVR) programmes which are available for individuals of all nationalities. There are three programmes available under which all returnees receive support in acquiring travel documentation, flight costs to their country of origin and onward domestic transport, airport assistance

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at departure and arrival airports and, for those eligible, up to £1,500 worth of reintegration assistance per person including a £500 relocation grant on departure for immediate resettlement needs and, once home, a range of reintegration options which are delivered "in kind".

The Immigration and Asylum Chamber of the Unified Tribunal Service (IAC) will be hearing in the near future a further country guidance case on general safety of return to Zimbabwe which we expect to reflect the improvements in Zimbabwe since the previous country guidance case was decided in 2008. Therefore, although there is no reason why Zimbabweans who both we, and the courts, have found not to be in need of protection should not now be removed, we will not enforce the first returns until the IAC has delivered its determination. Those who have no right to remain in the UK, and who chose not to return voluntarily, will then face enforced return, in exactly the same way as failed asylum seekers of all other countries.

This change in asylum policy which I have announced today does not reflect any change in our categorical opposition to human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. We will continue to call, both bilaterally and with our international partners, for an end to all such abuses and the restoration of internationally accepted human rights standards in Zimbabwe.


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