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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 15 May 2007

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Single Payment Scheme

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (David Miliband): In my written statement of 22 February 2007, Official Report, column 59WS I promised to keep the House informed of progress with the Single Payment Scheme (SPS).

As at 11 May, a total of over £1.2 billion, representing around 80 per cent. of the estimated total fund for SPS 2006, had been paid in either full or partial payments to 100,599 (92 per cent.) claimants. About 8,500 claimants have yet to receive a payment, the majority of which have claims under €1,000. The remaining claims include many of the more complex cases.

In reviewing prospects over the remaining period to 30 June, I have been guided by the aims I set in my statement of 7 November 2007, Official Report, column 715 namely:

Against that background, I have confirmed with the RPA chief executive that, while it remains very challenging, the agency should remain focused on achieving the existing target of making 96.14 per cent. of payments by 30 June and continue to prioritise activity in respect of claimants who find themselves in difficult circumstances. I have also discussed with him additional steps that can be taken to help achieve this.

I reported in my statement of 22 February that some 25,000 cases from 2005 have been identified for review. With new ones identified as others are dealt with, that number now stands at 22,000. Outstanding work to review entitlement values for all these claims will now be undertaken separately from the process of making payments under the 2006 scheme. Any corrections to SPS 2005 and 2006 payments will follow as necessary. The RPA chief executive is taking a number of other steps to further streamline processing of claims.

In the meantime SPS 2007 application packs were dispatched ahead of RPA’s internal target and completed forms have been received at a steady rate ahead of today’s deadline. The first stages of processing have also begun. Alongside that work, adjustments to the underlying entitlement data will continue as part of the recovery actions required to provide a more predictable payment timetable for 2007 and to stabilise the service provided by the agency for the 2008 scheme year.


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I am very aware of the impact on individual farmers of the payment timetable and the service levels the RPA currently offers in respect of the SPS. I remain committed to ensuring continued improvements in these areas. My noble friend Lord Rooker and I will continue to liaise with representatives of both the main farming bodies and the banks to ensure a common understanding of progress and issues that arise.

Regular updates on payment progress will continue to be published on the RPA website, including updates on estimated total claimant numbers and total fund values. I will also continue to keep the House informed as necessary.

Health

Medical Training (Recruitment)

The Secretary of State for Health (Ms Patricia Hewitt): In my oral statement on 1 May 2007, Official Report, column 1367, I notified the House that there had been two security breaches of the medical training application service (MTAS) that arose on 25 and 26 April.

MWR Infosecurity has now completed a full security review of the MTAS system. Action has been taken by the contractor (Methods) to address the weaknesses identified. Both MWR and CESG (Communications Electronic Security Group), the national technical authority for information assurance, have confirmed that appropriate and sufficiently comprehensive action has been taken. The site was therefore re-opened last week, restricted to postgraduate deaneries only, to support the next steps in the recruitment process.

Because the investigation has made it clear that criminal offences may have been committed, the MWR analysis and report have been given to the police.

Following the recommendations of the review group chaired by Professor Neil Douglas, every eligible applicant for postgraduate medical training has now been guaranteed at least one interview for their first preference post. An additional 15,500 interviews have therefore been arranged as part of round 1 and are now taking place. I am extremely grateful to the consultants who have made themselves available for these additional interviews.

The review group met again on 9 May to consider the process of offering posts to candidates who are successful in their round 1 applications. The group agreed that offers for the current round will be managed locally by individual deaneries, on the basis of published MMC guidance.

Offers will be made to successful candidates on a phased basis as interviews for each specialty are completed. Subject to the outcome of the current judicial review, the first offers for hospital specialities in England will be made on or after 21 May 2007, with all initial offers made by early June. This process of making offers will continue until late June 2007, at which time round 1 will close, ensuring that candidates and employers have time to prepare for appointments commencing on 1 August 2007. Given the continuing concerns of junior doctors about MTAS, the system will not be used for matching candidates to training posts, but will continue to be used for national monitoring.

As we have stressed before, not all training posts will be filled in the current round and there will therefore be
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further substantial opportunities for those who are not successful initially. The review group has agreed that this further recruitment will be locally planned and managed by the deaneries. An announcement of the process will be made shortly. Deaneries are continuing to work with the NHS and the Postgraduate Medical Education and Training Board to establish what additional training posts will be made available beyond the 23,000 training posts already available across the UK.

Home Department

Illegal Working Action Plan

The Minister for Immigration and Asylum (Mr. Liam Byrne): I am today launching the “Border and Immigration Agency’s Illegal Working Action Plan”.

The action plan summarises seven key steps to ensure that we do not just stop illegal journeys to the UK, but the illegal jobs that draw illegal migrants to our country. Illegal working hurts good business, undercuts legal workers and creates illegal profits. It also puts illegal workers themselves at great risk. The measures summarised include:

The action plan includes a public consultation on the implementation of measures to prevent illegal migrant working contained in the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006, specifically a proposed new system of civil penalties and a new criminal offence.

We pose specific questions for participants and invite wider comments on the Government’s plans for the implementation of the legislation. The consultation document is available on the Border and Immigration Agency website at: www.bia.homeoffice.gov.uk. Copies of the consultation document have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Leader of the House

Party Funding

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): I have today published the Government response to the report of the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee report on party funding: “Government Response to the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee First Report of Session 2006-07: Party Funding” (Cm 7123).

On behalf of the Government, I would like to thank the Chairman of the Committee, the right hon.
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Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and his colleagues on the Committee for their hard work in conducting this important inquiry into the funding of political parties.

The Government are grateful to the Committee for its contribution to the current debate. The Government are committed to working out the practical arrangements required to take the regulatory framework to new levels of rigour, transparency, fairness and effectiveness. The Government further believe that all political parties must play their part in developing, and maintaining, a system of party funding in which the public can have confidence.

Cabinet Office

Draft Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Hilary Armstrong): I am today laying before Parliament a draft Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill, which is accompanied by a three-month public consultation.

The draft Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill is essentially composed of two parts. The first part will establish the Local Better Regulation Office as a statutory corporation and give it powers to help promote consistency and better communication among local authorities and central Government, helping them work together to keep the burdens of regulation on compliant businesses to a minimum. Part 2 of the Bill is enabling and will provide a framework for a range of new civil enforcement powers, which will allow regulators to respond to non-compliance in ways that are transparent, flexible, and proportionate.

In addition, I am launching a consultation on the regulators’ compliance code (the code); this will be issued under part 2 of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006. The code sets out a framework for regulators that will encourage them to focus enforcement effort on businesses most likely to cause harm, while improving advice and reducing unnecessary burdens for others. This should help reduce the overall administrative burden of regulation on business.

The draft Bill and two consultations are presented as three documents. The first is Command Paper 7803, which contains the draft Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill and explanatory notes. The second is the accompanying consultation document, which also includes the impact assessment. The last is the consultation document for the regulators’ compliance code. All three documents will be placed in the Library of the House for the reference of Members and copies will be made available in the Vote Office.

The consultations can be viewed on the Cabinet Office website at: http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/regulation/consultation/current/index.asp.

The consultation period will run until 15 August 2007, and will be carried out in accordance with the Cabinet Office code of practice on consultation.


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Work and Pensions

Child Maintenance

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. John Hutton): I have today published two papers on child maintenance.

On 13 December 2006, the Government published its Command Paper: "A New System of Child Maintenance”. Since publication we have conducted a number of consultation engagements and have received around 200 separate responses from stakeholders. The report I am publishing today provides a summary of the views that have been expressed. I am grateful to all who have contributed, and our response shows how the policies have developed as a result of the consultation process.


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The Work and Pensions Select Committee published its report “Child Support Reform” on 15 March this year. I am publishing today the Government’s response to the conclusions and recommendations of that report. I am grateful to the Committee for their work and analysis, which has made an important contribution to the ongoing development of our proposals.

Our proposals set out a clear way ahead for the child maintenance system. They will help lift many more children out of poverty, and enforce the rights of children and the responsibilities of parents. The streamlined system will offer a better service for clients and be more cost-effective for the tax payer.

Copies of both documents are available from the Vote Office.


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