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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 27 March 2008

Children, Schools and Families

"Safer Children in a Digital World" (Byron Review)

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and I today welcome the publication of the report of the Byron review of the risks to children of potentially harmful or inappropriate material on the internet and in video games. A copy of the report, “Safer Children in a Digital World”, will be placed in the Library.

In September 2007 the Prime Minister asked Dr. Tanya Byron to lead an independent review to help parents and their children get the best from new technologies while protecting children from inappropriate or harmful material. This review has been jointly sponsored by the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

The objectives of the Byron review were: to undertake a review of the evidence on risks to children’s safety and wellbeing of exposure to potentially harmful or inappropriate material on the internet and in video games; and to assess the effectiveness and adequacy of existing measures to help prevent children from being exposed to such material and help parents understand and manage the risks of access to inappropriate material, and to make recommendations for improvements or additional action.

Dr. Byron’s final report published today sets out a detailed analysis of the evidence on the risks and benefits of new technologies and evaluates the work already being done to protect children online and ensure appropriate access to age-rated video games. In doing so, Dr. Byron recognises the need to develop a shared culture of responsibility with families, industry and Government all playing their part to reduce the availability of potentially harmful material, restrict access to it by children and to increase children’s resilience and ability to understand and manage risk. We welcome and support this approach.

To achieve this, Dr. Byron recommends reforming how Government and stakeholders work to improve our children’s safety when using the internet through the following measures:

The creation of a new UK Council for Child Internet Safety, established by and reporting to the Prime Minister, including representation from across Government, industry, children’s charities and other key stakeholders. The Council is to be chaired jointly by the Home Office and DCSF. DCMS will play a key role given its important policy responsibilities
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and expertise in this area of media and content regulation. A range of other Departments will also be closely involved.

The development by the Council of a three-pronged national strategy for improving child internet safety:

On video games, Dr. Byron recommends a range of high profile and targeted efforts to help inform parents and children of the appropriateness of different video games and to restrict inappropriate access such as:

We accept Dr. Byron’s recommendations in full and commend Dr. Byron for delivering a groundbreaking report that will make a real difference to children and young people’s lives. In particular, we would like to congratulate Dr. Byron for conducting such a thorough and open process, giving all those with an interest an opportunity to engage with the review on this important debate.

Government will develop a comprehensive action plan in response to Dr. Byron’s recommendations.


Compensation Claims (Iraq)

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): It is proposed to serve a defence on 28 March 2008 in response to the claim brought in the High Court against the Ministry of Defence by Dawood Salim Musa Al-Maliki—on his own behalf and as executor of the estate of Baha Mousa—admitting a substantive breach of Articles 2 (right to life), and 3 (prohibition of torture), of the European Convention on Human Rights.

It is also proposed to serve defences in the similar High Court claims brought against the Ministry of Defence, admitting a substantive breach of Article 3, prohibition of torture, of the European Convention on Human Rights in the following cases:

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The Ministry of Defence further accepts that the admitted substantive breaches of the Convention give rise to claims for compensation.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jonathan Shaw): I represented the United Kingdom at this month’s Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels. The Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Environment, Richard Lochhead, also attended.

The Council unanimously adopted conclusions on the Commission’s Communication on the “health check” of the common agriculture policy.

The Council also adopted by qualified majority, with the UK voting in favour, a proposal to increase national milk quotas by 2 per cent. in April 2008.

Under any other business, the Agriculture Commissioner also updated Council on the latest state of play in the WTO-DDA negotiations. Along with a number of member states, I expressed our support for the Commission’s efforts to reach a balanced conclusion to the current WTO negotiations. France presented a memorandum for debate on competition policy in agriculture to address the organisation of the agri-food sectors. The memorandum calls for greater powers for producer groups to strengthen farmers’ interests and ability to regulate supply in the food chain. Along with a number of member states, I underlined our concerns about the possible impact of the proposal on EC competition law.

Ireland expressed concerns about the future development of the sheep sector. Poland called for further relief measures in the form of export refunds to alleviate the difficulties currently being experienced in the pigmeat sector. I strongly opposed the use of such measures as there was no evidence on their efficiency in addressing the short and longer term EU pig sector problems, but favoured the use of market-based solutions to address difficulties faced in both the sheep and pig sectors.

Cyprus called on the Commission to address the effect of the recent increased feed prices on the production of agricultural products.

Carbon Reduction Commitment (Public Consultation)

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): In June last year, the Government launched a fifteen-week consultation on proposals for the CRC, inviting views on how the UK
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Government and devolved Administrations should implement the UK CRC. The overall response of stakeholders to the consultation document is positive. Stakeholders support the adoption of CRC as a UK-wide scheme and tended to agree with most elements of the Government’s proposed approach.

The CRC, scheduled to begin operation in 2010, is a mandatory emissions trading scheme that will cover around 5,000 public and private organisations, including Government Departments, retailers, banks, water companies, hotel chains and local authorities. Combined, these organisations account for around 10 per cent. of the UK economy’s CO2 emissions.

There will be an introductory three-year phase in which the Government is minded that allowances will be sold at a fixed price of £12/tCO2. In the second phase, starting in 2013, allowances will be auctioned. The revenue from both sales will be recycled to participants related to their performance in reducing emissions compared to others in the scheme.

The UK is committed to meeting carbon reduction targets and to policies that will deliver emissions savings. This new scheme, announced in the energy White Paper, together with the provisions of the energy performance of buildings directive, will have a significant impact on reducing UK CO2 emissions.

The Climate Change Bill, currently going through Parliament, will provide the legal basis for the scheme. A further consultation on detailed regulations will take place in the summer of 2008.

Copies of the report will be placed in the Libraries of the House.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Hong Kong

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): The latest report on the implementation of the Sino-British joint declaration on Hong Kong was published today. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House. A copy of the report is also available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website at www.fco.gov.uk. The report covers the period from 1 July to 31 December 2007. I commend the report to the House.

Home Department

Independent Police Complaints Commission

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): I am pleased to announce that Her Majesty has reappointed Nicholas Hardwick as Chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Commission under the provisions of the Police Reform Act 2002.

Nicholas Hardwick has been chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Commission since 1 February 2003 at which time it was operating as a
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shadow organisation prior to its replacing the Police Complaints Authority with effect from 1 April 2004; the period of the reappointment is for a further 5 years, the maximum permitted period.

The role of chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Commission is a challenging one and I am sure that Nicholas Hardwick will continue to rise to those challenges to ensure that the Independent Police Complaints Commission is effective and plays a full part in further increasing public confidence in the police complaints system.


Coroners Bill

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): The Government’s plans to reform the coroner system were set out in the draft Coroners Bill, which was published in June 2006. Extensive consultation since then has helped to refine several policy areas. Today I am publishing a briefing note that explains the policy changes, and compares the revised policy with that set out in the draft Bill.

Some of the changes have been announced already, such as the addition of provisions to strengthen the public protection role of coroners, and a return to the current position on the reporting of inquests. Other changes, such as the scope of the appeals system and inspection arrangements for the coroners’ service, will be announced for the first time in the briefing note.

The briefing note refers to the removal from the Bill of a provision on restricting the reporting of some inquests. Instead, I have been working with the Press Complaints Commission to produce a short discussion paper on how its press code can be improved to protect bereaved families. The discussion paper also considers how the code, and the role of the Commission, can be better brought to the attention of families. This paper is also being published today.

Copies of the briefing note, “Coroners Bill—Changes made resulting from consultation”, and of the discussion paper on press reporting of inquests have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

Copies of the briefing note are also available on the internet at: www.justice.gov.uk/publications/draft-coroners.htm

Copies of the discussion paper are also available on the internet at: www.justice.gov.uk/publications/coroners- sensitive-reporting.htm

Cabinet Office

Public Bodies 2007

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Tom Watson): The Cabinet Office has today published “Public Bodies 2007” which lists all non-departmental public bodies (NDPB) sponsored by the UK Government as at 31 March 2007. “Public Bodies 2007” also provides summary information on the size and expenditure of the NDPB sector and statistical information on public appointments.

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“Public Bodies 2007” can be downloaded from the civil service website at: http://www.civilservice.gov.uk/about/public/bodies.asp. Copies have also been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.


Highways Agency

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tom Harris): The Highways Agency’s Business Plan for 2008-09 has been published today. Copies of the business plan have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Work and Pensions

Financial Assistance Scheme

The Minister for Pensions Reform (Mr. Mike O'Brien): This statement is an update for the House on the progress made in implementing the changes to the financial assistance scheme (FAS) following the Government announcement on 17 December 2007.

Progress made

The consultation for the first package of draft regulations finished on 20 March. Subject to parliamentary passage, those regulations will increase FAS payments to 90 per cent. of accrued pension, and will also enable us to pay people from their normal retirement age, subject to a lower limit of age 60. We are now considering the responses we have had to the consultation.

We have also consulted on changes we are proposing to annuity factors used in certain circumstances to convert cash sums into rates of notional pension to facilitate the calculation of assistance. This consultation is open until 18 April.

Next steps

We are now beginning the next stage of implementing the changes from the December announcement. Tomorrow we will be publishing a second set of draft regulations for consultation.

The second set of regulations contain provision for early reduced payment for certain qualifying members who are unable to work due to ill health; extending the FAS to members of certain schemes which wound up underfunded with a solvent employer; speeding up initial payments; enabling the board of the Pension Protection Fund to advise in the development of the new FAS arrangements; and removing the option to apply for reinstatement into the state additional pension for those eligible for FAS.

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