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Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): The Minister responsible for food, farming and the environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick) will represent the United Kingdom at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on 29 March.

Discussions will take place on four substantive items-Council conclusions on the Commission Communication on "A better functioning food supply chain in Europe"; presidency conclusions on the "Future of the CAP-market management measures post 2013"; an exchange of views on agriculture and the CAP in the perspective of the EU 2020 strategy; and the quarterly report from the Commission on the dairy market.

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

Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Huw Irranca-Davies): I have set the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) the following performance targets for 2010-11.

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Value for public money

Finance-Achieve break-even performance and deliver efficiency gains

To demonstrate financial sustainability through full cost recovery, sound financial management and governance. Measured through achieving an audited break-even performance 2010-11 and delivering £0.5 million of efficiency gains.


Customer satisfaction to exceed 82 per cent.

Measured through weighted average of customer response to post-contract survey that covers seven aspects of service quality. Incorporates project delivery metrics.

Social responsibility to exceed 75 per cent.

Measured through health and safety key performance indicators; delivery of strategic actions in CEFAS' health and safety plan; maintaining ISO14001 accreditation; and delivery of CEFAS sustainable development action plan.


Science excellence to exceed 75 per cent.

Measured through numbers of peer reviewed scientific papers, aspects of the customer satisfaction survey dealing with understanding customer needs and their rating of CEFAS' science quality; additional aspects are scored together and include take up of CEFAS science by the media, numbers of positions of influence held by CEFAS staff (high level science working groups and advisory positions); numbers of conference presentations; investment in new science through seedcom fund; staff qualifications and professional development.

Staff engagement to exceed 63 per cent.

Measured by an annual questionnaire to staff, using a weighted scale for the eight survey categories.

Further details are given in the CEFAS business plan 2010-11, a copy of which will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.


People with Learning Difficulties (Health Care)

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Phil Hope): I am today announcing the organisations that the Department has selected, following an open competitive procurement process, to:

Contracts have been awarded to:

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.

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These contract awards follow recommendations made in "Healthcare for all", the report of the independent inquiry headed by Sir Jonathan Michael into access to health care 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 health care for people with learning disabilities to which the Government are committed.

Bilateral Healthcare Agreement (UK and Isle of Man)

The Secretary of State for Health (Andy Burnham): 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 2010-2011, 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.


Out-of-Court Disposals

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): On 14 December 2009 the Home Secretary, Attorney-General and I announced to Parliament the terms of reference for the review of the use of out-of-court disposals to be conducted by the Office for Criminal Justice Reform (OCJR). I am issuing this written statement to update the House on further work that is being undertaken.

The initial work on the review provided a greater understanding of the operation of the existing out-of-court disposals frameworks for adults and young people. We plan now to seek further evidence by undertaking a detailed review of individual case files to examine the particular circumstances in which out-of-court disposals
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have been administered for apparently serious offences. This will inform an examination of the broader policy of these frameworks and consideration of how to improve transparency and accountability in how out-of-court disposals are used.

This is a substantial piece of work and will require public consultation. We will continue to keep Parliament informed of progress.

Law on Libel

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): I am publishing today 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 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 2010, Official Report column 58 WS, 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

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.

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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 be considering actively:

The Government believe that the programme of work that 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.

Work and Pensions

Child Maintenance Disregard

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Helen Goodman): I am pleased to announce that the full child maintenance disregard will be introduced on 12 April 2010.

In the child maintenance White Paper published in December 2006 the Government committed that by 2010-11 they would increase significantly the amount of maintenance that all parents with care on benefit can keep before it affects the level of benefits they receive. The first phase in meeting this commitment was taken in October 2008 when a full child maintenance disregard was introduced in housing and council tax benefits and doubled to £20 across the other income-related benefits.

In the welfare reform White Paper, "Raising expectations and increasing support; reforming welfare for the future", published in December 2008, the Government announced that a full child maintenance disregard would be introduced in all income-related benefits from April 2010.

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By introducing a full child maintenance disregard, the Government are demonstrating their commitment to abolishing the revenue recovery function of the child maintenance system and instead focusing it on parental responsibility and tackling child poverty.

A full disregard will encourage both parents to set up an effective maintenance arrangement and the non-resident parent to pay maintenance because all of the money will go to the children rather than the state. It is important that both parents arrange maintenance agreements that provide reliable financial support for their children.

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Workplace Pension Reform

The Minister for Pensions and the Ageing Society (Angela Eagle): Today we shall publish the Government response to the consultation on "The use of Default Options in workplace personal pensions and the use of group self invested personal pensions for automatic enrolment".

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