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SICK PAY: Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, last night began consultations on plans to let some employers opt out of the Statutory Sick Pay Scheme.He disclosed that he was also investigating ways to ease the red-tape burden on firms. Mr Lilley issued a consultation paper "which seeks views on allowing employers to opt out of the Statutory Sick Pay scheme where their occupational sick pay schemes meet certain requirements". At present, employers have to provide Statutory Sick Pay for up to 28 weeks to staff who are sick for at least four days in a row.

ETHNIC MONITORING: Robin Squire, junior Education minister, announced talks on proposed changes in the ethnic monitoring of schools. He said he planned to replace the current scheme, which has operated in England for five years, with a combination of approaches. These would involve additional questions in the Schools Census on the number of ethnic minority pupils and the number for whom English was a second language.

BUSINESS TODAY - Commons: backbench debates on domestic violence, the future of Guy's Hospital, the West coast main line, climate change, and land use at Craneford Way, Twickenham. Foreign Office questions; debate initiated by Labour on "the impact of education cuts on standards and opportunity"; Atomic Energy Authority Bill, motion; National Health Service (Charges for Drugs and Appliances) Amendment Regulations. Lords: debate on the economy, Human Rights Bill, Report.

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