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Written Statements

Volume 402: debated on Thursday 3 April 2003

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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 3 April 2003

Deputy Prime Minister

Market Renewal Pathfinders

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
(Mr. Tony McNulty)

The nine Market Renewal Pathfinders are making good progress in developing their long-term action programmes to turn around their areas which suffer from low demand and abandonment.The bulk of the £500 million Market Renewal Fund announced in

Sustainable Communities: Building for the Future will be allocated in negotiation with each pathfinder on the basis of proposed outputs and outcomes included in their strategic schemes. Completion of these schemes is essential to ensure future large-scale investment is well informed and based on robust plans.

We recognise that pathfinders are at different stages in completing their schemes, and whilst we expect three of the pathfinders to complete schemes this year, the remainder will not complete schemes before the end of the financial year.

I am therefore announcing today an initial allocation of up to £4 million of market renewal funding for those who do not expect to complete their schemes this year. This will mean that alongside development of these robust schemes, early action on the ground can continue in the areas that need it most.

Pathfinders who complete their schemes this year will be allocated levels of funds to support the proposed programmes, as agreed in negotiation with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Prior to agreement, these pathfinders can, where appropriate, undertake early action that will underpin the wider action plans they are developing in their strategic schemes.

This represents a key step in delivery of our commitment to tackle low demand and abandonment.

Work And Pensions

Statutory Money Purchase Illustrations

The Occupational and Personal Pension Schemes (Disclosure of Information) Amendment Regulations 2002 that were laid before Parliament on Monday 20 May 2002 come into force on 6th April 2003. The regulations require pension providers to give members of money purchase occupational schemes, stakeholder pension schemes and personal pension schemes an annual illustration of what their future pension might be.

The illustration will give people a meaningful idea of what their future pension might be in today's prices. It will give them a realistic idea of the spending power of their pension, and help them to plan their savings more effectively.

This is an important part of the Government's drive to encourage people to think about their pension provision and plan for their retirement.

Is/It Strategy

As part of the Department's work to strengthen the management of its modernisation programme, the Department has updated its Information Systems and Information Technology Strategies. The update has drawn on best practice from change programmes across both public and private sectors which has shown the advantages of focusing our approach on:

more frequent, smaller incremental improvements to our IT;
greater use of off-the-shelf commercial packages;
reducing the scope, duration and complexity of individual projects;
integration of existing systems with new technologies to improve the availability of reliable data; and,
applying these principles to cross-cutting programmes such as data sharing and data management requirements.
This approach will strengthen the Department's ability to deliver key modernisation outcomes as part of the government's Welfare Reform agenda.

Education And Skills

Ufi Learndirect

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills
(Mr. Ivan Lewis)

We are today publishing the report of a review of the relationship between my Department and Ufi learndirect.The review was commissioned last year, to consider what form of relationship would best serve the objectives of both the Department and Ufi, and provide the best basis for building on Ufi's achievements to date. The review was undertaken by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and Quentin Thompson. It makes recommendations for a future structure and methods of operating which will clarify the respective roles and funding routes, increase Ufi's ability to manage the quality and effectiveness of its operations, and ensure that Ufi's activities are integrated within the Learning and Skills Council' s planning of further education programmes in each area.The Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Charles Clarke, has today written to the Chairman of Ufi learndirect, Sir Anthony Greener, enclosing a copy of the report. A copy of the letter and the report have been placed in the House of Commons Library, and are available on the Department's website at

http:// www.dfes.gov.uk/az atdex/atoz/.

Home Department

National Asylum Support Service And Landmark Properties

On 11 July 2002, in answer to a Parliamentary Question from my hon. Friend, Member for Liverpool, Riverside, (Mrs Ellman) Official Report, column 1194W, I announced that I had instructed the Director of National Asylum Support Service (MASS) to arrange for an independent inquiry to be carried out into issues arising from NASS' dealings with the Landmark company. I am, today, publishing a summary of the report of that inquiry and a copy of that summary is being placed in the Library.The inquiry confirmed that there were serious problems in the way accommodation for asylum seekers was being run in Liverpool. Its main recommendations have been accepted and are being implemented. Although the report concludes that there has been no material breach of contract by Landmark, it is clear that what happened in Liverpool is completely unacceptable.I am therefore also announcing, today, the action which has been put in hand.A new contract manager has been appointed and will hold Landmark closely to account; the future of the contract will be reviewed after six months in the light of performance.The new Deputy Director General of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, responsible for NASS, has been asked to make clear to Landmark that significant improvements will be needed from them—both in their general performance and also in the standard of their properties. In the meantime, no further dispersal will be made to Landmark properties.I have also recently commissioned an independent review of the management, staffing and expertise at NASS, which is due to report by the end of May.

Prison Service (Corporate And Business Plan)

The Prison Service's Corporate Plan for 2003–04 to 2005–06 and Business Plan for 2003–04 (which includes the agreed Key Performance Indicators) has been published today and copies have been placed in the Library.

Treasury

Valuation Office Agency (Key Performance Indicators 2003–04)

I have today set the following key performance indicators for the Valuation Office Agency for 2003–04:1. Valuation Accuracy

Contain reductions in 2000 local rating lists to less than 7.5 per cent. in respect of compiled list appeals settled in 2003–04, and to a maximum of 4.7 per cent. of the total compiled list rateable value over the entire life of the 2000 rating lists.

2. Revaluations

Prepare for the forthcoming revaluation of non-domestic properties in England and Wales by completing 85 per cent. of the initial valuations required
Prepare for the forthcoming revaluation of domestic properties in Wales by completing 50 per cent. of initial bandings required
Prepare for the forthcoming revaluation of domestic properties in England by digitising data in respect of a minimum of three million properties.

3. Rating Appeal Programming

Make draft programmes available by 31 July 2003, publish final programmes by 1 October 2003 and adhere to the start date in 95 per cent. of cases.

4. Customer satisfaction

Improve customer satisfaction, based on annual surveys, to 86 per cent.

5. Value for money

Improve productivity by 2.5 per cent..

6. Land Services

Achieve a fee income of £17.8 million ensuring that its share of VOA costs is covered.

7. People satisfaction

Improve staff satisfaction in working for the VOA in comparison with other places of work, based on annual surveys, by 2 per cent.

8. Financial "break even"

Recover full resource costs, including a return on capital of 3.5 per cent. from fees and charges.

European Union Import Duties (Israeli Settlements In The Occupied Territories)

Under the EU/Israel Association Agreement, goods originating in the State of Israel may be imported into the European Union at preferential rates of duty, including zero rates. Under Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and following United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, the international community, including all EU member states, does not recognise the territories which Israel occupied in June 1967 as part of the State of Israel. Goods originating from settlements in these occupied territories are therefore not entitled to the preferences of the EU/Israel Association Agreement.The EU/Israel Association Agreement entered into force on 1 June 2000. Article 32 of Protocol 4 provides for the verification of proofs of origin at the request of the importing state. It further provides that preference is to be refused where there is reasonable doubt as to entitlement and there is no reply within ten months, or the reply does not contain sufficient information to determine the real origin of the goods. The Israeli authorities confirmed in July 2001 that they export to the EU goods from settlements in the occupied territories while certifying that they have been produced in the State of Israel.Importers have been warned that importing goods produced in the occupied territories may give rise to a customs debt. The European Commission published such a warning in the Official Journal in November 2001, and HM Customs & Excise issued a Joint Customs Consultative Committee (JCCC) Information Paper to notify UK importers of this European Commission warning notice. Imports from Israeli settlements in the occupied territories can still be made to EU member states but will attract duty at the appropriate rate. Goods originating in the State of Israel can continue to be imported at preferential duty rates.Concerted action, organised by the European Commission, is being taken by customs authorities in all EU member states to ensure that goods produced in the settlements do not obtain preferential rates of duty to which they are not entitled. Customs & Excise issued a second JCCC Information Paper in March 2002 announcing how these arrangements would apply in the UK.Customs authorities are taking steps to identify imports of goods where there is evidence of occupied territory origin, taking security for duty and sending verification requests to the Israeli authorities, specifically asking whether the goods have been produced in an occupied territory. The standard Israeli reply, sent in response to all such requests, fails to answer the direct question, stating that the goods have been produced in an area that is under Israeli customs responsibility. This answer is insufficient to determine the real origin of the goods, and the Israeli authorities have been told so on each occasion.In a written answer I gave to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) on 4 February 2003,

Official Report, column 181W, I outlined the action Customs & Excise have been taking in the UK. In line with our obligations under the Community Customs Code [Council Regulation (EEC) No 2913/92], and as the ten month deadline is reached, Customs & Excise have now begun issuing duty demands to UK importers where there is reason to suspect that goods may have originated in Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

Environment, Food And Rural Affairs

Restrictive Shellfish Licensing Scheme

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
(Mr. Elliot Morley)

For some time, scientists have been advising us that UK crustacea stocks within British waters are at risk of being exploited beyond their sustainable limit. Defra (then MAFF) issued a consultation letter on 5 January 2001 to gauge industry reaction to a series of proposals to address the problem. One of these was to introduce a restrictive shellfish licensing scheme. The industry's responses to our consultation were very constructive and supportive.Last October I told Sea Fisheries Committees, shellfish interests and whitefish industry representatives that we would be going ahead with proposals to control effort in the shellfish sector as soon as resources became available. I am delighted to announce that we can now proceed immediately and address the large numbers of concerns that have been put to me about the need to protect the shellfish sector from the effects of possible displacement from other types of fishing.

With effect from January 2004 in respect of over 10 m vessels, and 1 April 2004 in respect of under 10 m vessels, in general only holders of existing fishing vessel licences who have been able to demonstrate that they have fished for crabs or lobsters using pots or nets, and have landed or sold more than 200kg lobsters or 750kg crabs during any 12 month consecutive period between 1 January 1998 and 31 December 2002, will be given authority to continue to fish for them. At the same time we will set a limit on the quantities that may be landed by licensed fishing vessels which do not qualify for a shellfishing entitlement.

We will issue further detailed guidance on eligibility for the scheme in the near future and application forms will be informed sent to all license and entitlement holders as soon as they become available. It will be the responsibility of individual applicants to provide satisfactory and acceptable proof of their eligibility for a shellfish entitlement. Decisions will be fully explained and documented to fishermen deemed not to qualify.

Cabinet Office

Regulatory Impact Assessment (Compliance)

A baseline for measuring the level of compliance with the Regulatory Impact Assessment is today being placed on the website of the Cabinet Office Regulatory Impact Unit http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/regulation. An exercise in December 2002 to establish a snapshot of the level of compliance provided a figure of 92 per cent. We will keep this under six monthly review and strive not only to maintain this level of compliance but improve it. In addition, we recognise the need to increase the quality of RIAs and the value they add to the policy making process. We are working closely with departments to identify ways of achieving this.

Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

Iraq

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister visited Camp David on 26 and 27 March. I joined him there on 27 March. The Prime Minister dined with President Bush and I with Secretary Powell (in Washington) on 26 March; and we attended a session of plenary talks on 27 March. The Prime Minister and I then went on to New York to call on the Secretary General of the United Nations.Much of our discussions focused on the future, looking beyond the conflict. But we also reviewed first the military situation.We noted that the military campaign was on track. The outcome was not in doubt. The coalition were prosecuting it with vigour and determination, but in a way which minimised, as far as humanly possible, civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure.

The coalition were also working intensively to ensure humanitarian relief. In recent days UFA Sir Galahad has delivered humanitarian supplies (including water, rice and lentils) at Um Qasr; the drinking water plant in the same town has been repaired and the drinking water pipeline from Kuwait completed.

The Prime Minister and President Bush made clear their joint commitment to reuniting the UN Security Council in expectation of further work on the post conflict political process and reconstruction.

At Camp David, the Prime Minister and President Bush agreed that progress on oil for food—OFF—was the key humanitarian priority. More than half of Iraq's people depend on OFF for their food. So it was urgent for the Security Council to give the Secretary General authority to start getting OFF food to them. The necessary Security Council Resolution (1472) was indeed adopted unanimously in the Security Council on 29 March.

The Prime Minister and President Bush made clear that we would seek new UN resolutions to affirm Iraq's territorial integrity, to ensure rapid delivery of humanitarian relief and endorse an appropriate post-conflict administration for Iraq. President Bush made clear US commitment to the establishment of a new Iraqi government chosen by the Iraqi people themselves.

The Middle East peace process was a major feature of the Prime Minister's discussions with President Bush. President Bush, the first US president to do so, publicly restated his vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security and reiterated his commitment to implementing the roadmap. He noted that he saw an opportunity to bring renewed hope and progress to the entire middle east.

Health

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome

In response to information received from the World Health Organisation (WHO) on the first reported cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the Department, along with the Health Protection Agency (HPA) has continually monitored the threat to the UK from this as yet unidentified virus.On 13 March, the Department issued an alert to all general practitioners, National Health Service trusts, and public health professionals, with detailed information on the symptoms of this illness and advice on the management and reporting of probable cases. The Public Health Laboratory Service (as it was at the time) also issued information to professionals through their alert system.Further information has subsequently been made available to the profession and public on infection control, surveillance, management of patients, microbiological sampling and investigation and advice for travellers to affected areas and updated on a daily basis via the Department's and the PHLS's websites.As a result of this timely response and high degree of vigilance amongst the profession and public, to date we have had only three probable cases of SARS in the UK, this is against a total number of 1,804 in 15 countries. All three of the cases in the UK have recovered from their illness.These robust public health measures currently in place have so far contained this disease in the UK.We, along with the HPA and WHO, continue to monitor this situation very carefully and advise the public and profession accordingly.