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Written Statements

Volume 405: debated on Thursday 22 May 2003

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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 22 May 2003

Deputy Prime Minister

Empty Homes

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

I have today published for consultation proposals that, if enacted, would allow local authorities, in defined circumstances, to take temporary management control of some private sector empty homes.The consultation paper "Empty Homes: temporary management, lasting solutions" follows on from the announcement in the Sustainable Communities Plan published earlier this year and builds on a recommendation of the Transport, Local Government and Regions Select Committee in a report published last year.We believe that it is vital to tackle the pernicious effects of empty homes. They blight our communities, are a magnet for vandals and criminals and tie up the resources of local authorities and the emergency services. Bringing empty homes back into use reduces the need to develop land for new homes on urban fringes and in the countryside.The objective of our proposals is to provide an effective back-up to voluntary leasing schemes that does not unduly penalise owners. The principle would not be to deprive owners of their property, but to allow local authorities to control their use on a temporary basis in order get homes re-occupied.Copies of the consultation paper are available in the Libraries of both Houses.

Defence

Naval Manning Agency

Key Targets have been set for the Chief Executive of the Naval Manning Agency for the financial year 2003–04 and are shown below. The targets build upon and are consistent with those demanded of the NMA since its vesting in July 1996 and encompass the full range of primary outputs demanded of the Agency:DEPLOYMENT OF NAVAL SERVICE PERSONNEL:

The percentage of filled officer billets to be: 93 per cent. or greater
The percentage of filled rating billets to be: 88 per cent. or greater
The percentage of filled RM other rank billets to be: 86 per cent. or greater

NAVAL SERVICE CAREER MANAGEMENT:

The percentage of officers receiving the required Notice of Change to be 60 per cent. or greater.
The percentage of ratings and RM other ranks receiving the required Notice of Change to be 98 per cent. or greater.
The number of occurrences where Minimum Time Ashore criteria are met to be: 99 per cent. or greater.

FINANCIAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT:

To operate the NMA within zero to minus 1 per cent. of its 2003–04 Net Cash Allocation for Operating Activities.

MANPOWER REQUIREMENTS MANAGEMENT:

The variation of strength to be: Between + 1 per cent. and -2 per cent.

BUSINESS PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT:

To achieve strict control of NMA manpower overheads to within plus or minus 2 per cent. of the baseline established for manpower overheads as at 1 October 2002.

CUSTOMER RELATIONS MANAGEMENT:

To achieve a Customer Confidence Score of 65.

Gulf Veterans' Illnesses

The Ministry of Defence welcomes publication of the Medical Research Council's Review of Research into Gulf Veterans' Illnesses. We are grateful for the work that has gone into the Review, which was conducted following a request from the MOD. We have taken particular note of the Review's conclusions and recommendations for further research and will study these further in detail. The MOD notes that a number of the recommendations are scientifically complex and will approach the Medical Research Council with a view to holding detailed discussions about how they may be taken forward, the data they are expected to yield and the priorities that should be attached to them. Once this has taken place we will consult veterans and other stakeholders about the way ahead.

Iraq—Update On Requirements For Reserves

In my written statement of 30 April 2003, Official Report, columns 15–16WS, I announced the call-out of up to 1,200 additional Reservists to support continuing operations within Iraq. This process is currently underway. I also acknowledged that there would be a further need for Reservists. A requirement for a further 1,500 Reservists has now been confirmed. I have authorised the issue of appropriate call-out notices. These will primarily be deployed, either as formed units or as individual reinforcements to regular units, in support of the Divisional Headquarters and its Logistic Brigade.In parallel, the process to demobilise those Reservists called up for the first phase of operations continues. To date, we have demobilised around 1,100 reservists who have completed their required tasks. Further Reservists have returned from operations in Iraq and are currently taking the post-operational tour leave to which they are entitled, following which they will also be demobilised.There will be a continuing role for our Reserve forces in Iraq, but we expect overall numbers of Reservists required to reduce over time. This further call-out demonstrates our continuing commitment to Iraq and to the Iraqi people. In addition, we continue to plan in detail the withdrawal of forces that have completed their operational tour, and the deployment of further replacement forces to continue to fulfil our responsibilities in Iraq. I will inform the House as soon as these plans become firm. We remain determined to help the Iraqis to set the conditions for Iraq's re-emergence as a country that is both politically secure and economically stable.

Transport

Vehicle Licensing

The Department of Transport is today announcing action to modernise the vehicle registration system, so as to attack the related problems of abandoned cars, vehicle crime, unlicensed vehicles, and those for whom the person responsible cannot be traced.We intend to bring forward secondary legislation to implement powers taken in the 2002 Finance Act to ensure that from 1 January 2004 the registered keeper of a vehicle will be liable for licensing the vehicle until it is notified as sold, scrapped, stolen or exported or unless a current Statutory Off Road Notification has been declared to the Driver and vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).Under the same powers we will bring forward secondary legislation to provide for a new automatic fixed penalty for those who fail to re-license (tax) on time.The new measures aim to provide greater protection to honest motorists.Vehicle crime is an expensive burden on the honest citizen. It is estimated that there are about a million unlicensed vehicles on the road. These vehicles are frequently abandoned and often uninsured—adding an estimated £500 million to the overall cost of uninsured driving. This adds around £30 a year to the honest UK motorist's insurance premium. Vehicle crime is estimated to cost the economy £3 billion each year and accounts for more than a quarter of all reported crime. By ensuring vehicles do not fall out of the registration system, we can reduce the number of unlicensed and often uninsured vehicles on the road—tackling car abandonment and bringing dishonest motorists to book.Starting in January 2004,

Motorists will be legally responsible at all times for re-licensing (taxing) their vehicle.
Those who fail to re-license on time will be liable for a standard penalty of £80. Determined offenders could face a severe fine if taken to court. If the vehicle remains unlicensed, then following the provisions of the 2002 Finance Act, DVLA may prosecute and a court may fine the registered keeper of an unlicensed vehicle a minimum of £1000.
Offenders will be penalised automatically when their tax-disc expires or Statutory Off Road Notification lapses—there will no longer be any need to see the unlicensed vehicle on the road.

The level of the standard penalty will be subject to public consultation later this year

To support these measures:

The DVLA will increase and re-focus its enforcement activities. It will give particular attention to enforcement from the record and increased cooperation with the police.
Already, from 1 February this year, vehicles can only be licensed (taxed) with a valid logbook or DVLA reminder, to ensure that every vehicle has a traceable keeper.
Motorists already have a legal obligation to ensure that their registration details are kept up to date. The DVLA will be issuing new-format vehicle registration documents (logbooks) to all law-abiding and by definition traceable vehicle keepers from January 2004. All previous logbooks will be invalid from 31 March 2005.

To help safeguard honest motorists, the Government is also advising motorists who sell their car to keep a record of the identity of the person to whom they sell it. For example the number of the buyer's driving licence.

The new measures form part of the Government's programme of initiatives to tackle vehicle crime. They follow recommendations agreed by the Modernising Vehicle Registration Implementation Board, which includes representation from motoring organisations, the motor trade, the insurance industry and the police. They also reflect recommendations put forward by the Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science.

These new measures will protect the majority of honest and responsible motorists and make the offenders pay.

Education And Skills

Higher Education Admissions Project

Further to my Statement in the House on Tuesday 8 April 2003, Official Report, column 16WS, I am announcing today further details of the project to be undertaken by Professor Steven Schwartz on admissions to Higher Education.The terms of reference of the project will be as follows:

To report to the Secretary of State for Education and Skills on the options which English institutions providing Higher Education should consider adopting in assessing the merit of applicants and their achievement and potential for different types of courses.
To report on practical implementation of such options using evidence-based good practice.
To report on the high-level principles underpinning such approaches which institutions would be expected to adopt.

The Group should consider in particular:

The need to reinforce public confidence in the fairness and transparency of admissions arrangements.
The diversity in the missions of providers of Higher Education, and of their students.
Maintaining the autonomy of institutions in academic matters including the systems and processes by which applicants are admitted.

The report to the Secretary of State should be submitted by May 2004 following a period of consultation with universities and the wider public.

Professor Schwartz will be supported by a steering group whose membership will be as follows:

Prof Sir Colin Campbell, Vice-Chancellor, University of Nottingham.
Mrs Pauline Davies, Headmistress, Wycombe Abbey School, High Wycombe.
Mr John Gardiner, Chairman, TESCO plc.
Ms Janet Graham, Head of the Admissions Office, University of Cambridge.
Prof Sir Howard Newby, Chief Executive, Higher Education Funding Council for England.
Mr Peter Lampl, Chairman, Sutton Trust.
Mr Anthony McClaran, acting Chief Executive, Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.
Mr John Morgan, Headteacher, Conyers School, Yarm, Stockton-on-Tees.
Dr Bernadette Porter, Rector and Chief Executive, University of Surrey Roehampton.
Dr Alan Stanhope, Principal, Cornwall College of Further Education, St Austell.

In addition, Professor Schwartz and the steering group may seek specialist advice from other persons and organisations.

Health

Cancer Services

I am today announcing a £165 million investment programme in new equipment for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. As a result, all computed tomography (CT) scanners, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners and linear accelerators introduced before 1996 will be replaced with new modern equipment. This will give the National Health Service in England a stock of diagnostic scanners as modern as any country in Europe. I am also announcing today the allocation of 38 CT and 43 MRI scanners. A list of the NHS Trusts in receipt of these has been placed in the Library.I have also today placed in the Library copies of a letter from the National Cancer Director and a report on investment in cancer services in 2001–02 and 2002–03.The report shows that while there was a shortfall in cancer investment in 2001–02, this was corrected in 2002–03 in line with the commitments set out in the Cancer Plan. Planned local investment in cancer alongside central budgets for 2003–04 will mean that the NHS will invest more than the £570 million provided in the Cancer Plan.

Prime Minister

Council Of Europe Assembly/Assembly Of Western European Union

I have placed in the Library today the latest Information Bulleting on the activities of the United Kingdom Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Assembly of Western European Union covering the period from November 2000 to October 2002.

Environment, Food And Rural Affairs

Shellfish Waters

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

Further treatment than secondary treatment is being operated or is due to be installed at certain sewage treatment works discharging into 47 Shellfish Waters in England designated under the Surface Waters (Shellfish) (Classification) Regulations 1997, in order to fulfil our obligations under the Shellfish Waters Directive.So, in accordance with the criteria in Part I of Schedule I of the Urban Waste Water Treatment (England and Wales) Regulations 1994 (which transposes the European Council Directive (91/271/EEC) concerning urban waste water treatment), I am today announcing the designation of these 47 water bodies as Sensitive Areas (Shellfish Waters) under the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive.Maps and lists of the new Sensitive Areas have today been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses. Maps showing the location of all current Sensitive Areas (Eutrophic), (Nitrate), (Bathing Waters), and now (Shellfish Waters) have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and at the head office of the Environment Agency and its principal regional offices.The maps will also be published on the Department's website.

Work And Pensions

Employers Liability Compulsory Insurance

In a written statement on 12 December I announced the start of the review of Employers' Liability Compulsory Insurance and the terms of reference of the review:"The purpose of this review is to assess the case for reforming ELCI and, if such a case is demonstrated, to identify the objectives and options for such reform. Its terms of reference are to:

Survey the operation of Employer's Liability Compulsory Insurance (ELCI), taking into account any relevant aspects of the state benefits systems.
Assess the scale and nature of the current difficulties being experienced in relation to ELCI, in particular the extent to which these difficulties are likely to be short-term only, repeated in the future or permanent.
Make recommendations to Ministers as to the case or otherwise for reforming ELCI.
If a case for reform is found, make recommendations as to the objectives, principles and high-level options for such reform."

The statement said that the review would report to Ministers in Spring 2003.

An interim, first stage report, has now been received by Ministers. This sets out our preliminary findings in what has proved to be a complex area and also sets out a work plan for producing a further report. Hon Members may also be aware that the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has been conducting a fact-finding study into the UK Liability Insurance market. That study has been looking at public, product, professional and employers' liability insurance, and examining why premiums have recently increased and the way in which this market is working.

Although the two reviews are separate they consider related issues. I have therefore agreed with OFT that it would be sensible to co-ordinate publication of the two reports. This will happen immediately following recess, on 3 June.