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Written Statements

Volume 450: debated on Tuesday 24 October 2006

Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 24 October 2006

Communities and Local Government

Fire and Rescue Service (Working with Children and Young People)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
(Angela E. Smith)

The Department has today published a “Strategy for the Fire and Rescue Service Working with Children and Young People”.

Children and young people are particularly vulnerable to death and injury by fire, especially in deprived households. Fire-related crime, including arson, hoax calls and attacks on firefighters, and anti-social behaviour are disproportionately committed by children and young people, especially disadvantaged young people. Early and effective intervention, diversion and education can reduce crime, improve life chances, develop better citizens and safer communities and make the difference between life and death.

The fire and rescue service has a strong track record in this area. It has particular strengths in supporting vulnerable and disadvantaged young people and reducing risks to them and to their communities. But in the context set by the Government’s commitment to better services for children and young people, the service has many challenges to meet in common with many organisations that work with young people.

At the centre of the Children and Young People’s Strategy is a new approach. This involves a new commitment to involving children and young people, joint development and delivery with partners, comprehensive evaluation and review of impact, and high quality professional development for those involved in working with young people. We believe this is the path to provision for children and young people which is focused on effective risk reduction, is targeted on the disadvantaged and tailored to individual needs, and is a mainstream activity for the service. Copies of the strategy are available in the Libraries of both Houses.

New Growth Points (Partnerships for Growth)

The Government are today announcing support for 29 areas across the country who have bid to become new growth points, combining increased housing with new jobs, town centre regeneration and higher design and environmental standards.

Last year the Government announced plans to increase housing supply as part of the response to Kate Barker’s review. More houses are needed to help first time buyers, address overcrowding and keep up with rising demand. We are living longer and more people are living alone. If we continue to build at currently planned levels, the proportion of 30-year-old couples able to afford their own home will fall from over 50 per cent. today to nearer 30 per cent. in 20 years’ time.

But it is vital that new homes are built alongside jobs growth and infrastructure investment in order to deliver sustainable communities for the future. That is why, alongside other measures on planning, affordable housing and infrastructure funding, we invited local authorities and partners to put forward proposals for new homes as part of sustainable growth.

Following a review of these new growth point proposals across Government and in particular in consultation with DEFRA and DfT and their agencies, we are announcing a total of 29 areas, put forward by over 70 local authorities which we are supporting. We are also publishing “Partnership for Growth”, a summary of these proposals, copies of which will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Subject to consultation, testing and examination through the regional and local plan making processes, these proposals have the potential to add a total of up to 100,000 additional homes by 2016, an increase of around 30 per cent. on previous plans for housing supply in these areas.

These proposals involve substantial jobs growth, town centre regeneration and measures to improve the quality of life and environment. Most of the bids include major employment proposals—over 130,000 jobs in the south-west and east of England regions alone. They include measures to improve skills, promote business start up, create new employment sites and widen the local economic base. They also include proposals to invest in green spaces and the local environment as well as town centre regeneration.

Achieving this potential for sustainable, realistic and affordable growth will require a strong long term commitment between Government, their agencies and local partners. The partnership we are announcing today is based on four principles:

First, we want to work with local authorities to support the early delivery of more housing and ensure the type of housing provided responds to local and market conditions and affordability pressures.

Secondly, we want to achieve growth which is sustainable, supporting schemes which set the highest standards of design and are exemplars of sustainable development, supporting the local environment and promoting ways to cut carbon emissions. These new developments will also be underpinned by the forthcoming planning policy statement on climate change and the code for sustainable homes to help reduce the carbon footprint of new housing, and lead the way towards our longer term aim of zero carbon development.

Thirdly, we will work with local partners to ensure that infrastructure and services keeps pace with people and homes. We have begun a cross-Government process to support the new growth points involving all the major transport and environment agencies, as well as other regional and local partners. There is potential to make better health and education an integral feature of new design.

On environmental infrastructure the programme should enable partners to identify and plan for the additional water supply, sewerage, waste and other environmental infrastructure their proposals require. They will then be able to show how these needs will be addressed when their specific detailed proposals come forward;

On transport we need to achieve more sustainable travel outcomes, for example through the design and location of new development encouraging more use of bus, cycling and walking and minimising any increase in long distance commuting. We will continue to encourage partners to exploit existing public transport networks in determining the most sustainable locations for growth but we recognise that additional infrastructure will also be needed.

The Government have established the Treasury CSRO7 review to ensure that departmental resources across Government are targeted appropriately for providing the national, regional and local infrastructure necessary to support future housing and population growth.

Fourthly, we recognise that to deliver growth successfully requires dedicated resources, specialist expertise and the ability to work closely with the private sector to optimise the potential for their investment. The funding we are announcing today will help local partners carry out critical studies on environmental and transport issues. In addition we will be asking English partnerships to work closely with the individual growth points to discuss what type of delivery support will be needed, how best that can be provided and to advise on the detailed programmes of development.

New growth point status means that Government and local partners agree the potential for growth, and are committed to working together to ensure that growth will be sustainable, realistic and affordable. This shared assessment can inform the RSS process. It is up to the regional spatial strategies (RSS) to determine, among other things, the scale and distribution of provision for new housing. Specific site allocations must be decided through the local development framework (LDF) process.

We are also pleased to announce initial funding allocations to each of the new growth points to support the work. These initial allocations, totalling £40 million, are for both capital projects and revenue support for studies and capacity building. Allocations are subject to detailed negotiation and appraisal of projects to ensure maximum benefit can be achieved from spending in 2007-08. Allocations for future years will be subject to the outcome of the CSR and we intend that from 2008-09 funding will be linked to local area agreements so as to give local partners greater flexibility on delivery. Consultation is still underway about the arrangements for LAAs and a statement will be made about this shortly.

New Growth Points

East Midlands

3 Cities and 3 Counties—Derby, Leicester and Nottingham

(Derby City Council, Derbyshire CC, Leicester City Council, Leicestershire CC, Nottingham City Council, Nottinghamshire CC)

Grantham

(South Kesteven DC and Lincolnshire CC)

Lincoln

(Lincolnshire CC, City of Lincoln Council, North Kesteven DC and West Lindsey DC)

Newark on Trent

(Newark and Sherwood DC)

East of England

Haven Gateway

(Babergh DC, Colchester BC, Essex CC, Ipswich BC, Suffolk Coastal DC, Suffolk CC, Tendring DC)

Norwich

(Norwich City Council, Norfolk CC, Broadland DC, South Norfolk Council, the Broads Authority)

Thetford

(Breckland Council, Thetford Town Council, Norfolk CC)

South East

Basingstoke

(Basingstoke and Deane BC)

Didcot— South Oxfordshire

(South Oxfordshire DC)

Maidstone

(Maidstone BC)

Oxford

(Oxford City Council)

Partnership for Urban South Hampshire

(East Hampshire DC, Eastleigh BC, Fareham BC, Gosport BC, Hampshire CC, Havant BC, New Forest DC, Portsmouth City Council, Southampton City Council, Test Valley BC, Winchester DC)

Reading

(Reading BC)

Reigate and Banstead

(Reigate and Banstead BC)

South West

Exeter and East Devon

(Exeter City Council, East Devon DC and Devon CC)

Plymouth

(Plymouth City Council)

Poole

(The Borough of Poole)

Swindon

(Swindon BC)

Taunton

(Taunton Deane BC and Somerset CC)

Torbay

(Torbay Council)

Truro

(Carrick DC and Cornwall CC)

West of England

(Bristol City Council, Bath and North East Somerset Council, North Somerset Council and South Gloucestershire Council)

West Midlands

Within the Birmingham, Coventry and Black Country City Region:

Birmingham and Solihull

(Birmingham City Council and Solihull MBC)

Coventry

(Coventry City Council)

Telford

(The Borough of Telford and Wrekin)

East Staffordshire—Burton-upon-Trent

(East Staffordshire BC)

Hereford

(Herefordshire Council)

Shrewsbury and Atcham

(Shrewsbury and Atcham BC and Shropshire CC)

Worcester

(Worcestershire CC, Worcester City Council, Wychavon DC and Malvern Hills DC)

Home Department

Police Performance Assessments 2005-06

Today I have published “Police Performance Assessments 2005-06” covering the 43 individual police forces in England and Wales. This publication has been brought together by the Home Office’s Police and Crime Standards Directorate (PCSD) and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) and this is the second year that such assessments have been published. Copies will be placed in the House Library. The publication of these assessments represents an important part of the Government’s reform programme for public services. We want to see policing which is visible, accessible and responsive.

Together with the countrywide programme to introduce neighbourhood policing and achieve consistently high quality of service standards, the assessments are intended to provide the public with a clear view on how well policing is being delivered in their area. In addition to these assessments, police authorities are also now obliged to provide even more local views to every household in their communities on the police priorities for their area, and to explain who is responsible and accountable for their delivery, as well reporting on how effectively these policing priorities have been discharged.

As in last year’s report, tables have been used to provide an understandable summary of performance for each of the 43 police forces across seven key performance areas. Forces are assigned the clear judgments ‘excellent’, ‘good’, ‘fair’ and ‘poor’ and are also compared against previous performance to determine if they are ‘improved’, ‘stable’ or ‘deteriorated’. The publication is complemented by comprehensive information (including data and technical definitions) available via the Home Office website.

The continued application of this framework sets a benchmark for future policing performance and ensures that local police forces can be held to account for the delivery of key services to local communities. It provides a mechanism for improving performance and for increasing responsiveness to the public. It has also allowed forces—with the support of their police authorities—to identify strengths and weaknesses across their responsibilities, thereby reducing the need for external inspections, reviews or other interventions.

Going forward—and as noted in the Home Office reform action plan—the assessments will be developed further in 2007-08 into a simplified performance framework covering crime, drugs and policing. This will streamline the mechanisms in place to monitor police performance and should reduce the inspection burden on police and their partners.

Romania and Bulgaria

The House will wish to know what arrangements will be in place here in the UK to support the accession of Romania and Bulgaria on 1 January.

Global movement is a fact of life. In the UK we have over 90 million visitors a year. This openness ensures we have a vibrant society and a strong economy.

Over the years Europe has prospered by letting people move and trade freely. But as the EU expands this poses new challenges which have to be managed properly. Here, as elsewhere, managed migration is the right approach.

In 2004 when 10 new countries joined the EU, we gave their people access to our labour market—but the workers registration scheme ensured people came to work and not claim benefits.

This has been a success. Workers from the new member states have filled skills gaps, including in key public services such as the NHS and social care, and have contributed to UK growth and prosperity. Studies have found no evidence they have taken jobs away from British workers or undercut wages. Employers and customers alike have welcomed their skills. Very few have brought dependants and the proportion attempting to claim out of work benefits has been less than 1 per cent.

In 2004 only Ireland and Sweden took the same position. Since then Italy, Spain, Finland, Portugal and others have followed our lead and lifted restrictions. Germany has admitted 500,000 Eastern European workers.

Over the last few months, I have set out ambitious plans to ensure that our immigration system is both effective and fair, including: plans to ensure immigration rules are advised by an independent Migration Advisory Committee; plans to double spending on enforcement; and plans to introduce ID cards for foreign nationals. There have also been some transitional impacts from the last round of accession. A small number of schools have seen a significant increase in admissions. Some local authorities have reported problems of overcrowding in private housing. There have been cost pressures on English language training.

Because we believe in the principle of managed migration we believe that before we take further steps, our plans for immigration reform should be further advanced, that we should understand any pressures in detail, and we should ensure that appropriate measures are in place to ameliorate them. Our plans to manage accession have been developed on this basis, and today I can set out for the House three key steps.

First, the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) will work in partnership with local areas to spread best practice in meeting isolated and specific pressures that have arisen as a result of recent migration.

Secondly, the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) will provide £400,000 to fund a new excellence programme, which will support schools that have limited experience of teaching new migrant pupils with English as an additional language.

Thirdly, the UK will maintain controls on Romania and Bulgaria’s access to jobs for a transitional period. The opening of our labour market will take account of the needs of our labour market, the impact of the A10 expansion and the positions adopted by other member states.

Furthermore, we will expect employers to look exclusively to workers from EU nations to meet any low-skilled labour shortages within the UK. We can therefore announce today that from 1 January 2007 we will be phasing out all low-skilled migration schemes for workers from outside the EU.

Places on the two low skilled migration schemes for non-EU workers (the seasonal agricultural workers scheme and the sectors based scheme which between them currently have 19,750 places) will now be restricted to nationals from Romania and Bulgaria with this cap maintained at its present level.

In the first instance, food processing and agriculture will be the only sectors open to less skilled A2 nationals. But we will listen to industry representatives where it is felt similar schemes are needed in other sectors. Employers will need to convince the Government there is a genuine labour shortage and such schemes would be limited by quota.

Once we have brought forward proposals for a Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) we will suggest that in due course the MAC will advise on how the quotas on low-skilled migration are managed.

Highly skilled A2 workers that qualify for the highly skilled migrant programme (currently just under 100 a year) will also be admitted, as they are now, along with any dependents.

Romanian and Bulgarian students studying in the UK will also continue to be able to work part-time, providing they are enrolled at an approved college on the DfES register of education providers.

In addition, Romanian and Bulgarian workers with specialist skills that are needed in the UK will be able to come here to do jobs that cannot be filled by resident labour, provided they meet our tests on qualifications and earnings. This is already the case. 1,740 Romanians and Bulgarians entered the UK last year on this basis. Again, work permit holders will be able to bring dependents as they can today.

These arrangements will be reviewed annually.

The terms of the accession treaty do not allow us to place restrictions on EU nationals’ rights to come here to set up a business. So the self-employed will continue to be able to work here (and in all other EU countries), if they can prove when challenged that they are genuine, and not in fact employees posing as contractors.

We look forward to welcoming Romanian and Bulgarian workers here, provided that they comply with our rules and obey the law.

Visa regimes for the new accession countries will be maintained up until accession. Bulgarians and Romanians will therefore continue to need to have visas for entry to the UK up until midnight on 31 December 2006. But after that people from Romania and Bulgaria will be able to travel about the EU freely.

However, if they want to take employed work they will need a work authorisation document. As set out above to get such a document they will need to have passed the tests to get onto the highly skilled migrant programme, have secured a work permit for a skilled job, proved they are a student at a reputable college, or got a place in the quota for agriculture or food processing.

The House will expect to know how this system will be policed. I must be clear to the House that policing the system against a background of free movement to the UK will present some challenges. But workers or employers who are tempted by this into breaking the rules should be aware that they will be robustly enforced.

Subject to debate in this House, we will take powers to make it an offence for an A2 national to work without such a document. We plan to make this punishable by an on-the-spot fixed penalty.

It will also be an offence for an employer to take on undocumented A2 nationals. This will be punishable by a heavy fine. Employing illegal workers undercuts legitimate business and leads to exploitation. It will not be tolerated.

Employers will rightly ask for assistance in fulfilling their responsibilities. There will be, therefore, an information campaign for employers, backed up by a toolkit and helpline, to ensure that firms are aware of the rules and their responsibilities. Employers and employees must be clear that they have a duty to play by these rules or suffer the consequences.

Through this measured response to accession we will ensure that migration is and continues to be managed in the best interests of the country as a whole.

International Development

Correction to Parliamentary Question 91082

The hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George) asked about the level of UK public investment for Angola. I regret that my reply on 13 September 2006, Official Report, column 2357W contained two incorrect figures. The first related to DFID’s contribution to a UNICEF £18 million Southern Africa programme from which Angola benefits. I stated that DFID contributes £3.5 million to this programme. In fact, DFID is contributing the full £18 million, of which Angola will receive approximately £3 million. A pursuant response was issued on 14 September 2006, Official Report, column 2546W correcting this.

The second error related to DFID’s contribution to the World Bank’s Demobilisation and Reintegration Programme in Angola. I stated that DFID is contributing US$25 million over five years to this programme. In fact DFID is contributing this amount to the entirety of the World Bank’s Multi-Country Demobilisation and Reintegration Programme, which comprises support to seven countries including Angola. The World Bank’s Demobilisation and Reintegration Programme in Angola is budgeted at US$84.2 million, of which US$48.4 million is being funded through the Multi-Donor Trust Fund to which DFID contributes US$25 million over five years (with an imputed share to Angola of US$2.4 million).

These errors were due to a lack of readily available data on the extent to which individual countries benefit from regional programmes. I regret that this occurred. DFID actively pursued correction to these figures as soon as the errors were discovered, and will closely monitor future funding flows to Angola from regional programmes.

Trade and Industry

Sale of British Nuclear Group and Establishment of a National Nuclear Laboratory

I would like to make a statement regarding a joint proposal from BNFL and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority about the process for implementing the sale of BNFL’s subsidiary, British Nuclear Group. I would also like to make a statement on the establishment of a National Nuclear Laboratory to safeguard key nuclear research and development skills and capability. The Government’s objectives for nuclear clean up, are:

(i) keeping a clear focus on safety;

(ii) ensuring the taxpayer gets best value for expenditure on clean up; and

(iii) ensuring that, within this framework, we do what is best for British Nuclear Group as a business and especially for its employees and also its wider stakeholders, including the local communities.

These objectives were essential elements of the Energy Act 2004, which established the NDA to take on decommissioning and cleaning-up the public civil nuclear legacy on a UK wide basis while bringing renewed drive and focus to this work through competition. The clear policy intention behind the Act was that while the sites themselves would remain in public ownership through the NDA, they would be operated in time by a range of different contractors.

Since April 2005, the NDA has owned the sites and facilities previously owned by BNFL (the Magnox stations, Sellafield, THORP/SMP, and Springfields). BNG was created as a subsidiary of BNFL at the same time and was awarded short-term contracts to manage and operate those facilities on behalf of the NDA. All these sites were to be opened up to competition progressively in line with the NDA’s obligations under the Energy Act.

BNG consists of four key business areas: the management of the Sellafield contract; the management of the Magnox sites; Project Services—a specialist contractor at Sellafield and Magnox sites which is looking to expand non-NDA work; and a 33 per cent. stake in AWE, which manages the Aldermaston weapons complex on behalf of the Ministry of Defence. Its assets are these contracts. The sites and facilities are owned by the NDA and will continue to be.

When announcing the sale to the House on 30 March, the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) said he envisaged a sale of British Nuclear Group, as a single entity by autumn 2007 to coincide with the NDA awarding a new five-year contract for cleaning up the Sellafield site. Following that announcement, BNFL and the NDA have proceeded along this route with the emphasis on potential Sellafield performance given the size and urgency of the clean-up task at that site.

However, as they have got into the detail it has become increasingly clear that this approach was not the best way of meeting the different needs of BNG’s other businesses or staff. The Board of BNFL became concerned that the organisation best suited to succeed at Sellafield may be less suited to helping Magnox succeed in the subsequent competitions at its sites or to developing Project Services as a key contractor in the evolving market both here and overseas. These businesses may be better served by a range of operators with different skill sets rather than a single overall one.

The BNFL Board’s concerns were reinforced by evidence in the market that instead of single buyers for BNG, consortia were being formed for the bid, suggesting that a future split of BNG was likely with a risk that the non-Sellafield pieces might be sold on at a premium to the loss of the taxpayer. In addition, the requirements and duration of the formal procurement process for the Sellafield contract were felt to have the potential to damage the prospects for Project Services, which might have been restricted from pursuing new business opportunities during a prolonged sale process.

The BNFL and NDA Boards have therefore concluded that it would be appropriate to modify their approach in response to this new information. Their joint recommendation is that BNG should continue to operate the Sellafield contract until the NDA can put in place a new contractor following a full competition (potentially the middle of 2008) and that BNFL should conduct individual sales of its other businesses on an early timescale to complete during the course of 2007.

I have given these points very careful consideration. I have also considered all the representations made to me. I have concluded that that there are real benefits to Project Services and the Magnox business in separating them from the process of choosing the right contractor for Sellafield. I also believe that the best way of securing the right contractor for Sellafield is to proceed with a separate competition with the full focus on what is best at that site. That process will be run by the NDA, and the criteria it is setting will include, first- rate health, safety, security and environmental performance, and effectiveness as a contractor, as well as demonstrable engagement with stakeholders, including trade unions, and understanding the socio-economic issues of the area.

On this basis and in the knowledge that the regulators agree with the change subject to strengthening of the site licensee company arrangements and capabilities, which I shall be insisting upon, I am satisfied that the Government should support the new approach proposed by BNFL and the NDA.

Earlier in the summer, I announced that we would be carrying out some detailed work to establish how best to safeguard the UK’s key nuclear R&D skills and capabilities to ensure that our future requirements are met. These capabilities reside principally within Nexia Solutions, a subsidiary of BNFL, and key facilities in the British Technology Centre in Sellafield, West Cumbria. I also said that whilst the UK nuclear R&D market is developing it might be necessary to preserve and develop these skills potentially as part of a National Nuclear Laboratory.

In the light of these discussions, I am therefore pleased to say that we expect a National Nuclear Laboratory will be set up as soon as practicable. Subject to agreeing appropriate contractual terms, the laboratory will be based around the British Technology Centre in Sellafield, West Cumbria, and Nexia Solutions and managed by a contractor operator.

As the NNL, it will play a key role in supporting the UK’s strategic R&D requirements, and operate world-class facilities. As the market for the provision for R&D skills develops, the NNL will ensure key skills are safeguarded and enhanced.

Transport

Railways Closures Guidance

I am today laying before Parliament new guidance on the arrangements for making, assessing and determining applications to close rail services, stations and infrastructure, as provided for in section 43(1) of the Railways Act 2005. I will shortly be making orders to bring the guidance, and the related provisions of the 2005 Act, into effect in England, Scotland, and Wales from 1 December. Draft guidance on these arrangements, was issued for consultation on 26 January, and the final version published today reflects the comments received during the consultation exercise.

This guidance will ensure that safeguards and standard practices are applied to any proposals for changes on the rail network. For the first time, statutory guidance will be put in place on rail closures, making procedures clearer and more transparent. It will also ensure certain procedures are taken into account before any rail closure can be considered. The guidance requires that:

All alternatives are considered.

A full consultation takes place and that this includes passenger groups.

The current and future impact on passengers are considered as well as the safety, economic and environmental costs or benefits.

In contrast with current procedures, where the Secretary of State determines closure proposals, the independent Office of Rail Regulation must be satisfied that a robust economic analysis has been performed.

The guidance covers separate processes in England and Wales, and Scotland. But to ensure consistency across the railway the two processes have been aligned and brought together in one guidance document.

I have also placed in the Library of the House copies of the Government’s response to the consultation exercise on the draft guidance.