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Written Statements

Volume 457: debated on Thursday 8 March 2007

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 8 March 2007

Treasury

Public Expenditure

Following the announcement that the Budget will take place on 21 March 2007, HM Treasury plans to publish “Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses 2007” on April 2007.

Culture, Media and Sport

Heritage Protection

I am today publishing a White Paper on the future of the Heritage Protection System entitled “Heritage Protection for the 21st Century”.

The paper sets out a vision of a unified and simpler heritage protection system, which will have more opportunities for public involvement and community engagement. The proposed system will be more open, accountable and transparent. It will offer all those with an interest in the historic environment a clearer record of what is protected and why; it will enable people who own or manage historic buildings and sites to have a better understanding of what features are important; it will streamline the consent procedures and create a more consultative and collaborative protection system.

Developing this White Paper has also been a collaborative process and its content reflects the huge contribution of stakeholders and of colleagues across Government and the devolved administrations. Together we have produced what I believe are a number of much needed and practical proposals that will transform the current heritage protection system, making it simpler, more flexible, more transparent and more accountable. They will enable our historic assets to be better understood and managed, while still continuing to protect them, now and for the future.

This is a White Paper for England and Wales with some UK-wide elements. The first part sets out legislative change and implementation arrangements for England; the second covers implementation arrangements in Wales; and the third part covers legislative change affecting the marine historic environment across the United Kingdom.

The proposals in “Heritage Protection for the 21st Century” are based on three core principles: the need to develop a unified approach to the historic environment; maximising opportunities for inclusion and involvement; and supporting sustainable communities by putting the historic environment at the heart of an effective planning system.

A unified approach

The current heritage protection systems in England and Wales have different designation regimes for various aspects of the historic environment, and many decisions continue to be taken in Whitehall. As a consequence, the regime we have today is complicated and hard for the layman to understand. It can be bureaucratic and burdensome.

We therefore propose a single system for national designation to replace the listing of buildings, scheduling of monuments and registering of parks, gardens and battlefields. Responsibility for national designation of all these assets in England will rest with English Heritage. All national designation decisions will be made on the basis of special architectural, historic or archaeological interest, and those decisions will be made easier to understand through the production of detailed selection criteria for national and local designation. World Heritage Sites will be included in the unified register and their outstanding universal value recognised.

Inclusion and Involvement

We recognise the need to improve the process of designating historic assets by involving the public in deciding what is protected and how. In order to do this we must have a system that is open, accessible and efficient. That is why we will create new Registers of Historic Buildings and Sites of England and Wales to replace existing lists and schedules, and introduce simpler and clearer designation records that will be available to the public online. We will also open up the system by introducing new or improved consultation and appeal processes, and ensure assets are protected when decisions are being made by introducing interim protection.

Integration and efficiency

Heritage protection is an integral part of the planning process and in this paper we set out our vision of how we can support sustainable communities by putting the historic environment at the heart of an effective planning system, and devolving greater responsibility to local planning authorities so they can manage the historic environment alongside other planning responsibilities.

Alongside a single national designation system, we will join up and streamline the consent process and consult on the scope to reduce uncertainty and ensure early consideration of heritage issues through a greater role for pre-application discussion. In order to reduce application burdens and build flexibility into the system we will also introduce new statutory management agreements for more complex historic sites.

We will underpin any new legislation with new policy guidance, and work with English Heritage to implement a new programme of training, support and capacity-building for English local authorities and local heritage organisations. We will also improve access to information about the historic environment by introducing a statutory duty for local authorities to maintain or have access to historic environment records.

The Marine Environment

In the 21st century, demands on the UK’s marine environment, which includes some of our most important historic assets, are growing. In order to ensure that this element of our heritage is protected and managed appropriately, we will develop a UK-wide marine heritage protection system, which provides appropriate protection for assets, is simple and clear, and delivers designation decisions quickly.

Accordingly, we will review the range of marine heritage that can be protected and increase protection for some assets; we will improve the designation regime and the information available about marine historic assets; and we will consider the scope for a new, more flexible, marine consents regime, including provision for voluntary management agreements.

Britain’s heritage is an important source of national and community identity. People recognise the importance and value of the historic environment, they are passionate about its preservation and are increasingly involved in celebrating the wealth of historic assets that surround them. The proposals in this White Paper reflect the fundamental role of the historic environment in shaping our towns, cities and landscapes and providing people and communities with a sense of identity and place.

Licence Fee Increases

On 18 January this year, Official Report, column 933, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport announced that, from 1 April 2007, the fee for a colour television licence would rise to £135.50 and the black and white licence fee to £45.50. I am today laying before the House the regulations necessary to bring these new fees into force.

The regulations include a number of minor amendments to address anomalies in the existing television licence fee regulations. The amendments include provisions to ensure a digital set top box installed or used solely in conjunction with a black and white television set or a monitor that is only able to display black and white images will need only a black and white TV licence; that a digital set top box installed in such a way that it can be used for audio output only does not require a TV licence; that the Accommodation for Residential Care (ARC) concession is available to retired people aged 60 or over and disabled people in short term respite care in nursing and residential homes; and to increase the fee for the ARC licence, which has remained unchanged since 1988, from £5 to £7.50 to cover the cost of administering the concession.

Defence

Gurkhas (Terms and Conditions of Service)

I am pleased to be able to announce to the House today the outcome of a wide-ranging review of Gurkha Terms and Conditions of Service, which was announced by the then Secretary of State for Defence in January 2005. This has been a very comprehensive review and as a consequence it has taken longer than was originally anticipated.

As the House is aware, it has been the policy of successive British Governments to ensure that the terms and conditions under which Gurkhas serve in the British Army remain fair and reflect the needs of Gurkha soldiers and their families. The Gurkhas became a UK-based Brigade on 1 July 1997 and the time is now right for their terms and conditions of service to be revised fully to reflect their role and status in the 21st century.

As a result of this review I am pleased to announce that, with certain exceptions designed to satisfy the Government of Nepal, all the remaining differences between Gurkhas’ terms and conditions of service and those of their British counterparts are to be eliminated. I am making arrangements necessary to ensure that members of the British Brigade of Gurkhas retain their distinctive identity and ethos as Nepalese citizens serving in their own units within the British Army.

The measures necessary to implement the new terms and conditions of service will begin to take effect from April 2007. In the particular case of pensions, we propose to give serving Gurkhas the opportunity to transfer from their current Gurkha pension scheme to one of the two armed forces pension schemes (AFPS), from a planned member transfer date of 1 October 2007. Retired Gurkhas who left service on or after 1 July 1997 will also be given the opportunity to access AFPS benefits.

This is good news, both for serving or recently retired Gurkhas and their families and for the British Army. The move to new and fairer terms and conditions of service will hopefully provide the basis for the foreseeable future of Gurkha service in the British Army, which is only made possible by the long-standing and friendly relations between the Governments and peoples of the United Kingdom and Nepal.

The review did not include consideration of the situation of Gurkha veterans who retired before 1 July 1997, for the reasons which my predecessor made clear to the House last summer. We will continue to respond to veterans’ grievances with a view to resolving any misunderstandings which may have arisen.

A copy of the report of the review of Gurkha terms and conditions of service, which has been redacted so as not to disclose privileged legal advice, will be made available in the Library of the House.

Health

Seasonal Influenza Immunisation Programme

On 22 November 2005, I announced in the House of Commons that a review of the arrangements currently in place for the seasonal influenza programme in England would be carried out. This review has now been completed and published today. A copy of the review has been placed in the Library.

The review details the current seasonal influenza vaccine supply system in England and provides a range of recommendations to strengthen the management of the programme. I welcome the report and commend the reviewers for such a thorough piece of work. The Department will be considering the detailed recommendations.

I would also like to provide details of this year’s seasonal influenza vaccination uptake. Despite reported delays to the distribution of influenza vaccine at the start of the programme, by the middle of December 14.6 million doses of vaccine had been distributed in the UK. This is about 900,000 doses more than in the previous year.

Final vaccine uptake data collected by the Health Protection Agency on behalf of the Department at the end of January 2007 show that vaccine uptake in those aged 65 and over was 74 per cent. comparable to the level of 75 per cent. achieved at the same time last year. This compares with the World Health Organisation target of 75 per cent. by 2010. Vaccine uptake in those under 65 in an at-risk group was 42 per cent. compared to 48 per cent. at the same time last year.

These levels of vaccination represent an excellent achievement by the general practitioners, nurses, health service providers and primary care organisations that deliver this service, especially when taking into consideration the fact that vaccine deliveries were delayed by several weeks.

Home Department

Firearms (Police Use)

The statistics for 1 April 2005 to 31 March 2006 show that the number of police operations in which firearms were authorised was 18,891.

The police discharged a conventional firearm in nine incidents. In addition, the Police discharged baton rounds or AEP in 14 incidents and fired Taser in 89 incidents.

Armed response vehicles were deployed on 14,355 occasions and there were 6,584 authorised firearms officers in England and Wales.

Full details are set out in the following tables:

Number of operations in which firearms were authorised

2001-02

2002-03

2003-04

2004-05

2005-06

Total

13,991

14,827

16,657

15,981

18,891

Avon and Somerset

195

262

311

333

247

Bedfordshire

237

301

442

475

575

Cambridgeshire

114

57

104

241

201

Cheshire

419

451

397

358

367

Cleveland

37

170

453

530

657

City of London

40

131

364

404

323

Cumbria

71

77

72

152

112

Derbyshire

275

401

369

287

305

Devon and Cornwall

101

96

112

71

84

Dorset

184

193

231

223

263

Durham

89

83

156

144

291

Essex

323

312

275

296

432

Gloucestershire

165

185

127

176

229

Greater Manchester

580

518

507

461

478

Hampshire

198

162

208

237

289

Hertfordshire

112

172

195

185

187

Humberside

297

187

183

206

362

Kent

115

137

207

163

219

Lancashire

232

238

318

241

240

Leicestershire

300

268

295

260

363

Lincolnshire

477

392

386

294

220

Merseyside

1,020

628

751

733

669

Metropolitan

2,447

3,199

3,563

2,964

4,711

Norfolk

175

200

178

195

175

Northamptonshire

43

138

148

158

137

Northumbria

1,440

1,275

1,140

977

611

North Yorkshire

92

100

147

185

183

Nottinghamshire

384

452

459

408

394

South Yorkshire

258

463

484

546

749

Staffordshire

232

281

255

216

171

Suffolk

163

270

251

153

202

Surrey

245

247'

203

151

222

Sussex

248

204

280

187

190

Thames Valley

179

167

195

289

427

Warwickshire

130

149

164

124

180

West Mercia

117

91

197

162

122

West Midlands

822

902

1,377

1,264

1,044

West Yorkshire

757

604

575

853

1,335

Wiltshire

45

58

63

88

139

Dyfed Powys

28

29

28

51

63

Gwent

20

37

40

81

94

North Wales

302

259

197

223

350

South Wales

283

281

250

236

279

Number of authorised firearms officers (AFOs)

2001-02

2002-03

2003-04

2004-05

2005-06

Total

5,776

5,763

6,96

6,243

6,584

Avon and Somerset

116

84

122

118

117

Bedfordshire

48

53

58

56

59

Cambridgeshire

56

71

60

60

50

Cheshire

81

89

75

76

73

Cleveland

85

80

95

100

100

City of London

73

72

86

89

86

Cumbria

92

87

89

90

89

Derbyshire

80

69

70

74

75

Devon and Cornwall

108

115

132

123

122

Dorset

57

59

60

64

62

Durham

86

102

97

103

100

Essex

180

184

186

202

205

Gloucestershire

71

80

82

93

92

Greater Manchester

219

202

205

187

245

Hampshire

87

94

94

92

97

Hertfordshire

46

47

50

53

52

Humberside

96

96

96

101

92

Kent

113

93

90

94

94

Lancashire

138

129

122

115

123

Leicestershire

69

68

51

53

59

Lincolnshire

91

87

78

86

87

Merseyside

78

84

94

93

129

Metropolitan

1,805

1,823

2,060

2,134

2,331

Norfolk

104

109

114

125

119

Northamptonshire

51

56

52

50

56

Northumbria

125

99

90

93

98

North Yorkshire

66

64

60

56

78

Nottinghamshire

136

131

138

138

149

South Yorkshire

92

100

98

122

116

Staffordshire

71

63

67

76

70

Suffolk

90

80

96

88

84

Surrey

62

48

53

49

51

Sussex

120

141

134

130

129

Thames Valley

156

180

172

176

180

Warwickshire

50

51

46

53

55

West Mercia

125

131

139

141

152

West Midlands

111

110

124

134

145

West Yorkshire

116

132

140

130

150

Wiltshire

71

78

80

74

72

Dyfed Powys

77

62

58

79

68

Gwent

57

60

71

74

86

North Wales

83

75

73

65

57

South Wales

138

125

139

134

130

Number of operations involving armed response vehicles (ARVs)

2001-02

2002-03

2003-04

2004-05

2005-06

Total

11,574

11,848

13,218

13,137

14,355

Avon and Somerset

173

215

249

312

167

Bedfordshire

172

269

414

419

534

Cambridgeshire

43

45

155

172

160

Cheshire

523

337

356

773

807

Cleveland

13

63

86

154

285

City of London

39

131

364

275

234

Cumbria

53

45

65

134

90

Derbyshire

253

363

312

254

257

Devon and Cornwall

76

32

94

54

54

Dorset

182

180

215

195

246

Durham

57

66

96

91

256

Essex

165

176

138

138

155

Gloucestershire

140

166

109

121

145

Greater Manchester

528

406

440

364

306

Hampshire

116

108

128

167

178

Hertfordshire

81

129

157

155

160

Humberside

273

170

158

184

335

Kent

89

132

193

124

183

Lancashire

192

185

273

228

232

Leicestershire

292

232

269

232

328

Lincolnshire

470

367

355

276

210

Merseyside

974

547

687

677

611

Metropolitan

1,667

2,447

2,423

2,322

2,572

Norfolk

157

186

169

163

149

Northamptonshire

25

90

99

89

101

Northumbria

1,49

1,04

1,063

893

585

North Yorkshire

60

67

110

144

208

Nottinghamshire

333

397

404

336

342

South Yorkshire

221

280

322

438

632

Staffordshire

208

241

212

183

154

Suffolk

116

160

194

119

149

Surrey

225

240

190

140

204

Sussex

189

171

250

163

162

Thames Valley

174

167

179

265

355

Warwickshire

104

31

138

102

144

West Mercia

100

111

241

152

94

West Midlands

563

592

975

952

745

West Yorkshire

609

565

543

656

1040

Wiltshire

43

39

28

54

124

Dyfed Powys

28

29

28

48

55

Gwent

16

16

23

74

85

North Wales

265

198

153

180

299

South Wales

218

253

161

165

223

Leader of the House

Gender Neutral Drafting

For many years the drafting of primary legislation has relied on section 6 of the Interpretation Act 1978, under which words referring to the masculine gender include the feminine. In practice this means that male pronouns are used on their own in contexts where a reference to women and men is intended, and also that words such as chairman are used for offices capable of being held by either gender. Many believe that this practice tends to reinforce historic gender stereotypes and presents an obstacle to clearer understanding for those unfamiliar with the convention.

I have worked with colleagues in Government to secure agreement, that it would be right, where practicable, to avoid this practice in future and, accordingly, Parliamentary Counsel has been asked to adopt gender-neutral drafting.

From the beginning of next Session, Government Bills will take a form which achieves gender-neutral drafting so far as it is practicable, at no more than a reasonable cost to brevity or intelligibility. This policy already applies to tax law rewrite Bills and is consistent with the practice in many other jurisdictions in the English-speaking world.

The Government recognise that, in practice, Parliamentary Counsel will need to adopt a flexible approach to this change (for example, in at least some of the cases where existing legislation originally drafted in the former style is being amended).

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) for raising this matter with me.

International Development

EU Development Ministers (Informal Meeting)

I shall be representing the UK at the EU Development Ministers' informal meeting in Bonn on 12-13 March 2007.

The agenda items are as follows:

Monday 12 March

Over dinner Development Ministers will discuss the issues around "Investing in Africa" and "Reconstruction in the Great Lakes Region". World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz and Dr. Michael Otto (Chairman of the Board of the Otto Group and founder of the "Cotton made in Africa" initiative) will attend as guest speakers to share their experience of investing in Africa. President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Roland van der Geer, EU Special Representative for the Great Lakes, have been invited to discuss the political, economic and social challenges presented by the reconstruction in the Great Lakes Region.

Tuesday 13 March

Energy and development:

Energy and development is one of the priorities for the German EU Presidency. Discussion will be focused around Presidency paper questions on how the EU and African partners can work together on energy security and access to energy, as well as on mitigating the negative effects of climate change.

Division of labour (Aid Effectiveness):

This discussion follows-up agreement at the October 2006 GAERC. In their discussion paper the Presidency have asked three questions around how to start implementing the operational guidelines and how to better balance the geographical focus of EU donors' development work.

UN Reform

Development Ministers will discuss reform of the United Nations development institutions over lunch. UN Deputy Secretary General Asha-Rose Migiro has been invited as guest speaker for the session.

Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs):

Negotiations on Economic Partnership Agreements with Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries are due to be completed during 2007. There will be an EU Development Ministers session on EPAs in the morning in preparation for a joint EU-ACP Ministers discussion in the afternoon. Approximately thirty ACP Ministers are expected to attend. The sessions will focus on how to ensure the Agreements are development-friendly and EPA-related support for ACP countries.

Transport

Intercity Express Programme

My Department has today initiated the procurement of a new fleet of trains for the Intercity Express Programme (IEP) by issuing a notice to the market through the Official Journal of the European Union.

The IEP will develop a new fleet to replace the current high speed train. This is a project that complements this summer's high level output specification, looking at the railways in the next control period, and the longer term framework for the railways. The new fleet will improve capacity and reliability and meet increasing passenger requirements. It will also deliver improved energy efficiency, reduce emissions and ensure flexibility of train deployment so that future demand and environmental requirements will be met.

This is the most significant rolling stock programme in the UK for over 30 years. My Department has received widespread input from the rail industry and passenger groups in setting this specification. However, it will be the rail industry rather than my Department who will be designing this train.

The Department is expecting to commission between 500 and 2,000 new vehicles, with deployment subject to costs and value. This fleet will be introduced across the network from 2014, and can expect to operate for 30 years. A "pre-series" batch of the trains will be introduced first, to test the new train in an operational environment before production of the full fleet begins. It is likely these pre-series trains will be deployed on the East Coast Main Line from 2012.

The total cost of the programme will be dependent on the bids that my Department receives from interested parties, and the final number of vehicles purchased. I will continue to update the House on this and other information as this long-term project develops.

InterCity East Coast Franchise

I am today announcing that we have issued bidders for the InterCity East Coast Mainline franchise with an Invitation to Tender (ITT). The shortlist of the four organisations who will receive an ITT was announced to the Stock Exchange on 20 February 2007.

A copy of the Stakeholder Briefing Document, which gives a synopsis of the ITT, has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and is available on the Department for Transport website at www.dft.gov.uk.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced to Parliament on 18 December 2006 that we had started a competition to find an operator to run train services on the East Coast Main Line from London to the North East and Scotland. Until the conclusion of that competition, it has been agreed that ONER will continue to operate services on the Department's behalf under a temporary management contract.

The ITT has been informed by a public consultation that closed on 15 February 2007. The objectives for the new franchise include the requirement to meet current and future passenger demand and facilitate increases in capacity.

We have stipulated that all bidders demonstrate that they will deliver value for money for both passengers and taxpayers and improve services for current and future rail users. Bidders must provide the minimum service levels the ITT sets out and can propose additional services and enhancements, subject to any operational and affordability constraints.

Current service levels will be maintained, with additional Leeds half-hourly services that will commence in May 2007 included. Bidders will also be required to reflect the emerging recommendations of the East Coast Route Utilisation Strategy, which will be published by Network Rail.

We expect bidders to consider the level of rolling stock used on the franchise and how they might provide additional capacity. Bidders have been asked to price the trialling of pre-series InterCity Express Trains, which will replace the current fleet of High Speed Trains, should a fleet become operational from Summer 2012.

Performance will be contracted to improve, and faster journey times, particularly on longer distance journeys, delivered. We expect improvements in safety, security and accessibility at stations to be put in place.

Fares will be set in a manner consistent with current Government policy. The winner of the franchise competition will put in place an interoperable smart ticketing system across the franchise area by January 2010.