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Written Statements

Volume 458: debated on Thursday 15 March 2007

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 15 March 2007

Communities and Local Government

Control of Advertisements

The Secretary of State has today laid Regulations to control outdoor advertisements in England. A circular is being published to accompany the Regulations and a Regulatory Impact Assessment has been prepared.

This coincides with the launch of a database on unlawful advertisements and fly-posting, which will help local planning authorities to take enforcement action against those who flout the law.

The new Regulations update and improve the current arrangements for controlling outdoor advertisements and make the legislation more responsive to rapidly changing forms of advertising. The circular explains the legislation and provides guidance for local planning authorities and businesses to help ensure that the system operates effectively.

Copies of the Regulations, the circular and the Regulatory Impact Assessment will be placed in the House Libraries or may be obtained via the Department for Communities and Local Government website at:

http://www.communities.gov.uk/staging/index.asp?id=l506099 and the Office of Public Sector Information website at www.opsi.gov.uk

The unlawful advertisements and fly-posting database is launched today. The database will enable enforcement officers within local planning authorities to input and extract details of prosecutions and formal cautions against companies and individuals who have unlawfully displayed advertisements alongside motorways and trunk roads. The database will also include this information about those guilty of fly-posting.

This service will help local planning authorities to build a case for prosecution within their own administrative areas. It will also help authorities have an idea of a company's history and assist them in tracking down persistent offenders. It could assist the courts when awarding costs and ensuring that the fine imposed reflects the seriousness of the offence and takes into account whether the person found guilty is a first time or persistent offender. This in turn should help to reduce the number of unlawful advertisements displayed alongside motorways and trunk roads and reduce the incidence of fly-posting.

Education and Skills

School Balances (1999-00 to 2005-06)

The Department for Education and Skills has today published information on the end of financial year revenue balances of all local authority maintained nursery, primary, secondary and special schools for the years for which information is available: 1999-00 to 2005-06.

The information is taken from local authorities’ published section 52 outturn statements for the years in question but presents this in summary form. Copies of the information have been placed in the Libraries and will be available on the Department’s website at:

www.dfes.gov.uk/localauthorities/section52/subPage.cfm?action=section52.default&I D=58.

The Department is publishing this information to inform debate on the effective management of school resources to ensure the best outcomes for the taxpayer’s considerable investment in schools.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Marine Bill White Paper

I am pleased to announce that I am today laying before Parliament and publishing Government White Paper Command 7047, “A Sea Change”, a Marine Bill White Paper.

In 2001, the Prime Minister committed the UK Government to new measures to improve marine conservation, including a series of Marine Stewardship Reports. The first of these reports, “Safeguarding Our Seas”, jointly published a year later by the UK Government and devolved Administrations, set out the shared vision of clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas.

“Safeguarding our Seas” also described the Government's strategy for the conservation and sustainable development of the marine environment. Part of that strategy has been to examine how we can streamline regulation for those who make a living from the sea and how we can better protect the marine environment.

The arrangements in place for managing marine activities and protecting marine wildlife and the marine environment are complex and can be confusing and costly for all involved. New activities, changes in technology and a deepening understanding of the seas around us and the way we affect them have also exposed some gaps and limitations in this system. A number of published reports and reviews have shown that as the pressures on our seas increase and change we do not have all the tools we need to fully protect our marine environment or manage the full range of demands that we place on the marine area.

In 2005, we completed an integrated assessment of the “State of Our Seas - Charting Progress”. The overall picture that emerged was that UK seas are productive and support a wide range of fish, mammals, seabirds and other marine life. The levels of monitored contaminants and pollution have decreased significantly. However, human activities have resulted in adverse changes to the marine ecosystem and continue to do so. These direct human activities, along with climate change, pose a real threat to the balance and integrity of the marine ecosystem.

This White Paper sets out our plans for legislation that will enable us to take a significant step forward in the way that we manage the activities that take place in the marine area. The changes we are proposing will mean we will be able to obtain best value from the many different uses of our valuable marine resources whilst maintaining and protecting the ecosystems upon which they depend. They will improve the delivery of policies relating to marine activities operating in coastal and offshore waters and to marine natural resource protection.

The principles of sustainable development, good regulation and modern government underpin these proposals. We will simplify existing legislation and streamline administration. We will establish modern and flexible new arrangements and structures that will stand the test of time.

We will introduce a new system of marine planning encompassing all marine activities and providing a strategic approach to the use of marine space and the interactions between its uses. It will clarify our marine objectives and priorities for the future, and direct decision-makers and users towards more efficient, sustainable use and protection of our marine resources.

We will establish a marine licensing system that is more efficient and transparent, simplifying marine licensing processes and providing for a rationalised and more integrated approach. This will deliver better, more consistent licensing decisions more quickly and at less cost to all, through a system that is proportionate and easier to understand and to use.

We will add to existing tools for the conservation of marine ecosystems and biodiversity with a new approach to protected areas for important species and habitats. This will enable us to tackle the deterioration in the state of the UK's marine biodiversity and promote recovery and ensure environmental considerations are at the heart of decision-making processes. They will allow the UK to fully deliver on its vital European and international conservation obligations.

We will modernise inshore fisheries management arrangements and enable a more active approach to managing recreational sea angling. We will also strengthen fisheries enforcement powers and provide for recovery of the costs of fishing vessel licence administration. This will strengthen fisheries and environmental management arrangements so that more effective action can be taken to conserve marine ecosystems and help achieve a sustainable and profitable fisheries sector. Our fisheries proposals will apply in England and in some cases Wales and Northern Ireland.

For the UK Government and Northern Ireland administration we will establish a new Marine Management Organisation to help effectively deliver many marine policies across UK waters. We will incorporate into this new organisation a number of existing Government agencies and functions. This will make a unique contribution to sustainable development by bringing together within a single independent body the delivery of strategic planning, streamlined marine licensing, fisheries management and enforcement, and nature conservation enforcement.

Overall, our proposals will mean less risk, delay and cost to business, increased capability to provide targeted protection to marine life where it is needed, and improved co-ordinated enforcement of the new regime. They will provide an integrated approach to sustainable management, enhancement and use of the marine natural environment for the benefit of current and future generations. They will facilitate economic growth in the marine area in a sustainable manner and protect the environment providing us with a marine and coastal environment that can be enjoyed by all.

Marine Fisheries Agency

From 1 April, 2007 the Marine Fisheries Agency (MFA) will be taking on additional marine environmental responsibilities, including licensing and consents work from core-DEFRA and licensing of marine aggregate dredging from the Department for Communities and Local Government.

To better reflect the Agency's extended remit to protect and manage the marine environment, the MFA will change its name to the Marine and Fisheries Agency as of 1 April, 2007.

Home Department

Justice and Home Affairs Council - 15 February 2007

The Justice and Home Affairs Council was held on 15 February 2007 in Brussels. Baroness Scotland and I attended on behalf of the UK.

The German presidency opened the Council with adoption of the ‘A’ points list which was approved apart from point 9, a mandate to open negotiations on the exchange of passenger name records. The items adopted included a regulation establishing an EU agency for fundamental rights, and a report on the extent of trafficking of human beings during the 2006 world cup in Germany and the measures taken by Germany to deal with this.

The presidency hosted an informal dinner for Ministers the evening before the Council, at which Ministers discussed how best to prepare the post-2009 JHA programme. The discussion built on the ideas put forward by the German presidency at the informal JHA Council in Dresden; notably, the idea of setting up an informal group of the next six presidencies and the Commission to co-ordinate this work. Member states generally welcomed the idea of preliminary work by such a group to assist in the thorough preparation of any future work programme, while recognising that this would be without prejudice to any formal discussions and decisions in the Council at the appropriate time. The UK secured agreement that the group should include a common law expert, that it should adopt transparent working methods to allow contributions from those outside the group, and should report regularly.

One of the principal items considered by JHA Ministers last week was the exchange of policing information between member states in the context of incorporating the Prüm treaty into the EU legal order. This will facilitate the identification and subsequent exchange of information on fingerprints, vehicle registration and DNA. The Council mandated experts to prepare a Council decision for adoption in the coming months which will transfer the third pillar (police co-operation and data sharing) elements of that treaty into the EU, subject to deletion of a provision on measures in the event of immediate danger. I welcomed this approach and the importance of effective exchange of information more generally. I noted however that in taking forward this work further consideration needed to be given to the detail of the data protection regime and that sufficient time would be required for national Parliaments to scrutinise the proposal.

The Council also secured a general approach on a framework decision which will provide for the exchange of prisoners between member states so that custodial sentences can be served in the prisoner’s home state, close to family and friends. Once finalised and implemented we believe that this will benefit both member states and our citizens in aiding the re-integration into societies of our prisoners. While participating in this general approach the UK maintained its parliamentary scrutiny reserve. Once adopted the Government expect this to reduce numbers of foreign prisoners in UK jails.

On migration there was discussion on a common approach to partnership agreements with countries of origin and transit. It was suggested that these agreements should include information on legal migration channels, national quotas, circular migration and capacity building, in exchange for readmission, safeguarding human rights and a commitment to manage migration. There was general agreement from member states on this approach although a majority were against the inclusion of quotas. The UK stressed the need for a flexible approach, highlighting a points- based system as an alternative to quotas. The Council noted that the first of the Commission’s proposals on legal migration would be expected in May.

There was a lunchtime discussion on the framework decision on racism and xenophobia. It is clear that there is a commitment to reaching agreement on this measure and member states supported the text as a basis for further work. However, the UK, along with a number of other members states, could not accept article 8(2) on mutual legal assistance, which we argued had been superseded by the European evidence warrant. One member state argued for the retention of this article. The presidency indicated that it would seek agreement to the text at the April JHA Council.

In the Mixed Committee the Council took note that the SISOne4all project was running on time. The global rescheduling of the second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II) was also noted. The focus on SISOne4all has meant that there will be a six-month delay to the SIS II programme; the SIS II operational date for those member states already connected to the SIS 1+ will be mid-December 2008.

There was support for reaching an early agreement on the regulation establishing rapid border intervention teams, with the presidency hoping to agree it at the April JHA Council. Baroness Scotland stressed our support for Frontex, despite our exclusion from the regulation and offered to make available some equipment and expertise.

The increasing numbers of Moldovan applications for Romanian nationality was discussed under AOB, the Commission asking member states to participate in the common consular centre initiatives. This question will be discussed further at senior official level.

Finally, as another AOB item, the Commission presented their proposal for a directive setting criminal sanctions for environmental crimes. This would oblige member states to treat serious offences against the environment as criminal acts and set minimum sanctions for environmental crimes. Negotiations on this proposal will commence at a working group in March.

Lord Carlile's Report on the Definition of Terrorism

I am pleased to say that Lord Carlile of Berriew QC has completed his report on the “Definition of Terrorism” and this is being published today. Copies are available in the Libraries of both Houses.

Prison Service Corporate and Business Plan 2006-07

The Prison Service Corporate and Business Plan for 2006-07 (including the previously agreed Key Performance Indicator targets) has been published today. Copies have been placed in the Library.

Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre

The House will be aware that an incident occurred in the early hours of yesterday morning at Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre in Oxfordshire.

I would like to first praise the outstanding response of the emergency services and staff from IND and the Prison Service who reacted with great speed and professionalism to quell this disturbance. As a result of their decisive, rapid action the centre is now fully under control and the majority of the centre is still fully operational.

An assessment of the impact of this incident is ongoing, but the Director General of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate has reported the following events to me.

At 6.30am on Wednesday 14 March an attempted removal of an immigration detainee in Campsfield House was forcibly resisted. Several other detainees then sought to intervene and obstruct this removal and began to then threaten staff and start fires in the centre.

The emergency services were called and all staff and detainees were moved to the exterior grounds within the centre at around 7am. All of the fires were extinguished swiftly by the emergency services. Prison Service Tornado Units were then deployed to the centre to help restore full control.

There was no risk to public safety during the course of this incident. Throughout the day the perimeter fence remained secure. No detainee was able to abscond from the centre.

No serious injuries occurred to staff or detainees within the centre, but seven members of staff and two detainees were taken to hospital suffering from the effects of smoke inhalation. All were subsequently discharged.

Robert Whalley CB, a retired senior civil servant, will extend his investigation into the recent disturbance at Harmondsworth Removal Centre to cover this incident.

Campsfield House holds up to 200 detainees and was operating at near full capacity at the time of the disturbance.

Sixty of the detainees at Campsfield House have been transferred under escort to other parts of the IND detention estate but the other detainees have remained at the centre.

No detainee will be released from either this centre or any other part of the IND estate as a result of the incident.

We cannot and will not tolerate such attempts to deliberately prevent the removal of those who have no legal rights to be in this country.

The Director General of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate has therefore been instructed to ensure that removal from the country will continue to be pursued actively in all cases.

Leader of the House

Oral Statements

Following agreement within Government, this is to inform Members of improvements to the process by which notice is given to the House when Ministers plan to make an oral statement.

Wherever notice has already been given to the House via a written ministerial statement, oral or written questions, or elsewhere on the Floor of the House (that is, in debate or at business questions) that an oral statement will be made on a certain date, then it would be helpful to the House for this to be recorded in the House’s business papers. Accordingly, from today I have asked for a written notice in such cases to be printed in the “Future Business” section of the Order Paper; and again on the “Order of Business” on the day of the statement.

The Government would retain the current freedom to make statements without prior notice having been given in this way and, if necessary, not to proceed with a statement of which prior notice had been given.

I am grateful to Mr. Speaker, for agreeing to the Order Paper being changed in this way.

Prime Minister

“Strengthening Democracy: Fair and Sustainable Funding of Political Parties”

I have today laid before both Houses the report by Sir Hayden Phillips entitled “Strengthening Democracy: Fair and Sustainable Funding of Political Parties”. Copies of the report have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

I welcome Sir Hayden's report. He has negotiated his report with skill and dedication, and for this I am very grateful. I am sure that the other political parties share my gratitude.

The report shows very clearly that there is now the basis for a new agreement on the funding and expenditure of political parties. There are a number of detailed questions which need to be taken forward, through a process of further discussion between the political parties. I hope that following these negotiations, consensus can be reached. I have asked Sir Hayden to chair these further discussions. I believe that they should begin soon and conclude before the summer recess, in order to build a platform for legislation in the next parliamentary session.

The time has come for us to find a new settlement on party funding and expenditure. I have asked my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House of Commons to lead these negotiations for the Labour Party. I hope that the leaders of the other main parties will also nominate delegations to join the talks.

Solicitor-General

Review of the Serious Fraud Office

My right hon. Friend the Attorney-General has made the following written ministerial statement:

“When I announced the re-appointment of Robert Wardle as Director of the Serious Fraud Office in January I indicated that we had agreed we would take the opportunity jointly to commission a thorough external review of the SFO’s approach to the investigation and prosecution of the cases with which it deals.

I am today announcing the terms of reference of that review which are:

‘In the light of the Government’s overall strategy for tackling fraud, and taking into account the relevant recommendations from the fraud review:

To consider the most effective methods for the SFO to use in investigating and prosecuting the serious and complex cases which fall within its remit, with particular reference to practice in overseas jurisdictions; and any related internal organisational or structural issues;

And to make recommendations’.

The review will be led by Jessica de Grazia, a former New York city prosecutor who now resides in the UK, and who has handled many complex cases, both as an investigator and trial advocate”.

Fighting Fraud Together - The Government Response to the Fraud Review

My right hon. Friend the Attorney-General has made the following written ministerial statement:

“I have today published the Government’s formal response to the consultation on the recommendations of the fraud review. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The Government’s response to the fraud review is a key element of our overall strategy for handling fraud, which is estimated to cost the economy £14 billion per annum. Fraud presents a serious threat to the economy, and does real harm to victims and businesses.

The Government are committed to tackling fraud, and together with industry, the public sector and regulators will be taking forward a wide ranging programme to create the building blocks for a truly strategic response to this growing threat.

In doing so, the Government accept the thrust of most of the recommendations of the fraud review. A detailed programme of work is now being established to take this to the next stage.

A priority will be to establish a national fraud strategic authority, which will be the forum for public and private sectors to develop a national strategy for tackling fraud. This will include establishing a mechanism for accurate and regular measurement of the extent of fraud, which is crucial to establishing a long-term solution.

Detailed work will also be taken forward on how best to establish a national fraud reporting centre recommended by the review as a means of taking crime reports from victims and developing intelligence to tackle fraud and organised crime related to fraud. The commissioner of the City of London police will chair a working group to make detailed proposals on the establishment of a national lead force, which will aim to complement existing police force capacity and provide a centre of excellence for complex and serious cases.

The Government will also be taking forward a number of the recommendations made to improve the way the criminal justice system handles fraud-related cases. This will include a study to assess the costs of fraud to the courts and any benefits which can be derived from dealing with more aspects of complex frauds in one jurisdiction.

Finally, the Government will explore the review’s recommendation of encouraging early guilty pleas through a safe legal framework which protects defendants’ rights but also improves the experience of victims.”

Trade and Industry

Nuclear Security and Nuclear Safeguards

With effect from 1 April 2007, the security activities of the Office for Civil Nuclear Security (OCNS) will be performed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on behalf of the Health and Safety Commission. The operational nuclear safeguards work of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) will also be carried out by the HSE with effect from the same date. The staff in both areas will transfer to the HSE with their work.

The aim of these arrangements is to consolidate the safety, security and safeguards activities of the Government in a single organisation, consistent with the thrust of the recommendations of the 2005 Hampton Report, so as to enable more effective and better co-ordinated regulation of the industry, and to enable the more effective deployment of resources. DTI will remain responsible for nuclear safety, security and safeguards policy. The HSE will operate under Memorandums of Understanding agreed with the DTI, one for safeguards and one for security.

East of England Development Agency (EEDA)

I have decided to appoint the new Board Member listed at annexe A for a period of two years and eight months.

The appointment will begin on 19 March 2007 and will expire on 13 December 2009. This appointment was made in accordance with the Code of Practice of the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

The biographical details of the new appointee are shown at annexe B.

Appointment will commence on 19 March 2007

Annexe A

New Appointment

RDA

Name

East of England Development Agency

Edward Iveagh

Annexe B

Biography

Edward Iveagh has been Chairman of Elveden Farms Ltd since 1992 and has transformed the 22,500 acre Suffolk estate into a multi-faceted, diverse and profitable business. He is a non-executive Director of Burhill Estates, a Golfing and Land Management Company that has developed the concept of quality pay-and-play golf courses across England. He is a non-executive Director of Adventure Forest, a high wire forest adventure operator.

He was Deputy Chairman of Iveagh Trustees for 10 years and is now Director of Arundel Iveagh, a London-based Hedge Fund and Wealth Management operation and is a founding partner of Capital 1, an asset finance vehicle.

He is Chair of the Brecks Tourism Partnership and has been involved in a broad range of charitable initiatives including Chair of Chadacre Agricultural Trust, Patron of The West Suffolk MacMillan Cancer Appeal and Trustee and Chairman of the investment committee of East Anglian Air Ambulance.

Between 1996 and 1999 he was an active Cross-Bench Member of the House of Lords.

He is married and has two young sons.

Transport

London Underground and National Railways (Security)

Throughout 2006 the Department for Transport undertook a number of trials at stations on London’s surface and underground rail networks to study the effectiveness of both existing and new security-related technologies.

These trials were part of a broad package of work being carried out by both the Department and other stakeholders to improve our understanding of operational environments and identify potential practical and pragmatic solutions for improving the protection of the public at our rail stations.

The first trial of passenger screening technology took place at Paddington station in January 2006 and was followed by further trials at Canary Wharf and Greenford London Underground stations. Trials also took place in August to test the practicalities of deploying portable vehicle access control barriers at major entry points at Waterloo and Victoria stations. All the data and feedback gathered during these trials are now being analysed to inform future judgments.

The next element of work is to conduct a short study of airflow patterns and an assessment of the performance of air monitoring machines within the London Underground environment. This is to increase our knowledge of how potentially toxic substances could be dispersed in such an environment.

The purpose of the study is to gather data within a genuine rail environment. It is not a reaction to any threat increase or a measure to enhance security at this or any other station. All the data and feedback gained will merely help to inform future decisions.

Following consultation with London Underground, St. John’s Wood station has been chosen as an appropriate location for the research, with studies commencing in March. Two dates, Sunday March 25 and Sunday April 1, have been identified for the airflow studies. The station will remain open as normal and train services at the station will not be affected. Passengers will not be required to take part and there are no associated health and safety risks.

As is routine in airflow studies, small amounts of sulphur hexafluoride will be used to help monitor the movement of air within the station during operational hours. Sulphur hexafluoride is a non-toxic, odourless gas typically used in tennis balls and for monitoring ventilation systems in buildings.

The UK’s surface railway system is a network made up of 2,500 stations and 11,000 miles of track that carries 1 billion passengers a year. London Underground itself has 255 stations, 253 miles of track and carries 976 million passengers every year. The British public understand that providing a ‘closed’ security system on the rail network is unworkable and that no single security measure is either foolproof or capable of mitigating every threat.

However it is important that we continue to study the operational environment of our networks and both existing and emerging technologies to see whether procedures can be improved. In doing so, we aim to cut down the risks as much as possible whilst still allowing people to go about their day-to-day business.

European Transport Council

I will attend the first Transport Council of the German presidency which takes place in Brussels on 22 March.

The Commission will report on the current difficulties on the PPP concession contract negotiations for the Galileo satellite navigation programme and their impact on the overall development of the programme. There has been no recent progress on the negotiations because of internal problems amongst the partners in the consortium. Ministers will discuss the issue and aim to form an opinion on how preparations should proceed for a decision to be taken at the June Council. We remain concerned about the lack of clear and transparent governance in the management of the development programme and will continue to examine the emerging deal very carefully for its justification in terms of value for money, affordability, and risk to the public sector.

The Council will be asked to adopt a mandate authorising the Commission to open negotiations with non-EU countries on their participation in the Galileo Supervisory Authority as Associated Members. The UK is content for the Council to do so.

The Presidency will report on the contribution of the transport sector to the Lisbon Strategy for economic development, with particular emphasis on the interplay of policy on economic growth and climate protection. An exchange of views is envisaged on the Council Conclusions of 19 February on this topic. Ministers will be asked to indicate how the energy efficiency of transport may be improved and what measures might be taken to deal with emissions in rail and maritime transport. This will enable me to reaffirm to the Council the Government's commitment to environmental aims in transport policy.

Linked to this debate on the Lisbon Strategy will be a discussion during lunch of the inclusion of aviation in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. We welcome and support the Commission's legislative proposal and will respond in broad terms to two questions posed by the presidency which cover the application of the emissions cap to aviation and how to deal with third-country airlines.

The Commission will present to the Council the outcome of the latest rounds of negotiations on a proposed EU-US aviation agreement. The Council will be asked to agree on whether the Community should sign the draft agreement.

Following negotiations with Russia on an agreement to end charges for Siberian overflights for EU airlines, the Council will be asked to adopt a Decision on the signature and provisional application of the agreement. The UK strongly welcomes this agreement and will support the draft Decision.

AOB items include Commission presentations on extension of the major trans-European transport axes to neighbouring countries and on the implementation of the SESAR programme for the modernisation of the European air traffic management system.

Work and Pensions

Independent Living Funds Review

On 3 May 2006 in a written ministerial statement, I announced details of a strategic review of the independent living funds which concluded in January 2007.

I welcome the thorough review of the independent living funds that has been conducted by Melanie Henwood and Bob Hudson. Their report comes at an important point in the evolution of social care and it is critical that the funds’ customers do not lose the valuable support that the funds currently provide.

I recognise the ground-breaking role which the ILFs have played in developing a model of cash for care over the past 19 years and how important their services are to the disabled people who use the funds to enable them to live independently.

The reviewers have recommended that through to 2009-10 the funds should remain in their present form while making considerable improvements. In the longer term however, they recommend that there should be a smooth transition towards full integration within a system of personalised budgets because it is anomalous to retain a separate public body operating in parallel to the mainstream of independent living.

The Government will consider these recommendations and their implications for severely disabled people and for the social care system across the UK, and we aim to publish our initial response to the report before the summer recess.

A copy of the report has been placed in the Library.