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Written Statements

Volume 460: debated on Thursday 24 May 2007

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 24 May 2007


Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters (COE/OECD Convention)

The United Kingdom signed the joint Council of Europe/OECD Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters on 24 May 2007. The text of the convention is published on the websites of both organisations. An Order in Council incorporating the provisions of the convention into domestic law will be laid before the House of Commons for approval in due course.

Communities and Local Government

North-West Regional Spatial Strategy

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government intends to publish on 29 May, for consultation, her proposed changes to the draft revision of the Regional Spatial Strategy for the North-East.

The current Regional Spatial Strategy, initially published as regional planning guidance (RPG1), became the Regional Spatial Strategy in September 2004 with the enactment of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act. The Regional Spatial Strategy is part of the statutory development plan, and sets the framework for the production of local development frameworks and local transport plans.

A draft revision of the Regional Spatial Strategy was submitted to Government in June 2005 by the North-East Assembly, and tested in an Examination in Public during March and April 2006. The report of the Examination in Public was published by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in August 2006. The next step is to publish the Secretary of State’s proposed changes for consultation, prior to finalisation and publication of the Regional Spatial Strategy by the Secretary of State. On final publication it will supersede the current Regional Spatial Strategy.

In proposing these changes the Secretary of State has considered the recommendations of the independent panel who conducted the Examination in Public and has also taken into account all the representations made on the draft revision, and changes in Government policy since the draft revision was submitted.

The Regional Spatial Strategy will set a framework for the development of the North-East region to 2021. It supports a continuing level of economic growth, and a broad strategy for the location of new development. It includes proposals for the location of the main areas of housing and employment growth, and for improvements to the quality and management of transport infrastructure. It has policies to address climate change, waste management and environmental issues.

Also being published are the reports of a Sustainability Appraisal of The Proposed Changes, and a draft Appropriate Assessment of the Regional Spatial Strategy revision, in accordance with the European habitats directive.

At the start of the consultation, I will be writing to the North-East Assembly with the proposed changes. Because a number of these changes involve new proposals by Government, or the gathering of new information from the North-East Assembly and other stakeholders, we have set in progress a two-stage consultation. During a first ten-week period, we are requesting the North-East Assembly and other stakeholders to provide additional information to help to finalise policies. After ministerial consideration of this, and all other representations, a further set of proposed changes will be published, for a further consultation lasting eight weeks. While this will extend the overall timetable, we believe that this is justified in order to give all stakeholders a full opportunity to consider all the relevant material, and the Secretary of State’s final proposals.

Following consideration of responses to the consultation, the Secretary of State expects to publish the finalised Regional Spatial Strategy for the North East early in 2008.

Copies of the relevant documents, together with the reports of the Sustainability Appraisal and Appropriate Assessment will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses at the end of May and will be provided to all of the region’s MPs, MEPs and local authorities.


Royal School of Military Engineering (PPP)

The Royal School of Military Engineering Public Private Partnership (PPP) project has for some time been assessing a range of options for the relocation of two units that fall within the scope of the project, the Defence Explosive Ordnance Disposal School (DEODS) and the National Search Centre (NSC) currently located at Lodge Hill/Chattenden in the Medway Towns, Kent.

These units were to have been relocated to the Defence Munitions Centre at Kineton, Warwickshire, as part of the PPP solution. However, in late 2005 this move proved impracticable. In 2006 alternative sites, that were technically viable, were identified and costed by the contractor. These proposals have since been assessed by the MOD and following the conclusion of this work the MOD can confirm its intent to relocate the DEODS and NSC to Bicester thereby releasing land at Lodge Hill/Chattenden in the Medway Towns in Kent for the development of a new, sustainable mixed-use community.


Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (Code of Practice)

The new edition of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority's code of practice for infertility clinics has been approved and laid before Parliament today. The code has been placed in the Library and copies are available for hon. Members in the Vote Office.

Home Department

Assets Recovery Agency

The Assets Recovery Agency’s annual report 2006-07 and annual plan 2007-8 have been laid before Parliament today.

The annual report covers the agency’s fourth full year of operation and provides an assessment of performance against its annual plan 2006-07.

The agency has continued to build on its earlier successes in disrupting criminal groups and seizing their assets. In 2006-07, the total amount of realised receipts from assets recovered by the agency was a record £15.9 million. The agency disrupted a total of 114 criminal enterprises, 92 in England and Wales and 22 in Northern Ireland, exceeding the total minimum target of 90. It did so by the early restraint of assets to the value of £73.6 million which exceeded the stretch target of £65 million. The agency obtained civil recovery orders and tax assessments in 40 cases with a value of £16.6 million. It also adopted 45 cases for criminal confiscation investigation against a target of 15 cases.

The agency has delivered an extensive training and accreditation programme for financial investigators, again exceeding its targets.

The agency’s annual plan 2007-08 has been prepared by the director of the agency and has been approved by Home Office and Northern Ireland Office Ministers. The plan focuses on the agency’s aims, priorities and targets for the year ahead and sets out how it intends to exercise its functions in Northern Ireland.

The agency will continue to exercise its powers of investigation and asset recovery against criminals in support of the Government’s commitment to taking the profit out of crime. The agency is committed to maintaining its efforts in the recovery of criminal assets during the transition period leading to the proposed merger with the Serious Organised Crime Agency, as provided for in the Serious Crime Bill.

The Asset Recovery Action Plan

Seizing criminal assets delivers a wide range of benefits, from depriving criminals of capital to reducing the incentives for crime and the harm caused by crime, as well as promoting fairness and confidence in the criminal justice system. In 2006-07 the total amount recouped by all agencies involved in asset recovery in England, Wales and Northern Ireland was £125 million. This is a five-fold increase over five years. We want to build on this success. The Government are therefore publishing today an Asset Recovery Action Plan. The Action Plan has two purposes. Firstly it sets out robust proposals on how we are to reach our challenging target of recovering £250 million of the proceeds of crime by 2009-10. The Plan goes on to outline, for consultation, policy proposals for taking things further, including some radical ideas to move towards the Government's long term vision of detecting up to £1 billion of criminal assets.

The consultation period will end on 23 November 2007. A copy of the Action Plan is being placed in the Library of the House.


I am today informing Parliament of an ongoing police operation to locate three British citizens who are believed to have absconded from Control Orders on Monday night.

It is believed that these individuals wanted to travel abroad for terrorism-related purposes. They are not considered at this time to represent a direct threat to the public in the UK. The control orders were therefore designed to prevent travel.

Their control orders included obligations requiring them to surrender any travel documents and report each day to a local police station, and two of the individuals were required to phone a monitoring company each night. On the evening of 21 May, these two individuals failed to call the monitoring company. All three individuals failed to report to their local police station on 22 May.

Public safety is the top priority for the Government and the police. Locating these individuals is an operational matter for the police, and an active investigation is underway. On police operational advice, and to assist the investigation, I approached the High Court to lift the anonymity orders for these three individuals and this was agreed late yesterday afternoon. As a result, the police were able to make a public appeal as part of their ongoing investigation.

As I have consistently made clear, control orders are far from 100 per cent. effective, but under our existing laws they are as far as we can go.

Unfortunately, within these limits, it is very difficult to prevent determined individuals from absconding. Nevertheless, I am already appealing to the House of Lords in several other control order cases about the interpretation of Article 5 ECHR (deprivation of liberty). We will consider other options—including derogation—if we have exhausted ways of overturning previous judgements on this issue.

Police Authority Capital Grant 2007-08

On 19 February 2007 I announced the allocation to police authorities in England and Wales of an additional £25 million of capital for 2006-07, which came from money originally held back for restructuring.

The capital allocations to police authorities for 2007-08 which were announced January 2006 had also been adjusted to take account of money which had been retained centrally for the capital costs associated with police force mergers.

I am pleased to be able to announce today that, as with last year, a further £25 million of capital is now available for distribution to police authorities for 2007-08. A breakdown of the allocation of this additional money is shown in the table attached. The money has been distributed in order to achieve the same outcome as would have been the case if it had been included in the original distribution.

As a consequence of this additional money, the total amount of capital grant allocated to police authorities in 2007-08 will be £195 million.

My officials are writing to police authorities and forces to inform them of this additional grant.

Police Capital Allocations 2007-08

Original Allocation £m

Extra £m

Total Allocation


Avon and Somerset Police Authority




Bedfordshire Police Authority




Cambridgeshire Police Authority




Cheshire Police Authority




City of London




Cleveland Police Authority




Cumbria Police Authority




Derbyshire Police Authority




Devon and Cornwall Police Authority




Dorset Police Authority




Durham Police Authority




Dyfed-Powys Police Authority




Essex Police Authority




Gloucestershire Police Authority




Greater Manchester Police Authority




Gwent Police Authority




Hampshire Police Authority




Hertfordshire Police Authority




Humberside Police Authority




Kent Police Authority




Lancashire Police Authority




Leicestershire Police Authority




Lincolnshire Police Authority




Merseyside Police Authority




Metropolitan Police Authority




Norfolk Police Authority




North Wales Police Authority




North Yorkshire Police Authority




Northamptonshire Police Authority




Northumbria Police Authority




Nottinghamshire Police Authority




South Wales Police Authority




South Yorkshire Police Authority




Staffordshire Police Authority




Suffolk Police Authority




Surrey Police Authority




Sussex Police Authority




Thames Valley Police Authority




Warwickshire Police Authority




West Mercia Police Authority




West Midlands Police Authority




West Yorkshire Police Authority




Wiltshire Police Authority









1.In line with the revenue grant increase in 2006-07, the capital grant announced in early 2006 was calculated as a flat rate reduction for all (the 2005/06 total was £210 million). The £25 million uplift has been applied similarly.

2. Allocations include Supported Capital Expenditure (Revenue). The £25 million grant Increases have been applied to Police Grant (as they would if full allocation had been possible early in 2006) not to Supported Capital Expenditure Revenue).

Leader of the House

Oral Statements on the Order Paper

On 15 March 2007 I informed Members of improvements to the process by which notice is given to the House when Ministers plan to make an oral statement.

I set out plans that wherever notice had already been given to the House via a written ministerial statement, oral or written questions, or elsewhere on the floor of the House (for example, in debate or at business questions) that an oral statement will be made on a certain date, it would be helpful to the House for this to be recorded in the House’s business papers. This improvement has been welcomed on all sides of the House.

However, there have been occasions where it would have been convenient for the House to have been made aware of forthcoming oral statements, even though notice of such a statement had not been previously given as described above. Accordingly, I have asked for a written notice to be printed on the Order of Business on the day of the statement, in those circumstances where I think the House would appreciate prior notification, and only following notification to the House from my office.

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 acknowledgement of his support for these proposals.

Prime Minister

Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations

On 29 January 2007, I announced a way forward on the issue of faith-based adoption and fostering agencies and the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007. As I set out at that time, the interests of the child, and particularly the most vulnerable children, must come first. I confirmed that there would not be a specific exemption from the legislation for faith-based adoption and fostering agencies. However, there would be a transition period until the end of 2008, with a statutory duty for any faith-based agency which does not process applications from same sex couples to refer them to another agency. I am pleased that both Houses approved these Regulations, which provide a massive step forward in ending discrimination against gay people, and that the Regulations have now come into force.

In my announcement on 29 January 2007, I said that I would commission a regular independent assessment from adoption and child welfare experts on the impact of the Regulations on adoption in order to maintain the existing body of expertise. I have today asked Barbara Hutchinson, Executive Director of the British Association of Adoption and Fostering (BAAF), to chair the independent assessment process. As a body working across the UK, campaigning for better outcomes for children, BAAF is well-placed to engage with the whole sector and formulate workable recommendations for consideration by Government. Further details of the assessment team and its terms of reference have been placed in the Library of the House.

Faith-based adoption agencies provide an extremely valuable service, particularly for the most vulnerable children. It is very important that local authorities continue to work with and support these agencies given the vital work that they do. I am confident that proposals will be identified which ensure that all agencies comply with the Regulations and at the same time allow their services and expertise to be retained and developed.

Trade and Industry


On 26 February 2007, I issued an intervention notice under section 42(2) of the Enterprise Act 2002 in respect of British Sky Broadcasting Group’s acquisition of a 17.9 per cent. stake in ITV plc. This meant that, in accordance with sections 44 and 44A of the Enterprise Act, on 27 April I received reports from the Office of Fair Trading on the competition effects of the transaction and from Ofcom on the effects of the transaction on the public interest consideration specified in the intervention notice. I am now required to take a decision under section 45 of the Enterprise Act on whether to refer the transaction to the Competition Commission for fuller investigation. I have decided to refer the transaction to the Competition Commission under section 45(2) of the Enterprise Act.

In reaching this decision I have had regard to the provisions of the relevant legislation and have given careful consideration to the reports I received from the Office of Fair Trading and Ofcom, including the summaries of the submissions made by the parties and by third parties that are contained in those reports. I have also considered carefully the additional representations my Department subsequently received from British Sky Broadcasting and have obtained advice from Ofcom under section 106B of the Enterprise Act on questions raised in those additional representations. In accordance with section 106B(3) of the Enterprise Act, Ofcom will publish this further advice to me.

The Office of Fair Trading’s report includes their decisions that:

(i) it is or may be the case that a relevant merger situation has been created as a result of British Sky Broadcasting Group’s acquisition of shares in ITV plc;

(ii) the creation of that merger situation has resulted, or may be expected to result, in a substantial lessening of competition such that further investigation by the Competition Commission is warranted; and

(iii) it is not appropriate to deal with the matter by way of undertakings in lieu of a reference.

I am bound by the Enterprise Act to accept these decisions.

The report from Ofcom includes their conclusion that, as a result of the relevant merger situation, there may not be a sufficient plurality of persons with control of the media enterprises serving the UK cross-media audience for national news and the UK TV audience for national news. They advise that this may be expected to operate against the public interest and that a fuller investigation of the matter by the Competition Commission is warranted. In accordance with sections 107(3)(b) and (ba) and 107(9)(a) of the Act, I am today publishing the reports I received from the Office of Fair Trading and Ofcom.

I consider the statutory thresholds for making a reference provided in section 45(2) of the Enterprise Act are met in this case in that I believe that it is or may be the case that:

(i) a relevant merger situation has been created;

(ii) the creation of that situation has resulted, or may be expected to result, in a substantial lessening of competition;

(iii) the public interest consideration mentioned in the intervention notice is relevant; and

(iv) taking account only of the substantial lessening of competition and the relevant public interest consideration, the creation of the situation operates or may be expected to operate against the public interest.

This decision to make a reference under section 45(2) of the Enterprise Act 2002 means the Competition Commission will, in accordance with section 47(2) of that Act, decide whether a relevant merger situation has been created, whether the creation of that situation has resulted or may be expected to result in a substantial lessening of competition and whether, taking account of the specified public interest consideration concerned, the situation operates or may be expected to operate against the public interest. Detailed investigation by the Competition Commission means the effect of the transaction on competition and media plurality will be examined in depth enabling substantive conclusions to be reached on the basis of all the relevant arguments and facts. Under section 51 of the Enterprise Act, the Competition Commission is required to provide a report to me within 24 weeks of the date of the reference, although it may extend this deadline by up to eight weeks if there are special reasons why this is necessary.

Competitiveness Council

The following statement provides information on the Competitiveness Council in Brussels on 21 and 22 May 2007, at which I represented the UK.

Day 1 Monday 21 May

The Council opened with a progress report on better regulation under the German Presidency. There were also Progress Reports from the Presidency on the Mutual Recognition (Goods) Regulation and on a Common Framework for the marketing of products (The New Approach). The Council noted progress on these dossiers without discussion.

Council Conclusions on Industrial Policy were adopted. The main debate revolved around sectoral issues. Compromise wording regarding the financing of ship building was agreed. Text was also agreed on plans to reduce CO2 emissions from cars, where Member states called on the Commission to carry out a full impact assessment.

At the request of several Member States, the Commission then presented its Consumer Policy Strategy which was published earlier this year. Member States did not intervene. A Council resolution is expected to be agreed at the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs (EPSCO) Council on 30 May.

The next item on the agenda was the Consumer Credit Directive on which political agreement was reached. Discussion centered on the optional threshold below which those repaying a loan early should not have to pay compensation to lenders for the loss of agreed interest. Eventually, Member States agreed to a compromise level of 10,000 Euros, thus enabling Political Agreement on a Common Position to be reached. The Netherlands and Greece voted against, and Belgium and Luxembourg abstained. I intervened to enter a minutes statement regretting the failure to carry out an impact assessment on this proposal and stressing that it should not set a precedent for other work in the field of financial services.

Day 2 Tuesday 22 May

The second day was devoted to Research and Space business.

The fourth meeting of the “Space Council” was held between the Competitiveness Council and the Council of the European Space Agency (ESA). I, along with a number of Space Ministers, made brief statements about the importance of a European Space Policy (ESP). The Council Resolution on European Space Policy was unanimously adopted after Ministers' interventions.

Under the research items, the Presidency reported on progress on negotiations on the European Institute of Technology on which I, and other Member States, noted a number of outstanding issues which needed to be resolved, notably concerning financing.

The Commission presented its first two proposals for Council regulations to establish Joint Technology Initiatives, one on innovative medicines and the other on embedded computing systems.

A discussion took place on the European Research Area Green Paper, following the exchange at the informal meeting in Würzburg in May. Member States emphasised the importance of the debate and welcomed the Commission's consultation process.

Linked to this discussion, Council Conclusions were adopted on research infrastructures, inviting Member States to take forward the work of the European Strategic Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI).

Items covering other business were taken over the two days.

Luxembourg raised concerns about the impact of the proposal for a Regulation on the law applicable to contractual obligations (Rome 1), I, supported by a number of other Member States, echoed Luxembourg's concerns about its potential impact on the single market and regretted the lack of an impact assessment.

In addition, the Council noted, without debate, information provided by the Presidency on the following items:

the outcome of the Würzburg informal Competitiveness Council on “The Internal Market in Global Competition”;

the state of play of the proposal for a directive on improving the effectiveness of review procedures concerning the award of public contracts;

the proposal for a directive amending directive 2003/87/EC so as to include aviation activities in the scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading within the Community;

the proposal for a directive laying down rules on nominal quantities for pre- packed products;

the European Conference “Innovation and Market Access through Standardisation” (Berlin, 26- 27 March 2007);

the 4th European Conference on Craft Industries (Stuttgart, 16-17 April 2007) (9095/07);

the European Conference on Tourism (Berlin/Potsdam, 15-16 May 2007);

the GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) Conference (Munich, 17 April 2007);

The forthcoming Euro-Med research and education ministers conference (Cairo, 18 June 2007)

The Council noted the information provided by the Commission concerning the Regulation on a globally harmonised system of classification and labelling.

The Council also noted information from the Commission regarding forthcoming proposals to establish joint national research programmes under Article 169 of the Treaty, to be presented during 2007 and 2008.

At Poland's request, the Council took note of the information on Poland's proposal to organize the exhibition EXPO 2012 in Wroclaw.

The Council noted the information provided by the Italian delegation on Milan's candidacy to host Expo 2015 with the theme of “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”.

The Council took note of the information provided by the Portuguese delegation on the work programme of the incoming Presidency.


Regional Funding Allocations

The regional funding allocations (RFAs) process has, for the first time, given regions a say in decision-making about transport schemes that affect them at the regional and local levels. In July last year, the Government responded to the RFA advice submitted by regional bodies, welcoming the significant progress which each region had made. Following this, the Department for Transport launched a consultation inviting views on how the processes which were put in place to develop the transport aspects of the advice could be further improved. A summary of the responses to this consultation has been placed in the Libraries of the House and can also be found on the Department's website at:


The Government are considering the options for taking the RFA exercise forward as part of the wider sub-national review of economic development and regeneration, which will report to my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review 2007.

Trust Ports

I am today announcing the publication of a report on future reform of the trust port sector. More than 50 ports in England and Wales are trust ports; independent statutory bodies, governed by unique local legislation and controlled by an independent board rather than shareholders. While many trust ports are no longer commercially active, the many that are include Dover and Milford Haven, two ports of prominent national significance, as well as other major ports such as the Tyne, and the Port of London Authority with its vital conservancy duties in the Thames estuary.

The Department wished to understand better how to optimise the efficiency and accountability of the major trust ports, and to this end, in January 2007 appointed PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) to carry out a study of the sector, including an analysis of the ports’ efficiency, accountability to stakeholders and options for voluntary corporate restructuring. While the study concerned primarily the six largest commercial trust ports, its findings will be of interest to all trust ports, and to the wider ports industry.

In broad terms, the report concludes that the trust model retains a legitimate role within a mixed ports sector but that, in the absence of shareholders, trust ports should do more to identify, and account for, the use of their profits—what the report terms their ‘stakeholder dividend’. The report also concludes that, while the largest trust ports operate on a sound commercial basis, in some cases their financial performance falls short of that of their private sector comparators, and recommends a series of measures to ensure that these important pieces of national infrastructure are able to meet their potential. Levels of accountability among trust ports are also found generally to be good, but with room for improvement, and the resultant recommendations point towards enhanced reporting and updated governance arrangements. PwC explored various voluntary options for structural change including the creation of an operating subsidiary below the level of the trust board, which could involve private sector participation.

The study represents a valuable contribution to the debate on the trust port sector. The various recommendations contained in the report have been considered and the Government will bring forward refreshed guidance for trust ports in England and Wales later this year, following further discussion with the industry based on these recommendations. Copies of the report are available in the Libraries of both Houses.