Written Ministerial Statements
Thursday 8 November 2007
UK Unclaimed Assets Scheme
The summary of responses to the consultations on a UK Unclaimed Assets Scheme has been published today. Copies are available in the Vote Office, Printed Paper Office and have also been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
This publication also sets out the Government’s response to the two consultation proposals for a UK unclaimed assets scheme. The consultation had two stages. In March, the Government released “A UK Unclaimed Assets Scheme: A Consultation”. In May, the Government released “Unclaimed Assets Distribution Mechanism: A Consultation”.
Following on from these consultations, the Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Bill was introduced in the House of Lords on 7 November. A final impact assessment has also been published today, copies of which are also available in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Bill builds on the Government’s consultation and enables the transfer of money in dormant bank accounts to be made available for distribution in the community, while protecting consumers’ right to repayment.
Double Taxation Convention (United Kingdom and New Zealand)
A Protocol to the Double Taxation Convention with New Zealand was signed on 7 November 2007. After signature, the text of the protocol was deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and made available on HM Revenue and Customs’ website. The text of the protocol will be scheduled to a draft Order in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.
We are asking a lot of our service personnel, who are performing magnificently on operations across the world, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan. In turn, it is only right that we support them as best as we can.
As a result of the recent high tempo of operations we have quite rightly seen a greater focus on the support that we offer to our people and their families—both in theatre and at home.
Over the last year we have made significant improvements to the welfare package and to the support that we provide. These include: a rebate on council tax and a tax-free operational allowance for those on operations; an increase in financial support provided for coroners dealing with inquests along with additional support for bereaved families; extension of the mental health assessments and provisions for both veterans and those serving on operations; a commitment to spending £5 billion over the next decade on accommodation; and a significant pay rise for junior soldiers, sailors and airmen and women.
There have been significant improvements to in-theatre medical treatment and facilities and it is widely recognised that we provide first class clinical treatment for those injured through both the NHS and the defence medical services. Better treatment and better equipment mean that our personnel are surviving injuries that they would not have previously survived. As a result we have a number of casualties and personnel sustaining serious injuries who will need enduring support. As a Government we are committed to making sure that the care pathway from initial injury to rehabilitation is as good as it can be.
We also acknowledge that some of the accommodation for service personnel and their families is not up to scratch and we are now rectifying decades of under investment. But we have also said that we want to ensure our forces have the opportunity to get on the housing ladder if they wish and we are looking for the best mechanism to achieve this.
We believe that now is the right time to take stock and for the Government to set out its agenda for service personnel, their families and veterans. Our intention, therefore, is to publish a Command Paper setting out our existing support and in the context of the challenges facing our service personnel today and in the future, the Government’s vision for further support. We believe that we are doing a lot to enhance the support we offer our forces in areas like accommodation, education, health care, family support, transition to civilian life, caring for our casualties. However we can do more in all of these areas and we are committed to doing so.
We envisage engagement with key external stakeholders from the charity sector and our service families’ federations.
Also, we will conduct a parallel study into encouraging greater engagement, understanding and pride in the UK armed forces by the nation as whole.
We expect that both these studies will be published in spring 2008.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Coexistence of GM and Non-GM Crops
In 2006 DEFRA consulted stakeholders on proposals for managing the coexistence of GM and non-GM crops in England, should approved GM varieties be grown here commercially in the future. The proposals were consistent with the Government’s overall policy on GM crops, as set out in the parliamentary statement made by the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett), on 9 March 2004, Official Report, column 1379.
A factual summary of the consultation responses has been published on the DEFRA’s website at: http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/crops/index.htm. We are grateful to everyone who responded and have considered the various comments made very carefully. It is clear that before our coexistence plans can be finalised we should await various developments that could have an important bearing on how we move forward. These include the following:
Receipt of New Scientific Evidence
The DEFRA consultation paper noted that new research evidence was expected to come forward for consideration in due course, in relation to crop separation distances in particular. There are three important research projects on coexistence that are due to report by next spring (1 DEFRA-funded and 2 EU-funded). After reflecting on the consultation responses, we are also commissioning some further research to improve the evidence-base in certain areas.
The EU is expected to adopt specific thresholds for labelling adventitious GM presence in conventional seeds. These will dictate what level of GM material might be in the seeds sown by non-GM farmers. This in turn bears directly on what coexistence measures need to achieve, in terms of minimising the potential for further GM transfer into non-GM crops. We should await clarification of what seed thresholds are to be adopted.
No commercial GM cultivation is expected in England for several years, but it remains our intention to have appropriate coexistence measures in place beforehand. We will clarify in due course how we intend to proceed in the light of the expected developments noted above, and having considered the consultation responses from stakeholders.
Agriculture and Fisheries Council
I represented the United Kingdom for the agricultural items at this month’s Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Luxembourg. The Minister with responsibility for marine, landscape and rural affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw), represented the UK for fisheries items. The Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, Richard Lochhead, also attended.
The Council adopted a decision authorising Romania to grant national aid to its farmers to assist with the aftermath of recent drought conditions.
The Council reached political agreement on a proposal amending the common agricultural policy financing rules by making it compulsory for member states to publish data on CAP payment beneficiaries; extending Commission powers to suspend or reduce payments under certain conditions; and providing the Commission with an additional 12 months to carry out certain controls on CAP expenditure.
The Council also reached agreement on fishing quotas for the Baltic sea for 2008, despite troubled experiences in Baltic sea fisheries this year.
The Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner presented the Commission communication on the new EU Animal Health Strategy for 2007-13.
The Council held a discussion, based on a presidency questionnaire, on the Commission’s proposal on the reform of the EU wine sector. The discussion covered: the proposed national envelopes; the possible use of national envelope money to fund decoupled payments under the single payment scheme; and the scope of the proposed grubbing-up scheme. I intervened to support the principle of national envelopes, but argued that a greater proportion of funding should be used for rural development measures to help producers adapt to the reform. I also intervened to support the use of national envelope money to enhance payments under the SPS and the proposed voluntary grubbing-up scheme that will provide a dignified way out for those farmers most affected by the greater market orientation of the wine sector following the reform.
The Council held an exchange of views on the EU/Norway fisheries agreement for 2008. The UK sought to set responsible levels of fishing while also maintaining the economic viability of the EU fleets involved.
A number of issues, as follows, were raised under any other business:
Spain expressed concerns at the closure of the bluefin tuna fishery as a consequence of overfishing of national allocations by some member states.
Poland called for the introduction of relief measures to alleviate difficulties in the pigmeat sector. The Agriculture Commissioner reported that the Pigmeat Management Committee on 18 October had indeed adopted a proposal to introduce private storage aid from 29 October; as regards export refunds, the Commission did not think that these would be appropriate to address the difficulties faced in the pigmeat sector, although the situation would be kept under review.
Sweden, supported by five other member states, drew Council’s attention to recent evidence showing maltreatment of animals during transport and called for full compliance with existing rules.
UN Convention on Climate Change Pre-COP Meeting
Between 23 and 25 October, I attended the pre-COP ministerial conference of the parties meeting in Bogor, Indonesia. The traditional purpose of the pre-COP ministerial is to narrow down the range of options likely to be discussed at the Conference of the Parties (COP), later in the year.
The UN climate negotiations beginning in Bali this December will be crucial if we are to secure a comprehensive international framework by 2009. The Bali meeting must see the launch of broad and comprehensive negotiations that include all parties and all relevant issues. The pre-COP meeting was a valuable opportunity for Ministers who will be negotiating in December to begin to map out and explore the difficult issues and to start building consensus for some of the essential elements.
The meeting was successful. The EU has done a lot of preparatory work on options for the structure of post-Bali negotiations. The meeting helped to test these propositions against the emerging views of other key players and identified where common ground and potential trade-offs exist with other items on the agenda for Bali. It highlighted many points of consensus between 40 parties present on some key issues, such as: the need for a Bali roadmap towards a fair and balanced multilateral framework beyond 2012, and the need for a process under the convention to further explore and negotiate contributions from developing countries to this framework alongside the continuation of negotiations on further commitments for developed country parties under the Kyoto protocol.
These provide a promising foundation for the discussions in Bali, but perhaps even more valuable was the opportunity to get into the detail on the type of process that needs to be put in place at the COP and on substance. Building trust and developing a full understanding of the positions and concerns of other parties on matters of substance is essential if we are to secure an ambitious outcome in Bali.
There is now considerable support for launching broader negotiations but there is also a range of views about what those broader negotiations could look like. Some parties are committed to securing one process encompassing all the current tracks in the negotiations on future action, while others want to see the convention and Kyoto tracks remain separate, at least for now. Likewise, there was emerging agreement on key elements of an international framework; mitigation, adaptation, technology and investment and finance, although the full details of these four elements and what they might encompass are not universally agreed. Further negotiations will also be needed in order to secure an overall end date of 2009.
It is now essential that we follow up this positive meeting with intensive outreach to our key partners and interlocutors in order to iron out these crucial details and the UK will be carrying out an extensive lobbying effort, both at ministerial and official level, to give the last vital push before Bali.
Public Sector Food Procurement Initiative
My right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs promised the House of Commons on 8 March 2007, Official Report, column 1651 in answer to a parliamentary question to commission:
“work to determine the proportion of publicly procured food which is British”
and place the information in the Library of the House
“by late autumn 2007 or sooner”.
I have today deposited copies of the report giving the proportion of UK produce supplied to Government Departments and also supplied to prisons and hospitals under contracts negotiated by HM Prison Service and NHS Supply Chain. A copy of the report is also on the PSFPI website at:
DEFRA has also published on the PSFPI website the report of an Ipsos MORI survey conducted in the schools sector during the period March to July 2007 that covered 81 local authorities and 255 schools. Commissioned to gauge awareness of the Public Sector Food Procurement Initiative (PSFPI) in schools and local authorities, the report also contains answers to questions on the proportion of tenders from small and local producers. This information was made known to MPs in a written parliamentary answer of 17 October 2007, Official Report, column 1074W.
Govenment Decontamination Service (Business Plan)
I have set the Government Decontamination Service (GDS) the following performance targets for 2007-08.
To provide operational and tactical advice and guidance to central Government and other appropriate authorities.
To strengthen awareness of its services among key stakeholders.
To continue to provide an evaluated framework of specialist suppliers to meet the requirements arising from the UK national risk assessment process.
To utilise exercises to assess the capacity and capability of specialist framework suppliers.
To contribute to the central Government knowledge on the national capability and capacity for the decontamination of buildings, infrastructure, mobile transport assets and the open environment.
To develop its staff with both the capacity and capability to support the requirements arising from the national risk assessment process.
To build upon corporate governance in line with the revised Treasury Audit Committee Handbook and the National Audit Office and Internal Audit recommendations.
Further details are given in the CDS business plan for 2007-08 copies of which are available in the Libraries of both Houses.
NHS Foundation Trusts
The chairman of Monitor (the statutory name of which is the Independent Regulator of NHS foundation trusts) announced last week that, in accordance with section 35 of the National Health Service Act 2006, Monitor had decided to authorise the following NHS acute and mental health trusts as NHS foundation trusts from 1 November;
Poole Hospital NHS Trust; and
East London and the City University Mental Health NHS Trust.
Monitor's announcement brings the total number of NHS foundation trusts to 79. A copy of Monitor's press notice has been placed in the Library.
The Government remain committed to offering all NHS acute and mental health trusts the opportunity to apply for foundation status as soon as practicable. Monitor is now authorising trusts on a monthly basis, and further waves of NHS foundation trusts are set to follow.
National Identity Scheme (Cost Report)
The third Cost Report of the National Identity Scheme is being laid before Parliament today. It sets out an estimate of the public expenditure likely to be incurred on the Scheme over the next 10 years, in accordance with section 37 of the Identity Cards Act 2006. It reports on developments over the past six months, since the second Cost Report was published on 10 May 2007.
Complaints Audit Committee (Annual Report 2006-07)
I am pleased to announce the publication of the independent Complaints Audit Committee (CAC) annual report for the year 2006-07, and the Border and Immigration Agency's response. Copies of both reports are available in the House and on the Border and Immigration Agency's website.
This is the CAC's thirteenth report. Their role is to monitor the effectiveness of the Agency's procedures for handling complaints.
We welcome the report and its findings which reflect much of the analysis set out by the former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid), in the summer of 2006. As part of the reforms instigated by BIA since July 2006 a new complaints procedure has been designed from scratch which the Complaints Audit Committee has been instrumental in shaping and which will go live in February 2008.
Local Transport Bill
I am today publishing the Government's response to the consultation on the draft Local Transport Bill (which was introduced in the House of Lords yesterday and published today). This response explains how the Bill has been revised in the light of pre-legislative scrutiny and responses to the public consultation. I am also publishing a summary of the views expressed in the written responses, at consultation events and meetings, and during the course of a series of regional visits to hear people's views about the draft Bill.
The core purpose of the Bill is to improve public transport and tackle congestion, and it forms a key part of the Government's strategy to empower local authorities to deliver local transport that meets the needs of their communities. In so doing, it will also support the Government's efforts to tackle climate change.
It creates new opportunities for local authorities to deliver bus services that are better suited to the needs of local passengers; to develop more coherent approaches to the planning and delivery of local transport; and, where they wish to do so, to develop local road pricing schemes in a way that best meets local needs whilst ensuring that schemes are consistent and interoperable. It also contains measures to allow for the establishment of a new statutory body to represent the interests of bus and coach passengers in England.
Copies of the Government's response to the consultation, and other related documents, have been placed in the Vote Office, the Libraries of both Houses and are also available on the Department's website.
Framework Powers in the Local Transport Bill
I am pleased to inform the House that an explanatory memorandum explaining proposals for the use of framework powers in the Local Transport Bill is available today. Copies of which can be found in the Vote Office, Libraries of both Houses and at: www.walesoffice.gov.uk
Work and Pensions
Work Options Pilot Project
The Government are launching the face-to-face guidance pilot project which was announced as part of a package of measures in The Welfare Reform Green Paper, "A new deal for welfare: Empowering people to work" which was published in January 2006 and aimed at increasing the employment rates of people aged 50 and over. Further reference was made in the Pensions White Paper of May 2006 "Security in Retirement towards a New Pensions System" which re-emphasised the importance of providing information and communicating choices to individuals. The pilot project is being carried out to establish what information older people need and how they can access it in order to take an informed decision about work and retirement in later life. Existing services are not providing the information that older individuals tell us they need when considering options about working longer. The information will focus on the choices and opportunities available to older people to help them plan how and when to retire as well as making use of flexible working options to help them remain in work or work for longer. The expectation is that better information will support extended working lives. The pilots will be evaluated over the operating period to inform the development of good practice for Government and non-government organisations to use in the guidance that they offer older workers. Tenders were invited from a wide range of guidance and older people agencies and six contractors have been selected. The organisations that successfully tendered for the pilot are as follows:
Age Concern Training for Greater Mersey side and St Helen's
Guidance Services for North Yorkshire
Shaw Trust Ltd for Glasgow
The Life Academy for Rural Cambridgeshire, mid Bedfordshire and Bedford
British Chamber of Commerce for Birmingham
Manpower UK Ltd for Bridgend/Rhondda Cynon Taff
The contracts started in October 2007 and will be for an 18-month period concluding March 2009. The final report, publication and production of best practice guidance will be in 2009-10,